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The Things You Are Getting Wrong About White Supremacists Is What Allows Them To Grow

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Speaking of denial, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton points out how most Americans practice denial about how widespread the White Supremacist movement is in the US:

Twelve years ago, I packed up a Uhaul and left the home my son was born in. I drove across the country with him in a car seat, singing hours of nursery rhymes to keep him entertained.

I loved that house — a big, collapsing, and beautiful Victorian farmhouse that my friends and I had sunk years of work into to make it a home. I loved that neighborhood; sweet neighbors who would holler at me to join them on their porch or come over late on New Year’s Eve with Jello shots and gossip. I loved that city — a big, heaving post-industrial city with greying art deco buildings from a more prosperous yesteryear. But it was time to go.

There were ten thousand personal reasons why I packed up that house and sold it, but there was also one troublesome thing that had been on my mind. A few years earlier the Vinlanders — a white power hate group — had set up a clubhouse only a few blocks away. They were disruptive, violent, and scary and they were recruiting the neighborhood’s poor white kids who they hoped had no other offers or chances in life. As a young, poor single mom of a white son, I knew he could eventually be a target.

I’ll take a lot of risks, but not that one.

***

Only days ago, a white mob marched from the White House to the Capitol building in order to break in and disrupt the Electoral College count. Some of the mob had zip ties to, apparently, take hostages. Some had guns and other weapons. Some chanted that they were going to kill the Vice President. Someone erected a platform with a noose. Five people died. The nation remains shocked. How did we get here? We each have asked. This is not us, we each have hoped.

Then, the day after the attack on the Capitol, the Indianapolis Star — the reputable, award-winning paper — ran a run-of-the-mill story including an interview with a man named Brien James. It was reported that James had joined about one hundred other Trump supporters and Proud Boys at the Indiana statehouse to oppose the Electoral College count and he spoke to the Star as the assault was occurring in Washington. The Star then also quoted James again the next day, documenting him as just another voice in this moment in history. It read like a benign human interest story: Some men, who you may or may not agree with politically, holding a protest at the statehouse — as we do and will continue to do in our American democracy.

But I know plenty about Brien James. He was my old neighbor.

Brien James was the founder of the Vinlanders Social Club — he is one of the ones I would see goosestepping outside the local bars in steel-toed boots ready to fight. He was the one who selected my neighborhood as a place for his hate group to target. It is documented that James created the Vinlanders after he was kicked out of the Outlaw Hammerskins for being too violent — he apparently nearly stomped someone to death for refusing to do a Sieg heil in the early 2000s. He later founded the Hoosier State Skinheads. For anyone who doesn’t know or doesn’t remember, “skins” are neo-Nazis. That’s not hyperbole, that’s what they call themselves.

The Vinlander house had a flag pole in the front yard and they flew Nazi and SS flags. They would blare Skrewdriver songs out the windows and sit up on the front porch drinking and glaring at passerbys. My neighbors and I regularly had to paint over swastikas that had been spray-painted on our garages and fences.

In 2007 and just a few blocks from where the Indianapolis Star interviewed James for their story this week, a gang of Vinlanders attacked a Black man in broad daylight, stomping him unconscious in the middle of a downtown street. Three Vinlanders went to prison for that attack. One later confessed to another murder and is serving that sentence, too. Plenty of Indianapolis residents remember the vile beating — when bystanders tried to call the police for help, they were attacked or threatened by the group.

Brien James continued to lead the Vinlanders even after many of his core members were in prison. Two years after the incident in downtown Indianapolis, another Vindlander (who was also a correctional officer) was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their child and put on death row. Police found Hitler memorabilia all through the man’s house. Later that same year, two more Vinlanders were indicted for murdering a woman because she was dating a Black man.

Both Indianapolis Star articles this week failed to include any context about who Brien James is or about his movement’s extremely violent history. That context has become extremely important as this long legacy of community violence has once again turned into clear political violence and, for the first time in history, has targetted the symbolic center of our democracy — something prophesied in The Turner Diaries, the Bible of the racist right.

We, as a nation and as individuals, are very adept at ignoring white supremacy (it may be the communal skill we have excelled in most). Even though our country experiences white supremacist violence regularly, we still can barely name it when we see it. The FBI confirms that the vast majority of terror attacks in the United States are committed by far-right white supremacists, but we continue to have no national or community plan to stop this.

From Charleston to El Paso, white nationalist terror is often incorrectly described as “lone wolf” incidents, in contrast to the broad brush that we use when we see acts of property destruction or the rare acts of physical violence at Black Lives Matter protests. Seeing white nationalist terror as incidental, organic, or outside of having a sophisticated and strategic radicalization process is not only misguided; it’s very dangerous.

Most white Americans have a good instinct to distance themselves from white nationalism. However, to do so they often use incorrect shorthands and stereotypes to denounce the “other.” Since Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, I have seen the mob described as anything from “bubbas” to “hicks” to “uneducated trailer trash.” However, just today I saw a CEO, a district court judge’s son, a pharmacist, a mayor, and a woman who flew on a private jet to the rally all be doxxed on Twitter for their participation in the mob. Our rush to distance ourselves from unsavory racists and discounting their intelligence ends up framing the threat incorrectly. And it is allowing the white supremacists to get ahead.

It turns out that Brien James left that old neighborhood just like I did. However, unlike me, he didn’t move to another working-class neighborhood with make-do houses, he moved to the suburbs. Brien James did what lots of Nazis did about a decade ago: He rebranded.

Sure, the neighborhood where the Vinlanders set up and where I lived was a poor, white neighborhood in a decaying industrial city. I am sure that my neighbors and I probably meet most of the stereotypes people have of who is racist in America, at least by physical appearance and income level. But the tiki torches in Charlottesville were overwhelmingly carried by frat boys and orthodontists, and the Capitol was just vandalized by veterans and small business owners in MAGA hats, Phish teeshirts, and Columbia jackets. America needs to come to terms with the idea that some cleaned up Vinlanders might live next to you, too.

One Vinlander, Bryon Widner, who frequented the house in my neighborhood, left the Vinlanders in the late 2000s and had . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. It seems increasingly as though the US is headed toward an ugly transformation.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2023 at 8:11 pm

M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie”

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Some books change over time — or they seem to. It’s as when you are on a hike through a forest and view a mountain through the trees. As you continue your course, the next day you again glimpse that mountain, and its appearance has changed. The mountain, of course, has remained the same, but you now view it from a different angle.

That happens with books: what you pick up from a book are those aspects that resonate with your experience. When you read the book later, with a greater range of experience, you’ll see different things. For me, this was vividly brought home by my readings of Madame Bovary. When I read the book in high school, it was so boring I could not finish it. When I read it for a seminar as an upperclassman in college, it was more interesting but still a bit of a slog. But when I was 40 and read it again, I could not put it down. It was totally gripping. The book had not changed; it was simply written for adults, whose life experience is greater than a schoolboy’s.

Another book that seemed to change completely from one reading to the next was J.F. Powers’s Morte d’Urban, which the second reading revealed to be much more interesting, though even after the first reading I liked the book a lot (thus the second reading).

Ford K. Brown, a tutor at my alma mater St. John’s College in Annapolis, told of a business executive he knew whose schedule was so crowded that he had only enough time to read a single book each year, and every year he read Don Quixote, which, like the mountain, presents different aspects as you journey through life, provide you look closely at it.

The above is a specific example of a more general situation: when a fixed thing looks very different to person A than it does to person B. In the above, A and B are the same person, but A is the person when younger and B when older, with the fixed thing a book. But A and B can also be different people who view the fixed thing with their difference in background making a difference in perspective, so that they thus find different things in it. A (relatively) famous example is a review of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover originally published in Field & Streamin which the reviewer’s background gives a view of the novel that most people would not see.

Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley’s Lover has just been reissued by the Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper.

Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.

(Ed Zern, Field & Stream, November 1959, p. 142)

The phenomenon is also observed when A and B are from different cultures; an example of that is found in the previous post.

Another example — when A and B are from the same general culture but have different spheres of knowledge and experience and thus belong to different subcultures — can be found in Post-Captain, the second volume of the trilogy — Master and Commander (1969), Post-Captain (1972), and HMS Surprise (1973) — that begins Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful series of British naval novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. It begins with a scene at a party, with young Cecilia Williams eager to move about but temporarily in the company Mrs. Williams and Jack Aubrey:

‘Mama says they mean to go and look at the Magdalene. That is what Dr Maaturin is pointing at.’

‘Yes? Oh, yes. Certainly. A Guido, I believe?’ [said Aubrey.]

‘No, Sir,’ said Mrs Williams, who understood these things better than other people. ‘It is an oil painting, a very valuable oil painting, though not quite in the modern taste.’

A bit later, Jack Aubrey and Diana Villiers take a look at the painting.

It was clear that the Magdalene had not yet repented: she was standing on a quay with blue ruins in the background – a blue that swept with varying intensities through her robe to the sea – with gold plates, ewers and basins heaped up on a crimson cloth, and an expression of mild complacency on her face. Her blue dress had blown off – a fresh double-reef topsail breeze – and so had a filmy white garment, exposing handsome limbs and a firm, though opulent bosom. Jack had been a long time at sea, and this drew his attention; however, he shifted his gaze after a moment, surveyed the rest of the picture and sought for something appropriate, perhaps even witty, to say. He longed to produce a subtle and ingenious remark, but he longed in vain – perhaps the day had been too full – and he was obliged to fall back on ‘Very fine – such a blue.’ Then a small vessel in the lower left-hand corner caught his eye, something in the nature of a pink; she was beating up for the harbour, but it was obvious from the direction of the lady’s clothes that the pink would be taken aback the moment she rounded the headland. ‘As soon as she catches the land-breeze she will be in trouble,’ he said. ‘She will never stay, not with those unhandy lateens, and there is no room to wear; so there she is on a lee-shore. Poor fellows. I am afraid there is no hope for them.’

‘That is exactly what Maturin told me you would say,’ cried Diana, squeezing his arm. ‘How well he knows you, Aubrey.’

‘Well, a man don’t have to be a Nostradamus to tell what a sailor will say, when he sees an infernal tub like that laid by the lee. But Stephen is a very deep old file, to be sure,’ he added, his good humour returning. ‘And a great cognoscento, I make no doubt. For my part I know nothing about painting at all.’


.
With that as prologue: I was much impressed decades ago when around age 40 I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I went on to read The People of the Lie but was not so pleased by that. But I want to read it again, for with more knowledge and experience, I now see active in the public sphere many whom I would have to say are people of the lie. George Santos is an obvious example — but those who readily accept and support him, like Kevin McCarthy, must also count as people of the lie, people who will embrace and use the lie.

Kevin Drum points out an egregiously false and misleading column by Marc Thiessen. Thiessen is an intelligent and well-educated person, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and he undoubtedly knows that what he wrote is false and misleading. His decision to write those words marks him as one of the people of the lie.

I must read again The People of the Lie. I think this time it will seem a very different book, for I have traveled farther along life’s course and seen more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2023 at 7:32 am

Two views of The Great Wave

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Three rowboats carrying Japanese fishermen after rushing into the onslaught of a great wave while in the background Mount Fuji is visible against a reddish horizon.

What do you notice first? Look at the image for a while, then read this post

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Art, Memes

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Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

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This extract, published in the Washington Post more than a decade ago (on April 27, 2012) was written by two totally establishment figures:

Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

The American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank. Brookings Institution is more toward the center.

Here’s the extract:

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

What happened? Of course, there were . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

And over the past decade, things have gotten even worse, with a direct assault on the US Capital with the goal of overthrowing the government and murdering politicians (Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence in particular) and an overt and expressed desire by some Republicans to destroy the US government, possibly by forcing default on the US public debt. In the meantime, the Republican party has focused on taking away or limiting the rights of Americans (voting, abortion, education, healthcare, and so on).

America, I fear, is sailing into a disaster with many if not most citizens (and politicians and journalists) still in denial. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The pattern of the takeover of a country by a fascist authoritarian rule is well known, and it seems to be underway in the US.

Here’s a minor instance of the processes now underway: New Mexico Democrats’ homes, offices shot at over past month

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 5:27 pm

In the Stacks, a short story by Robin Sloan

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Short, but good. I hope you read it.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2023 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes, Music, Writing

Why the Godfather of Human Rights Is Unwelcome at Harvard

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The establishment exists to protect the powerful. Michael Massing provides an example in his article in the Nation:

Soon after Kenneth Roth announced in April that he planned to step down as the head of Human Rights Watch, he was contacted by Sushma Raman, the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Raman asked Roth if he would be interested in joining the center as a senior fellow. It seemed like a natural fit. In Roth’s nearly 30 years as the executive director of HRW, its budget had grown from $7 million to nearly $100 million, and its staff had gone from 60 to 550 people monitoring more than 100 countries. The “godfather” of human rights, The New York Times called him in a long, admiring overview of his career, noting that Roth “has been an unrelenting irritant to authoritarian governments, exposing human rights abuses with documented research reports that have become the group’s specialty.” HRW played a prominent role in establishing the International Criminal Court, and it helped secure the convictions of Charles Taylor of Liberia, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, and (in a tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Roth had been involved with the Carr Center since its founding in 1999. In 2004, he participated in a debate before 300 people with Michael Ignatieff, then its director, over whether the US invasion of Iraq qualified as a humanitarian intervention (Ignatieff said it did; Roth said it didn’t). The debate was moderated by Samantha Power, one of the center’s founders.

In a video conference with Raman and Mathias Risse, the Carr Center’s faculty director, Roth said he was indeed interested in becoming a fellow; he planned to write a book about his experience at HRW and how a relatively small group of people can move governments, and he could draw on the center’s research facilities. On May 7, Raman sent him a formal proposal, and on June 9, Roth agreed in principle to join the center. Raman sent the proposal to the office of Dean Douglas Elmendorf for approval in what was assumed to be a formality. On July 12, Roth had a video conversation with Elmendorf (a former senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers and a director of the Congressional Budget Office) to introduce himself and answer any questions he might have.

Two weeks later, however, Elmendorf informed the Carr Center that Roth’s fellowship would not be approved.

The center was stunned. “We thought he would be a terrific fellow,” says Kathryn Sikkink, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. A leading academic in the field, Sikkink has been affiliated with the Carr Center for nine years, and during that time nothing like this had ever happened. As she noted, the center has hosted other prominent human rights advocates, including William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA from 1994 to 2006, and Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International from 2010 to 2018.

Sikkink was even more surprised by the dean’s explanation: Israel. Human Rights Watch, she was told, has an “anti-Israel bias”; Roth’s tweets on Israel were of particular concern. Sikkink was taken aback. In her own research, she had used HRW’s reports “all the time,” and while the organization had indeed been critical of Israel, it had also been critical of ChinaSaudi Arabia—even the United States. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2023 at 12:27 pm

The US may be at a turning point, and it certainly *needs* a turning point

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Heather Cox Richardson had a particularly good column last night, and if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It begins:

The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.

In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York 212 votes, more votes than McCarthy received but not a majority of the body. When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated Jeffries yesterday, she blew him a kiss and the caucus rose up in a standing ovation.

Because it is still unorganized, the House technically has no members. No one is sworn in, and so they cannot perform their official duties or hire staff. About 70 new members brought their families to Washington, D.C., to watch their swearing in, and the extra days as the speakership contest drags on are becoming hard to manage.

The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern. Leaders often have to negotiate in order to take power—Nancy Pelosi had to bring together a number of factions to win the speakership in 2019—but since 1923 those negotiations have been completed before the start of voting.

Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6,” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

One story here is about competence. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that Pelosi ran the House with virtually the same margin the Republicans have now and yet managed to hold her caucus together tightly enough to pass a slate of legislation that rivaled those of the Great Society and the New Deal. McCarthy can’t even organize the House, leaving the United States without a functioning Congress for the first time in a hundred years.

But there is a larger story here about the destruction of the traditional Republican Party over the past forty years. In those years, a party that believed the government had a role to play in leveling the country’s economic and racial playing fields was captured by a reactionary right wing determined to uproot any such government action. When voters—including Republicans—continued to support business regulation, a basic social safety net, and civil rights laws, the logical outcome of opposition to such measures was war on the government itself.

That war is not limited to the 20 far-right Republicans refusing to elect McCarthy speaker. Pundits note that those 20 have supported former president Trump’s positions, particularly the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They also worked to overturn the 2020 election, challenging the electors from a number of states. But 139 Republicans, including McCarthy himself, voted in 2021 to challenge electors from a number of states and went on to embrace the Big Lie, and McCarthy’s staunchest supporter is extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

And today, more than 60 prominent right-wing figures, from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort, declared themselves “disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington.” They declared their support for the 20.

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on  . . .

Continue reading the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 8:42 pm

Emmy Noether and the conservation of momentum

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Emmy Noether is a big name in mathematics (e.g., Noetherian rings), so that title of a post by Kevin Drum caught my eye. Drum writes:

Yesterday I asked why there’s no name for a unit of momentum. Today I have answers. Plus, if you read all the way to the end, I have a genuinely constructive suggestion.

First things first, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about. In the metric system—officially known as SI—there are three basic quantities: the meter, the kilogram, and the second.¹ Everything else is derived from those three. For example, force = mass * acceleration, so:

F = ma

a = distance / seconds²

Therefore, F = mass * distance / seconds²

One unit of force = 1 kg * 1 meter / 1 second²

This quantity is called a newton, named after Isaac Newton. Lots of other things have names too: ohm, watt, lumen, joule, and so forth. Click here for a list.

Momentum is a critically important quantity, equal to mass * velocity. So why wasn’t it ever given a name? I did several minutes of research on this question, and the most authoritative sounding answer came from a commenter at Stack Exchange called Conifold. He or she explains that there were two waves of standardization and naming:

The second wave, started in the 1860s and formalized by the 1880s in both SI and its competitor CGS, was meant to catch up with developments in thermodynamics and electromagnetism, and gave us ohms, volts, farads, watts, etc. Kilograve was renamed into kilogram and became the unit of mass. The unit of force was named dyne in CGS (from Greek dynamis — force) and newton in SI.

….The unit for power, watt, was suggested even before joule, by Siemens in 1882, to replace Watt’s own horsepower used to measure the output of steam engines. Siemens was an electric engineer. Joule himself was honored by a unit name for determining the mechanical equivalent of heat. Momentum was out of luck.

In other words, momentum has no name because no one ever bothered to give it one. However, another commenter, jkien, tells us that it was given a name in the CGS system

In 1887 . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2023 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Math, Memes, Science

The New IgG4 Study Doesn’t Say What Anti-Vaxxers Think It Does

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Jessica Wildfire writes at OK Doomer:

There’s been some disturbing developments with Covid lately. First, the public is finally catching on to the rise in sudden deaths around the world. It sounds a little alarmist to say healthy people are dropping dead, but it’s happening. Second, a new study in Science Immunology shows that mRNA vaccines are having an unintended impact on our immune systems.

Both developments are leading to a resurgence in the anti-vaxxer movement, and it’s doing a lot of damage to public health.

Basically, anti-vaxxers are taking advantage of mistakes by the CDC and other public health officials. Those mistakes are turning into epic failures as they continue to dodge and deny their way through problems rather than address them. That leaves the public vulnerable to misinformation.

In short:

  • Vaccines aren’t causing sudden deaths.
  • Covid is causing sudden deaths.
  • Vaccines aren’t ruining your immune system.
  • Covid hurts your immune system.
  • You’re better off vaxxed and boosted.
  • Higher levels of IgG4 antibodies could be good.
  • We still need mitigations (N95 masks, HEPA, etc).
  • The CDC has done a poor job explaining this.
  • Anti-vaxxers aren’t your friend.

First, a new wave of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2022 at 12:15 pm

The white-supremacist foundations of the (fictional) tragedy of the commons

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Heavenly Possum has a fascinating thread on Mastodon. It begins:

There is no such thing as the tragedy of the commons: a thread.

The oldest published reference to the idea is in a lecture by an early political economist at Oxford, William Foster Lloyd, in 1832 titled “On the Checks to Population.” Lloyd first articulated the argument that many of us have been taught as an inevitable and immutable fact of economic life: that any resource owned in common will be exploited to the point of ruin.

“Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so hare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures? No inequality, in respect of natural or acquired fertility, will account for the phenomenon.”

jstor.org/stable/1972412

1/

It’s not clear what, if any, empirical research Lloyd made into the status of England’s remaining commons at the time of his writing, and he doesn’t seem to have accounted for the fact that English landlords had been privatizing the commons for centuries, leaving increasingly marginal land for the commons.

Lloyd’s idea was championed by ecologist Garrett Hardin who, in 1968, published an essay in the journal Science titled “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In it, Hardin framed Lloyd’s argument in the context of global overpopulation, arguing that common property inevitably and inexorably led to resource exhaustion and advocating for total privatization of all resources as a remedy.

2/

“[T]he rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

Hardin, casually and without evidence, dismisses the existence of commons that did not fall victim to this ostensibly inevitable tragedy: “Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast below the carrying capacity of the land.”

3/

Hardin’s solution? “The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion…” Hardin believed that privatization, with its attendant exclusionary violence, was the only solution to the tragedy.

pages.mtu.edu/~asmayer/rural_s

This story has been taught to countless students in countless economics and other classes. It is taken for granted and repeated endlessly. It has been gleefully embraced by the propertied class, because it works to ideologically justify their ownership of the world’s resources as necessary for the common good. It is rarely presented with any evidence, because it is assumed to be so logical, so self evidently true, that it does not need any.

The logic is airtight. People are utility maximizing, rational machines. When presented with a shared resource, of course they will exploit it to exhaustion. Of course. Even if most people were angels, Hardin argued, all it would take is one defector to start the race to over-exploitation. In the face of even one over-exploiter, each individual would have a rational incentive to also begin over-exploiting for personal gain. Every actor knows this choice will lead to eventual ruin for all, but if any one actor waits, they risk being left without even the tiniest share. Of course.

4/

The first problem with Hardin’s tragedy is that it’s not true. The second problem, which helps explain the first, is that Hardin was a racist ecofascist who hated nonwhite people, blamed them for ruining the planet, and advocated strongly for their exclusion from western countries, what he called “lifeboat ethics.” There simply weren’t enough resources for everyone, he argued, so he wanted to prioritize white westerners. “Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all” is a line from his essay that people don’t like to teach when they push the myth of the tragedy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a profile on Hardin, who advocated for, among other things, segregation, eugenic forced sterilization, and ethnic cleansing. He likened nonwhite people having many children to a “passive” genocide of white people. He was, in short, a monster. We should understand his evidence-free arguments for a tragedy of the commons through this lens: Hardin was a racist and eugenicist who believed most people were too stupid not to over-exploit resources and had to be violently contained to ensure enough would be left over for the “right” people. This is not a work of ecological science or even economics, but rather white supremacist propaganda.

5/

Then along came Elinor “Lin” Ostrom and her 1990 work “Governing the Commons.” In it, Ostrom presented game theory approach to commonly owned resources, explaining how people as self-interested rational actors could avoid the logical trap of over exploitation. And then she did Hardin one better: she detailed the workings of actual extant commons which, according to Hardin and every neoliberal since, should not exist.

Ostrom illustrated what anthropologists and people in stateless societies have known for generations: people are perfectly capable of working out rules to sustainably manage shared resources. In her book, Ostrom detailed one common . . .

Continue reading. It’s worth it.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2022 at 10:19 am

The gods of Silicon Valley are falling to earth. So are their warped visions for society

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Moya Lothian-McLean writes in the Guardian:

The new gods are running into a bit of trouble. From the soap opera playing out at Twitter HQ, the too-big-to-fail bankruptcies in the cryptocurrency space, to mass tech layoffs, the past month has seen successive headlines declaring a litany of woes facing the bullish tech boyos in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The minute-by-minute coverage of Elon Musk’s escapades and the global levels of interest in the FTX collapse both go well beyond what you’d expect from a business story. I’m willing to gamble a few Bitcoins that the popular fixation has little to do with any particular interest in successful software engineering; rather it is the personalities who inhabit these spaces, and the philosophies that propel them in their godlike ambition. What is their end goal, we wonder. What drives them, beyond the pursuit of growth? It is easy to assume that money is all that motivates the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Musk and Jeff Bezos. Except, when you start to examine the mindsets of these men, it’s clear that cash is far from the whole story.

The concept of “effective altruism” has had its day in court after FTX, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange announced that, oops, it was mysteriously short of $8bn and would be filing for bankruptcy, post haste. As the dust – and fraud allegations – settle, the personal guiding principles of FTX’s millennial chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, have come to the fore. Bankman-Fried ostensibly was driven into crypto by an adherence to the “effective altruism” movement. Originally espousing giving as much targeted time and money to philanthropy as possible, EA has been morphed by its most prominent practitioners into getting very, very rich and then spending that money on projects that better the human race. This “earn-to-give” philosophy is dependent on data-driven analysis of what causes offer the best returns of “betterment”. It’s utilitarianism with a god complex.

Since Bankman-Fried’s spectacular fall from grace, it seems as if this doctrine may be doomed to the same downward spiral as its most famous disciple. It’s hard to argue that you possess the best instincts to improve the prospects of the human race when you can’t even keep your own affairs – or billions in customer funds – in order.

Then there was the allegation last week by the Insider journalist Julia Black that Musk, along with other billionaires, appear to be engaged in their own personal eugenics programme via a movement called “pronatalism”. Black writes that pronatalism – an ideology centred on having children to reverse falling birthrates in European countries, and prevent a predicted population collapse – is “taking hold in wealthy tech and venture-capitalist circles”, with the aid of hi-tech genetic screening.

Musk has championed pronatalist ideas publicly. Privately the Tesla co-founder is, in his own words, “doing my part”; he has 10 children known to the public, two of whom are twins he fathered with an AI expert who serves as an executive for his Neuralink company. But the ideas go beyond Musk and into the canyons of Silicon Valley; the world’s richest and most powerful people see it as their duty, Black claims, to “replicate themselves as many times as possible”.

Black’s subjects also namecheck effective altruism, longtermism (which prioritises the distant future over the concerns of today), and transhumanism (the evolution of humanity beyond current limitations via tech), as complementary philosophies. The concept of legacy is key to understanding our tech pioneers. As one interviewee tells Black,  . . .

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27 November 2022 at 1:04 pm

The Town That Went Feral

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In the New Republic Patrick Blanchfield reviews a brief history of an effort to put Libertarianism into practice in Grafton NH. (Like all previous attempts, it was an utter failure, and for the same reason: a reliance on mere logic, with no consideration given to experience — and as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

The review begins:

In its public-education campaigns, the U.S. National Park Service stresses an important distinction: If you find yourself being attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, YES, DO PLAY DEAD. Spread your arms and legs and cling to the ground with all your might, facing downward; after a few attempts to flip you over (no one said this would be easy), the bear will, most likely, leave. By contrast, if you find yourself being attacked by a black bear, NO, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. You must either flee or, if that’s not an option, fight it off, curved claws and 700 psi-jaws and all.

But don’t worry—it almost never comes to this. As one park service PSA noted this summer, bears “usually just want to be left alone. Don’t we all?” In other words, if you encounter a black bear, try to look big, back slowly away, and trust in the creature’s inner libertarian. Unless, that is, the bear in question hails from certain wilds of western New Hampshire. Because, as Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s new book suggests, that unfortunate animal may have a far more aggressive disposition, and relate to libertarianism first and foremost as a flavor of human cuisine.

Hongoltz-Hetling is an accomplished journalist based in Vermont, a Pulitzer nominee and George Polk Award winner. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) sees him traversing rural New England as he reconstructs a remarkable, and remarkably strange, episode in recent history. This is the so-called Free Town Project, a venture wherein a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals—part social experiment, part beacon to the faithful, Galt’s Gulch meets the New Jerusalem. These people had found one another largely over the internet, posting manifestos and engaging in utopian daydreaming on online message boards. While their various platforms and bugbears were inevitably idiosyncratic, certain beliefs united them: that the radical freedom of markets and the marketplace of ideas was an unalloyed good; that “statism” in the form of government interference (above all, taxes) was irredeemably bad. Left alone, they believed, free individuals would thrive and self-regulate, thanks to the sheer force of “logic,” “reason,” and efficiency. For inspirations, they drew upon precedents from fiction (Ayn Rand loomed large) as well as from real life, most notably a series of micro-nation projects ventured in the Pacific and Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s.

None of those micro-nations, it should be observed, panned out, and things in New Hampshire don’t bode well either—especially when the humans collide with a newly brazen population of bears, themselves just “working to create their own utopia,” property lines and market logic be damned. The resulting narrative is simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and deeply unsettling. Sigmund Freud once described the value of civilization, with all its “discontents,” as a compromise product, the best that can be expected from mitigating human vulnerability to “indifferent nature” on one hand and our vulnerability to one another on the other. Hongoltz-Hetling presents, in microcosm, a case study in how a politics that fetishizes the pursuit of “freedom,” both individual and economic, is in fact a recipe for impoverishment and supercharged vulnerability on both fronts at once. In a United States wracked by virus, mounting climate change, and ruthless corporate pillaging and governmental deregulation, the lessons from one tiny New Hampshire town are stark indeed.


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“In a country known for fussy states with streaks of independence,” Hongoltz-Hetling observes, “New Hampshire is among the fussiest and the streakiest.” New Hampshire is, after all, the Live Free or Die state, imposing neither an income nor a sales tax, and boasting, among other things, the highest per capita rate of machine gun ownership. In the case of Grafton, the history of Living Free—so to speak—has deep roots. The town’s Colonial-era settlers started out by ignoring “centuries of traditional Abenaki law by purchasing land from founding father John Hancock and other speculators.” Next, they ran off Royalist law enforcement, come to collect lumber for the king, and soon discovered their most enduring pursuit: the avoidance of taxes. As early as 1777, Grafton’s citizens were asking their government to be spared taxes and, when they were not, just stopped paying them.

Nearly two and a half centuries later, Grafton has become something of a magnet for seekers and quirky types, from adherents of the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon to hippie burnouts and more. Particularly important for the story is one John Babiarz, a software designer with a Krusty the Klown laugh, who decamped from Big-Government-Friendly Connecticut in the 1990s to homestead in New Hampshire with his equally freedom-loving wife, Rosalie. Entering a sylvan world that was, Hongoltz-Hetling writes, “almost as if they had driven through a time warp and into New England’s revolutionary days, when freedom outweighed fealty and trees outnumbered taxes,” the two built a new life for themselves, with John eventually coming to head Grafton’s volunteer fire department (which he describes as a “mutual aid” venture) and running for governor on the libertarian ticket.

Although John’s bids for high office failed, his ambitions remained undimmed, and in 2004 he and Rosalie connected with . . .

Continue reading.

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26 November 2022 at 6:15 pm

Musk’s Twitter Buy Makes No Sense – Unless It’s Part of Something Bigger

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Dave Troy writes in Byline Times:

Ever since Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, plunged the world into an endless stream of speculation and condemnation around his purchase of Twitter, the biggest unanswered question has been: why?

For many, his ultimate goals seem to be a mystery. As someone who has followed the company and its role in information warfare closely, I believe we need to use a different set of lenses to evaluate what’s happening.

First, it’s not a very attractive business, and it probably isn’t worth what Musk paid for it based on business metrics alone. He will struggle to service the debt payments associated with it, and he could try to improve profitability by slashing headcount and charging for services like Twitter Blue (which will provide a verified “checkmark” but may not include identity verification). That subscription feature may generate around $100 million a year if it has high uptake — nothing compared to the company’s $3.7bn in 2021 revenues.

It’s also important to realise that co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey endorsed Musk’s takeover bid. Why? Dorsey actually believes Twitter never should have been a company, but rather a foundational protocol on which a Twitter-like service could be built for the benefit of all — rather like the foundational Internet protocols that have enabled the web and email. Dorsey retained his shares in Musk’s Twitter; he said in April, “Elon is the singular solution I trust,” and he seems to be standing by that assessment.

Twitter cost Musk and his consortium of investors about $44 billion — denominated in United States dollars. That seems like quite a lot to pay. However, just as home mortgage payments get less expensive in real terms as time goes on, if you had a high degree of confidence that the value of a dollar would go down, perhaps dramatically, you might not care very much about price — especially if you thought your new asset could help you devalue the dollar.

Looking closer at the biggest investors (among them Musk, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, Qatar, and Dorsey), all of them have an interest in challenging the US dollar. Musk and Dorsey are major Bitcoin fanatics, and believe it’s the future of money. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed interest in displacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It is a peculiar characteristic of the investor list that all of them are interested in displacing the dollar.

Of course, this strategy is also one favoured by Vladimir Putin. His disastrous war in Ukraine is about more than territorial gains — it’s also a challenge to the West and what he perceives as unreasonable Western hegemony. He intends to . . .

Continue reading.

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24 November 2022 at 5:53 pm

Why women aren’t from Venus, and men aren’t from Mars

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In Nature, Emily Cooke interviews Gina Rippon:

Early research into schizophrenia alerted neuroscientist Gina Rippon to what she now calls the myth of the gendered brain, a term she used in the title of her first book. By examining examples taken from brain–behaviour research during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, right up to contemporary studies, the book, published in 2019, investigates the desire to find biological explanations for gendered societal norms. Rippon argues that our brains are not fixed as male or female at birth, but are instead highly plastic, changing constantly throughout our lives and influenced by the gendered world in which we live.

The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain was written in part, she says, to address dubious research, or what is sometimes called neurotrash. Rippon first encountered it in the 2000s. At the time, she was working at the Aston Brain Centre, part of Aston University in Birmingham, UK. Shocked by the misuse of sex and gender reporting in neuroscience, she became set on changing the rhetoric. Rippon is now professor emeritus of cognitive neuroimaging at Aston University.

What is neurotrash?

It is what we’d generally call pseudoscience — bringing a kind of scientific legitimacy to an argument.

Early brain images were very seductive, with people thinking, ‘Brilliant, we can find the God spot,’ for instance. Images were hijacked by self-help gurus, relationship counsellors and even those espousing single-sex education. Just adding a picture of the brain in, say, book chapters on why boys and girls are different gave tremendous credibility. Also, the beginning of this century saw ‘neuro’ everything. Just put ‘neuro’ in front for that sexy science-y feel — for example, neuromarketing or neuroaesthetics.

The word neurotrash highlights misleading information: telling stories that might be partly true, sustaining stereotypes and feeding myth continuation, for example about the right brain and left brain. This is the idea that the brain is a ‘game of two halves’, when in fact the whole of your brain is working for you the whole of the time.

These stories were often well written and certainly more accessible than arcane journals. They also resonated with people’s experiences. We believed that men and women were different, and here were the scientists saying ‘you’re right, and this is why’.

How did your own research in the field take shape?

I began my career in the 1980s, and became interested in sex differences in the brain and how different regions could be better configured for various tasks — making me one of the people I subsequently criticized.

When setting up my own laboratory, I had a range of cognitive tests, such as verbal fluency tasks or visuospatial tasks, that would allegedly differentiate men from women reliably. However, over a period of 18 months I frustratingly didn’t find any differences, so became dispirited. The research made me realize that the whole right-brain, left-brain idea is based on very shaky evidence — possibly not something to hang my future research career on. So I stopped doing that sort of work and moved on, becoming involved in dyslexia research.

In 2006, shortly after I’d joined Aston, the engineer Julia King became the university’s first female vice-chancellor. She was interested in the under-representation of women in science, and wanted to know what researchers at Aston were doing that might be relevant to understanding this.

Aware that brain imaging was being used to talk publicly about neuroscience, I reviewed how the field pursued the belief in the male versus the female brain. Horrified by the discipline’s misuse, I wrote a review and started a public conversation.

At the 2010 British Science Festival, I gave a talk about the so-called differences between women’s and men’s brains, showing that, when you look at the data, they’re not that different after all. I was trying to dispel the stereotypical myths that men are ‘left-brained’ — logical, rational and good at spatial tasks — and women are ‘right-brained’ — emotional, nurturing and good at verbal tasks.

We’re not from Mars or Venus (to quote relationship counsellor John Gray’s 1992 book), we’re all from Earth! I assumed that people would thank me and just move on, but it caused an absolute furore and gave me early exposure to media backlash.

One favourite comment (now . . .

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22 November 2022 at 11:20 am

‘Golden billion,’ Putin’s favorite conspiracy, explains his worldview and strategy

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Charles Maynes reports at NPR:

As the war in Ukraine approaches the nine-month mark, Western governments have repeatedly accused Russia of imperialist expansionism, nuclear blackmail, weaponizing food, energy and winter — and a host of other hostilities that put the welfare of millions at risk.

Yet there’s an increasingly common counternarrative in Moscow that argues it is the West instead that intends to subject the masses to misery.

Welcome to the “golden billion.”

An idea that first emerged in the twilight years of the Soviet Union, the golden billion is a conspiracy theory that posits a cabal of 1 billion global elites seeks to hoard the world’s wealth and resources, leaving the rest of the planet to suffer and starve.

For years a fringe theory in Russia, the idea has been increasingly espoused by President Vladimir Putin and other top Kremlin officials as an attack line against the West amid a breakdown in relations over the conflict in Ukraine.

“The model of total domination of the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this golden billion of the globe dominate over everyone and impose its own rules of behavior?” Putin asked in a speech last July.

Putin went on to describe the alleged plot as “racist and neocolonial in its essence” — a way for the West to divide the world into superior and “second-rate” nations.

The Kremlin dusts off an old plot

Theories — and conspiracies — about economic inequality and the cut-throat competition for global wealth and resources are nothing new.

But analysts say the Kremlin has increasingly exploited the golden billion theory to deflect the notion of Russia as isolated and alone amid what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Instead of Russia facing international condemnation over its actions in Ukraine, the theory attempts to place Moscow at the center of . . .

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21 November 2022 at 5:05 pm

The Beautiful, Brutal World of Bonsai

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39-year-old Ryan Neil, seated next to a large bonsai and leaning against it.

In the New Yorker, Suzanne Saroff has a profile (no paywall) of an American bonsai master who studied in Japan. The profile begins:

In the winter of 2002, a young American named Ryan Neil joined an unusual pilgrimage: he and several others flew to Tokyo, to begin a tour of Japan’s finest collections of bonsai trees. He was nineteen, with an athlete’s body and a sunny, symmetrical face. The next-youngest adult in the group was fifty-seven. Then, as now, rearing tiny trees in ornamental pots was not commonly considered a young man’s hobby.

Neil had grown up in a small Colorado mountain town. For much of his youth, he was focussed on playing sports, especially basketball, which he approached with an almost clinical rigor: during high-school summer breaks, he’d wake up every day at five-thirty and attempt twelve hundred jump shots before going to the gym to lift weights. By his junior year, he was the best player on the team. By his senior year, he had torn one of his quadriceps—“It was hanging on by just a thread,” he recalls—and was looking for a new obsession.

Like many Americans of his generation, Neil had discovered bonsai through the “Karate Kid” films. He was especially fond of the third movie in the series, which features dreamy shots of characters rappelling down a cliff face to collect a miniature juniper. In the films, the wise karate instructor, Mr. Miyagi, practices the art of bonsai, and in Neil’s young mind it came to represent a romantic ideal: the pursuit of perfection through calm discipline. One day, after seeing bonsai for sale at a local fair, he rode his bike to the library, checked out every book on bonsai, and lugged them all home.

About a month later, he got his hands on a trade magazine, Bonsai Today, which featured an article about Masahiko Kimura, the so-called magician of bonsai, who is regarded by many enthusiasts as the field’s most innovative living figure. (Kunio Kobayashi, one of Kimura’s chief rivals at the time, called him “the kind of genius who comes along once every hundred years, or maybe more.”) The article described how Kimura had transformed and refined a small juniper tree that had been collected in the wild. A scruffy, shapeless plant had become a cantilevered sculpture. As Neil saw it, Kimura had given the tree not just a new shape but a soul.

Near the end of high school, Neil laid out a meticulous long-term plan that would culminate in his travelling across the Pacific to apprentice under Kimura, who was considered the toughest bonsai master in Japan. Neil knew that the work would not be easy. Bonsai apprenticeships could last anywhere between five and ten years. At the time, some fifty people had begun working under Kimura, but only five had completed the apprenticeship, all of them Japanese.

Neil went to college at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, where he majored in horticulture and studied Japanese. He helped take care of the university’s bonsai collection and travelled around the West Coast to attend master classes with renowned practitioners. While other students were partying, he stayed home looking at bonsai blogs, or drove his pickup truck to remote mountain locations in search of wild miniature trees. “He was possessed,” his father recalls.

Neil signed up for the tour of Japan during his sophomore year, and took a short leave from school. On the second day of the trip, the group visited Kimura’s garden, in a rural area some thirty miles northwest of Tokyo. It was a cool, gray morning; Neil wore a hoodie. The group was met by one of Kimura’s apprentices and ushered past rows of ancient and pristinely shaped bonsai into the back garden—the workshop—where few visitors were allowed.

Neil later likened the moment to peering into the mind of a mad genius. Hundreds of knee-high trees, in various states of arboreal surgery, were lined up on benches and beer crates. Custom-made power tools were scattered around the workshop, including a machine, used to sculpt trunks, that shot out tiny glass beads. Kimura was famed for his deft use of these devices to carve rippling torrents of shari—bone-white deadwood that is laced with thin veins of living wood.

That day, Kimura, who was then in his sixties, was working on . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

Photos of bonsai.

A bonsai created by Kimura called "The Dance of the Flying Dragon," discussed and described in the article
Kimura’s “The Dance of the Flying Dragon”

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2022 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes

The Crypto Ponzi Scheme Avenger

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A while back it came to me that cryptocurrencies are the techno-nerd version of beanie babies. And, like beanie babies, wild speculation and mass hysteria resulted in a run-up in prices, the (inevitably) followed by a crash. After the crash, the beanie-baby collectors had a better outcome: they at least had the stuffed animals. Crypto players have little but memories.

David Segal in the NY Times has a good profile (no paywall) of a man who has long sounded the alarm on the crypto scam. Segal writes:

Last year, Danny de Hek was a social media guru badly in need of a social media guru. A buoyant New Zealander with geeky glasses, he dispensed advice about how to vastly expand your online audience, to a group of just 350 subscribers.

He earned a living by drop shipping electronics as he searched for ways to make serious money. Then, in February, the husband of a friend sent the 52-year-old Mr. de Hek an email crowing about a company that somehow guaranteed outsize and clockwork returns. Investors in what was then known as HyperFund — it has since been rebranded twice — could triple their money in 600 days.

“It’s the best passive income retirement plan I have ever seen,” the acquaintance wrote. Get in now then sit back and watch the cash roll in.

The message changed Mr. de Hek’s life, though not in the way his friend might have hoped. After a few days of looking into HyperFund, Mr. de Hek concluded it was a scam, one that he estimates has attracted at least $1 billion by recruiting thousands of participants, some of whom put up as little as $300 or as much as $50,000 or more.

By March, he had crafted a new online identity: crypto Ponzi scheme buster. Mr. de Hek has since denounced HyperFund in more than 130 videos posted to YouTube, some of them nearly two hours long, lecturing viewers in a style that toggles between goofball and scold.

“When I looked into HyperFund, to me it just seemed black and white,” Mr. de Hek said during one of several interviews from his home in Christchurch. “Then I thought, I need to warn people about this.”

Mr. de Hek is one of the few voices flagging crypto-based Ponzi schemes, which U.S. investigators say are a severely underpublicized scourge. The past week has shown just how volatile the market is: One of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, FTX, collapsed and the industry, is in meltdown.‌

Amid that kind of uncertainty, many investors have decided that if their tokens won’t recover from the steep drop in value that began last November, why not take a flier on a company that sounds crypto-adjacent?

“People are desperate, and out of desperation they’re giving it a go,” Mr. de Hek said. “It’s depressing because this is often a last-ditch effort.”

A Ponzi scheme, for those in need of a refresher, is an age-old fraud in which inflows of new money pay off earlier investors. Using cryptocurrencies does little more than lend the whole plate-spinning contraption a patina of the cutting edge — Hey, it’s on the blockchain — and makes it harder to pin down who is in charge. But the story ends the same way: champagne for those at the top, tears for everyone else.

U.S. investigators have busted a handful of crypto Ponzis over the years. Among them is OneCoin, which was based in Bulgaria and which prosecutors allege brought in roughly $4 billion from investors around the world. The charismatic co-founder of that fraud, Ruja Ignatova, disappeared after the fund closed in 2017 and is the subject of an 11-part BBC podcast, “The Missing Cryptoqueen.”

“We’ve worked multiple cases that involve more than $1 billion, and those are only the ones we hear about,” said Jarod Koopman, the acting executive director of the Cyber and Forensic Services section of the Internal Revenue Service, which spearheads crypto-Ponzi investigations, in a phone interview. “These are traditional Ponzi schemes that have been adapted to the digital landscape, recruiting investors through social media to make them look great. And they’re completely bogus.”

Mr. Koopman would not comment on cases other than those that are already public, and he declined to discuss HyperFund. The company has attracted the attention of regulators in Britain, where . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

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11 November 2022 at 1:02 pm

Ideologues will smother alternative ideas

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Judd Legum writes at Popular Information:

In 2018, Dan Colson, a Professor of English at Emporia State University (ESU) in Kansas, published an article titled, “Teaching Radically with Koch Money.” In the piece, Colson details how he was fighting ESU’s “embrace of right-wing, free-market ‘investments’ in higher education.” Colson shares his experience using a grant from ESU’s “Koch Center for Leadership and Ethics” to “work directly against the Center’s agenda.”

Colson could feel secure writing such a provocative article because he was a tenured professor. Academic tenure is a foundational component of higher education and the free exchange of ideas on campus. It gives professors like Colson the ability to express unpopular opinions without fear of retribution. A tenured professor generally cannot be terminated except under extraordinary circumstances, such as professional misconduct.

But on September 15, Colson was told to report to an off-campus, ESU-owned building. When he arrived, an ESU administrator read from a script. Colson, who had taught at ESU for 11 years, learned he was being terminated.

“It looks like the right-wing fantasy of what happens when you put ideologues in charge of a university,” Colson told Popular Information.

Colson was one of 33 employees, most tenured faculty, that were terminated from ESU last month. The firings were made possible through a state-wide policy change introduced in early 2021 by the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), the board that oversees Kansas’ public colleges and universities. The other five public universities in Kansas declined to violate the principles of tenure to cut costs.

Gwen Larson, a spokesperson for ESU, told Popular Information that the firing decisions “were not in any way politically motivated” and said that the university “supports the right for free expression by our faculty, staff, and students.” Colson and other faculty members interviewed by Popular Information disagreed.

ESU receives extensive funding from non-profit groups controlled by Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries. For decades, Koch has been a critic of liberal arts education and the tenure system. Still, for nearly two years, ESU did not submit a plan under the KBOR policy to fire tenured faculty.

But then ESU appointed a former Koch Industries executive as its new president. Suddenly, there was a willing executioner. Colson and other faculty who were let go told Popular Information that they believe they were victims of an ideological purge, cast aside for failing to conform to the university’s political agenda.

And what happened at ESU could be a harbinger of what’s to come at colleges and universities across the country.

Why the right-wing hates tenure

In the United States, tenure has long served as a safeguard for academic freedom. Tenure prevents professors from being fired for discussing controversial ideas. And it’s the tenure system that insulates faculty from undue influence by university donors, administrators, and politicians.

That’s exactly why tenure has become a frequent target of right-wing lawmakers and pundits.

In April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) ” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 5:27 pm

Women bombarded by unsolicited help from men

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Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian:

A few years ago a friend of mine got married, and when I pulled up to the rustic wedding site, a man I didn’t know positioned himself behind my car to make dramatic hand signals. I didn’t need or ask for help, but he was giving it, and I’m sure he thought the credit for my success in parking my small car in this very easy spot was at least partly his. In a very minor and undoubtedly unwitting way, he was trying to rob me of my sense of competence to bolster his own.

It’s not impaired by one clown, but I’ve had hundreds or maybe thousands of experiences like this, of unwanted, unsolicited intrusion in the form of help, advice, and granting approval (or its opposite). It all too frequently takes the form of some man saying “correct” when I or other women say something aloud or online, as if we needed their approval, as if they were the authorities in the room, as though it wasn’t true or right until it had their imprimateur. When I wrote a social media post about the phenomenon, the response was like that scene in Giant when they drill for oil and it spouts skyward. Torrents of stories from other women gushed out.

Professor Sarah Detweiler told me, “I’m an artist. I often need to use hardware stores. I’ll ask, where are the caulk guns or some other such item. I didn’t ask how to use them, wasn’t running my project by anyone, and inevitably I’ll get ‘whatcha gonna do with that’ or ‘what you need that for’ and I’ll smile and say ‘what aisle?’ Male workers have gone so far as to walk me to them, stand in front of them blocking my way asking again what I’m working on as I couldn’t possibly know. I’ve had it happen nearly everywhere and hear it happening to other women all the time.”

They discussed the defensiveness belittlement generates, the sense that you need to brandish your credentials and qualifications in the face of this, which happens when you’re treated over and over as incompetent, and of how a lifetime of it can breed undeserved self-doubt. One wondered if other women get, “an additional sense of demoralised deflation afterwards, even though the intellect tells you to ignore the subtle put down?,” adding that “sometimes it just wipes me out even though I know I’m capable and accomplished.”

A distinguished scientist told me about the men who feel the need to repeat what she’s said as though it’s their idea or not valid until a man says it or cite other sources that repeated what she said in her area of expertise. It’s exhausting and demoralizing. Obviously there are worse forms of oppression out there, and other categories of hostile assumptions specific to other categories of people – for example, I can think of a Latina head of a literary nonprofit assumed to be the maid at a gala, of way too many Black men assumed to have stolen their car or bicycle. But this pervasive misogyny does have an impact.

Writer and editor Meredith Jacobson told me, “Aside from the millions of instances of dudes bizarrely taking the time to comment ‘You’re correct’ on social media, what it brings to mind is the time when, as a young grad student, I had a flat tire outside my apartment. I dug out the car manual, read the instructions on changing a flat, pulled out the spare and the jack, and began working through the steps, feeling capable and proud of myself for doing it. Just as I was tightening the last lug nuts – in the proper cross pattern, just like the manual said – my middle-aged-dude neighbor came out and gestured for me to hand him the wrench. I kick myself for it now, but at the time I automatically responded to the gesture by handing him the wrench, and he proceeded to go through the motions as if tightening the bolts himself, though they were already fully tightened. He said, ‘Good job’ and handed me back the damned wrench as if he were a priest conferring some kind of patriarchal benediction I never asked for. Decades later it still rankles, because it was the first time I’d ever changed a flat and I was enjoying the feeling of accomplishment before he inserted himself.” Like the man playing air-traffic-controller while I parked, he was pretending to help her in ways that helped himself, or his self-conception, and undermined her.

Fourteen years ago I wrote the essay that prompted the birth of the word mansplaining, about when  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2022 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes

Covid killing more Whites than Blacks

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In the Washington Post, Akilah Johnson and Dan Keating have a stunning article (gift link, no paywall) — I rate this one as a must-read. I recently discovered that gift links expire, so you can also use a no-paywall link to the archived article, but that version lacks photos and some charts. So use the gift link if it’s still active.

From the article:

After it became clear that communities of color were being disproportionately affected, racial equity started to become the parlance of the pandemic, in words and deeds. As it did, vaccine access and acceptance within communities of color grew — and so did the belief among some White conservatives, who form the core of the Republican base, that vaccine requirements and mask mandates infringe on personal liberties.

“Getting to make this decision for themselves has primacy over what the vaccine could do for them,” said Lisa R. Pruitt, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who is an expert in social inequality and the urban-rural divide. “They’re making a different calculus.”

It’s a calculation informed by the lore around self-sufficiency, she said, a fatalistic acceptance that hardships happen in life and a sense of defiance that has come to define the modern conservative movement’s antipathy toward bureaucrats and technocrats.

“I didn’t think that that polarization would transfer over to a pandemic,” Pruitt said.

It did.

A lifesaving vaccine and droplet-blocking masks became ideological Rorschach tests.

The impulse to frame the eradication of an infectious disease as a matter of personal choice cost the lives of some who, despite taking the coronavirus seriously, were surrounded by enough people that the virus found fertile terrain to sow misery. That’s what happened in northern Illinois, where a father watched his 40-year-old son succumb to covid-19.

And later:

Researchers at the University of Georgia found that White people who assumed the pandemic had a disparate effect on communities of color — or were told that it did — had less fear of being infected with the coronavirus, were less likely to express empathy toward vulnerable populations and were less supportive of safety measures, according to an article in Social Science & Medicine.

Perhaps, the report concludes, explaining covid’s unequal burden as part of an enduring legacy of inequality “signaled these disparities were not just transitory epidemiological trends, which could potentially shift and disproportionately impact White people in the future.”

Translation: Racial health disparities are part of the status quo.

And because of that, government efforts to bring a public health threat to heel are seen by some White Americans as infringing on their rights, researchers said.

“This is reflective of politics that go back to the 19th-century anxieties about federal overreach,” said Ayah Nuriddin, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University who studies the history of medicine.

And later:

“We put it on Republicans and politics,” she said, “but I think we should dig deeper.”

That’s what Jonathan M. Metzl, director of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Medicine, Health, and Society, did for six years while researching his book “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.”

Published in 2019, it is a book about the politicization of public health and mistrust of medical institutions. It is a story about how communal values take a back seat to individuality. It’s an exploration of disinformation and how the fear of improving the lives of some means worsening the lives of others.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing a prehistory of the pandemic,” Metzl said in an interview. “You’re seeing a kind of dying-of-Whiteness phenomenon in the covid data that’s very similar to what I saw in my data.”

Metzl and Griffith, a Vanderbilt professor at the time, conducted focus groups on the Affordable Care Act throughout middle Tennessee including White and Black men who were 20 to 60 years old. Some were small-business owners and security guards. Others were factory workers and retirees.

The divergent medical experiences of Black and White patients permeated Metzl’s focus groups, particularly when the conversation veered toward the politics of health and government’s role in promoting well-being.

“Black men described precisely the same medical and economic stressors as did White men and detailed the same struggles to stay healthy,” Metzl wrote. “But Black men consistently differed from White men in how they conceived of government intervention and group identity. Whereas White men jumped unthinkingly to assumptions about ‘them,’ Black men frequently answered questions about health and health systems through the language of ‘us.’ ”

Tennessee has yet to expand Medicaid under the ACA, a decision fueling rural hospital closures at a rate that eclipses nearly every other state because there isn’t enough money to keep the doors open. Not only would expanding Medicaid have saved hospitals, Metzl wrote, it would have saved thousands of lives — White and Black.

There’s much more. Read the whole thing, either through a gift link or through a no-paywall link (though that link is missing photos and some charts, so the gift link is better — but the gift link expires).

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2022 at 11:37 am

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