Later On

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Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

Beware thought leaders and the wealthy purveying answers to our social ills

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Bethany McLean, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World, had a very interesting book review in the Washington Post last September:

More than a century ago, Oscar Wilde outlined the danger posed by those trying hard to improve society. “Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it,” Wilde wrote, “so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

In his impassioned new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, journalist Anand Giridharadas argues that the equivalent of today’s slaveholders are the elite citizens of the world, who are philanthropic more often than not — but in ways that ultimately serve only to protect and further their interests and cement the status quo. “For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is — above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners,” he writes.

Giridharadas knows this firsthand. In the summer of 2011, he was named a Henry Crown fellow of the Aspen Institute. That’s a coveted title, and the anointed are supposed to serve as a “new breed of leaders” who can help solve the “world’s most intractable problems.” But when Giridharadas, who has a gift for phrases that resonate, saw peers with day jobs at firms like Facebook and Goldman Sachs, he began to question the system that allows people to make money in predatory ways and compensate for that through philanthropy. “Instead of asking them to make their firms less monopolistic, greedy or harmful to children, it urged them to create side hustles to ‘change the world,’ ” he writes. “I began to feel like a casual participant in — and timid accomplice to, as well as a cowardly beneficiary of — a giant, sweet-lipped lie.”

In his telling, the roots of the problem go all the way back to Andrew Carnegie, the famed American industrialist, who advocated that people be as aggressive as possible in their pursuit of wealth and then give it back through private philanthropy. It was “an extreme idea of the right to make money in any which way, and an extreme idea of the obligation to give back,” writes Giridharadas, who accuses Carnegie of “dripping with paternalism” for never considering that “the poor might not need so much help had they been better paid.”

Carnegie-ism has grown into what Giridharadas calls “MarketWorld.” In essence, this is the cultlike belief that intractable social problems can be solved in market-friendly ways that result in “win-wins” for everyone involved, and that those who have succeeded under the status quo are also those best equipped to fix the world’s problems. It is “defined by the concurrent drives to do well and do good, to change the world while also profiting from the status quo,” he writes. This notion extends its tentacles in all sorts of ways, such as the idea that big, powerful firms like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, because of their business success, can also teach some “elusive way of thinking that was vital to helping people.” It’s an idea so powerful that even President Barack Obama decided to seek help from McKinsey as he sought to figure out where to employ his skills post-presidency.

Among the denizens of MarketWorld are so-called “thought leaders,” the speakers who populate the conference circuit, like TED, PopTech and, of course, the Clinton Global Initiative. (When you pause to think about it, “thought leader” is appallingly Orwellian.) Giridharadas argues that the rise of thought leaders, whose views are sanctioned and sanitized by their patrons — the big corporations that support conferences — has come at the expense of public intellectuals, who are willing to voice controversial arguments that shake up the system and don’t have easy solutions. Thought leaders, on the other hand, always offer a small but actionable “tweak,” one that makes conference-goers feel like they’ve learned something but that doesn’t actually threaten anyone.

“Winners Take All” is so readable because it is told through characters, among them Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School who, Giridharadas writes, “had spent more than a decade publishing papers on the workings of prejudice, discrimination, and systems of power.” Her work is substantive and deeply challenging — but when she was given the opportunity to speak at PopTech, a stop on the MarketWorld circuit, and then at TED, she spoke not about the embedded systems that marginalize women but rather how women can strike “power poses” to feel more confident. “Without necessarily intending to, she was giving MarketWorld what it craved in a thinker: a way of framing a problem that made it about giving bits of power to those who lack it without taking power away from those who hold it,” Giridharadas writes.

In his view, there is not much moral difference between the Sacklers, the enormously wealthy, extremely philanthropic family who made their money getting people addicted to OxyContin; Bill Clinton, who adopted MarketWorld’s beliefs during his presidency and in his work afterward; and others who have done nothing so obviously huge or harmful, but who aren’t willing to go radical, either. Another compelling character is Andrew Kassoy, who after a long career in finance decided he could help improve the world by creating a legal safe harbor for companies to be dedicated to something more than the bottom line. So was born the B Corporation, a new corporate form in which companies can commit themselves to using “business as a force for good.”

That doesn’t make Kassoy a hero, in Giridharadas’s view, but rather a villain — because although Kassoy wrestles with other options, he ultimately chooses a relatively safe, small “solution.” “Had Kassoy pursued his thought of making it harder for companies to do bad things, involving himself with politics and the law and the system itself, success might have meant the loss of opportunity for the Kassoys of the future, and could even have come at a cost to his own earnings from his old life,” Giridharadas writes. In a nod to Wilde, he argues that the person who “seeks to ‘change the world’ by doing what can be done within a bad system, but who is relatively silent about that system” is “putting himself in the difficult moral position of the kindhearted slave master.”

That Giridharadas questions an idea that has become part of the air we breathe is alone worth the price of the book, and his delicious skewering of the many who exalt their own goodness while making money from dubious business practices makes for entertaining reading. (“Sharing is caring,” one particularly hypocritical venture capitalist actually says in a speech aboard Summit at Sea, a premier MarketWorld event for those who view themselves as leaders of the world.)

But Giridharadas isn’t just raising questions. He’s come to big conclusions: that MarketWorld, along with its philosophical antecedents, like Carnegie-ism and neoliberalism (which anthropologist David Harvey defines as the idea that “human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong property rights, free markets and free trade”), has been an abject failure. To prove his point, he doesn’t engage in any specific analysis. In fact, he doesn’t even mention, let alone examine, what is arguably MarketWorld’s most powerful and influential actor: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As big-picture proof of the failure of the status quo, Giridharadas cites his indebtedness to Thomas Piketty’s “masterpiece” on the growth of inequality, “Capital in the Twenty First Century.” He argues that any thesis that the world has actually improved over the course of human history is simply a form of brainwashing, a “socially acceptable way to tell people seething over the inequities of the age to drop their complaining.” So whether you accept his complete condemnation depends on whether you think there’s even a debate left to be had.

Giridharadas is able to indict the Kassoys of the world so wholeheartedly because he believes it is obvious that there is a better way, that those who purport to want to do good could actually do good if they could only put their self-interest aside. His key idea is  . . .

Continue reading.

And this Washington Post report by Greg Jaffee is very much to the point: “Capitalism in crisis: U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich.”

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2019 at 1:12 pm

Perfect evening (with photos)

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Where to start? Right now I’m having a wonderful Manhattan, made with Gibson’s Finest Rare 12-year-old Canadian whisky (which back in the day meant rye whisky, but probably a rye-and-wheat mix—I’ll have to get some genuine rye: Crown Royal Northern Harvest or Odd Society Prospector (scroll down)), Martini & Rossi red vermouth, and a dash of Angostura, of course. (The great cartoonist Vip – Virgil Partch – did cartoons for their ads for years. “Don’t forget the Angostura!” It’s burned into my brain.) Example at right.

But for the past few hours I’ve been letting this flat-iron steak rest at room temperature (“tempering” the steak). Note the unusual grain, running lengthwise through the steak rather than across (as the in T-Bone, Porterhouse, rib-eye, NY/KC strip steak, etc.). It’s a very tender steak, however. In the photo I have already applied a thin coating of extra-virgin olive oil. I cooked mine this way in my No. 8 Field Company pan, which I heated in an oven to 500ºF, and using the sauce described at the post.

And while the oven came to temperature, I used this recipe to make 8 oz sliced Crimini mushrooms (scroll down). I discovered that my 11 7/8″ Matfer Bourgeat carbon-steel skillet is ideal for this. It provides a lot of room, and I can heat it on the range top rather than in the oven. And, like the cast iron, it is nonstick.

Here are the mushrooms before:

and after:










With the steak and mushrooms I had a glass of an inexpensive Côtes du Rhône.

And to add to all that, I’m reading “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” which offers an escape when the Amazon Prime Video “Hanna” becomes too tense. I do think translating the movie into a series is working well: makes you more conscious of the texture.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 April 2019 at 6:11 pm

“Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”

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Though I have known about the book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett, for years, I never somehow got around to reading it until now, and I have to say I wish I’d done this long ago. It’s been available since 1995, so you can readily find secondhand copies.

Very highly recommended indeed.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 April 2019 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Books, Memes, Science

The End Of Empathy

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Hanna Rosin has an interesting article in NPR:

Militia leader Ammon Bundy, famous for leading an armed standoff in Oregon, had a tender moment in November of last year. He recorded a Facebook post saying that perhaps President Trump’s characterization of the migrant caravan on the U.S.-Mexico border was somewhat broad. Maybe they weren’t all criminals, he said. “What about those who have come here for reasons of need?”

Bundy did not say he was breaking with Trump. He just asked his followers to put themselves in the shoes of “the fathers, the mothers, the children” who came to escape violence. It was a call for a truce grounded in empathy, the kind you might hear in a war zone, say, or an Easter Sunday sermon. Still, it was met with a swift and rageful response from his followers, so overwhelming that within days, Bundy decided to quit Facebook.

In an earlier era, Bundy’s appeal might have resonated. But he failed to tune in to a critical shift in American culture — one that a handful of researchers have been tracking, with some alarm, for the past decade or so. Americans these days seem to be losing their appetite for empathy, especially the walk-a-mile-in-someone’s-shoes Easter Sunday morning kind.

When I was growing up in the ’70s, empathy was all the rage. The term was coined in 1908; then, social scientists and psychologists started more aggressively pushing the concept into the culture after World War II, basically out of fear. The idea was that we were all going to kill each other with nuclear weapons — or learn to see the world through each other’s eyes. In my elementary school in the 1970s, which was not progressive or mushy in any way, we wrote letters to pretend Russian pen pals to teach us to open our hearts to our enemies.

And not just enemies. Civil rights activists had also picked up on the idea. Kenneth Clark, a social scientist and civil rights activist, half-jokingly proposed that people in power all be required to take an “empathy pill” so they could make better decisions. His hope was that people with power and privilege would one day inhabit the realities of people without power, not from the safe, noblesse oblige distance of pity, but from the inside. An evolved person was an empathetic person, choosing understanding over fear.

Then, more than a decade ago, a certain suspicion of empathy started to creep in, particularly among young people. One of the first people to notice was Sara Konrath, an associate professor and researcher at Indiana University. Since the late 1960s, researchers have surveyed young people on their levels of empathy, testing their agreement with statements such as: “It’s not really my problem if others are in trouble and need help” or “Before criticizing somebody I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.”

Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!

It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.

Their feeling was: Why should they put themselves in the shoes of someone who was not them, much less someone they thought was harmful? In fact, cutting someone off from empathy was the positive value, a way to make a stand.

So, for example, when the wife of white nationalist Richard Spencer recently told BuzzFeed he had abused her, the question debated on the lefty Internet was: Why should we care that some woman who chose to ally herself with a nasty racist got herself hurt? Why waste empathy on that? (Spencer, in a court filing, denies all her allegations.)

The new rule for empathy seems to be: reserve it, not for your “enemies,” but for the people you believe are hurt, or you have decided need it the most. Empathy, but just for your own team. And empathizing with the other team? That’s practically a taboo.

And it turns out that this brand of selective empathy is a powerful force.

In the past 20 years, psychologists and neurologists have started to look at how empathy actually works, in our brains and our hearts, when we’re not thinking about it. And one thing they’ve found is that “one of the strongest triggers for human empathy is observing some kind of conflict between two other parties,” says Fritz Breithaupt, a professor at Indiana University who studies empathy. “Once they take the side, they’re drawn into that perspective. And that can lead to very strong empathy and too strong polarization with something you only see this one side and not the other side any longer.”

A classic example is the Super Bowl, or any Auburn, Alabama game.

But these days in the news, examples come up every day: the Kavanaugh hearings, emergency funding for a wall, Spike Lee walking out of the Oscars, the Barr report, Kirstjen Nielsen, every third thing on Twitter.

Researchers who study empathy have noticed that it’s actually really hard to do what we were striving for in my generation: empathize with people who are different than you are, much less people you don’t like. But if researchers set up a conflict, people get into automatic empathy overdrive, with their own team. This new research has scrambled notions of how empathy works as a force in the world. For example, we often think of terrorists as shockingly blind to the suffering of innocents. But Breithaupt and other researchers think of them as classic examples of people afflicted with an “excess of empathy. They feel the suffering of their people.”

Breithaupt called his new book The Dark Sides of Empathy, because there’s a point at which empathy doesn’t even look like the kind of universal empathy I was taught in school. There is a natural way that empathy gets triggered in the brain — your pain centers light up when you see another person suffering. But out in the world it starts to look more like tribalism, a way to keep reinforcing your own point of view and blocking out any others.

Breithaupt is alarmed at the . . .

Continue reading.

And this report by Michael Gold in the NY Times shows selective empathy in full flower:

udith Clark, who as a young woman took part in a deadly robbery of a Brink’s armored car that represented one of the last gasps of the violent left-wing extremism of the 1960s and 1970s, was paroled on Wednesday after being imprisoned in New York for 37 years, her lawyers said.

Ms. Clark, 69, was the getaway driver in the bungled 1981 heist in a suburb of New York City in which two police officers and a guard were killed.

After her arrest and during her trial, Ms. Clark remained defiant in her revolutionary beliefs. She said she was “an anti-imperialist freedom fighter” and maintained violence was “a liberating force.”

But during her decades in prison, she has said she abandoned those beliefs and faced the pain she had caused the victims and their families. “I had to grapple with what happened to my humanity,” she said in 2017. She apologized, devoted herself to good works and became a model of rehabilitation.

Many liberal elected officials viewed Ms. Clark as a symbol of the need for clemency and forgiveness, maintaining that she had to be released from prison if the state correctional system was to live up to its ideals, even in politically charged cases involving the deaths of police officers.

“We are grateful that the parole board affirmed what everyone who has interacted with Judy already knows — that she is a rehabilitated, remorseful woman who poses no threat to society,” said Michael Cardozo, one of Ms. Clark’s lawyers.

She is scheduled to be released from prison by May 15.

But for law enforcement groups, many Republican elected officials and some victims of the shooting and their families, she was the face of terrorism and deserved no mercy.

“We’re outraged and sickened by this whole decision,” said Michael Paige, whose father was killed in the shooting. “Judith Clark is a murderer, plain and simple. She deserves nothing but to spend the rest of her life behind bars.”

Arthur Keenan, a former detective who was wounded in the robbery, said that he was “absolutely not” in favor of Ms. Clark’s parole. He said her record of good behavior in prison hardly outweighed her crime.

“Doesn’t what happened to the people who lost loved ones and were wounded matter?” he said.

Ed Day, the county executive of Rockland County, where the killings took place, called the parole board’s ruling a slap in the face to the victim’s families.

“This perversion of justice is a sad continuation of the deadly assault on police officers happening across our nation,” Mr. Day, who was formerly a New York police officer, said in a statement.

The decision to release Ms. Clark came after a lobbying campaign involving 11 members of Congress, 11 state senators, the former Manhattan district attorney, a former chief judge, four former parole board commissioners and a former superintendent of the prison where she was housed.

Her supporters, including 70 elected officials, sent a letter to the parole board arguing that the state’s correctional system should not exist solely for retribution, but also for rehabilitation, and that Ms. Clark had served a long sentence, accepted responsibility for her crime and shown genuine remorse.

Ms. Clark, then 31, drove a getaway car during the robbery of a Brink’s truck on Oct. 20, 1981, outside a mall in Nanuet, about 30 miles north of New York City in Rockland County. . .

Continue reading.

My own view is that empathy is required to understand people and the reasons for their actions, and understanding is better than not understanding.

Kayla Chadwick has an even more pointed article, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People,” which begins:

Like many Americans, I’m having politics fatigue. Or, to be more specific, arguing-about-politics fatigue.

I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece:

I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you).

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.

There are all kinds of practical, self-serving reasons to raise the minimum wage (fairly compensated workers typically do better work), fund public schools (everyone’s safer when the general public can read and use critical thinking), and make sure every American can access health care (outbreaks of preventable diseases being generally undesirable).

But if making sure your fellow citizens can afford to eat, get an education, and go to the doctor isn’t enough of a reason to fund those things, I have nothing left to say to you.

I can’t debate someone into caring about what happens to their fellow human beings. The fact that such detached cruelty is so normalized in a certain party’s political discourse is at once infuriating and terrifying. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 9:04 am

A C.E.O. Who’s Scared for America

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David Leonhardt has an interesting column in the NY Times today:

Peter Georgescu — a refugee-turned-C.E.O. who recently celebrated his 80th birthday — feels deeply grateful to his adopted country. He also feels afraid for its future. He is afraid, he says, because the American economy no longer functions well for most citizens. “For the past four decades,” Georgescu has written, “capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

Those are some strong words, so I want to tell you Georgescu’s story – and about what he thinks needs to be done.

He was born just before World War II in Romania, where his father was a businessman and his maternal grandfather was a politician opposed to both the Nazis and Communists. His parents were traveling in the United States in 1947 when the Iron Curtain came down, and American officials told them they would be killed if they returned home. Peter and his brother went to live with their grandparents in Romania’s Transylvanian countryside.

One day a couple of years later, they found their dogs dead, from poisoning. The next night, government agents entered their home and arrested Peter’s grandfather. “We never saw him again,” Georgescu told me recently. “They killed him in prison.”

Peter was 10 years old, and his brother, Constantin, was 15. The government moved them and their grandmother to a town near the Russian border. They slept on hay in a single room, inside an otherwise normal house, watched by a guard. Instead of going to school, Peter cleaned sewers. He was later promoted to a job turning off streetlights before dawn and digging holes for electric poles.

In the early 1950s, a Romanian diplomat approached Peter’s father in New York, where he was living with Peter’s mother. The diplomat brought a recent photo of the boys, both teenagers, and pressured the father to spy for Romania. He went to the F.B.I. instead, and the F.B.I. encouraged him to go public with the blackmail attempt. It would make the Soviet empire look bad.

The plan worked. The “Georgescu boys” became a media sensation. Frances Bolton, an Ohio congresswoman, took up their cause and interested President Dwight Eisenhower in it. Romania eventually freed the boys, as part of a prisoner exchange, and they landed in New York at Idlewild Airport — today’s J.F.K. — on April 13, 1954. (Their grandmother was not allowed to leave until years later.)

Online, you can watch the television clip of Peter’s mother running across the tarmac and hugging them as they got off the plane. She had not seen them in seven and a half years. She didn’t recognize their voices, she told a reporter, because they each had a man’s voice.

From there, Georgescu’s life moved quickly. The headmaster of Phillips Exeter offered him a spot at the school even through he spoke no English and hadn’t attended any school for much of his boyhood. After college and business school, Georgescu joined the advertising firm Young & Rubicam. He spent 37 years there, the last seven as chief executive.

“The hero of my story,” Georgescu said to me “is America.” Over and over, he said, people who didn’t have any obvious reason to care about him helped him: the congresswoman who didn’t represent his parents’ district; the headmaster who’d never met him; the ad executives who mentored him.

All of them, he believes, were influenced by a post-World War II culture that (while deeply flawed in some ways) fostered a sense of community over individuality. Corporate executives didn’t pay themselves outlandish salaries. Workers enjoyed consistently rising wages.

Things began to change after the 1970s. Stakeholder capitalism — which, Georgescu says, optimized the well-being of customers, employees, shareholders and the nation — gave way to short-term shareholder-only capitalism. Profits have soared at the expense of worker pay. The wealth of the median family today is lower than two decades ago. Life expectancy has actually fallen in the last few years. Not since 2004 has a majority of Americans said they were satisfied with the country’s direction.

“Capitalism is a brilliant factory for prosperity. Brilliant,” Georgescu says. “And yet the version of capitalism we have created here works for only a minority of people.”

In his retirement, when he’s not spending time with his family, Georgescu has been trying to agitate other corporate leaders. He has published a book, called “Capitalists, Arise!” He has written op-eds and given talks. He talks about the signs of frustration, in both the United States and Europe. He has seen societies fall apart, and he thinks many people are underestimating the risks it could happen again. “We’re not that far off,” he told me.

Some other business leaders are also worried about rising inequality. Warren Buffett is. So are Martin Lipton, the dean of corporate lawyers, and Laurence Fink, who runs the investment firm BlackRock. “There’s class warfare, all right,” Buffett has said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning,”

Georgescu believes that business, more than government, can solve the problem. He told me that executives should resist pressure to maximize short-term profits. Companies could make even more money if they invested in their workers and became more productive and innovative, he says. Costco is a favorite example of his.

I’m skeptical that corporate America will voluntarily fix the situation, because the last four decades have been very lucrative for top executives and investors. To my mind, government action — including higher taxes on the rich and more bargaining power for workers — is necessary to bring back broad-based prosperity.

Continue reading.

I emphasize the passage that corresponds with my own observations. In the 1960’s, corporations were keenly conscious of stakeholders: the employees, customers, community, and shareholders, and the explicit idea was that corporations should operate to the benefit of all. That changed, and now corporations operate solely for the benefit of shareholders: profit is all that matters. As we see, that approach is highly destructive.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2019 at 9:36 am

Rapper Nipsey Hussle killed in shooting, and something he said

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From an article in the LA Times:

Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was from South L.A. and had talked in the past about his early life in a street gang. He was a well-known community organizer who most recently was involved in the new Destination Crenshaw arts project.

He told The Times in 2018 that he had managed to develop a love of music and technology.

“I grew up in gang culture,” he said. “We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think L.A. suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while.”

In a 2014 interview with YouTube channel Vlad TV, Hussle confirmed that he had joined the Rollin’ 60s, a notorious Crips gang clique, as a teen. . .

Read the whole thing.

I find it interesting and likely that those living under near-wartime conditions will fall prey to PTSD, and they go untreated and unremarked. As he says, LA suffers from it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:39 pm

Boeing Crashes Highlight the High Costs of Cheap Government

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Eric Levitzz writes in New York:

In 2005, the Federal Aviation Authority gave airplane manufacturers the power to cast their own employees as in-house regulators. This policy streamlined the inefficient “revolving door” process by making it possible for Boeing to regulate itself without the hassle of getting its lobbyists appointed to the F.A.A. The George W. Bush-administration argued that such “delegation” would allow the agency to concentrate its scarce resources on the most important safety issues, while also helping America’s aviation giants get new planes to market faster.

The F.A.A.’s rank and file saw things differently. As the New York Timesreports:

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, whose members include F.A.A. certification employees, said at the time that the F.A.A.’s new approach “provides less specific and technical F.A.A. oversight and therefore would in time lower the safety of the flying public.”

Another F.A.A. union now known as the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists said it would oppose “any system that allows industry to self-regulate oversight via the honor system.” The union wrote that the F.A.A.’s “blatant outsourcing” was “reckless” and would “actually compromise public air safety, not enhance it.”

The F.A.A. was “rushing to hand off their oversight responsibilities to industry and virtually establishing a ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ mentality,” the union wrote.

Nevertheless, delegation persisted. And for a simple reason: The F.A.A. could not afford to directly oversee all aircraft certification without either slowing aviation production to a crawl, or securing much higher funding from Congress. The cost of bringing all aviation certifications under the F.A.A.’s roof last year would have meant a $1.8 billion increase to the agency’s budget, the F.A.A.’s acting director told the Senate this week.

The cost of not doing so, meanwhile, might have been 346 human lives.

Within the past five months, two Boeing 737 MAX airplanes have crashed, killing all who were aboard them. Investigators now believe that the 737 MAX’s flawed flight-control system — known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) — caused these tragedies. And reporting from the Seattle Times suggests that — if the flight control system is responsible — then the F.A.A.’s delegation policy is, too:

As Boeing hustled in 2015 to catch up to Airbus and certify its new 737 MAX, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis.

But the original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the MAX — a report used to certify the plane as safe to fly — had several crucial flaws.

… [B]lack box data retrieved after the Lion Air crash indicates that a single faulty sensor — a vane on the outside of the fuselage that measures the plane’s “angle of attack,” the angle between the airflow and the wing — triggered MCAS multiple times during the deadly flight, initiating a tug of war as the system repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane down and the pilots wrestled with the controls to pull it back up, before the final crash.

It is true that the F.A.A.’s current delegation rules have been around for more than a decade — and that America’s commercial airlines have assembled an enviable safety record over that period. But the available evidence also suggests that America’s refusal to adequately fund the F.A.A. allowed corporations to gain inordinate influence over a public-sector function — and many people died as a result.

In this respect, the Boeing 737 Max fiasco is indicative of a broader pathology in American civic life. In the U.S., we don’t just underfund our regulatory agencies (thereby forcing them to outsource many of their core functions, and making it impossible for them to compete with the private sector for top talent), but scrimp on virtually every level of government.

The stinginess might be most egregious at the state level. In Nebraska, state legislators earn just $12,000; in North Carolina’s statehouse, lawmakers are provided no staff while the legislature is in session. Many progressives attribute regressive policy outcomes to the abundance of corporate money in political campaigns, but the dearth of public money in governance is similarly corrosive. As the political scientist Alexander Hertel-Fernandez documents in his new book State CaptureThe American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a right-wing organization that drafts model legislation to fit the specifications of its corporate benefactors, and then provides ready-made bills to state lawmakers across the country — owes much of its success (if not, it’s entire existence) to the lack of public resources at state legislature’s disposal.

And our federal legislature suffers from a similar pathology. As Betsy Wright Hawkins explained for The Hill in 2018:

When House and Senate appropriations deliberations began this year, funding levels for the Legislative Branch had been stagnant for a decade. Numbers of experienced policy staff in personal and committee offices were hollowed out, and the salaries of those who remain eroded. The resulting staff attrition means Congress employs roughly three-quarters of the people it did in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, the average House member represents approximately 200,000 more constituents, and each senator an estimated 1.6 million more constituents than they did 30 years ago …

… As a chief of staff in the House of Representatives for more than 25 years, I saw firsthand the personal toll funding shortfalls took on the dedicated, civic-minded men and women who are the lifeblood of the institution. Personal office budgets were cut by more than 20 percent during the last 10 years I served there. In the mid-2000s, I could budget to pay a highly-qualified legislative assistant $60,000 — no pittance, but an amount stretched by Washington’s high cost of living. By the end of my service in the House in 2015, I could afford to pay a similarly qualified staffer about $40,000.

As Congress has cut spending on legislative aid, the private sector has filled in the gap. Today, corporations spend more than $2.6 billion a year on congressional lobbyists — more than American taxpayers spend on all of Congress. If our elected representatives didn’t let special interests write legislative copy for them, it’s not clear that they would be able to do their jobs.

This is not an accident. The conservative movement understands that the fewer resources legislatures and bureaucracies receive from the public, the more they will accept from private interests — who will then see considerable returns on their investment in state capture.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:31 pm

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