Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A New Talking Point From the Pro-Trump Fringe

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And as a perfect example of the direction of the previous post’s video, McKay Coppins writes in the Atlantic:

On Wednesday morning, in the midst of yet another contentious news cycle dominated by coverage of Russian election meddling, I tweeted a kind of thought experiment: “If Trump & co. just pivoted to ‘Aren’t you glad Russia helped us defeat Hillary Clinton?’ would there be any serious blowback from his base?”

The question was rhetorical. The answers that began trickling in were not.

“No,” said Cassandra Fairbanks, a writer at the right-wing news and conspiracy website Gateway Pundit (and a former Sputnik employee). “I mean, I would be cool with it. Im already there. If russia was involved we should thank them.”

“No,” responded another self-identified Trump voter. “Hillary is a greater threat to our Republic.”

Several people pointed me to Jacob Wohl, a Trump booster with a large Twitter following, who had mused just hours earlier, “If Russia assists MAGA Candidates on the internet in this year’s midterms, that’s not the end of the world.” And others re-upped a C-span clip from the day before in which a caller identified as Mary Lou from Connecticut said, “I’ll try not to sound too awful, but I want to thank the Russians for interfering with our election to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president. That woman has got illusions of grandeur.”

Washington Post, there hasn’t been much polling data measuring how Americans feel about foreign governments interfering in U.S. elections; up to now, disapproval has simply been presumed. The polls that are available suggest that most Trump supporters don’t believe there was any Russian election interference, and if there was, it had no effect on the race.

But as Washington braces for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to release the findings of his investigation, this new line of punditry bubbling up in the pro-Trump social-media conversation is worth taking seriously.

Trump has benefitted enormously throughout his political rise from the efficiency with which his supporters circulate talking points that excuse his bad behavior, or neutralize his latest scandal, or explain away the discrepancies in his ever-shifting rhetoric. Sometimes, these talking points originate with the president himself, his early-morning Twitter rants doubling as messaging memos to the #MAGA army. Other times, they filter down from high-profile talking heads such as Sean Hannity or the hosts of Fox & Friends. Often, though, they are beta tested at the fringes, where the ideas seem outlandish and troll-y at first, before becoming more widely adopted once circumstances dictate.

Skimming #MAGA Twitter, it’s easy to see the outlines of the pro-Russian-meddling argument emerging: America interferes in other countries’ elections, so it can’t be that bad; exposing Democrats’ hacked emails was a victory for transparency; keeping Clinton out of office was so urgent and important that it warranted some foreign intervention.

If it seems farfetched that serious people would deploy such an argument, consider the Trump apologists’ trajectory up to this point in the Russia saga. When the term collusion first entered the political conversation in the wake of the 2016 election, the initial response was to dismiss the idea outright. It was popular in Washington for Republicans to crack jokes about how Trump’s disorganized campaign “couldn’t even collude with itself,” let alone a foreign government.

But as evidence of communication with Russia mounted in the months that followed, Trump’s allies were forced to pivot repeatedly. They argued that the president hadn’t broken any laws; that any candidate in his position would have done the same thing; that Clinton would have lost regardless of Russia’s interference, so the whole point is moot.

Given this pattern of deflection and rationalization, is it really so implausible that a significant segment of Trump backers might complete the journey from denying Russian meddling to celebrating it? Already,  . . .

Continue reading.

It occurs to me that the myriad conflicting positions on Russia really does indicate we should be curious as to why? And whatever the answer is, we want that answer to (a) be true and (b) explain why we get so many conflicting stories about a particular subject. I think Mueller is discovering that true answer. And that answer may reveal why Trump and Putin had a totally one-on-one (with translators), with no aides present and no notes taken—at least, certainly by Trump (can you imagine?), though I’m sure Putin has complete video and audio.

The odd thing: the interpreters. Surely Putin must speak excellent English, no? Or at least as good as Trump. Why have interpreters since obviously the talk was intended to be secret.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 7:02 pm

This is perfect in a dimension I didn’t know existed

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 6:53 pm

The Peculiar Math That Could Underlie the Laws of Nature

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Very interesting article. With quaternions, you lose commutativity, and with octonions you lose associativity—quite a serious loss. But there’s a payoff. Natalie Wolchover reports in Quanta:

n 2014, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, named Cohl Furey rented a car and drove six hours south to Pennsylvania State University, eager to talk to a physics professor there named Murat Günaydin. Furey had figured out how to build on a finding of Günaydin’s from 40 years earlier — a largely forgotten result that supported a powerful suspicion about fundamental physics and its relationship to pure math.

The suspicion, harbored by many physicists and mathematicians over the decades but rarely actively pursued, is that the peculiar panoply of forces and particles that comprise reality spring logically from the properties of eight-dimensional numbers called “octonions.”

As numbers go, the familiar real numbers — those found on the number line, like 1, π and -83.777 — just get things started. Real numbers can be paired up in a particular way to form “complex numbers,” first studied in 16th-century Italy, that behave like coordinates on a 2-D plane. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing is like translating and rotating positions around the plane. Complex numbers, suitably paired, form 4-D “quaternions,” discovered in 1843 by the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who on the spot ecstatically chiseled the formula into Dublin’s Broome Bridge. John Graves, a lawyer friend of Hamilton’s, subsequently showed that pairs of quaternions make octonions: numbers that define coordinates in an abstract 8-D space.

There the game stops. Proof surfaced in 1898 that the reals, complex numbers, quaternions and octonions are the only kinds of numbers that can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. The first three of these “division algebras” would soon lay the mathematical foundation for 20th-century physics, with real numbers appearing ubiquitously, complex numbers providing the math of quantum mechanics, and quaternions underlying Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. This has led many researchers to wonder about the last and least-understood division algebra. Might the octonions hold secrets of the universe?

“Octonions are to physics what the Sirens were to Ulysses,” Pierre Ramond, a particle physicist and string theorist at the University of Florida, said in an email.

Günaydin, the Penn State professor, was a graduate student at Yale in 1973 when he and his advisor Feza Gürsey found a surprising link between the octonions and the strong force, which binds quarks together inside atomic nuclei. An initial flurry of interest in the finding didn’t last. Everyone at the time was puzzling over the Standard Model of particle physics — the set of equations describing the known elementary particles and their interactions via the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces (all the fundamental forces except gravity). But rather than seek mathematical answers to the Standard Model’s mysteries, most physicists placed their hopes in high-energy particle colliders and other experiments, expecting additional particles to show up and lead the way beyond the Standard Model to a deeper description of reality. They “imagined that the next bit of progress will come from some new pieces being dropped onto the table, [rather than] from thinking harder about the pieces we already have,” said Latham Boyle, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

Decades on, no particles beyond those of the Standard Model have been found. Meanwhile, the strange beauty of the octonions has continued to attract the occasional independent-minded researcher, including Furey, the Canadian grad student who visited Günaydin four years ago. Looking like an interplanetary traveler, with choppy silver bangs that taper to a point between piercing blue eyes, Furey scrawled esoteric symbols on a blackboard, trying to explain to Günaydin that she had extended his and Gürsey’s work by constructing an octonionic model of both the strong and electromagnetic forces.

“Communicating the details to him turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated, as I struggled to get a word in edgewise,” Furey recalled. Günaydin had continued to study the octonions since the ’70s by way of their deep connections to string theory, M-theory and supergravity — related theories that attempt to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces. But his octonionic pursuits had always been outside the mainstream. He advised Furey to find another research project for her Ph.D., since the octonions might close doors for her, as he felt they had for him.

But Furey didn’t — couldn’t — give up. Driven by a profound intuition that the octonions and other division algebras underlie nature’s laws, she told a colleague that if she didn’t find work in academia she planned to take her accordion to New Orleans and busk on the streets to support her physics habit. Instead, Furey landed a postdoc at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. She has since produced a number of results connecting the octonions to the Standard Model that experts are calling intriguing, curious, elegant and novel. “She has taken significant steps toward solving some really deep physical puzzles,” said Shadi Tahvildar-Zadeh, a mathematical physicist at Rutgers University who recently visited Furey in Cambridge after watching an online series of lecture videos she made about her work.

Furey has yet to construct a simple octonionic model of all Standard Model particles and forces in one go, and she hasn’t touched on gravity. She stresses that the mathematical possibilities are many, and experts say it’s too soon to tell which way of amalgamating the octonions and other division algebras (if any) will lead to success.

“She has found some intriguing links,” said Michael Duff, a pioneering string theorist and professor at Imperial College London who has studied octonions’ role in string theory. “It’s certainly worth pursuing, in my view. Whether it will ultimately be the way the Standard Model is described, it’s hard to say. If it were, it would qualify for all the superlatives — revolutionary, and so on.”

Peculiar Numbers

I met Furey in June, in the porter’s lodge through which one enters Trinity Hall on the bank of the River Cam. Petite, muscular, and wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt (that revealed bruises from mixed martial arts), rolled-up jeans, socks with cartoon aliens on them and Vegetarian Shoes–brand sneakers, in person she was more Vancouverite than the otherworldly figure in her lecture videos. We ambled around the college lawns, ducking through medieval doorways in and out of the hot sun. On a different day I might have seen her doing physics on a purple yoga mat on the grass.

Furey, who is 39, said she was first drawn to physics at a specific moment in high school, in British Columbia. Her teacher told the class that only four fundamental forces underlie all the world’s complexity — and, furthermore, that physicists since the 1970s had been trying to unify all of them within a single theoretical structure. “That was just the most beautiful thing I ever heard,” she told me, steely-eyed. She had a similar feeling a few years later, as an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, upon learning about the four division algebras. One such number system, or infinitely many, would seem reasonable. “But four?” she recalls thinking. “How peculiar.”

After breaks from school spent ski-bumming, bartending abroad and intensely training as a mixed martial artist, Furey later met the division algebras again in an advanced geometry course and learned just how peculiar they become in four strokes. When you double the dimensions with each step as you go from real numbers to complex numbers to quaternions to octonions, she explained, “in every step you lose a property.” Real numbers can be ordered from smallest to largest, for instance, “whereas in the complex plane there’s no such concept.” Next, quaternions lose commutativity; for them, a × b doesn’t equal b × a. This makes sense, since multiplying higher-dimensional numbers involves rotation, and when you switch the order of rotations in more than two dimensions you end up in a different place. Much more bizarrely, the octonions are nonassociative, meaning (a × b) × c doesn’t equal a × (b × c). “Nonassociative things are strongly disliked by mathematicians,” said John Baez, a mathematical physicist at the University of California, Riverside, and a leading expert on the octonions. “Because while it’s very easy to imagine noncommutative situations — putting on shoes then socks is different from socks then shoes — it’s very difficult to think of a nonassociative situation.” If, instead of putting on socks then shoes, you first put your socks into your shoes, technically you should still then be able to put your feet into both and get the same result. “The parentheses feel artificial.”

The octonions’ seemingly unphysical nonassociativity has crippled many physicists’ efforts to exploit them, but Baez explained that their peculiar math has also always been their chief allure. Nature, with its four forces batting around a few dozen particles and anti-particles, is itself peculiar. The Standard Model is “quirky and idiosyncratic,” he said.

In the Standard Model, elementary particles are manifestations of three “symmetry groups” — essentially, ways of interchanging subsets of the particles that leave the equations unchanged. These three symmetry groups, SU(3), SU(2) and U(1), correspond to the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces, respectively, and they “act” on six types of quarks, two types of leptons, plus their anti-particles, with each type of particle coming in three copies, or “generations,” that are identical except for their masses. (The fourth fundamental force, gravity, is described separately, and incompatibly, by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which casts it as curves in the geometry of space-time.)

Sets of particles manifest the symmetries of the Standard Model in the same way that four corners of a square must exist in order to realize a symmetry of 90-degree rotations. The question is, why this symmetry group — SU(3) × SU(2) × U(1)? And why this particular particle representation, with the observed particles’ funny assortment of charges, curious handedness and three-generation redundancy? The conventional attitude toward such questions has been to treat the Standard Model as a broken piece of some more complete theoretical structure. But a competing tendency is to try to use the octonions and “get the weirdness from the laws of logic somehow,” Baez said.

Furey began seriously pursuing this possibility in grad school, when she learned that quaternions capture the way particles translate and rotate in 4-D space-time. She wondered about particles’ internal properties, like their charge. “I realized that the eight degrees of freedom of the octonions could correspond to one generation of particles: one neutrino, one electron, three up quarks and three down quarks,” she said — a bit of numerology that had raised eyebrows before. The coincidences have since proliferated. “If this research project were a murder mystery,” she said, “I would say that we are still in the process of collecting clues.”

The Dixon Algebra

To reconstruct particle physics, Furey uses the product of the four division algebras,  . . .

Continue reading.

This nifty illustration is from the article:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Math, Science

Immigrant Shelters Drug Traumatized Teenagers Without Consent

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The US looks uglier and uglier under Trump.  Caroline Chen and Jess Ramirez report at ProPublica:

Whether they came to the U.S. alone, or were forcibly separated from their families at the border, despondent minors are often pressured into taking psychotropic drugs without approval from a parent or guardian.

Fleeing an abusive stepfather in El Salvador, Gabriela headed for Oakland, California, where her grandfather had promised to take her in. When the teenager reached the U.S. border in January 2017, she was brought to a federally funded shelter in Texas.

Initially, staff described her as receptive and resilient. But as she was shuttled from one Texas shelter to another, she became increasingly depressed. Without consulting her grandfather, or her mother in El Salvador, shelter staff have prescribed numerous medications for her, including two psychotropic drugs whose labels warn of increased suicidal behavior in adolescents, according to court documents. Still languishing in a shelter after 18 months, the 17-year-old doesn’t want to take the medications, but she does anyway, because staff at one facility told her she wouldn’t be released until she is considered psychologically sound.

Gabriela’s experience epitomizes a problem that the Trump administration’s practice of family separation exacerbated: the failure of government-funded facilities to seek informed consent before medicating immigrant teenagers. Around 12,000 undocumented minors are in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The majority crossed the border unaccompanied, while more than 2,500 were separated from their parents while Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was in effect from April to June.

Emotional distress and mental health issues are prevalent among these children, sometimes a result of traumatic experiences in their home countries, at other times triggered by being separated from parents at the border, or by fear that they will never be released from ORR facilities. Former shelter employees, and doctors and lawyers working for advocacy groups say the shelters lack sufficient counselors and too often turn to powerful psychotropic drugs when kids act out.

Under most states’ laws, before a child is medicated, a parent, guardian, or authority acting in the place of the parent—such as a court-appointed guardian ad litem— must be consulted and give informed consent. But in these shelters, the children are alone. Shelter staff may not know the whereabouts of the parents or relatives, and even when that information is available, advocates say that the shelters often don’t get in touch. Nor do they seek court approval. Instead, they act unilaterally, imposing psychotropic drugs on children who don’t know what they’re taking or what its effects may be.

“These medications do not come cost-free to children with growing brains and growing bodies — psychotropic medications have a substantial cost to a child’s present and future,” said Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who has been volunteering in border shelters. “A person whose sole concern is, what is in the best interest of a child — a parent or a guardian ad litem — that role is desperately needed now.”

Gabriela is one of five immigrants under age 18 who are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Los Angeles against Alex Azar, the head of HHS, and Scott Lloyd, director of ORR. The suit alleges that children are overmedicated without informed consent. Another plaintiff, 16-year-old Daniela, became suicidal after being separated from an older sister who accompanied her from Honduras to the U.S. border. She has been given Prozac, Abilify, Clonidine, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa in various shelters as staff have been unable to settle on a diagnosis, detecting at different times bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and major depressive disorder. Her older sister was released from custody and allowed to stay in the U.S., but wasn’t consulted about whether Daniela should take those medications, which have side effects including weight gain, uncontrolled spasms, and increased suicide risk. The lawsuit doesn’t disclose the last names of the plaintiffs. Another ongoing class action lawsuit in the same court, against the U.S. Department of Justice, alleges the U.S. is inappropriately medicating immigrant minors as young as 11 years old, violating standards established in a 1997 legal settlement.

In legal filings, Justice Department lawyers have said that the shelters are acting appropriately, in accord with state laws on informed consent. “There is good reason for this Court to conclude that ORR’s provision of such medications complies fully with ‘all applicable state child welfare laws and regulations,’” the department said. State and local authorities, rather than the court, are best positioned to determine whether shelters are in compliance, it also argued.

Reports of overmedication extend beyond the lawsuits. At the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, which has a program for unaccompanied immigrant teenagers, at least 70 percent of the residents were on antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleep aids, often taking multiple pills, according to two former employees. The two staffers, who left the facility a few months ago, worried that the adolescents were over-medicated. Although the shelter offered group therapy, many teens didn’t participate.

Most of the teenagers had crossed the border alone, but often had family members in the U.S. who were seeking to sponsor them. Even in cases where a child had a mother or father living in the U.S., the parent was never contacted for permission to medicate, said the former employees, who asked for anonymity for fear of affecting future employment.

By law, when an unaccompanied minor crosses the border, the Department of Homeland Security must transfer the child to ORR within 72 hours. Children who arrive with parents can’t be held in a detention center for more than 20 days. The Bush and Obama administrations typically would release the family with an appointment to show up in court, while the Trump administration decided to separate the family, with the parents remaining in detention. ORR then places the unaccompanied or separated child in one of the roughly 100 shelters contracted to provide housing, education, and medical services. Immigrant children can remain in the shelters for months or even years. If the minor crossed unaccompanied but has family members in the U.S., as Gabriela did, the relative must be cleared by ORR as a sponsor, a stringent vetting process that can take months.

To provide mental health services, shelters typically have an in-house counselor who holds therapy sessions, and a psychiatrist on call to conduct mental health evaluations and prescribe medications. The troubled teens aren’t always easy to handle. Sometimes they try to run away or start fights. In a statement obtained by advocates for one of the pending class-action lawsuits, a 17-year-old boy described breaking a chair and window in frustration.

Virginia law has an exception that allows minors to give consent, without adult permission, for mental health care. The law is intended to help minors who want mental health treatment without having to disclose their diagnosis to their parents, according to Jessica Berg, dean of Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law and co-author of a book on informed consent.

Such laws presume “the individual in question actually has capacity” to make the decision, meaning that the physician should first determine that the minor can understand the consequences of treatment and make an educated choice, said Berg.

That’s not happening at the Virginia center, the former employees said. While skipping consent procedures, staff also made it hard for children to say no. A federal field specialist from the Department of Homeland Security instructed staff to file a “significant incident report” every time a teen refused to take medication, said one of the former employees. That report could then be used to justify delaying reunification with family. The teenagers, fearing being written up, would take their pills, the staffer said.

Johnitha McNair, executive director of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, didn’t respond to phone calls and an email requesting comment.

Other states, such as Texas and California, require  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 7:19 am

Whipped Dog silvertip, Tcheon Fung Sing Green Tobacco, the Progress, and Floris JF

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I continue to admire Tcheon Fung Sing, an Italian soap, and this morning reminded me why: a really excellent lather, made with my inexpensive but quite good silvertip from Whipped Dog: 20mm knot, standard depth.

Three passes with the Progress left my face smooth and ready for a splash of Floris JF aftershave:

Top Notes: Mandarin, Orange, Lemon Zest
Heart Notes: Armoise, Cypress, Amber
Base notes: Exotic Woods, Amber

“JF” refers to Juan Famenias Floris, the founder (with his wife Elizabeth) of Floris of London.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 7:15 am

Posted in Shaving

The World Burns. Sarah Sanders Says This Is Fine.

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Megan Garber writes in the Atlantic:

On Wednesday, two representatives of the United States government held press briefings, both of them touching on one of the most astonishing news stories of the Trump presidency—a series of events that had begun two days earlier, when Trump traveled to Helsinki to meet, behind closed doors, with Vladimir Putin.

Here was the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding to a question from The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman about the notion Putin raised of a group of U.S. officials, including the former ambassador to Russia, Mike McFaul, being interrogated by Russia: “The president is going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that.”

Here, on the other hand, was Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, on the same issue: “The overall assertions are absolutely absurd—the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian Government is making about those American citizens. We do not stand by those assertions.”

It was a striking juxtaposition, this tale of two briefings: the one spokesperson, outraged that the United States would entertain the notion of handing over its citizens to a nation that is an autocracy and an adversary; the other offering, in response to the suggestion, a pro-forma “we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.” The Stakes of Diplomacy chafing against The Art of the Deal. A house divided, live on C-SPAN.

What the collision makes clear, though, is how readily the first spokesperson, as she stands behind the White House briefing lectern, also stands behind her boss. It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all. And Sarah Sanders, the press secretary who will have been on the job, this week, for one year—the White House announced her promotion to the role in July of 2017—performs that loyalty every time she meets the press.

This is a White House that prioritizes the scoring of points over the complexities of compromise. Sanders, on behalf of the president she works for—a happy warrior in a culture war that has found a front in the James S. Brady briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—takes for granted an assumption that would be shocking were it not so common in the American culture of the early 21st century: There are things that are more important than truth.

Things like, for example, the claiming of victory against the other side. Things like, for example, the owning of libs and the trolling of Dems and the ability to victor-write history so thoroughly that you can claim, with an air of annoyance about being asked to make such a clarification in the first place, that the president’s long history of commentary on Russia has now been nullified, because the president had, in a single public event, “misspoken.” All of which made Wednesday’s briefing—the president will work with his team—both deeply typical and astounding: Here was one of the most prominent representatives of the White House choosing partisanship over patriotism. Winning above all.

There are, in Sarah Sanders’s briefing room, a series of predictable punchlines. Even the blandest of informational updates—as in yesterday’s announcement that the President will be traveling to Kansas City, Missouri, next Tuesday to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars 119th Annual Convention, because he is committed to our veterans and has worked to reform the VA and to ensure veterans are given the care and support they deserve—tend to be punctuated with familiar end notes: the greatness of President Trump, the undeniable success of his presidency, the foolishness of those who might question those priors. (Sanders, commenting on civility after her departure from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, sparked a national debate on the matter: “America is a great country, and our ability to find solutions despite those disagreements is what makes us unique. That is exactly what President Trump has done for all Americans by building a booming economy, with record low unemployment for African Americans and Hispanics, the defeat of ISIS, and the ongoing work to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.”)

Sometimes far fewer words are required. Sometimes standing by the president—supporting Team Trump from within—comes down to subtler work: taking Trump’s actions and coating them with the palatable veneer of evident normalcy. Mike McFaul, Bill Browder, Vladimir Putin, the notion that the United States might decide to use its citizens as bargaining chips in order to make deals with a despotic regime known for murdering dissidents: We’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.

It is an approach that bumps up against world history and American foreign policy and, just as Nauert’s statement reminded, Trump’s own State Department. But is also an approach that is wholly consistent with the Trumpian worldview—one that valorizes strength above all (he has “great control over his country,” the president has mused of Putin), one that is populated by a collective of uses and thems, one whose sum, always, is zero. Ivana Trump tells the story of the birth of Don Jr. on New Year’s Eve of 1977: She wanted to name the boy after his father, Donald’s first wife recalls; Donald the elder, however, balked at this. “What if he’s a loser?” the future president said.

A world of winners and a world, consequently, of losers: It is perhaps the clearest distillation of Trumpism. This White House, whether it is taking on healthcare or gun policy or tax policy or immigration policy, assumes everything is a competition—and reveres, to the general exclusion of the alternative, #winning. Sickness is weakness. Poverty is weakness. Otherness is weakness. Trump understands the world according to one crucial insight: He is not weak. He is strong. He is a very fine person, and in fact the consummate winner: This is a White House that subscribes to the incontrovertible realities of the world according to one man. Donaldpolitik.

It is this world—it is this worldview—that Sarah Sanders, every day, helps to spin. Her handling of Maggie Haberman’s McFaul-related question on Wednesday was not a gaffe; it was, in fact, a tidy reminder of one of the ways that Sanders has transformed the job of the press secretary itself in the year she has spent as its occupant. Gone are tense cordialities that defined the tenures of the Obama press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney and Josh Earnest; gone, too, are the shouted lies of Sean Spicer and the swaggering camp of Anthony Scaramucci.

Instead, briefing by briefing, Sanders strides to the lectern in the Brady briefing room and makes an argument about who belongs among the world’s winners (Trump and those in his orbit, the forgotten Americans who will be helped by Trump’s work, North Koreans, the participants in the upcoming Veterans of Foreign Wars 119th Annual Convention in Kansas City, Missouri) and who must be counted among its losers (Congressional Democrats, Democrats in general, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the American news media who are not on the payroll of the Fox News Channel). Sanders recently responded to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta by saying, “I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences.”  It’s partisanship, all the way down.

This kind of thing—civility, perhaps, by another way—seeks to justify itself through the argument that Jim Acosta is “fake news,” and that therefore Jim Acosta is a loser, and that therefore Jim Acosta needs to be mocked by the White House press secretary on national television. It’s partisanship, all the way down. (When reporters point out that the president lies—there are more than 2,000 known at this point—Sanders commonly responds by accusing them of partisanship and an anti-Trump agenda.)

In a Sanders briefing, even the most straightforward questions are often met with obfuscation and indignation. Even the most basic matters of fact are disputed. The logic of the battlefield wins out, and the assigned teams face off, and it becomes clear, if you watch for long enough, that the thing being fought for is reality itself: facts, truths, common knowledge. The content and the contours of the world as we agree to understand it. In Sanders’s briefings, the Overton window doesn’t widen or narrow so much as it angrily yells at you for not being a door.

In the summer of 1954, a group of 22 boys, all of them rising sixth graders, were invited to spend time at a summer camp in the Sans Bois mountains, in southeastern Oklahoma. While there, the idea went, the kids would swim and boat and run and play and otherwise do the things you’d expect might be done at a summer camp tailored to the tendencies of 11-year-old boys. The campers were separated into two cabins—two separate camps, effectively—that were located far enough apart to be beyond seeing and hearing distance of one another. Neither group was aware, at first, of the other one. Nor were they aware that their idyllic camp was also a psychological test—the one that would come to be known as the Robbers Cave experiment.

It went like this: The boys, extremely similar but strategically separated, were initially left to bond among themselves, within their 11-member cabins; then, once a group identity had set in, each group was made aware of the fact that there was another cabin—a different cabin—nearby. With remarkable efficiency, as the psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his team of counsellor/assistants observed it, the logic of the team took over: The boys—they had been selected not only for similarities in age, but also for race and class and intellect—immediately wanted to compete with the members of the other cabin. And the competitions were not the friendly kinds you might associate with summer camp. Members of each group started to call the strangers of the other taunting names. They conducted raids on the other cabin, stealing some possessions and destroying others. One group, attempting to lay claim to the baseball diamond the two cabins shared, staked a flag on the pitcher’s mound. The other group burned it down.

Robbers CaveLord of the Flies but with better experimental design, remains a dire warning, not only when it comes to sociology, but also when it comes to democracy—a lurking suggestion of how readily humans can be convinced to turn against each other on the grounds of otherness itself. This phenomenon is recorded throughout American history. James Madison worried about factions and Alexander Hamilton worried about demagogues and the framers as a messy collective worried about the inevitable inertias of human pettiness—and it was because they understood intuitively what the events at Robbers Cave would suggest, centuries later, to be true: Citizens would be inclined, they realized, to argue not just in the best of ways, but in the worst. It would be exceedingly easy for their fragile new republic to lose itself in the easy temptations of partisanship.

It is a fear that is realized every time the person whose job it is to help the American people understand the daily doings of the executive branch instead mocks White House reporters to their faces. It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders, the daughter of a man who has made his career as a pundit denigrating the “media” (a collective of which, through a TV-show broadcast to the masses, he insists he is not a part), uses her pulpit to promote the president’s “fake news awards.” It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders accuses reporters of “purposely putting out information you know is false” and “purposefully misleading the American people”—offenses that, anyone familiar with the workings of the press will know, are grounds for instant firing. It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders compares professional White House reporters to her three small children.

And it is a fear that is realized every time Sanders takes a question about a specific matter of public policy—the state of diplomacy with North Korea, the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the White House attitude toward presidential self-pardons, the use of an American diplomat as a pawn to ratify the deal-making capabilities of the 45th president—and, instead of offering an answer, twists the reply to make sure it endorses the familiar talking points: the stubbornness of the Democrats, the venality of the media, the manifest greatness of Donald Trump. Team above all. Victory at all costs.

American politics, overall, have ceded so much to the logic of warfare: This is a time of factions, of widespread bad faith, of normalized trolling, of the plodding weaponization of everything. But Sanders, for her part, serves as an omen in real time: a reminder of what happens when the airy ideals of republican government—compromise, commonality, objective truth—get refracted through competition and resentment and battle. The daily victories claimed by political Darwinism. “Lol, nothing matters,” the old joke goes, but it turns out one thing still does.

Last fall, when she was still settling into the press secretary job after taking it over from Scaramucci, The New York Times asked Sanders, who is very much an evangelical Christian, what led her to want to work for Donald Trump, who is very much not. Sanders replied, matter-of-factly: “I thought he could win.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2018 at 5:52 pm

A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result

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Charlotte Graham-McLay reports in the NY Times:

 A New Zealand firm that let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five says the experiment was so successful that it hoped to make the change permanent.

The firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, found the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees, who said they spent more time with their families, exercising, cooking, and working in their gardens.

The firm ran the experiment — which reduced the workweek to 32 hours from 40 — in March and April this year, and asked two researchers to study the effects on staff.

Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, said employees reported a 24 percent improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Mr. Haar said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

Similar experiments in other countries have tested the concept of reducing work hours as a way of improving individual productivity. In Sweden, a trial in the city of Gothenburg mandated a six-hour day, and officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more. But when France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000, businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.

[Is the 9-to-5 approach still ideal for workers? We asked the experts]

In Perpetual Guardian’s case, workers said the change motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office. Meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.

“They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder,” Mr. Haar said.

Andrew Barnes, the company’s founder, said he believed his was the first business in the world to pay staff for 40 hours when working 32; other firms have allowed employees to work shorter weeks by compressing the standard 40 hours into fewer days, or allowed people to work part-time for a reduced salary.

Mr. Barnes said he came up with the idea for a four-day workweek after reading a report that suggested people spent less than three hours of their work day productively employed, and another that said distractions at work could have effects on staff akin to losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.

He said the results of Perpetual Guardian’s trial showed that when hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours new employees spent in the office.

“Otherwise you’re saying, ‘I’m too lazy to figure out what I want from you, so I’m just going to pay you for showing up,’” Mr. Barnes said.

“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” he added. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

He said working mothers stood to benefit most from the policy, since those returning to work from maternity leave often negotiated part-time hours, but performed the equivalent of full-time work.

Tammy Barker, a senior client manager with the firm, agreed with Mr. Barnes’s assessment.

Ms. Barker, a mother of two who lives in Auckland, said she spent her day off each week running personal errands, attending appointments and shopping for groceries, which allowed her to spend more time with her family on weekends.

She had realized during the trial how often she jumped between tasks at work as her concentration waned.

“Because there was a focus on our productivity, I made a point of doing one thing at a time, and turning myself back to it when I felt I was drifting off,” she said. “At the end of each day, I felt I had got a lot more done.”

Noting that the company had seen lower electricity bills with 20 percent less staff in the office each day, Mr. Barnes said the change in work hours could have wider implications if more companies adopted such a strategy.

“You’ve got 20 percent of cars off the road in rush hour; there are implications for urban design, such as smaller offices,” he said.

Perpetual Guardian’s board will now consider making the change permanent. . .

Continue reading.

See also this article (listed on the Useful Posts page):  The Gospel of Consumption

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2018 at 4:01 pm

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