June 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Donald Trump's Ancien Régime (Yair Mintzker, JUN 1, 2017, Project Syndicate)

History doesn't repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain allegedly said, "it does rhyme." Trump, too, rhymes with the past. But his presidency is not a replay of twentieth-century fascism, as Yale historian Timothy Snyder and others have argued. Rather, the TV-obsessed US president is recreating something much older, and more in keeping with a Disney fantasy: his own princely court.

This explains why Trump is preoccupied with appearances and regal roleplaying, and why his administration has reprised classic courtly archetypes, down to the court fool. He has a beautiful princess daughter who can do no wrong, and emasculated grown sons who linger in their father's shadow. His foreign-born wife has a thick accent, and lives in a separate residence. Like a modern-day Marie Antoinette, she is often accused of profligacy and frivolity.

Beyond the family, Trump has a courtly entourage, complete with the evil adviser, Steve Bannon; the favored duke, Jared Kushner; a host of bankers; and, lest we forget, Sean Spicer, the jester. The only figure still missing from this cast of characters is the Rasputin-like mystic, whispering arcane advice in the king's ear. America should be on the lookout for his or her arrival.

The fact that Trump's presidency seems to have escaped from the set of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century period drama is no accident. Europe's Baroque court culture was built around immensely entitled men who knew very little about the workings of government.

This generated considerably insecurity, which manifested in striking ways. Their palaces were not just magnificent architectural structures, but also venues for maintaining social control. According to a contemporary description of Louis XIV, which could easily be applied to Trump, "[t]here was nothing he liked so much as flattery or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Behind Tiger Woods's arrest and pain meds lies a problematic surgery (IKE SWETLITZ, JUNE 1, 2017, STAT)

[W]hat's been less discussed is the role of the back surgery Woods recently underwent, called spinal fusion. Woods had the surgery in April "to alleviate ongoing pain in his back and leg," according to his website. (This was his fourth back surgery.)

According to the police report, one prescription Woods has is the opioid pain reliever Vicodin, possibly related to the back surgery -- though Woods's agent would not say if that was the reason, according to the Washington Post.

But the incident points to a bigger problem with such surgeries: Spinal fusions are rising in prevalence even though they often don't work, leave patients in pain, and can drive patients to long-term dependence on pain relievers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Hot water and antimicrobial soaps don't get your hands any cleaner : You're probably washing your hands wrong. (Kendra Pierre-Louis, 6/01/17, Popular Science)

[H]istorical surveys have found that most people are told to wash their hands in the warmest water they can tolerate. In general, people associate warmer water temperatures with cleaner hands. The study, however, didn't find this to be true. Water temperature had no effect. That's probably because the temperatures that we know kill bacteria (think boiling) are also likely to burn our flesh (ouch).

This isn't the first study to find that temperatures don't affect hand cleanliness. A 2002 study in the journal Food Service Technology garnered a similar result.

The authors also found that anti-bacterial soaps didn't really work either. Hands washed with regular soap were about as clean as those scrubbed down with the antimicrobial stuff, a finding that isn't novel. In fact, last year the FDA banned 19 additives that are put into soap to make them antimicrobial. In explaining the ban, which takes effect this fall, Janet Woodcock--director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER)--stated that, "Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term." [...]

Each of the 20 subjects were actually tested four times--each using a different duration of soap lathering (5, 10, 20, and 40 seconds). "That was just the time people were lathering with the soap--it doesn't include rinse time--and we saw a statistically significant difference between 5 seconds and 20 seconds," says study author Donald Schaffner, a food risk analysis researcher at Rutgers University. "We did not see a difference between 10 and 20 seconds and 20 and 40 seconds.

In other words, five seconds of lathering up the soap isn't long enough to get your hands clean. Ten seconds is the magic number.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends hand washing for about 20 seconds, roughly as long as it takes to sing the lyrics to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". But since that time is supposed to include both lathering and rinsing, it easily gets us into the range that Schaffner found in his study.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Trump's embassy waiver is another key policy disagreement with Israel (RAPHAEL AHREN June 1, 2017, Times of Israel)

In 1972, then-congressman Gerald Ford called for moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Two years later, Ford -- now president -- was asked by Israel's ambassador in Washington at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, about the embassy's relocation.

"In the Oval Office you view things differently than from the House of Representatives," Rabin quoted Ford as replying.

Twenty years after this episode Congress passed a law stipulating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but allowing presidents to delay the relocation every six months.

Giving credence to Ford, on Thursday, Donald Trump became the fourth US president to sign a presidential waiver ordering the delay, just as his predecessors have done 36 times since the late 1990s.

Disappointing Jewish and Evangelical supporters in Israel and the US, but not really surprising anyone, Trump set his signature underneath the exact same "presidential determination" that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama made before him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM



Lawrence Ellsworth's dueling days are mostly over. For one thing, his knees are a little balky. For another, his knuckles have begun to swell with arthritis. But he still carries himself with a certain confidence--savoir-faire, you could call it, or the amiable swagger of a man who is well acquainted with rapier and dagger, a man who has dedicated the better part of his life to the lore and lure of those weapons.  The hair helps, too. And the goatee. Ellsworth is now in his early sixties. His hair has gone white but he still enjoys the lustrous cascade of a buccaneer nearly half his age.

Professionally, Ellsworth defies easy description. He is an author and a dramaturge, a translator, an historian and the "Lead Loremaster" of a world known as Nirn, which includes the continent of Tamriel and also various slipstream dimensions.

The first time we met was in a subterranean lair--not quite a gymnasium, not quite a dungeon--in Central Harlem. That's where, on Friday evenings, the longsword enthusiasts of New York City meet to do battle. There were blades everywhere--mounted on the brick walls, resting on ledges, gripped by the hands of men and women ready to draw and engage. Ellsworth was there as the club's honored guest. Amidst the clanging steel and grunting parries, he seemed very much at ease.

"With fencing, so much of it is about deceit," he told me. "You want to get the other man into a routine, a way of thinking, then show him that he's wrong. There's a narrative arc." Nearby, a large man dressed in black went for a wicked blow to his opponent's midsection. Ellsworth watched the action thoughtfully. "With the longsword there's an added component--you're also trying hard not to get killed."

Swordplay is Ellsworth's genre of choice, his life's enduring passion. (Ellsworth is the name he's chosen for his literary career; his surname is Schick.) In 2014, he served as editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, a centuries-spanning gallery of cutthroats and knights errant. Earlier this year, the publisher Pegasus released his translation of Alexandre Dumas's lost Musketeer novel, The Red Sphinx. There are now plans to refresh the entire series. To all his work, Ellsworth brings an evangelizing zeal. "Who wouldn't want to face deadly danger with confidence and élan?" he asks in the Big Book's introduction. "Who can deny the thrill of clashing blades, hairbreadth escapes, and daring rescues?"

Not I. Certainly not Ellsworth. Together we perched on a pair of hand-carved stools and watched as a young man with a samurai-style beard led the others through a series of sword-thrusting drills.

"The appeal of all this," Ellsworth said, taking in the room with a sigh. "It's eternal. The clothes change from one generation to another but not the impulse or the thrill."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM

LET THE TIGER OUT OF THE CAGE! (self-reference alert):

LSU Students Accuse 'Violent' Tiger Mascot of Being 'Symbol of White Oppression' (Lukas Mikelionis, June 1, 2017, Heat Street)

Students at Louisiana State University have started an online petition urging the establishment to change its "Tigers" mascot, claiming it's the symbol of "white oppression".

Which reminds us of a story which is also apropos Frank Deford's death.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Trump weighing return of Russian compounds seized over election meddling: report (MAX GREENWOOD,  05/31/17, The Hill)

A former adviser to Obama told The Post that they had "no intention" of ever giving the compounds back to Russia. 

Russia reportedly did not retaliate due in part to former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, who indicated in a phone call to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that things would change under Trump.

Is it still corruption if you take the bribes in public?

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Lebanon Chief Says Police Won't Try to Enforce Immigration Laws (Tim Camerato, 5/31/17, Valley News)

Police Chief Richard Mello promised Lebanon residents on Tuesday that city officers will not be used to round up undocumented immigrants who haven't committed a violent crime.

The police department also will continue to refrain from asking drivers about their immigration status during traffic stops, he told a crowd of more than 50 people attending a community forum at the Seminary Hill School.

"We're not immigration officials, nor do we want to be, nor should we be," Mello said. "I have enough issues on the local level within the community to spend my time on. I don't need to spend it chasing after people who may be undocumented."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


New England's Last Big Coal Plant Shuts Down (Matt O'Brien And Jennifer Mcdermott, 5/31/17, Associated Press)

New England's largest -- and one of its last -- coal-fired power plants was shutting down permanently on Wednesday.

The Brayton Point Power Station was scheduled to power down before a midnight Thursday deadline, culminating a decades-long shift from coal, oil and nuclear energy to lower-cost natural gas.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


1980 Doctor's Letter Helped Fuel Opioid Epidemic (Marilynn Marchione, 6/01/17, AP)

Nearly 40 years ago, a respected doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine with some very good news: Out of nearly 40,000 patients given powerful pain drugs in a Boston hospital, only four addictions were documented.

Doctors had been wary of opioids, fearing patients would get hooked. Reassured by the letter, which called this "rare" in those with no history of addiction, they pulled out their prescription pads and spread the good news in their own published reports.

And that is how a one-paragraph letter with no supporting information helped seed a nationwide epidemic of misuse of drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin by convincing doctors that opioids were safer than we now know them to be.

On Wednesday, the journal published an editor's note about the 1980 letter and an analysis from Canadian researchers of how often it has been cited -- more than 600 times, often inaccurately.

Most used it as evidence that addiction was rare, and most did not say it only concerned hospitalized patients, not outpatient or chronic pain situations such as bad backs and severe arthritis that opioids came to be used for.

"This pain population with no abuse history is literally at no risk for addiction," one citation said. "There have been studies suggesting that addiction rarely evolves in the setting of painful conditions," said another.

"It's difficult to overstate the role of this letter," said Dr. David Juurlink of the University of Toronto, who led the analysis. "It was the key bit of literature that helped the opiate manufacturers convince front-line doctors that addiction is not a concern."

One of the great flaws of the American health care system is that doctors have an incentive to give you anything you ask for, like pain medications you don't need. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Mets apologize after mascot's middle finger, say person won't wear costume again (ESPN.com, 6/01/17)

Video on social media showed Mr. Met walking down a tunnel at the ballpark, turning around and giving the middle finger to the fans. It was unclear what, if anything, the fans said to the mascot before he made the gesture. [...]

A Mets official told The Associated Press more than one person wears the Mr. Met costume during each season, and the person who wore it Wednesday night will not work in the costume again.

Mr. Met, known for an oversize head with baseball seams, is among the sport's most recognized mascots. Technically, he has only four digits on his hand -- three fingers and a thumb.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Teaching a stone to fly (FRANK BURES,  May 24, 2017 , Minnesota Monthly)

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us--my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10--set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition--the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

"Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won't win?" she asked.

I threw the stone.

"Four," she said. "But it caught a wave."

My shoulders sagged.

"Don't doubt yourself, Daddy!"

Her younger sister looked at her. "But you doubted him," she said.

"That's different."

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are right about God (Christian Schneider, May 30, 2017, USA Today)

While Chicago's Chance -- an electric rubber band of optimism -- uses his album Coloring Book to describe the suffering around him, he also praises God as the source of all of his blessings. Chance has been praised as a pioneer of "gospel rap," which explains why seeing him perform his exhortations about God's love in person is such a joyous experience.

Contrast that with Kendrick Lamar, whose recent album DAMN. portrays a God that imposes dire consequences for not following His teachings. Lamar's God is like the IRS -- He's always watching, and punishment might be heading your way when He decides you need an audit.

"Our God is a loving God," Lamar told DJBooth in an email. "Yes. He's a merciful God. Yes. But he's even more so a God of DISCIPLE. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God."

"And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline," Lamar continues. "Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that's close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected."

Not exactly a slogan one will find on a coffee mug at Target. But as Miguelito notes, Chance and Kendrick are "two sides of one coin, illustrating two separate but necessary ways for the religious believer to move through the world."

While that may be true, Lamar's conception of God is by far the more useful.  [...]

[W]hat is the point in devoting your life to serving God if you just think His beliefs merely happen to track along with yours? Do you support the death penalty? Well, then God probably does, too. Think the Lord is cool with you abandoning your children? He probably wouldn't want you to feel bad about it! Do you secretly believe La La Land was better than Moonlight? Then so does God! (Just kidding -- even a super chill God couldn't stand being lectured about jazz by Ryan Gosling.)

The main benefit of religious belief is to compel people to serve themselves and others. Worshiping a higher power is supposed to make you do things you normally wouldn't do. Without some sort of need to follow God's orders, you turn into one of those insufferable "spiritual but not religious" hippies that hopefully God is saving for lightning bolt practice.

The idea of a harsh, demanding God has a long tradition in American gospel music, particularly among the African-American Pentecostals of the early twentieth century -- many of whom survived slavery.

"Yes, He killed the rich and poor / And He's going to kill more / If you don't turn away from your shame," sings Elder David R. Curry and his congregation in the 1930 song Memphis Flu. God's vengeance is always lurking in songs like Reverend Sister Mary Nelson's Judgment, which counsels, "Well, all you hypocrite members / You wasting your time away / My God's calling for workmens / And you had better obey." As Matt Labash once wrote about Pentecostal hymns, "Holiness types didn't play around."