February 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


In the first six months of health care professionals replacing police officers, no one they encountered was arrested: DPD Chief Pazen, who is fond of the STAR program, says it frees up officers to do their jobs: fight crime. (David Sachs, Feb. 02, 2021, dENVERITE)

A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report.

Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time.

The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.

STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by connecting people with services like shelter, food aid, counseling, and medication. The program also deliberately cuts down on encounters between uniformed officers and civilians.

"This is good stuff, it's a great program, and basically, the report tells us what we believed," said Chief of Police Paul Pazen. Pazen added that he doesn't want to sound flippant, but the approach was somewhat of a known quantity because he's been talking about it with advocates for mental health and criminal justice reform for years. Denver just so happened to launch the program in the middle of a movement against police violence.

Pazen's goal is to fill out the alternative program so that every neighborhood can use its services at all hours, instead of just weekdays during normal business hours. Nearly $3 million for more social workers and more vans should help Denver move toward that "North Star" this year, Pazen said. The money is expected to come from the city budget and a grant from Denver's sales-tax-funded mental health fund.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Cuba authorizes private activity in majority of sectors (AFP, 2/06/21)

Cuba announced Saturday that private activity will be authorized in most sectors, a major reform in the communist country where the state and its companies dominate economic activity.

The measure, which was unveiled last August by Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito, was approved Friday during a meeting of the Council of Ministers, according to the daily Granma, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

Until now, private activity -- which has been authorized in Cuba since 2010 but whose real boom dates back to the historic warming of ties between Cuba and the United States, initiated at the end of 2014 under Barack Obama -- was limited to a list of sectors set by the state.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Why Opening Restaurants Is Exactly What the Coronavirus Wants Us to Do (Caroline Chen Feb. 6, 2021, ProPublica)

On Jan. 29, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was promoting "marital bliss" at a coronavirus news conference.

Announcing that indoor dining would reopen at 25% capacity in New York City on Valentine's Day, and wedding receptions could also resume with up to 150 people a month after, Cuomo suggested: "You propose on Valentine's Day and then you can have the wedding ceremony March 15, up to 150 people. People will actually come to your wedding because you can tell them, with the testing, it will be safe. ... No pressure, but it's just an idea."

Cuomo isn't alone in taking measures to loosen pandemic-related restrictions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity starting Feb. 1. Idaho Gov. Brad Little increased limits on indoor gatherings from 10 to 50 people. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is raising business capacity from 25% to 40%, including at restaurants and gyms. California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders on Jan. 25.

To justify their reopening decisions, governors point to falling case counts. "We make decisions based on facts," Cuomo said. "New York City numbers are down."

But epidemiologists and public health experts say a crucial factor is missing from these calculations: the threat of new viral variants. One coronavirus variant, which originated in the United Kingdom and is now spreading in the U.S., is believed to be 50% more transmissible. The more cases there are, the faster new variants can spread. Because the baseline of case counts in the U.S. is already so high -- we're still averaging about 130,000 new cases a day -- and because the spread of the virus grows exponentially, cases could easily climb past the 300,000-per-day peak we reached in early January if we underestimate the variants, experts said.

Furthermore, study after study has identified indoor spaces -- particularly restaurants, where consistent masking is not possible -- as some of the highest-risk locations for transmission to occur. Even with distanced tables, case studies have shown that droplets can travel long distances within dining establishments, sometimes helped along by air conditioning.

90% of restaurants fail within their first year, yet we have an awful lot to choose from.  Keep them shuttered and we'll get new ones after the pandemic. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Biden's dream of reviving America's labor force faces a mounting threat: automation: Forty-three percent of businesses anticipate reducing their workforce due to an integration of technology. (ELEANOR MUELLER, 02/05/2021, Politico)

The mass disruption of the workplace because of the pandemic is accelerating employers' move toward job-displacing automation, and neither the government nor the American labor force is prepared for the sweeping fallout.

The hemorrhaging of jobs is refueling a national debate over how to give workers the skills to survive the brutal market and fill the millions of positions that automation will inevitably also create -- albeit at a far slower pace than positions are being shed. Lawmakers, labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are all calling for more spending on workforce training. The employment and training programs now available -- there are no fewer than 43 spread across the government -- are inadequate, uncoordinated and underfunded, they say.

"We've fast-forwarded 10 years of change in the space of less than 10 months," said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, a policy research group that promotes workforce training.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


Tree of Knowledge (Rick Lewis, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

Some people say that the central strand in the history of philosophy is the search for truth. Conversely a tendency in philosophy for thousands of years has been scepticism - philosophical doubt about our ability to know particular things, such as the existence of the external world, or of other minds, or of moral certainty, or of the existence of God. Radical scepticism is doubting our ability to know anything at all. Descartes started with that position. Surrounded by sceptics on all sides, he wanted to find certainty. So he went one better than them by doubting everything. In a famous thought experiment he imagines an evil demon "of the utmost power and cunning" deliberately setting out to deceive him about everything. And then he thought, is there anything I could still know in such a situation? And he answered himself - yes. Even if he was being deceived about everything, then his thoughts while erroneous would still be thoughts. So he knew one thing: "I think" And from that he knew a second: "Therefore I exist."

David Hume at 300 (Howard Darmstadter, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

To see the emphasis Hume placed on our thought processes, consider a familiar philosophical problem. Seeing an external object - a tree, for example - involves a process that begins with the tree and flows, via reflected light, to our eyes, and then up our optic nerve to our brain, to produce a mental image of the tree, which is our experience of the tree. The tree is at one end of this chain of events, our mental image of the tree at the other. So how can we be sure that our mental image of the tree is like the tree itself? Descartes had a classic formulation of this problem: Could there be an evil demon who systematically gives us experiences (mental images) that are different from their causes? A modern version of this problem is, How do you know that you're not just a brain in a vat, fed electrical impulses by a mad scientist, so that while you think you have a body and participate in a real world of people and objects, you are in reality only a player in a kind of cosmic video game? (You've seen the movie.)

But Hume does not attempt to answer Descartes' problem. Hume's vantage-point is always that of a psychologist attempting to explain human behavior. The psychologist accepts that he and his subjects inhabit a common world of people and material objects. It is from within this common world that the psychologist attempts to discover the laws of thought. We can speculate as to whether this common world really (ie observer-independently) exists as we imagine it, but for Hume such speculations are idle. People always assume that such a world exists, and the psychological imperative to make this assumption settles the question for Hume. As he says in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, skeptical principles "may flourish and triumph in the schools, where it is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to refute them. But as soon as they leave the shade, and by the presence of the real objects, which actuate our passions and sentiments, are put in opposition to the more powerful principles of our nature, they vanish like smoke, and leave the most determined skeptic in the same condition as other mortals" (from Part II of Section XII).

The Humanist

Just as our reasonings concerning matters of fact rest on a principle of association of ideas, so there can be no 'ultimate' justification for our moral beliefs, beyond psychological laws. This is summarised in Hume's infamous law that 'you can't get an ought from an is' [See Hume on Is and Ought in this issue - Ed].

Hume's attempt to base morality on psychological principles begins with a conventional premise: humans are motivated by pains and pleasures. But Hume insists that humans are innately social: we take pleasure in the pleasure of others, and feel pain at others' pain. This 'principle of humanity' is the foundation of Hume's ethical theory. It is his gravitational principle. It's our motivation for what we might call our 'moral behavior'. Hume supports it with numerous examples drawn from everyday life, but disdains any attempt to explain it.

Hume never doubts that all people are united in possessing the same psychology, in particular, the principle of humanity. Our fellow-feeling can be extended to anyone with whom we have contact: "An Englishman in Italy is a friend, a European in China, and perhaps a man would be beloved as such were we to meet him in the moon." Of course, the empathy shown in the principle of humanity does not extend to humankind generally, but only to people with whom we have contact: most strongly to family members and close friends, less to acquaintances, still less to those with whom contact is intermittent, and hardly at all to strangers. Hume's principle thus fails to explain how people can live at peace in complex societies where they must interact with and depend upon relative strangers. Instead, since large societies are necessary to maximize human pleasure - a basic human motivation to Hume - in this case people use their reasoning ability to invent systems of legal rules and institutions:

"Two neighbors may agree to drain a meadow, which they possess in common, because 'tis easy for them to know each others mind; and each must perceive that the immediate consequence of his failing in his part is the abandoning of the whole project. But 'tis very difficult, and indeed impossible, that a thousand persons should agree in any such action... Political society easily remedies ... these inconveniences. Thus bridges are built; harbors opened; ramparts raised; canals formed; fleets equipped; and armies disciplined everywhere by the care of government, which, though composed of men subject to all human infirmities, becomes, by one of the finest and most subtle inventions imaginable, a composition which is, in some measure, exempted from all these infirmities."

Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part II, section vii.

Yet while reason finds the means for individuals to achieve their ends, those ends are not set by reason, but by irresistible mental tendencies which Hume calls 'sentiments' or 'passions'. "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them" Hume claimed.

Is Skepticism Ridiculous? (Michael Philips, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

David Hume (1711-76), perhaps the greatest skeptic of them all, struggled valiantly with this conflict. According to Hume, we face a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, we must respect philosophical reasoning (or, as he calls it, "refin'd reflection"). It is our only defense against ignorance, superstition, and other beliefs governing daily life which, one and all, originate in 'illusions of the imagination'. On the other hand, we can't run our lives on the conclusions of refin'd reflection since

"...the understanding, when it acts alone, and according to its most general principles, entirely subverts itself, and leaves not the lowest degree of evidence in any proposition, either in philosophy or common life." [This and the following Hume quotes are from A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, section VII].

Midway through his discussion, Hume asserts that there is no rational solution to this problem, but that we don't need one. Although reason makes no headway here, 'nature' seems to solves the problem in favor of 'common life.' One can only entertain skeptical conclusions for so long before

"...[nature] cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation and lively impression of my senses, which obliterates all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, and I am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any farther."

At such times Hume finds himself "absolutely and necessarily determin'd to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life." Thus reduced to this "indolent belief in the general maxims of the world" he is ready to throw "all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy."

Reason is not rational--so what?

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


How evangelicals' fundraising by demonization fed Capitol violence (Rob Schenckm 2/03/21, Religion News Service)

While evangelical participation in and support for the Jan. 6 event profoundly saddens me, I'm not shocked by it either. Big-name preachers, ministry celebrities and political figures have stoked fear, resentment and affront among my fellow believers for nearly half a century.

Because giant fundraising operations routinely trade, rent and sell "cause-oriented" donor records, tens of millions of digital and paper appeals are sent to evangelical households repeating the same often manufactured outrage under different signatures. 

During my now regrettable 30 years as an activist on the religious right, I aided and abetted the poisoning of evangelical culture by engaging in alarmist rhetoric from the pulpit. I denounced the "abortionists," the "homosexual lobby," "godless atheists" in academia and "Demoncrats" in Congress and the White House. More than 50,000 financial contributors rewarded me for doing all that. [...]

Berating those outside our community is always easier than taking ourselves and our own to task. Fellow evangelicals, it's time we take a dose of our own medicine. This time it's not someone else's religion or culture that poses a real threat -- it's ours. 

....demonizing everything has made the morally serious opposition to abortion seem as trivial as the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


US calls out human rights abuses in China (Deutsche-Welle, 2/06/21)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed for accountability on human rights abuses, particularly in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong while talking to senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.

"I made clear the US will defend our national interests, stand for our democratic values and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system," said Blinken.

Beijing will be held "accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan strait and its undermining of the rules-based international system," he added.

Whereas Donald told Xi to put Muslims in cages and to put down the "riots" in Hong Kong. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Reframing Mideast, Biden seems to signal new distance from allies Israel, Saudis (SHAUN TANDON, 2/06/21, AFP) 

US President Joe Biden is quickly if subtly rebalancing US priorities in the Middle East, walking back his predecessor's all-encompassing embrace of Saudi Arabia and Israel while seeking diplomacy with Iran.

Two weeks into his presidency, Biden on Thursday announced an end to US support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen which he said has "created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe."
Equally noticed was what went unsaid in his first major speech on foreign policy. Biden did not mention Israel when saying he was revitalizing alliances with other leaders -- a reflection of how he has not yet spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Fossil Fuel Debate's Most Bizarre Byproduct: "Petro-Masculinity" (ALEXANDER C. KAUFMAN, 2/06/21, Mother Jones)

"It turns out President Biden may be the most left-wing president we've ever seen," Kudlow said. "His actions on spending and taxing and regulating, on immigration and fossil fuels and other cultural issues... he may be the most left-wing." [...]

What, then, explains the political power of fossil fuels? Hefty political donations and the long-term need for some supply of the fuels, albeit paired with some kind of technology to capture emissions, only tell part of the story. The industry, especially in the U.S., also serves as an avatar for a certain kind of cultural worldview, one that resonates with tough-guy masculinity and patriarchal families.

In 2011, a study in the peer-reviewed journal Global Environmental Change found that white males were overrepresented among people who denied the reality of climate change. Researchers attributed the phenomenon to a desire to "protect their cultural identity."

"Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control, and benefit from so much of it," the study's authors wrote. "Perhaps women and nonwhite men see the world as more dangerous because in many ways they are more vulnerable, because they benefit less from many of its technologies and institutions, and because they have less power and control."

In 2014, researchers in Sweden found that climate denial was "intertwined with a masculinity of industrial modernity that is on decline." Those who defended the industries destabilizing the planet were trying "to save an industrial society" that men like them had built and dominated, argued the researchers, whose work appeared in Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies.

In 2018, Virginia Tech political scientist Cara Daggett gave the concept a name: petro-masculinity.

"The concept of petro-masculinity suggests that fossil fuels mean more than profit," Daggett wrote in the international studies journal Millennium. "Fossil fuels also contribute to making identities, which poses risks for post-carbon energy politics."

These guys are so terrified about their own masculinity it makes them unbalanced. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Víkingur Ólafsson, Bergen Philharmonic/ Gardner review - immense, unshowy charm (Fiona Maddocks, 6 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

The Icelandic pianist shot to fame with recordings of Philip Glass and Bach, often providing his own arrangements. Matching muscularity with sensitivity, he is intrigued by the connections rather than the boundaries between musical styles, as serious about the overshadowed glories of Rameau as about the pétillant pleasures of his fellow countryman Daniel Bjarnason, whose piano concerto Ólafsson plays in one of Wintermezzo's recorded concerts. The author Karl Ove Knausgaard chose the pianist as one of his cultural picks in On my radar in these pages last month. His description of Ólafsson's playing - in this case, of Glass - nails it: "precise, clear... mathematical but also very soulful". There's also, evident in every note, an immense, unshowy charm.

In this livestreamed concert, constructed around the keys of C minor and F minor, Ólafsson was soloist in Bach's Concerto No 5, in his own arrangement of the beautiful Adagio from Bach's Violin Sonata No 5, and in Mozart's grandest of piano concertos, No 24, K491. Written just before The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, this magnificent work makes huge demands on the woodwind. The Bergen players, in all sections, sparkled.

LIVESTREAM: Wintermezzo: Vikingur Ólafsson plays Grieg