September 23, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The joy of baking your own bread: These days, we are long into the age of commercial breadbaking and far-removed from the sight of a field of waving wheat (Timothy Jacobson, September 22, 2023, Spectator)

I have observed in supermarkets today a connection between the flour offerings and social class. In posher grocery stores in fancy zip codes, the sorts of places that offer twenty kinds of salt and have large stocks of organics, the flour offerings will be diverse and include plenty of non-wheat alternatives. In the wheat-flour department, by far the favored brand will be King Arthur, from an employee-owned firm in socialist Vermont. All the nice people and serious bakers I know swear by it, and it is fine flour without a doubt. Here I speculate, though not wildly: that using it, or saying you use it, delivers in addition to good bread and tasty cakes that frisson of moral superiority long associated with driving a Volvo that had been thoughtfully assem- bled by happy, unregimented Swedish workers.

It's America, we're all wealthy: KING ARTHUR FLOUR RISES (KATE TUCKER, JUNE 20, 2020, Business Download)

Founded in Boston in 1790, King Arthur has adopted a different approach to its milling practices  than its competitors, selecting prime wheat, refusing to bleach, or add bromates, tightly controlling the precise protein content of its flours. This premium approach carries a 25 percent price increase over competitors, but since the 19th century, King Arthur has outsold its competitors four to one, and by 2019 its sales hit $150 million. King Arthur's bread flour is now the number one seller in America, with only General Mills' Gold Medal outselling them in all-purpose flour alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


American Long-Range Missiles Threaten to Blast Through Putin's 'Red Line' (Daily Beast, September 22, 2023)

The Biden administration is nearing a decision to send long-range munitions to Ukraine known as Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that could give Ukraine an edge in the fight against Russia's invasion, according to U.S. officials. [...]

ATACMS, which can fire about 190 miles, could provide Ukraine the firepower it needs to reach important logistics, stockpiles, command and control centers, and other Russian targets far inside Russian territory.

The news comes at a pivotal moment for Kyiv, as Ukraine's military has opened up a new line of attack against Crimea, the peninsula which Russia illegally annexed in 2014 and has occupied ever since. Crimea has been serving as a key logistics hub for Russia during the war.

September 22, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


The second coming of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva  (MICHAEL JACOBS 22 SEPTEMBER 2023, Inside Story)
Students of the art of political rowing-back will have recognised a fine example of the genre earlier this week. Brazil's President Lula declared on Sunday that Vladimir Putin would be welcome at next year's G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro, and wouldn't be arrested as a suspected war criminal as Brazil's membership of the International Criminal Court requires. Indeed, if arresting him was compulsory, Brazil might leave the court. After a domestic and international outcry, on Monday Lula subtly altered his position. Putin would indeed be arrested, he insisted, because Lula took Brazil's commitment to the ICC very seriously.

The episode rather neatly demonstrated the balancing act Lula is trying to perform on the world stage. He has been assiduously positioning Brazil as an independent global power, seeking to act as a mediator in Ukraine rather than condemning Russia as demanded by the United States and Europe, promoting the non-Western BRICS club of major economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and flying to Cuba to reiterate Brazil's role as a leader of the G77 grouping of developing countries.

But he has also just signed a joint declaration with the United States proclaiming the G20 group of large economies the principal forum for multilateral diplomacy and declares himself a global champion of democracy, warning of the perils of authoritarian populism promoting racism and civil violence.

Homeboy knows what side his Pao De Queijo is buttered on.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


New Power Generator Produces Continuous Electricity From Natural Atmospheric Humidity (Tsinghua University,  SEPTEMBER 21, 2023)

Scientists are exploring methods to harness the low-value energy found abundantly in natural environments to produce electricity. A groundbreaking development has emerged: a power generator that leverages natural atmospheric humidity and produces continuous electrical signals. Remarkably, this is the first humidity generator that employs a nano-sized material known as polyoxometalates. The implications of this discovery suggest a promising new avenue of research in the sustainable exploitation of low-value energy.

September 21, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


Who killed Google Reader?: Ten years after its untimely death, the team that built the much-beloved feed reader reflects on what went wrong and what could have been. (David Pierce, Jun 30, 2023, Verge)

Reader's impending shutdown was announced in March of 2013, and the app went officially offline on July 1st of that year. "While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined," Google SVP Urs Hölzle wrote in a blog post announcing the shutdown.

Google tried its best to bury the announcement: it made it the fifth bullet in a series of otherwise mundane updates and published the blog post on the same day Pope Francis was elected to head the Catholic Church. Internally, says Mihai Parparita, who was one of Reader's last engineers and caretakers, "they were like, 'Okay, the Pope will be the big story of the day. It'll be fine.' But as it turns out, the people who care about Reader don't really care about the Pope." That loyal following Hölzle spoke of was irate over losing their favorite web consumption tool. 

Google's bad reputation for killing and abandoning products started with Reader and has only gotten worse over time. But the real tragedy of Reader was that it had all the signs of being something big, and Google just couldn't see it. Desperate to play catch-up to Facebook and Twitter, the company shut down one of its most prescient projects; you can see in Reader shades of everything from Twitter to the newsletter boom to the rising social web. To executives, Google Reader may have seemed like a humble feed aggregator built on boring technology. But for users, it was a way of organizing the internet, for making sense of the web, for collecting all the things you care about no matter its location or type, and helping you make the most of it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


How to Grow a Phantom Finger: Researchers can use illusions to fool your brain about the shape of your limbs. (Joshua Rapp, Sep 19, 2023, Discover)
Did you know it's possible for scientists to trick your brain into thinking you have an additional appendage?

A participant might stand in front of a mirror placing their left hand in such a way that the thumb doesn't show. A researcher then strokes the non-thumb side of the left hand at the same time as stroking the side with the thumb. In the space of a few moments, the participant begins to feel as though they have a second thumb on the wrong side of their hand -- even though they can clearly see this is not the case .

"Your brain immediately jumps to the conclusion that it has an extra body part," says Denise Cadete, a neuroscientist at Birkbeck, University of London. "In seconds, you can feel a body part that has a different shape, consistency [and] length."

And then folks are surprised that thoughts create illnesses?

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


"Biden's Legacy Will Be Apartheid": President Biden has answered Prime Minister Netanyahu's extremist government with only the mildest of rebukes. Critics say he is failing to meet the moment. (Alex Kane, 9/21/23, Jewish Currents)

This two-part dance step--mild criticism of Netanyahu and his coalition followed by walk backs and declarations of friendship--has become the Biden administration's go-to move since the December 2022 ascension of Israel's extremist right-wing government, which has expanded Israeli settlements in the West Bank, elevated far-right politicians to influential ministerial posts, and advanced legislation to gut the power of Israel's judiciary. In response to these blatant contraventions of long-standing US policy and public challenges to the bromide of "shared democratic values," the administration has repeatedly voiced its dis­pleasure--all while continuing to stress the importance of the US-Israel alliance, to send weapons to Israel, and to shield the country from pressure at the United Nations. Aaron David Miller, a veteran former diplomat who spent more than two decades advising six secretaries of state from both parties on Israel/Palestine, said Biden is "trying to create some distance" between the administration and Netanyahu's coalition, but is "simply not willing to impose any sort of cost" for their behavior beyond the "passive-aggressive approach" exemplified by Netanyahu's delayed invitation. Yousef Munayyer, a scholar at the Arab Center Washington DC, pointed to the disastrous effects of this strategy: "The Israelis are committed to doing what they're doing to Palestinians in good part because there haven't been any negative con­sequences for it," he said. "They've only been rewarded for this behavior over time--particularly in Washington."

In trying to save Israel, Joe is helping destroy it.

September 20, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Lead poisoning could be killing more people than HIV, malaria, and car accidents combined (Dylan Matthews, Sep 14, 2023, Vox)

Everyone knows lead is bad for you. We've known this for a very long time: In the first century BCE, the Roman architect Vitruvius warned against using lead in pipes, observing the "pallid color" of plumbers forced to work with it. We know leaded gasoline leads to premature death in the elderly, that high lead exposure can substantially reduce IQ, and that there is likely a relationship between lead exposure in children and high rates of crime later on.

Yet lead is still everywhere -- especially in poorer countries. Pure Earth, the largest nonprofit working on lead contamination internationally, recently conducted a massive survey of products in 25 low- and middle-income countries, from Peru to Nigeria to India to the Philippines, to test for lead levels in household goods. In their sample, they found high levels of lead in 52 percent of metal and 45 percent of ceramic foodware (a category including dishes, utensils, pots and pans), as well as 41 percent of house paints and 13 percent of toys.

This has major consequences. A new paper in Lancet Planetary Health, authored by economist Bjorn Larsen and Ernesto Sánchez-Triana, World Bank's global lead for pollution management, tries to quantify the scale of the lead problem globally.

The authors estimate that some 5.5 million people die prematurely due to lead exposure every year, and that the problem as a whole imposes a social cost of $6 trillion a year. That equals 6.9 percent of total world GDP.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Autonomous Vehicles: A Safer Road Ahead  (John Bailey, 9/20/23, AEIdeas)

Recent data analyses underscore a promising trend: autonomous vehicles (AVs) are showcasing remarkable safety records, a development that should warrant policymakers' attention and ease public concern.

A University of Texas study found that AVs have fewer crashes compared to conventional vehicles and less severe ones when they do occur. According to the research, AVs were involved in 195 crashes over 4.62 million miles, which is 2.3 times fewer crashes than conventional vehicles per mile driven.

Not only do AVs crash less often, the crashes are far less severe. The vast majority of AV crashes (87.7%) resulted only in property damage. Meanwhile, 30% of crashes involving human drivers result in injuries and 0.7% result in fatalities. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Are Muslims at Home in America? (National Review, Sep. 14th, 2023)

Zarzour highlighted ISNA's commitment to interfaith dialogue and also its program to train Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military. Although he stressed the organization's role in "adding to the mosaic of this beautiful country of ours," he acknowledged that, "while we're not going to agree with everyone on everything, we will look for what we have in common." More than 20 years after 9/11, many non-Muslims might be surprised by what they now share with their Muslim neighbors, colleagues, and fellow citizens.

After two sessions on topics dealing with faith and family, Friday ended with a late-night comedy show, "Muslim Comedians Stand Up against Gun Violence," featuring five performers, including one non-Muslim man and two Muslim women, one of whom did not wear a hijab, or headscarf. The best line of the evening belonged to the emcee, Preacher Moss, an African American born and raised in Washington, D.C. "I want Trump to be in prison long enough to come out a Black Muslim!" he quipped.

Saturday's program began early, at 5:30 a.m., with the first of Sunni Islam's five daily prayers, which I did not attend -- though I would have been welcome, even as a non-Muslim. I had a hard enough time making it to the first general session, at 10 a.m. -- "Education in the Digital Age: Empowering Minds, Shaping Careers." Arriving with about 30 minutes to spare, I zeroed in on that Starbucks.

The line was long, so I had time to observe three teenage girls who, like thousands of other young people, were attending the conference with their families. Part of the small but visible contingent of females not wearing any kind of head covering, these teenagers were just as smartly (if more modestly) dressed as the students I am used to seeing on my university campus. They were also equally fixated on their phones, texting one another, giggling, scanning the hall, and scrolling through their messages. When they finally reached the head of the line, they had no idea what to order. After much back-and-forth with the patient but harried young barista, they each managed to come up with precise, detailed specifications for their individually crafted hot beverages and food choices. Their presence illustrated the striking diversity of the thousands of Muslims attending this convention. They were a distinct minority, given their uncovered heads, but they did not seem to be the focus of any discernible disapproval.

The overwhelming majority of women at the convention covered their heads. Some were elegantly outfitted in long, flowing dresses (abayas) and loosely wrapped headscarves. Others were more severely outfitted in drab, shift-like garb with snug hijabs. A few were in black niqabs, covering the entire visage except for the eyes. A very few were completely shrouded in burkas that obscured even -- indeed, especially -- their eyes.

So, too, were the men dressed in a variety of styles defying any simple stereotype. Suits and ties as well as more-casual sports jackets and slacks were much in evidence, especially among leaders of the many organizations and businesses represented at the convention. But there were also plenty of men in slacks and sport shirts, just as I was. There were even a couple of young men sporting shorts, which are rarely worn by Muslims. On the other hand, there were many males, young and old, in traditional long-sleeved, ankle-length thobes and brimless kufi caps.

The latter garb was popular with the many African-American men in attendance. Yet they too evidenced a variety of attire and orientation toward Islam. After listening and talking to many of them, I was reminded that the conversion of African Americans to orthodox Sunni Islam -- as opposed to the ersatz, racist concoction propagated by Elijah Muhammad under the banner of the Nation of Islam, now barely surviving under Louis Farrakhan -- has on balance been one of the most heartening and successful paths to social advancement and self-respect undertaken by the legatees of slavery and Jim Crow.

September 19, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Lessons from the Ayatollah : When a special class of moral guardians is permitted to be above the rule of law, there is no check on their own corruptibility. (Max J. Prowant, 9/19/23, Law & Liberty)

The most extreme solution is offered by the Catholic integralists who explicitly seek to subvert "temporal power" (i.e., the state/government) to "spiritual power" (i.e., the Catholic Church). Along similar lines, Patrick Deneen proposes "Aristo-populism" to oust corrupt liberal elites. Add to the bunch National Conservatives, new-age Pentecostals, and Reformed Protestants and it seems that all the cool kids are coming up from liberalism. No solution is agreed upon. But all agree that the regime centered on the protection of individual rights must be replaced by some new system with more intrusive powers to direct our lost souls. 

The leaders of this broad coalition are not stupid and, therefore, their arguments should be confronted honestly and given due diligence. But dissuading them from their objectives will require more than pointing out how illiberal, homophobic, or un-democratic they are. Nor will it prove sufficient to point out how unrealistic their aims are in the context of the United States. Movements always begin with foolish hopes. What is needed instead are modern examples of states where similar revolutionary projects have been executed and produced less-than-ideal results. One state fits the bill nicely: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini's project in Iran was surely more extreme and violent than what most post-liberals would endorse. But given the authoritarian affinities of many post-liberals (consider their muted defenses of Vladimir Putin, East Germany, and the Chinese Communist Party), a comparison to Khomeini's Iran is more than appropriate. Indeed, given the character and aims of Khomeini's Iran, it is necessary.

The example of Khomeinism in Iran is instructive because it illustrates two lessons that classical liberals have long known. First, when a special class of moral guardians is permitted to be above the rule of law, there is no check on their own corruptibility, which all but ensures future abuses of power. And second, using the full powers of the state to enforce religious belief will render both the state and its religion illegitimate in the minds of the people. If post-liberals are serious about reviving moral virtue or shoring up religious faith, they should study the tragic example of Khomeini.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) is not a figure most think of when discussing American post-liberal intellectuals. After all, he was a Muslim cleric who defended Islamic civilization against Western civilization, the integrity of which post-liberals generally seek to defend. What is more, American conservatives despised the man while leftist intellectuals like Michel Foucault celebrated him as an authentic warrior fighting against the corroding tyranny of bourgeoise values. But there is plenty that connects Khomeini and his political project with today's post-liberals. 

First are the more superficial similarities. Khomeini adamantly opposed liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


These habits can cut the risk of depression in half, a new study finds (Allison Aubrey, 9/19/23, NPR)

[A] new study finds that people who maintain a broad range of healthy habits, from good sleep to physical activity to strong social connections, are significantly less likely to experience episodes of depression. 

Who'd have dreamt...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israel's Looming Constitutional CrisisDebates over the Supreme Court's role expose deep societal fissures, including between the religious and secular. (Charlotte Lawson, Sep 19, 2023, The Bulwark)

[A]dvocates of safeguarding the court's review power say barring the court from weighing in on Basic Laws would essentially create a majoritarian system. The laws and their amendments have special standing but no special procedure, meaning that they can be passed by a simple majority of lawmakers. Drawing on hypothetical worst-case scenarios, several opponents of hollowing out the court's authority asked the question: What happens if the Knesset pushes through a Basic Law that's blatantly anti-democratic?

Without a written constitution, Israel throughout its history has faced its fair share of tricky legal questions like the ones raised last week. But underpinning the legal disputes are core questions about outcome, and who wields the power in Israeli society. 

In the past, the Supreme Court has challenged or criticized policies pushed by religious political parties in the Knesset. Limiting the court's power, secular Israelis worry, could allow the current ruling coalition to pass laws they view as discriminatory, including enforcing gender segregation in public spaces and giving ultra-Orthodox Israelis greater control over who and how people can worship at Jewish holy sites.

Another major point of contention, military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men studying the Torah, has divided Israelis for years. Most Israeli citizens are required to complete a stint in the army, but the ultra-Orthodox are largely excused from service on religious grounds. The ruling coalition has proposed a Basic Law to enshrine that exemption, which in theory would prevent the Supreme Court from striking down a bill to allow ultra-Orthodox men to completely avoid military service. 

It's no wonder, then, that support for limiting the court's power has been largely divided along religious lines, according to a recent study by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research in the Israel Democracy Institute. While 68 percent of secular Israelis had a negative view of the proposed judicial reforms, 66 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they were "very good" or "pretty good." 

Identitarians always oppose the universal application of laws.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"Heat pumps for everyone:" Octopus unveils new smart, clean home heating system (Joshua S Hill, 9/19/23, One Step Off the Grid)

The system, unveiled last week at the Wired & Octopus Energy Tech Summit in London, consists of a new heat pump, home control system, room sensors - known as "Cosy Pods," and a bespoke smart tariff. [...]

The system is specifically designed for the UK market and is free for homes that don't need any work to fit the system after the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS).

Homes that do need adjustments - such as new radiators, piping, or a hot water tank - can get the system from around £3,000 after the grant.

The initial 6kW heat pump, designed to suit the average three bedroom house, will be followed by larger models to be unveiled over the next six months.

September 18, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maggie Haberman Spots Surprise 'Confession' From Trump In New Interview (Ed Mazza, Sep 15, 2023, HuffPo)

She was referring to Trump's response to a question about the impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, in which he not only indicated it was in retaliation for his own impeachments, but suggested they were only just getting started.

"I think had they not done it to me ... perhaps you wouldn't have it being done to them," Trump told Kelly, then took it a step further: "And this is gonna happen with indictments, too."

Haberman said some Republicans are worried the admission could hurt the party during next year's election.

"That is something people had been hoping to avoid him saying explicitly around this Biden impeachment inquiry, because it does make it seem as if it is less on the level," she said. 

September 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Harvard study shows that trigger warnings are pointless and anxiety-inducing (Ross Pomeroy, 9/17/23, Big Think)

Scientists have now had time to examine trigger warnings through controlled experiments, and their findings broadly support critics' points. Last month, a trio of psychologists affiliated with Flinders University and Harvard University published a meta-analysis aggregating all the recent scientific papers on the topic to answer four questions:

"First, do trigger warnings change emotional reactions in response to material? Second, do trigger warnings increase the avoidance of warned-of material? Third, do trigger warnings have any effects on anticipatory emotions before seeing material (e.g., anxiety)? And fourth, do trigger warnings change educational outcomes (i.e., the comprehension of warned-of material)?"

The reviewers turned up 12 studies published since 2018 that attempted to answer those queries. In almost all of them, experimenters exposed subjects to photographs, videos, or written passages. Some participants were given a content warning beforehand, while others were not.

When the studies' results were pooled together, the researchers found that trigger warnings had no effect on subjects' emotional responses to the material, did not make them likelier to avoid it, and had little to no effect on participants' comprehension. They did, however, slightly increase subjects' anxiety prior to being exposed to the material.

Triggers bounce.

September 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Ban on Muslim Dress in Schools Stokes Culture War in France (Noemie Bisserbe, Sept. 14, 2023, WSJ)

France is expanding the definition of what kinds of clothes are unacceptable under the rules of laïcité, the country's strict separation of religion and state. For nearly two decades, public schools have barred students from wearing a visible Christian cross, a Jewish kippah, a Muslim headscarf or any other religious symbol deemed ostentatious by school officials.

But the abaya--a long, cloak-like covering--was a gray area until recently. The garment doesn't cover the head or face, but Muslim women in parts of North Africa and the Middle East traditionally wear it with a headscarf. In France, female students began wearing the abaya--without a headscarf in the classroom--as an extra layer of clothing because it covers their arms and legs, in compliance with what they say are Muslim teachings.

With the new school year about to start, President Emmanuel Macron's education minister stepped in and banned the abaya, ratcheting up France's long-running culture war over how far the government should go in enforcing laïcité rules in a country that is home to one of Europe's biggest Muslim minorities--estimated to be around 9% of the French population. Muslim leaders said the very definition of what constitutes an abaya is vague, opening the door to discrimination against Muslim students.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Remembering Jewish baseball legend Hank Greenberg's 1934 Rosh Hashanah dilemma: With the Detroit Tigers nearly neck-and-neck with the New York Yankees in the pennant race, the future Hall of Fame slugger had a tough choice to make on the Jewish new year (JACOB GURVIS, 9/16/23, Times of Israel)

"I need you out there, but in the end, it's your choice," his coach Mickey Cochrane told him.

The previous day, Greenberg had received an unexpected message of support from the Detroit Free Press. The paper printed a photo of Greenberg on the front page of the sports section, accompanied by a large Hebrew headline with the common Rosh Hashanah greeting along with an English line: "And so to you, Mr. Greenberg, the Tiger fans say, 'L'shana Tova Tikatevu!' which means 'Happy New Year.'"

"In Hebrew letters, front page, it was as if war had been declared. The type was that big," Steve Greenberg, Hank's son, told WBUR in 2017.

American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna told WBUR it was likely the first and only example of a major US newspaper using a Hebrew headline -- and in 1934, when papers used metal plates for printing.

"I have no idea, to this day, where they got the metal type for this Hebrew," said Aviva Kempner, who directed the 1998 documentary "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."

The political context of the day also weighed on Greenberg. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were rising to power in Germany and antisemitism was rampant in the United States. Detroit in particular was home to two of the 20th century's most infamous antisemites, automobile titan Henry Ford and the radio host Father Charles Coughlin.

In the end, Greenberg played. As the Tigers took the field, Jews in Detroit took their seats for Rosh Hashanah services.

"While the cantor was singing, he would stop for a minute and say, 'How's Hank doing?'" Tigers fan Harold Allen recalled to WBUR. "The whole interest of the city of Detroit was Hank Greenberg." [...]

Nine days later, Greenberg sat out the Tigers' regular season game on Yom Kippur.

A few days after Yom Kippur, the Detroit Free Press printed a poem, titled "Speaking of Greenberg." It read, in part:...

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Nietzsche the Afflicted: On Ritchie Robertson's "Friedrich Nietzsche" (Kim Solin. 9/14/23, LA Review of Books)

The mystical experience was central to Nietzsche's life, and with it the fundamental idea of the "eternal recurrence." But how should we understand this notion? Robertson suggests that it is a moral test: "If one can accept with joy the prospect of reliving one's life repeatedly, one has shown one's ability to affirm life." And a large part of Nietzsche's philosophy was indeed about learning to affirm life, about dancing and laughter. As a cosmological theory, Robertson notes, the eternal recurrence is hopelessly outdated. It seems to me that what happened to Nietzsche is best described by Kierkegaard's concept "Øieblikket" (i.e., the moment or, literally, "the glance of the eye"), a rare instant in which the temporal and the eternal meet, disclosing our place in both spheres and dissolving the boundary between them. Often a transformative experience, Øieblikket has left many baffled and in want of apt descriptions.

Simone Weil understood that Nietzsche was an afflicted person, not least physically, which for her was a precondition for genuine affliction. In Awaiting God (1951), she writes that affliction means that love and the transcendent are absent:
What is terrible is that in this darkness when there is nothing to love, if the soul ceases to love, the absence of God becomes definitive. The soul must continue to love in the void--or at least want to love--be it even with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then one day God comes to manifest himself to them and reveals the beauty of the world, like God did in the case of Job. But if the soul ceases to love, it falls into something here below that is nearly equivalent to hell.

Nietzsche compensates the affliction with arrogance. He deserves "pity but not esteem and still less admiration," Weil writes to her brother. [...]

But for Nietzsche, this barefoot reality is barren and empty. "There is no transcendent meaning, no providence, no moral absolutes, no absolutes of any kind," Robertson writes. In contrast, for Weil, the beauty of the world makes us love it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Black Liberty Matters (JACOB T. LEVY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017, Niskanen Center)

[T]he history of the postwar libertarian movement is rich with moments of flirtation or outright entanglement with the defenders of white supremacy. This is most conspicuous today in the explicit sympathy for the Confederacy in some quarters, a problem I've written about before. There'd be no trouble writing a better book than MacLean's about the dark history of libertarian politics that ran from Murray Rothbard's support for Strom Thurmond's presidential campaign to Lew Rockwell's celebration to the beating of Rodney King to the racism that went out under Ron Paul's name in his newsletters in the 1980s and 90s to the case of then-aide to Rand Paul Jack Hunter. The generalized distrust of institutions that can be part of anti-statism easily falls back on the fantasy of a unified pre-political national people, and that populist nationalism in America is almost definitionally white populist nationalism.

The particular fascination with Abraham Lincoln's (genuine but far from unique) violations of civil liberties, the celebration of secession, the insistence on discussing the Civil Rights Act primarily in terms of freedom of association (as if white supremacy in the Jim Crow south were just a private taste that some people indulged), and an interest in freedom of speech that focuses disproportionately on the freedom to indulge in racially-charged "political incorrectness" could all figure in such a book. Rothbard was a decisive figure in the development of organized libertarianism, and the Pauls are hardly minor characters in libertarian and quasi-libertarian politics. I suspect they were less appealing to MacLean because Buchanan was close to Charles and David Koch for decades after Rothbard and his circle went to ideological war against them, and the Kochs were the exciting target for her to try to implicate.

But there are ways to neglect black liberty that are subtler than the white nationalism of the Confederatistas. Think about the different ways that market liberals and libertarians talk about "welfare" from how they talk about other kinds of government redistribution. There's no talk of the culture of dependence among farmers, although they receive far more government aid per capita than do the urban poor. Libertarians absolutely and clearly oppose corporate welfare, but they don't do so in the paternalistic language that corporate welfare recipients are morally hurt by being on the dole. The white welfare state of the 1930s-60s that channeled government support for, e.g., housing, urban development, and higher education through segregated institutions has a way of disappearing from the historical memory; the degrees earned and homes bought get remembered as hard work contributing to the American dream. But too many libertarians and their market-oriented allies among postwar conservatives treated the more racially inclusive welfare state of the 1960s and 70s as different in kind. White recipients of housing subsidies hadn't been imagined to become dependent, non-autonomous, or unfree. When the FHA was insisting that neighborhoods be segregated in order to be eligible for mortgage or building subsidies, it contributed a great deal to the racial wealth gap that persists to this day. No free-marketeers of the era felt the need to engage in brave, politically incorrect inquiries into the lower intelligence of new white homeowners that might explain their long-term dependence. But once the imagined typical welfare recipient was a black mother, welfare became a matter not just of economic or constitutional concern but of moral panic about parasites, fraud, and the long-term collapse of self-reliance.

Returning for a moment to the overt white nationalists allows us to also think about the other recent dispute about libertarian politics: the embarrassingly large number of people associated with the racist alt-right who once identified as libertarians, or (even worse) still do. Some of this is just the inevitable sociology of the fringe. Those who join smaller political movements tend to come to think that mainstream sources of information and ideology aren't to be trusted. They tend to be unmoored from a society's dominant values and intellectual positions. And so, as they change their mind about things (and most people do, from time to time), they're disproportionately likely to end up attached to other fringe movements. That's just a selection effect about what kind of people join fringe movements, and it doesn't say anything about the content of either movement's ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Should Progressives See Sohrab Ahmari as Friend or Foe?: In his new book, the alum of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post editorial and editor of Compact magazine condemns unfettered corporate power and embraces the New Deal. (Anita Jain, September 15, 2023, Washington Monthly)

[A]mari's new devil, as befitting his magazine, is the corporation and unfettered capitalism, and he proposes that the only way to check their power is through the embrace of big government. 

For example, Ahmari rails against what he calls "the class-based inequalities in power and income that are inherent to the workings of unrestrained capitalism." A few pages later, he froths about the "coercive origins" of the Industrial Revolution, which sent peasants from working fields to "prison-style workhouses and factories, their bones and tears forming the working-class sediments that underlay the glories of Victorian capitalism." He yearns for the New Deal era when labor won the countervailing power to keep big business in check, leading to the "productive genius of highly regulated, heavily unionized capitalism in which the government coordinated private economic activity." 

The pundit has frequently been clubbed together with a coterie of so-called post-liberal thinkers, including political theorist Patrick Deneen, conservative writer Rod Dreher, and legal scholar Adrian Vermeule, who are not only at odds with contemporary liberalism but have a beef with Enlightenment mainstays like individual liberty, separation of government and religion and, of course, the free market. They've had kind words for government in the style of Viktor Orban's Hungary, which is to say anti-immigration and anti-abortion, but with an expansive social welfare role for government. Describing himself in Newsweek last month as "ferociously conservative on cultural issues," Ahmari endorses the ideas of his brethren but adds a union-loving twist that frets over the income inequality perverting our social compact. 

Putting aside cultural issues to focus on the economic ones, Ahmari structures Tyranny, Inc. as a catalog of corporate coercion, retelling horror stories likely to be familiar to readers of The Nation, Mother Jones, or Jacobin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


INTERVIEW: Russia will stay 'infected with apathy' until Putin is gone  (Darko Janjevic | Andreas Brenner, 9/16/23, Deutsche-Welle)

Anin himself shows no sign of apathy. He moved to Russia as a teenager, studied journalism in Moscow, and in 2006 started working as a sports reporter with the Novaya Gazeta, a paper known for seeing several of its reporters killed under the Putin regime. In 2008, Anin was sent by Novaya Gazeta to cover the brief war between Russia and Georgia, when he joined the outlet's investigative unit.

That position allowed him to work on major stories including tax fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky and corruption surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics, but also conduct investigations into people at the highest levels of the Putin regime, such as Putin's friend and billionaire cellist Sergey Roldugin and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. In a 2016, Anin wrote an article about Sechin's wife owning a yacht worth $100 million (€94 million). Sechin sued the paper for defamation and won.

Anin is aware that many people find it hard to understand the level of graft happening in the Russian elite.

"Russian society simply lives in colossal misery," he told DW's Andreas Brenner in Hamburg. Stories about Putin's castle or his friends' yachts mean little to rural people living "without flushing toilets in 18th century-like conditions."

This disconnect is "nothing to marvel at -- even the war was only a concern for a few people until the mobilization started and they started detaining husbands and brothers, sending them to the front with no training, where they simply got killed," he added.

Ending the Ukraine war would only be the first step in waking up Russian society, according to the reporter. He believes it would take decades of working with the populace to reform the country. And it would happen only after the death of Putin and the "collective Putin" -- the clique gathered around the long-ruling Russian president.

"It's impossible to break this apathy under the Putin regime," says Anin. "All the truth about the war needs to be made public, so that the people would simply become aware what horror was happening during those 30 years, with them witnessing it in silence. And those horrors were committed with the unconditional approval of the people. And maybe after that Russia will have some chance to overcome this apathy and start living in a new way."

Populist Leaders and the Economy (Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, Christoph Trebesch, AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW)

We build a new long run cross- country database to study the macroeconomic history of populism. We identify 51 populist presidents and prime ministers from 1900 to 2020 and show that the economic cost of populism is high. After 15 years, GDP per capita is 10% lower compared to a plausible non-populist counterfactual. Economic disintegration, decreasing macroeconomic stability, and the erosion of institutions typically go hand in hand with populist rule.

September 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM



The Shenango Coke Works facility -- which produced coke, a coal-derived product, for over 50 years -- shut down in January 2016 following community activism and sizable fines for pollution, per Euronews Green.

Since then, a study from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine published in the journal Environmental Research: Health has found a 42% decrease in average weekly visits to emergency health services for heart-related illnesses, as the media organization NowThis tweeted about.

Furthermore, when looking at data from January 2016 through December 2018, the researchers discovered there were 33 fewer average annual hospitalizations for heart disease compared to the preceding three years of the coal plant's operation, corresponding to a "near-instant drop" in air pollution, as NYU Grossman School of Medicine observed. 

Among that number, the study found there were "13 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for ischemic heart disease (typically heart attack) and 12 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for cerebrovascular events (most often stroke)." 

And that's not even mentioning the impact on the air quality in the local area. As Euronews Green noted, "average daily levels of toxic sulfur dioxide fell by 90 percent at government air-monitoring stations near the plant" following the coal plant's closure. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


AI can help screen for cancer--but there's a catch (Cassandra Willyardarchive page, September 15, 2023, MIT Technology Review)

In theory, catching cancers earlier should make them easier to treat, saving lives. But that's not always what the data shows. A study published in late August combed the literature for randomized clinical trials that compared mortality (from any cause, not just cancer) in two groups: people who underwent cancer screening and people who did not. For most common types of cancer screening, they found no significant difference. The exception was sigmoidoscopy, a type of colon cancer screening that involves visualizing only the lower portion of the colon. [...]

There is no question that screening programs have caught cancers that would have killed people had they gone undetected. So why worry about overdiagnosis? Screening can also cause harm. Patients undergoing colonoscopies sometimes end up with a perforated bowel. Biopsies can lead to infection. Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy come with serious risks to people's health, and so does surgery to remove tumors.

So will AI-assisted screening lead to more overdiagnosis? I checked in with Adewole Adamson, a dermatologist and researcher at the Dell School of Medicine at the University of Texas at Austin. "Without reservation I would say 'Yes, it will,'" he says. "People think that the goal is to find more cancer. That's not our goal. Our goal is to find cancers that will ultimately kill people."  

And that's tricky. For the vast majority of cancers, there aren't good ways to separate nonlethal cases from lethal ones. So doctors often treat them all as if they might be deadly.
In a 2019 paper, Adamson explains how these cancer-detecting algorithms learn. The computer is presented with images that are labeled "cancer" or "not cancer." The algorithm then looks for patterns to help it discriminate. "The problem is that there is no single right answer to the question, "What constitutes cancer?" Adamson writes. "Diagnoses of early-stage cancer made using machine-learning algorithms will undoubtedly be more consistent and more replicable than those based on human interpretation. But they won't necessarily be closer to the truth--that is, algorithms may not be any better than humans at determining which tumors are destined to cause symptoms or death."

But there's also a chance AI might help address the problem of overdiagnosis. The Australian researchers I referenced above offer up this example: AI could use the information embedded in medical records to examine the trajectories of different patients' cancers over time. In this scenario, it might be possible to distinguish those who don't benefit from a diagnosis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


How to Reduce Your Energy Bills - or Even Pay Nothing At All (Bloomberg, 9/14/23) 

The winter heating season is looming and finances remain strained, but UK homes are getting the chance to cut energy bills -- or even pay nothing at all -- by effectively becoming mini power plants.

Households with solar panels, heat pumps and batteries can store power produced when prices are low and then sell to the grid when they're high. Versions of these flexible tariffs have been around for a while, but suppliers are trying to increase subscribers and major provider Octopus Energy Ltd. is taking that further by rolling out a version guaranteeing zero bills.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


What Matters Now to Jewish Law Prof. Benny Porat: Common ground as titans clash: A resident of a West Bank settlement city, the Hebrew U prof. is a vocal opponent of the coalition's judicial overhaul. Hear how 2,000 years of Jewish law shapes his thinking (AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN, 9/15/23, Times of Israel)

We have to remember that all of the mess that we are experiencing now is just because Israel doesn't have a constitution. Once we have a constitution, we won't be in this kind of a mess and debate. And it's not by accident that we don't have a constitution, it's because we couldn't reach agreements about all of these basic principles, and most of them are about the relationship between the three branches, so between the executive branch and the judiciary. So it's not by accident that we don't have a constitution and by the way, some of the supporters of this judicial reform are trying to bring some examples from other states, for example from the US. They say: "Listen, in the US, the president has the authority to nominate judges. So if it's good for the US. Why won't it be good for us?"

So first, it doesn't work like that in the US. But second, more importantly, in the US there is a constitution, and once you have a constitution -- and other mechanisms as well. You have two houses of Congress, and you have separation between the federal level and the state level. All of these mechanisms we don't have here in Israel. First and foremost, we don't have a constitution and therefore the only entity that can limit the government is the Supreme Court. And therefore it's so crucial, this debate.

Let's talk a little bit more about the religious sensitivity of having a secular authority interpret law in general. And you wrote an essay which talks about the concept of "Adam Hashuv," I think you called it "A Dignified Person" in English? First of all, explain what this concept is.

Yes. What I tried to do in my research, with one of my colleagues, about this judicial reform from a Jewish law perspective. Our argument was that the debates that we are experiencing today are not new. The Jewish community during the Middle Ages had the same debates. The Jewish community of course was not a modern state, but it was a political entity that was run by some politicians, which was called the "Seven Good People of the Town." And they, of course, the authorities, wanted power. They wanted to do a lot of things. And there were the rabbinical courts, which was a judiciary, and there were a lot of tensions between these two entities. And we can see how the Jewish legal tradition saw so much importance in the idea that there should be independent judiciaries that put some limitations on the politicians.

So, for example, one of the mechanisms that Jewish law established for that purpose was the doctrine of Adam Hashuv, the dignified person, which is, according to our argument, similar to the Attorney General, which is not part of the court. But before, when enacting enactments in the Jewish community, according to Jewish law sources, the politicians, the leader of the community has to get the approval of this "dignified person," which is the rabbi of this place, or the one who is expert in law. His purpose was to look for two things. First, that the communal enactments are aligned with the law, and the second one, that they are aligned not only with the interest of the majority, but with the interest of the whole community. These two things should be checked before enacting an enactment. Actually today, this is what the legal advisors and the attorney generals, this is their main role -- to see that the actions and decisions of the executive branch are aligned with the law in the general interest of the state. And from this perspective, it was so important for Jewish law that, while we are recognizing the authority of the majority to control the community, we will put some checks and balances, and the dignified person is one of them.

Tell us about other checks and balances throughout Jewish history, on leadership.

So, another very important mechanism which is also very relevant for today. Once the Jewish community enacted an enactment. If someone felt that [the enactment] is unpleasant, that he's being damaged or it has violated his right, he has a right to appeal to the rabbinical court, and the rabbinical court has the authority to overrule the criminal enactment. So even though it was legislated by the majority, the rabbinical court had the authority to overrule this kind of enactment. And by the way, of course the idea of override clause or something like that, that the majority can reenact something that was overruled, of course it was not an option. So once the enactment was recognized as illegitimate, it was annulled. And this is something that also is part of the judicial reform -- to what extent the Supreme Court had the authority to overrule regular legislation, special legislation like Basic Laws. This is something that was also part of yesterday's hearing at the Supreme Court.

As a non-religious person, I shudder inside every time you say that it's a rabbinical authority who had the final say. But, it sounds to me like you're doing a one-to-one ratio with the civil authority that we have today. Is that correct?

Yeah, there is some kind of a jump here, because in the arena of the Jewish traditional communities, the judiciary was a rabbis. There was a rabbinical court, and we are not living here today in an halachic state, this is a secular state or at least non-religious state. So of course now one should ask himself: "Who are the modern Israeli parallels to this 'dignified person' of the rabbinical court?" One can argue that we want a halachic state and we want it to be the rabbis. So, we can debate whether it's good or bad. But this is definitely not the current situation.

So having said that, and if we assume that if we are in a secular state, my argument here is that we, as Israelis, as modern Israelis that want some connection with our Jewish roots, need to think who is a modern translation of this "dignified person?" From my suggestion, this is an attorney general. Who is a parallel to the rabbinical court in the Jewish community? My suggestion is the Supreme Court. I think we should establish our check and balance mechanisms in modern Israel with some conversation with this Jewish past. And I think this is a very important infrastructure from which we can derive a lot of insights, a lot of vocabulary, very interesting terminology and ways of thinking in order to enrich our modern legal discourse.

I will say it even from a different perspective. There are those who try to present the current debate between the Israelis and the Jews. The Jews represent traditional authentic Jewish perspective and the Israelis represent modern, secular, liberal, et cetera, et cetera. From my perspective, this is a very dangerous exposition. And my argument is that also from a Jewish perspective, these checks and balances are very important, but we have to think about the modern secular translation of these Jewish ideas and this is the deep meaning of being a Jewish and democratic state. Being a Jewish and democratic state, from my perspective, it's not only a state of the Jews, but also a state that has some interesting open-minded conversation, which is a Jewish tradition, and mainly with its Jewish legal tradition.

...first, guarantee that all laws are adopted in participatory fashion; and, second, that all laws apply universally.  This is how we safeguard republican liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Republicans scramble to avert shutdown (Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Kadia Goba, Sep 14, 2023, Semafor)

One senior Republican said the House GOP conference may be edging closer to tearing itself apart, drawing a comparison to what ultimately happened with the so-called "Five Families" in the Godfather movies.

"The whole family kills each other," the senior GOP lawmaker said. " I think we're close to that right now. We are in maybe the Godfather II stage."

A GOP aide lambasted hardliners from the Freedom Caucus, saying "they are hellbent on losing the majority" for Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Researchers reveal benefits of exercise as an antidepressant (Gudrun Heise, 9/15/23, Deutsche-Welle)

Anti-depression therapy is often combined with sports. Backed up by studies, therapists have long reported that exercise can complement depression therapy. Now, some are asking whether sports alone might be enough for some patients to overcome depression.

If so, patients would no longer have to rely on counseling, which can last for years, and could forgo antidepressants. The advantages are obvious: There would be no side effects -- except perhaps for sports injuries such as sprained ankles and sore muscles.

In collaboration with scholars from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Sweden and Brazil, researchers from Potsdam University's Department of Sport and Health Sciences systematically reviewed 41 studies on the subject of exercise and depression for a meta-analysis published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors conclude that sports can offer "a further evidence-based treatment option for the large amount of untreated individuals with depression, including individuals who refuse or cannot tolerate medication and/or psychotherapy." They add, however, that "given the high heterogeneity and mainly small and selected samples of the included studies, this requires individual decisions involving the treating physician to determine if and which conditions of exercise are the optimal treatment of choice while also recognising the potential synergistic effects of exercise in managing both physical and mental well-being."

It's all in your head.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


September 14, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, SEP 15, 2023, Letters from an American)

Romney said that "[a]lmost without exception" his Republican colleagues "shared my view of the president," but they refused to speak up out of fear that their voters would turn against them. Coppins recounts a weekly caucus lunch at which Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation, listened as he boasted and rambled through remarks, and then burst into laughter as soon as Trump left.  

That loyalty appears to have been behind leaders' refusal to address rumors of violence on January 6, 2021. According to Coppins, on January 2, 2021, Senator Angus King (I-ME) warned Romney that a high-ranking Pentagon official had told King that right-wing extremists online appeared to be planning to attack the government on January 6 to stop what Trump had told them was the stealing of the 2020 presidential election. They talked of guns and arson and bombs, and they talked of targeting the traitors in Congress, among whom they counted Romney for his vote to convict Trump on one count in his first impeachment trial. King was concerned for Romney's safety.

Romney promptly texted then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to recount the conversation. "There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol," Romney wrote. "I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator--the President--is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require." McConnell never answered. 

When even after the events of January 6, fellow senators continued to execute their plan of objecting to the counting of electoral votes for certain states, Romney called them out on the floor of the Senate for "being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy." 

Romney recalled that some senators refused to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial out of concerns for their safety and that of their families. Romney himself had hired a security detail for his family since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but at $5,000 a day such security was out of reach for most of his colleagues. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


My hands-free drive halfway across the U.S. (Joann Muller, 9/14/23, Axios)

Using a combination of GPS mapping and a forward-facing camera, the system advised when I was on a pre-qualified stretch of road -- a "Blue Zone" -- where hands-free driving was available.

All I had to do was push the cruise control button on the steering wheel.

Blue light cues appeared on both the digital instrument panel and the head-up display on the windshield.

A large blue steering wheel icon indicated it was OK for me to remove my hands.

A driver-facing camera in the instrument panel monitored my eye gaze and head position to ensure that I was looking at the road. (If you do take your eyes off the road, there will be a series of audible and visual alerts, and eventually the car will slow down.)

What I found: I was surprised by how much more relaxed my upper body felt -- plus, I turned on the cooling seat massager, which helped keep me alert while eliminating pressure points.

Turning on the BlueCruise felt seamless and intuitive.

When it was time to regain control, the blue steering wheel icon changed, showing digital "hands" back on the wheel. Again, a seamless transition, with no panic.

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