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America, 2017

Posted by Ogged
on 10.06.17

We deserve a lot worse than Donald Trump.


 

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Guest Post - Scary houses

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.05.17

LW writes: So, haunted house movie faves? I am looking forward to "They're Watching" and "The Pact." I have very much enjoyed "The Taking of Deborah Logan" (low-budget Alzheimer-themed horror) and "Monster House" (kids movie, not scary but nicely done).

I watched "The Invitation" last night, not a haunted house film but a low-key indie horror film with some nice acting and pretty good cinematography; ensemble movie set inside of one pretty house, strong sense of place in the film.

The same cool structure got used for the nice film "Twilight", the one with Sarandon and James Garner, and also the interesting action series Legion. Other memorable film settings?

Also, at the risk of spreading into a catchall movie post, Hou Hsiao-Hsien makes visually amazing movies.

Heebie's take: Horror movies take a lot out of me. I watched them occasionally when I had time and energy, but now it doesn't seem like a good use of unwinding time.

To specifically answer LW's question, I saw both "The Haunting" and the remake of "The House on Haunted Hill" in 1999. The plots are totally interchangeable. However, IIRC everyone except me loved "The Haunting", and no one besides me loved the remake of "The House on Haunted Hill". I think it was one of those movie technology sweet spots - there was a certain kind of jerky stop action sped-up motion that I'd never seen before that movie and scared the pants off me.

I bet when the spook faster rests on being a new movie technology or technique, it doesn't hold up very well. It's funny how fast the bar for what's scary rises.


 

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Trumplings

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.04.17

These fucking criminal shitheads.


 

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First They Came For The Old People. . .

Posted by LizardBreath
on 10.04.17

The New Yorker had a horrifying article this week on elderly people in Nevada getting stripped of their freedom and assets by for-profit guardians. The story is astonishing: apparently it's possible in Nevada for a private attorney to get a form filled out by a doctor saying that someone is incompetent, go into court ex parte, without notifying the subject, and get an order placing them under the attorney's guardianship, and then the attorney controls all the person's assets and can get them institutionalized and drugged into compliance while the attorney loots their estate. At least some judges systematically favor these attorney 'guardians' over protesting family members trying to intervene.

The article's a good read, and I don't doubt the specific stories it tells. But I think the angle it takes is misleading. The tone of the article is "Isn't it horrifying that the system, operating normally, allows this to happen?" And it seriously cannot be reporting normal operation of 'the system' generally -- to get to the stories told, you need weird Nevada laws with very little in the way of safeguards, but also being applied by judges who are either explicitly corrupt (which isn't established in the article, but seems necessary) or incompetent to the point of insanity. I don't know the NY law on guardianship well, but I used to work down the hall from the guys who did involuntary psychiatric commitment hearings, and the person being committed gets to be in the courtroom, and gets another court date anytime they say they're feeling better and would like to go home now. I'd believe that guardians loot people's estates here, but I wouldn't believe that people get conventionally placed into guardianship for no good reason. So... I'd think this was a better story if it were explicitly framed as an incredibly grotesque local scandal, rather than as about guardianship generally nationwide.

The other issue that I think the article underemphasizes is that the people who were being exploited here were vulnerable because they genuinely weren't fully competent to protect themselves. Someone who was together enough to make a phone call to a lawyer could have gotten themselves out of this kind of guardianship pretty easily (like, this isn't exactly what I do, so this isn't legal advice and is probably wrong in detail but is pretty close, but offhand if I were a private attorney who got a call from someone who'd been involuntarily placed into guardianship like this, where the state courts were in cahoots with the corrupt guardian? Straight to federal court with a Section 1983 claim for deprivation of civil rights under color of state law -- I'd expect to get an injunction pretty easily. And you can get attorneys fees paid for a civil rights suit, so you can get lawyers to take them on contingency.)

So this is a scam that only works where you've got a population of people who are competent enough to manage daily living, but really not competent to cope with any kind of emergency, but are living 'independently' of the family and friends who should naturally be taking care of them. And that's how people do get old in the US, largely -- independent past the point where it's really safe for them, and then suddenly under care after an emergency happens. This is not an ideal way for anything to happen.


 

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Sleepless

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.04.17

It's rull easy for me to start worrying about things like this:

More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. To take just one example, adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night (part of the reason for this has to do with blood pressure: even just one night of modest sleep reduction will speed the rate of a person's heart, hour upon hour, and significantly increase their blood pressure).
A lack of sleep also appears to hijack the body's effective control of blood sugar, the cells of the sleep-deprived appearing, in experiments, to become less responsive to insulin, and thus to cause a prediabetic state of hyperglycaemia. When your sleep becomes short, moreover, you are susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin....
[S]tudies show that short sleep can affect our cancer-fighting immune cells. A number of epidemiological studies have reported that night-time shift work and the disruption to circadian sleep and rhythms that it causes increase the odds of developing cancers including breast, prostate, endometrium and colon...
Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The reasons for this are difficult to summarise, but in essence it has to do with the amyloid deposits (a toxin protein) that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from the disease, killing the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. What occurs in an Alzheimer's patient is a kind of vicious circle. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in the brain's deep-sleep-generating regions, attacking and degrading them. The loss of deep sleep caused by this assault therefore lessens our ability to remove them from the brain at night. ...
... Sleep, or a lack of it, also affects our mood more generally. Brain scans carried out by Walker revealed a 60% amplification in the reactivity of the amygdala - a key spot for triggering anger and rage - in those who were sleep-deprived. In children, sleeplessness has been linked to aggression and bullying; in adolescents, to suicidal thoughts. Insufficient sleep is also associated with relapse in addiction disorders. A prevailing view in psychiatry is that mental disorders cause sleep disruption. But Walker believes it is, in fact, a two-way street. Regulated sleep can improve the health of, for instance, those with bipolar disorder.

I don't care if you read the article or not, but you need to click through to see the David Lynch-esque portrait photo of the researcher. I don't understand what's so uncanny valley about it, and I also don't know if it was deliberately supposed to convey a sleep-netherwords weirdness or not.


 

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Name the connection

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.03.17
We have so thoroughly normalized a completely demented, paranoid, conspiratorial, afactual right-wing worldview that a man can buy 35 guns and not only are there no meaningful obstacles to doing so but the fact isn't even considered especially noteworthy or out of the ordinary.... It's not merely acceptable, it's normal. And it's not merely normal, it's a sign of patriotism and masculinity. You don't like guns? What's wrong with you? You queer or vegan or somethin'? Don't you love your country?

These lone wolves may not be terrorists in the sense of being part of a coordinated cell, but it's too weak to say that they're a side effect of a toxic culture. "Useful idiots" isn't quite right, either. "Lone wolves", etc, are obviously counterproductive terms that deny the connection.

There must be an existing word - and if not, then coin it for me - for the relationship between the NRA and the shooter. The key should be that the larger entity is a political group that stokes violence and benefits from fear of violence, and the individual who perpetuates the violence is expressly enabled or encouraged because of the legal parameters and culture established by the political group.

Link via Apo, elsewhere


 

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Reading Group: A New Kind of War (Mossy Character)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.03.17

Mossy writes: [I'll summarize the main paper; I'll cite but not summarize the strategic bombing and MG-42 pieces.]

Tooze gives an overview of the historiography of the Normandy campaign, then offers his own synthetic view of the campaign, and suggests further lines of research.

The historiography of the Normandy campaign has yet to stabilize; initially it saw recriminations between and about the American and British commanders, and by extension their national military and technical cultures; by the time that controversy was resolved, around 1980, there had developed instead a school denigrating all the Allied armies in favor of the Wehrmacht. There was a divergence between general and military history of Nazi Germany, with the former becoming ever more repulsed by its ideology, while the latter was increasingly attracted by the skill and resilience displayed by its military.

This "military effectiveness" school worked against the background of Cold War Europe [and post-Vietnam, post-draft US Army reforms], in which NATO faced the prospect of a defensive war against a numerically superior enemy. The defensive achievements of the Germans in a comparable situation were often seen as a model for NATO armies to study, while the British and American traditions were discounted. [Of course this trope goes well beyond the academy. For instance Clancy's Red Storm Rising, about a Soviet invasion of Europe in the 1980s, repeatedly praises both the Wehrmacht and the Bundeswehr.] Improvements in tactical skill and conventional weapons were also hoped to offer a way to defend Europe without massive use of nuclear weapons.

The Allies were understood to have prevailed over the qualitatively superior Germans by virtue of sheer numbers. This was demonstrated also by economic historiography developing from the 1970s onward (including Tooze's own Wages of Destruction). The Allied "brute force" victory relied especially on the use of overwhelmingly artillery and air bombardment. This was criticized for its wastefulness and for the enormous collateral damage it inflicted. Associated with this criticism of excessive use of fire at the tactical level was that of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, widely argued to be ineffective and immoral. Also starting in the 1980s, historians began to write "bottom-up" histories of the campaign, de-emphasizing official records in favor of first-person accounts from more junior participants and civilians.

Against these criticisms, revisionists have tried to rescue Allied warfighting: showing that it had its own unifying logic, from politics down to tactics; doing technical studies of things like fire control; and social studies of the soldiers.

Social histories of the British army in particular have shown it not to have been an antiquated organization run by incompetent aristocrats, as frequently stereotyped, but in fact a very professional, albeit rigid, organization. The working class soldiers in the ranks were also shown to be generally loyal and disciplined, despite suspicion of authority. At all ranks there was a strong aversion to casualties, inherited from the First World War, and officers would make only token efforts if they considered assigned objectives not to be worth the lives of their men.

Allied armies were short of manpower, a lack they offset with plentiful materiel. Both the British and the Americans wanted to have highly mobile mechanized armies, but it became apparent in North Africa that movement also required great volumes of suppressive fire; they needed better tanks and small arms, but inherited poor ones from earlier modernization programs. By contrast, Germany had started developing new weapons following the invasion of the USSR, producing a new generation of machine guns, tanks, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

All this left the Allies with air, naval, and artillery superiority and infinite supplies, yet poorly equipped on the ground, with skeptical soldiers careful of their own lives; while facing an enemy qualitatively superior in personnel and ground weapons. This combination imposed caution: Allied commanders had to set achievable objectives and avoid serious setbacks in order to maintain morale and discipline, while offsetting German advantages on the ground with the long-distance fires in which they were quantitatively (and qualitatively) superior.

The revisionist historiography arrives at this synthesis of Allied warfighting, but is ill-served by the bottom-up history which still dominates the field. This approach is drawn to the spectacular, and thus to the worm's-eye ground campaign - and to German strengths and Allied weaknesses - and away from the unspectacular - the long-range fires and logistics at which the Allies excelled.

Tooze suggests that historians of modern war, and the Allies in particular, should accordingly focus on "firepower rather than combat." The impersonality of this mode of war troubled some Allied soldiers, and left many, even [at least some] forward observers on the ground, feeling disembodied and removed from the fighting. This depersonalization, along with much of the Normandy fighting, recalled WWI but perhaps pointed to a new future instead.

Tooze suggests a focus on fire-control networks might bring out the nature of this type of war. He points out that the air war didn't lack for worm's-eye drama; that for instance tactical aviation was extremely dangerous. He suggests that properly focusing on aerial fires would remedy the chronic tendency, even of recent historians, to recapitulate the land war story, at the expense of the air.

The engineering component, building masses of infrastructure behind the front, wasn't a symptom of cumbersome overly-cautious organizations, but rather of new, wider, more total form of war, pointing to the future. [This habit of building "an entire modern society on the move" has certainly stayed with the Americans at least, building little chunks of suburbia in all their permanent bases.] Similarly, the intensity of Allied fires in Normandy, rather than being a WWI throwback, continued to rise throughout the war, peaking at Hiroshima. [Actually 3 days later, at Nagasaki: 21 kilotons versus 16.] There was continuity from the senior Allied leadership in WWII to the NATO leadership of the early nuclear age: Eisenhower, Montgomery and Ridgway offsetting Warsaw Pact numerical advantages with long-range nuclear fires, first with strategic weapons directed at the USSR, and later with tactical weapons to be used in Europe itself; this time firepower compensating [not for shortages of manpower per se, but] for domestic reluctance to maintain standing forces in peacetime.

------------------------------------------

[All this rather unexceptionable. Where I part from Tooze is in the lines he draws connecting the Allied warfighting of the Normandy campaign to the nature of liberal democratic society, an argument he doesn't really advance here, and has not yet systematically developed anywhere, as far as I know, but gestures at in his post on strategic bombing.

A limited version of this argument presumably would resemble the argument he makes about the MG42: a modern army is by definition a combined-arms organization, integrating machines and people to generate effects greater than the sum of effects generated by the parts. Nazi Germany's production and integration of excellent infantry weapons affected the way its army fought, shaped the course the war, and therefore cannot be excluded from any interpretation of the resilience of the regime.

By analogy, we could say (and I doubt Tooze would disagree) that production and integration of long-range fires cannot be excluded from any interpretation of Allied warfighting. If this claim is limited to WWII Allies, it is again unexceptionable; but Tooze seems to want to extend the claim to liberal-democratic warfighting in general. Here, I disagree.

Illiberal societies are happy to integrate long-range fires whenever they can afford them. All the Axis powers loved the idea of aircraft in general and strategic bombing in particular; as it turned out, development of the necessary technology proved so difficult and expensive that only Britain and the US could actually make it work.

In addition to the Axis, Soviet plans and doctrine from the 1930s called for vast quantities of materiel of all kinds, but of aircraft (and, interestingly, chemical weapons) in particular. The USSR also proved incapable of developing strategic air power during WWII, or of sustainably paying for it during the Cold War; what they lacked, though, was money not inclination.

What the Soviets could afford was artillery; perhaps not on the scale of the Allies, but both the number of guns and the volume of ammunition appalled the Germans from 1941 on; as far as I know tremendous volumes of artillery fire remained characteristic of Soviet and Soviet-model armies throughout the Cold War; and post-Soviet Russia hasn't hesitated to carpet-bomb Chechnya and Syria.

More narrowly, the kind of attrition-by-fire described in Normandy is not unlike that used by the Soviets at the battle of Khalkin Gol/Nomonhan during their border war with Japan in 1939. This battle culminated in a partial encirclement of the Japanese, but the great majority of the battle was a mostly static faceoff, in which the Japanese were very slowly pounded to death with artillery, before eventually being crushed by overwhelming combined-arms attacks. The Soviet approach was extremely profligate with ammunition, reliant on fire, and given the imbalance of forces (the Japanese were massively overmatched in materiel of all kinds) remarkably cautious.

Liberal societies are also willing to integrate small-unit professionalism when they want to. Consistent with the WWII experience, the US Army was totally outclassed in the Korean War, the mediocre ground force eventually prevailing only through air, naval, and logistical superiority. I don't know enough to argue about Vietnam, but some of what I know is also consistent with this picture; for instance, Robert Mason in his memoir compares US troops very unfavorably with South Koreans. Post-Vietnam though, the army started to combine lavish capital, in high-end weapons, with increased professionalism, drawing much inspiration from the Bundeswehr and the Israelis, both doctrinal descendants of the Wehrmacht.

In the 1980s, South Africa started to lose air superiority over Angola as new MiGs arrived. (This isn't a hill I'm ready to die on, but I submit that if the British Empire and USA in the 1940s count as liberal democracies, SA in the 1980s does too.) The domestic SA aerospace sector had repeatedly upgraded old airframes, but these were no longer good enough: they needed imports, which an arms embargo inhibited. Lacking the capital to compete at the high end, in aircraft, it compensated instead with riskier tactics (extremely low-altitude air strikes, deep special forces raids) and lower-end weapons development (long-range artillery). Also notable, in the same period SA was capable of developing nuclear weapons: the capital-intensiveness of weapons doesn't necessarily correlate with absolute destructiveness, witness America's supremely expensive precision weapons.

All this suggests to me that capital-intensiveness and reliance on long-range fires aren't distinctively liberal democratic; in fact, that no manner of warfighting is distinctively political, but rather that each polity develops its own style based on the resources available to its military-industrial complex. Thus far, only liberal democracies have been able to sustain high-end complexes, but I think this largely accidental: this happened because those societies got richer earlier. Given time, the PRC may prove able to sustain such a complex without liberalism; if the Republicans permanently take control of the United States, they will certainly be able to do the same. ]


 

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Alice's Adventures in Numberland

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 10.02.17

I very much enjoyed reading these tales of what it has been like to be a female mathematician over the past forty years. Alice Silverberg is a mathematician at UC-Irvine.


 

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