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Archive for September 25th, 2016

One way to talk with Trump supporters

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Erica Edelson writes in Salon:

The only way to talk someone out of voting for Trump is to stop trying to talk them out of voting for Trump. To all my fellow progressives who’ve been busily browbeating supporters of this dangerous demagogue, you’re invited to become an early adopter of a far more rewarding, non-adversarial approach called “powerful non-defensive communication.”

According to most commentators, the prototypical Trump supporter is an uneducated, narrow-minded bigot with legitimate grievances against the faltering economy which Trump has skillfully alchemized into violent rage toward non-whites, Muslims and successful women. The Trump voter is a patriarchal authoritarian primed since early childhood to fearfully submit to a bullying father who always knows best. In the circular logic of the authoritarian mindset, might makes right — and so Trump, as the strongman, is necessarily the winner in a competition against losers.

While there is some truth to this profile, it doesn’t capture the nuances of experience, emotion and belief that are about to lead tens of millions of voters to pull the lever for Trump, including, as of July, 11 percent of Muslims, 13 percent of Latinos, 34 percent of women and significant numbers of professionals. Progressives tend to react to such information with groaning disbelief, at which point we either give up or rededicate ourselves to enlightening the ignorant dupes with scads of facts that contradict the false narrative spun by Trump.

As anyone who’s ever tried to reason someone out of their core beliefs knows, the mind filters out contradictory information, particularly the mind of an authoritarian whose panic button is stuck in the On position. Debating them and trying to convince them to dump Trump will make them dig in deeper — that’s what people do when they feel threatened. Also, as Newt Gingrich makes woefully clear in a John Oliver clip, everyone’s got their own set of “facts” these days, so flinging more facts back and forth is futile.

So what should we do instead? To answer this question, I contacted communication guru Sharon Ellison, creator of powerful non-defensive communication and author of “Taking the War Out of Our Words.” Ellison has trained thousands of educators, government officials and corporate and non-profit leaders, including me, in a novel, straightforward style of communication that avoids the pitfalls of the conventional adversarial approach. She was credited with turning around a trailing gubernatorial campaign by training the candidate in powerful non-defensive communication, and her website teems with testimonials from trainees who’ve achieved communication and relationship breakthroughs they’d never imagined.

I asked Ellison for tips on engaging Trump supporters in ways that encourage them to drop their mental defenses and rethink their position. The starting place, she says, is curiosity.

Instead of blasting Trump or insulting the morality or intelligence of his supporters, first, just get curious. You don’t have to agree; you’re simply gathering information and trying to understand where they’re coming from, even if you believe they’re deeply misguided.

Make it a dialogue, not a debate or an inquisition. No matter how true and rational your analysis is, force-feeding it will not go down well. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Election, GOP

The Rawhide Artist: Hackamores and more

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A fascinating article by Andy Rieber in Craftsmanship.

“A small quiet drinking town with a cattle problem.”

So says the sign over the Hart Mountain Store, in Plush, Oregon, which serves as the grocery, gas station, restaurant, and tavern in this remote town of 107 people near the state’s southern border. On this particular fall afternoon local cowboys—or “buckaroos” as they are often called in this high desert corner of the American West—are gathered around a circular table inside waiting on their hamburgers as they thaw out from a morning rounding up cattle among the greasewood, rabbit brush, and sage.

The word “buckaroo”—an anglicization of vaquero, Spanish for “cowboy”—refers to the style of cowboying that, over two centuries, trickled north into eastern Oregon, northern Nevada, and southern Idaho from the old Spanish land grantranchos of California. The vaquero tradition’s Spanish aesthetic can still be found in this region: flat-brimmed, Amish-looking hats; silver bits with swirling, hand engraved flowers and scroll work; and painstakingly braided horse gear fashioned from what the Spanish called cuero crudo, or rawhide.

Two analog gas pumps hum quietly outside the steel-roofed store, which is draped in sagging year-round Christmas lights. Just next door, on the street’s corner, sits a faded mint green and pink house—its quirky, 1950s color scheme has seen better days—with a low-slung cinderblock shop facing it in the side yard. There’s no sign or storefront, but if you’re searching for superlative specimens of traditional cowboy rawhiding, you are likely to find your way here. It’s the shop of Bill Black, widely understood by buckaroos, horse trainers, and collectors of western folk art to be one of the great rawhiders of his time.

Over the years, Black has received orders from across the United States and Canada, and he has sent his work as far afield as Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. In 2000, he was named the Academy of Western Artists Hitcher and Braider of the Year, and examples of his rawhiding, and the equipment that accompanies it, have been displayed in the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon.

The word “rawhide” suggests a rough-hewn, unfinished product, and in one sense, it is. Unlike leather, which is tanned with some form of chemicals (even with natural tanning processes) to be soft and pliable, rawhide is just what it sounds like: dried, untreated animal skin. Used since prehistoric times, the material is an extremely durable alternative to leather, plant fibers, or woven hair for binding and lashing; it’s also proved useful for making shields and drum heads, containers, shoe soles, and any other item requiring components that are easily cut and shaped when wet but hard as horn when dry. Rawhide has one other distinctive feature: it contracts significantly as it dries. For this reason, rawhide became the original shrink-wrap—to this day a rawhide covering is still considered the best protection for the wooden tree of a traditional western saddle.

While Black’s work involves a primitive material, his creations assume patterns of extraordinary geometrical complexity. The multicolored weaves that he incorporates into traditional horse gear are suggestive of Hopi Indian baskets or the warp and weft of African textiles. Much like each of these folk crafts, rawhide horse gear has a vital use, embodying what Black likes to call “workable art.”

That art is at its most refined in a deceptively simple piece of horse gear called a hackamore, which is essentially a braided, loop-shaped noseband. When combined with a small headstall and a special set of reins, a hackamore functions much like a bridle without a bit—guiding a horse by applying pressure to the areas around its nose and jaw, rather than relying on a piece of steel in its mouth. For the original vaqueros, the hackamore was an indispensable tool for training their horses. And while it’s been largely forgotten today, its modern adherents argue that in the hands of a master rider, the hackamore can train horses to a level of performance that remains unequaled. A hackamore should also be a beautiful object. But the secret to one that really works, like resonance in the wood of a Stradivarius violin, lies beneath the surface, right at its core. . . .

Read the whole thing. And there are photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 11:49 am

Posted in Daily life

Big Space vs. Little Space: Big and Expensive vs. Agile and Cheap

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Freeman Dyson has an interesting review in the NY Review of Books:

How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
by Julian Guthrie
Penguin, 432 pp., $28.00

Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets
by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix
Pantheon, 320 pp., $27.95

All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life
by Jon Willis
Yale University Press, 214 pp., $30.00

Robert Dicke was an experimental physicist at Princeton University. He liked to build things with his own hands. When NASA began making plans for landing astronauts on the moon, he thought of a scheme that would allow the astronauts to make a serious contribution to science. This would be good for science and also good for the astronauts. The scheme was to measure accurately the distance between two objects, one fixed on Earth and the other fixed on the moon. The measurements would give us improved understanding of the dynamics of the Earth-moon system.

The object on Earth would be a laser emitting very short pulses of light. The object on the moon would be a tray holding a hundred corner-cube glass reflectors. A corner cube is a piece of solid glass cut so as to reflect light efficiently. The corner cubes would reflect the laser pulses back to the laser. The timing of the reflected pulses would measure the distance between the laser and the tray. The astronauts would plant the tray on a firm piece of ground on the moon facing Earth. Because the corner cubes reflect light straight back to its source, the small variations in the orientation of the moon as it moves in its orbit do not disturb the measurement.

Dicke was a practical person. He went to the Edmonds Scientific Company toy store down the road from Princeton and bought a hundred high-quality glass corner-cube reflectors for $25 each. He asked the machine shop at the Princeton University physics department to attach the cubes to a metal tray with a stand to support it. The complete package, including materials and labor, cost a total of $5,000. Then he got in touch withNASA officials and told them he would be happy to supply the package at this cost for a moon mission. The NASA officials accepted his proposal enthusiastically, but they said, “You do not get to build it. We get to build it.” The proposal to build the package was put through the normal bureaucratic NASA acquisition process. According to Dicke, NASA paid $3 million to an industrial contractor for it. The reflectors were duly installed on the moon and are still reflecting laser pulses as Dicke intended. Doing things the NASA way increased the cost by a factor of six hundred.

The moon missions happened long ago. Now, fifty years later, there is still a clash between two cultures. There is Big Space, with big corporations receiving contracts from NASA to produce custom-built hardware and software following NASAprocedures at enormous cost. And there is Little Space, aiming to carry out space operations in the Dicke style, using hardware and software mass-produced for other purposes by companies in a competitive market at vastly lower cost. The Big Space culture is still dominant, carrying out spectacularly successful high-cost missions, such as the Cassini mission that sent back detailed pictures of the satellites of Saturn, and the Kepler mission that discovered thousands of planets orbiting around other stars. But there are now several start-up companies operating independently of NASA in the Little Space culture, hoping to do space missions that will be bolder, quicker, and cheaper.

Will Marshall was a young engineer working in the Big Space culture at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA center that builds big expensive spacecraft such as Cassini. He rebelled against that culture and decided to do things differently. Along with two other NASA alumni, he started his own company and built a satellite that he called Dove in his garage in Cupertino. The company then changed its name to Planet Labs and built 150 Dove satellites in a few years, with 150 more to be launched next year. His satellites are radically smaller and cheaper than anything built at the JPL, but they are equally well engineered and more agile. They belong to the Little Space culture, using modern miniaturized cameras and guidance systems and data processors, like those that are mass-produced for the cell phone and recreational drone industries.

A Dove satellite weighs about ten pounds and costs under a million dollars, including launch and operations and a communication system for distributing large amounts of information to the Planet Labs customers. The information consists of pictures of the ground taken from low earth orbit, with accurate color to show the type and condition of vegetation, with complete coverage of the planet every few days, and with “resolution”—the size of the smallest patches that can be seen in the picture—about ten feet. The customers are farmers looking at crops, foresters looking at trees, fire-control authorities looking at fires, environmentalists looking at pollution and erosion of land, and government officials at all levels looking at ecological problems and environmental disasters.

Marshall likes to describe how he lost twenty-six Dove satellites in 2014. They were sitting together on a big rocket that exploded on the launch-pad. The loss hardly affected his business, since he had had nine successful launches and only one failure. The lost satellites were quickly replaced and the replacements put in orbit. The great advantage of the Little Space culture is that every mission is cheap enough to fail. It makes a huge difference to the running of a business if failures are acceptable. Missions in the Big Space culture are too big to fail. In that culture they typically take a decade to plan and a decade to build. A Dove satellite is planned and built in a few months. Occasional failures in the Little Space culture are a normal part of the cost of doing business. If there are too many failures, the company running the business may collapse, but that is not an unacceptable disaster. Start-up companies evolve in a Darwinian ecology, where the fit survive and the unfit collapse.

Planet Labs and other start-up companies have proved that the Little Space culture is ready to take over a large share of future unmanned activities in space. The question remains open whether the Little Space culture can have a similarly liberating effect on manned missions. Can we expect to see manned missions becoming radically cheaper, so that we can travel with our machines at costs that ordinary people or institutions can afford? Neither Big Space nor Little Space shows us a clear path ahead to the fantasy worlds of science fiction, where bands of brave pioneers build homes and raise children among the stars.

Halfway between Big Space and Little Space, there is a group of companies that grew rapidly in recent years, led by SpaceX, a company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. Musk is a young billionaire who has dreams of founding human colonies on Mars. His company builds big spacecraft paid for by big NASA contracts in the Big Space style, but he tries to keep the design and manufacture cheap and simple in the Little Space style. In ten years he has built a launcher, Falcon, and a transfer vehicle, Dragon, which ferry unmanned payloads from the ground to the International Space Station. He intends soon to include astronauts in his payloads. The SpaceX culture is a compromise, using commercial competition to cut costs while relying on the government for steady funding. The twenty-first century is likely to see manned missions exploring planets and moons and asteroids, and possibly making spectacular discoveries. But this century is unlikely to see costs of such missions low enough to open space to migration and settlement by ordinary citizens.

The three books under review describe space activities belonging to the Big Space and Little Space cultures that are now competing for money and public attention. Each book gives a partial view of a small piece of history. Each tells a story within the narrow setting of present-day economics and politics. None of them looks at space as a transforming force in the destiny of our species. . .

Continue reading. Later in the review:

. . . With Tsiolkovsky, we leave behind the parochial concerns of the twenty-first century and jump ahead to a longer future. In the long run, the technology driving activities in space will be biological. From this point on, everything I say is pure speculation, a sketch of a possible future suggested by Tsiolkovsky’s ideas. Sometime in the next few hundred years, biotechnology will have advanced to the point where we can design and breed entire ecologies of living creatures adapted to survive in remote places away from Earth. I give the name Noah’s Ark culture to this style of space operation. A Noah’s Ark spacecraft is an object about the size and weight of an ostrich egg, containing living seeds with the genetic instructions for growing millions of species of microbes and plants and animals, including males and females of sexual species, adapted to live together and support one another in an alien environment.

After the inevitable mistakes and failures, we will have acquired the knowledge and skill to build such Noah’s Arks and put them gently into suitable places in the sky. Suitable places where life could take root are planets and moons, and also the more numerous cold dark objects far from the sun, where air is absent, water is frozen into ice, and gravity is weak. The purpose is no longer to explore space with unmanned or manned missions, but to expand the domain of life from one small planet to the universe. Each Noah’s Ark will grow into a living world of creatures, as diverse as the creatures of Earth but different. For each world it may be possible to develop genetic and other instructions for growing a protected habitat where humans can live in an Earth-like environment. The expansion of human societies into the universe will be a small part of the expansion of life. After the expansion of life and the expansion of human societies have started, the new ecologies will continue to evolve in ways that we cannot plan or predict. The humans in remote places will then also have the freedom to evolve, so that they can move out of protected habitats and walk freely on the worlds where they have settled.

The essential new species, enabling Noah’s Ark communities to survive in cold places far from the sun, will be warm-blooded plants. A warm-blooded plant is a species with leaves and flowers and roots and shoots in a central structure, kept warm by sunlight or starlight concentrated onto it by mirrors outside. The mirrors are cold, separated from the warm center by a living greenhouse with windows that let the light come in but stop heat radiation from going out. The mirrors are attached to the greenhouse like feathers on a peacock. The mirrors and the greenhouse perform the same functions for a warm-blooded plant that fur and fat perform for a polar bear.

The entire plant, with the warm center and the greenhouse and the mirrors, must grow like a mammal inside its mother before it can be pushed out into the cold world. The new species of plants will be not only warm-blooded but also viviparous, growing the structures required for independent living while still inside the parent plant. To make viviparous plants possible, the basic genetic design of warm-blooded mammals must be understood and transferred to become a new genetic design for plants. Our understanding and mastery of genetic design will probably be driven by the needs of medical research, aimed at the elimination of disease from human, animal, and plant populations. Warm-blooded and viviparous plants will fill empty ecological niches on Earth before they are adapted for life support in Noah’s Arks. They may make Antarctica green before they take root on Mars.

Almost all the current discussion of life in the universe assumes that life can exist only on worlds like our Earth, with air and water and strong gravity. This means that life is confined to planets and their moons. The sun and the planets and moons contain most of the mass of our solar system. But for life, surface area is more important than mass. The room available for life is measured by surface area and not by mass. In our solar system and in the universe, the available area is mostly on small objects, on comets and asteroids and dust grains, not on planets and moons.

When life has reached the small objects, it will have achieved mobility. It is easy then for . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 10:52 am

Part 4 of “Where did the Money go?”: Calling the SEC

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David Dayen continues his series on an institutional financial scam using penny stocks; here’s the blurb for Part 4:

Penny stock gadfly Chris DiIorio tells the SEC about his suspicion that Knight Capital is tanking penny stocks on purpose and racking up unsustainable balance-sheet liabilities. But that leads to another mystery: Why don’t they seem to care?

The entire series so far is very much worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 10:38 am

The Most Popular Online Course Teaches You to Learn

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And the course is free if you don’t care about the certificate. (If you do want a certificate, it’s $49.) John Markoff describes the course in this NY Times column from last December:

The world’s most popular online course is a general introduction to the art of learning, taught jointly by an educator and a neuroscientist.

“Learning How To Learn,” which was created by Barbara Oakley, an electrical engineer, and Terry Sejnowski, a neuroscientist, has been ranked as the leading class by enrollment in a survey of the 50 largest online courses released earlier this month by the Online Course Report website.

The course is “aimed at a broad audience of learners who wanted to improve their learning performance based on what we know about how brains learn,” said Dr. Sejnowski, the director of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.

With 1,192,697 students enrolled since the course was created last year, “Learning How to Learn,” which is offered by the University of California through Coursera, an online learning company which has partnered with a number of universities, has narrowly edged out the more tightly focused course, “Machine Learning,” taught by Stanford University professor Andrew Ng, which currently has 1,122,031 students enrolled.

The similar enrollment figures are striking in part because the field of machine learning has become one of the hottest university areas of study in recent years. High technology companies are competing intensely in Silicon Valley and elsewhere for newly minted data scientists.

The enrollment figures indicate that massively open online courses, or MOOCs, which in 2012 emerged as a potentially disruptive force that some believed might threaten the modern educational system, are continuing to evolve and gaining broad acceptance as part of an increasingly diverse marketplace for online education.

The Achilles heel of the MOOC phenomena has been that while enrollments have been huge, the number of students who actually complete courses for credit has remained low. That has led traditional educators to argue that the new technology would fail because students are generally less motivated to complete coursework online.

The completion rate — or “stickiness” — of the “Learning How to Learn” course has been above 20 percent, said Dr. Sejnowski, roughly twice the average for most MOOCs. He said the course is now attracting about 2,000 new students a day from 200 countries. The course was created after the two researchers met at the National Science Foundation-financed Science of Learning Center at the University of California at San Diego, which Dr. Sejnowski directs.

Dr. Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, acknowledged that although only roughly 50,000 of the more than one million enrollees in her course had actually received a certificate for the course, certification was the wrong metric to understand the impact of the new form of online education. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 8:35 am

Why the Clinton Foundation is able to accomplish so much

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Kevin Drum points out that some things that are criticized about the Clinton Foundation is why it works:

When it comes to charity, Dylan Matthews is pretty hardnosed. To earn his approval, a charity better focus on truly important problems and be damn good at it. So how about the Clinton Foundation? After starting out as a skeptic, he says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the Clinton Foundation is a real charitable enterprise that did enormous good.” In particular, he praises the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which helped lower the cost of HIV drugs and saved untold lives. But there’s a catch:

And—perhaps uncomfortably for liberals and conservatives alike — it is exactly the kind of unsavory-seeming glad-handing and melding of business and politics for which Bill and Hillary Clinton have taken years of criticism that led to its greatest success…. The deals made required buy-in from developing governments. The person tasked with getting that buy-in was a former US president with existing relationships with many of those people.Bill Clinton essentially used his chumminess with foreign politicians and pharmaceutical executives, the kind of thing about the Clinton Global Initiative that earns suspicious news coverage, to enlist their help in a scheme to expand access to HIV/AIDS drugs.

I don’t get it. Why should this make anyone feel uncomfortable? Lots of people have star power, but very few have star power with both rich people and foreign leaders. Bill Clinton is one of those few, so he chose a project that (a) could save a lot of lives, (b) required buy-in from both rich people and foreign leaders, and (c) was right at the cusp where an extra push could really make a difference.

I can’t even imagine why anyone would consider this unsavory, unless they’ve lived in a cave all their lives and don’t understand that glad-handing and chumminess are essential parts of how human societies operate. Matthews may be right that many people feel uneasy about this, but I can’t figure out why. It sounds like Clinton chose to do something that his particular mix of experience and character traits made him uncommonly good at. That’s pretty smart.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 7:38 am

Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty

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Andrew McDermott writes at

My wife, Adrienne, and I are long-time supporters of unconditional cash giving. From handing $5 to a homeless person on the street in Manhattan to raising $450 to give to a working father of one in rural South Africa — we believe in the virtues of sharing abundance in an empowering fashion that enables people to decide how best to allocate their resources themselves. When we found GiveDirectly in November 2015, an org that gives $1,000, unconditionally, to people who are in extreme poverty, as a solution to get them out of extreme poverty, we fell in love. Unconditional — they can do anything they want with it — which is incredibly empowering to recipients, but many people in ‘the west’ think it’s risky…or even foolish.

We’ve told countless friends and family about GiveDirectly, and the concept of transferring cash is met with much skepticism; soliciting responses such as “eh, I only give people food,” and others such as;

“How do they make sure people aren’t defrauding them or stealing the cash?”

“I bet most people waste or squander the cash.”

“It probably doesn’t have long-term impact, such as building a school could.”

“General angst about the “Savior Barbie” complex, where western people go out to save people in poor countries by telling them what they should do — often a self-serving endeavor.”

…and more.

After dealing with the frequent barrage of opposing views, but always holding strong to our personal convictions; we decided to dig for some more answers — and see how many of these holes they were poking in our own justifications could be filled. Since we currently travel abroad full-time, and Kenya is an incredible country, we decided to head out for a field visit and take a real peek under the hood of GD’s operation.

In August 2016, my wife and I visited GiveDirectly’s office in Kisumu, Kenya and spent two 10-hour days in the field, visiting real past recipients in the Siaya (where President Obama’s grandmother lives!) and Homa Bay regions. After meeting the team on the ground and hearing about their day to day work, we were really surprised and impressed by five main things that actually directly addressed a lot of the negative feedback we’ve heard in the past:

  1. ) The vast majority of the team are local Kenyans; only two of around 80 or so employees are expats. We think that’s fantastic, since we’ve already known that 91% of the cash that we personally give to GD goes directly into the field, but actually a solid portion of the 9% administrative cost actually funnels into creating local jobs that afford hundreds more people in East Africa the opportunity to build bright futures for themselves. There’s a huge unemployment issue in Kenya and other East African countries and foreign investment is still far behind demand, so this kind of job creation has a huge impact on the community.

Beyond the employment opportunity, the real incredible moments for us came when we had the chance to speak individually with a few of the locals on the team. Candidly; they are all proud to be working their asses off to improve the lives of people in their own community. We even heard two separate stories from some senior-level guys (still under 30 years old) who were driven to work at GiveDirectly after having their own first real exposure to abject poverty; even just a few miles from where they lived. They were moved to make a difference, to pour their energy every day into giving other people in their community better lives.

One of the most interesting stories we heard was about a young woman who received a cash transfer from GiveDirectly in 2014. She used a large portion of the transfer to cover her school fees so that she could complete her schooling, and then graduated and immediately sought employment. She applied to work for GiveDirectly (GD often has 200–600 applicants for any one vacancy) and she got the job. From living off of less than one dollar a day, to now being employed in one of the most competitive roles available, the cash transfer from GiveDirectly has completely altered the path of her life, and she will reach heights that only two years ago she would have thought to be completely unattainable for her.

2). There was really no “savior barbie” complex in the GiveDirectly operation — no one is coming in from wealthy nations and telling anyone else how to live their own lives and what’s best for them, and no one here is swooping in from some rich country on a self-serving mission ‘save the world.’

3.) Auditing — The rigor behind this operation is crazy. They have 5 separate teams of people for each stage in the transfer process — from initial outreach through final follow-up, the recipients almost never see the same people, so there’s no nepotism, and absolutely everything is audited.

4.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2016 at 7:35 am

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