Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 3rd, 2018

Arguments About Guns

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Nicholas Kristof has a good column in the NY Times:

Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting —this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.

Usually pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:

You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.

It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?

Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.

Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.

We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.

Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.

Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummetedand there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.

No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.

Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.

You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?

Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Over all, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.

Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.

Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Guns

Great movie (“The Suspect”) and great Roku features

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I got a Roku unit that attaches to my TV and uses WiFi to stream movies. I got it a while back, then got the Amazon Firestick and sort of stopped using it.

Once I got up here, for some reason I set the Firestick aside and brought out the Roku—and, man!, have they improved that service.

There are many more streaming options than previously, and Roku itself has movies available. One clever enhancement: Roku’s Search function will find a movie across all the services using Roku. I really wanted to watch a Korean movie, “The Suspect,” but it was not available (at least not here) on Netflix or Amazon Prime. So I did the Roku Search and found it was available for rent on DramaFever.com—and with the Roku I could add DramaFever as a channel.

So I’m watching it, and it is really excellent. As it turns out, I’d seen it before, but it’s definitely worth watching again (and it runs 2 hrs 20 minutes: a substantial movie—and with exceptional production values).

This is getting to be a thing on the Roku: I also earlier added the MHz.com channel to watch the German crime series Blochin (and MHz specializes in foreign movies with subtitles, and they do good (i.e., readable) subtitles.

And when I wanted to watch “Veteran,” another excellent Korean movie I previously blogged, the Roku Search found it on Google Play, where it was available for rent, and so I added that channel as well.

If you haven’t checked Roku lately, it’s definitely worth a look. It seems to be on the way to become an excellent portal for various steaming movie channels.

And I highly recommend both “Veteran” and “The Suspect.”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 4:18 pm

Leaked emails expose Russian dirty tricks

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Lucy Fisher reports in the Times:

Russian attempts to fuel dissent and spread disinformation have been exposed by a cache of leaked documents that show what the Kremlin is prepared to pay for hacking, propaganda and rent-a-mob rallies.

Hacked emails sent by Moscow-linked figures outline a dirty-tricks campaign in Ukraine, which was invaded on the orders of President Putin in 2014. Experts said that they exposed the dangers faced by Britain and its allies because Russia used the same weapons of disinformation, bribery and distortion to attack the West.

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and expert on Russian warfare, said his analysis of the leaks, which comprise thousands of emails and a password-protected document related to the conflict in Ukraine, revealed a “shopping list of subversion”.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the tools and techniques of Russian covert conflict are being used in and against the UK, the US and the EU,” he added. “In the wake of the Skripal poisoning it’s more important than ever that we understand these methods.”

The cost and extent of tactics were disclosed in a third tranche of the so-called Surkov leaks, named after Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin spin-master said by some to be Mr Putin’s Rasputin.

Two previous tranches, published online by Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, a hacker activist collective, were said to include emails from an account linked to Mr Surkov. He has been closely involved with the management of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, two Russian-controlled “statelets” in Ukraine established by pro-Moscow separatists.

The latest publication appears to contain emails found in accounts linked to Inal Ardzinba, Mr Surkov’s first deputy, and to a Ukrainian Communist party leader. They suggest that the Kremlin paid local groups and individuals in Ukraine that were willing to advance its aim to fracture the country.

One set of correspondence from October 2014, which appears to have been sent by a Russian politician to Mr Ardzinba, contained proposals to fund cyberoperations, including hacking email accounts for between $100 and $300. A wider plan to “troll opponents”, “demotivate enemies” on social media, and amass the personal data of targeted individuals in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was priced at $130,500.

The Russian foreign ministry has denied in the past that Mr Ardzinba has had anything to do with propaganda in Ukraine. According to Mr Seely, the leaks appear to reveal plans to plant new historical and philosophical ideas. The emails also include an event and two books that would claim that an area of Ukraine had Russian heritage.

Other proposals included the orchestration of anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia rallies. These involved the transport of “sportsmen” trained in martial arts to agitate at the rallies, bribes to local media to feature the protests and bribes to police to turn a blind eye. A month of rallies in Kharkiv was priced at $19,200. It included 100 participants, three organisers and two lawyers. It is unclear if the rallies took place, though others orchestrated by the Kremlin did happen, the research said. Moves to get 30 ex-communist figures elected to local government were floated in June 2015, at $120,460, the leaks said.

The Kremlin has claimed in the past that the Surkov leaks are fabricated and in the information war between Ukraine and Russia falsehoods may have been planted. However, the authors of correspondence in the first two tranches confirmed their authenticity. They were supported by the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, after an analysis of metadata.

In their analysis of the third tranche, Mr Seely and his co-researcher Alya Shandra, managing editor of an English-language Ukrainian news website, say the leaks are “very likely to be authentic”. . .

Continue reading.

Trump ♥ Putin.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 1:18 pm

The Forgotten Drink That Caffeinated North America for Centuries

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Ben Richmond writes in Gastro Obscura:

EVERY MORNING, EVERY DAY, 85 percent of Americans alter their state of consciousness with a potent psychoactive drug: caffeine.

Their most common source is the roasted seeds of several species of African shrubs in the genus Coffea (coffee), while other Americans use the dried leaves of a species of Camellia plant from China (tea).

Americans love caffeine, but few realize just how ancient the North American craving for caffeine truly is. North Americans have been enthusiastically quaffing caffeinated beverages since before the Boston Tea Party, before the English founded Jamestown, and before Columbus landed in the Americas. That is to say: North Americans discovered caffeine long before Europeans “discovered” North America.

Cassina, or black drink, the caffeinated beverage of choice for indigenous North Americans, was brewed from a species of holly native to coastal areas from the Tidewater region of Virginia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was a valuable pre-Columbian commodity and widely traded. Recent analyses of residue left in shell cups from Cahokia, the monumental pre-Columbian city just outside modern-day St. Louis and far outside of cassina’s native range, indicate that it was being drunk there. The Spanish, French, and English all documented American Indians drinking cassina throughout the American South, and some early colonists drank it on a daily basis. They even exported it to Europe.

As tea made from a species of caffeinated holly, cassina may sound unusual. But it has a familiar botanical cousin in yerba maté, a caffeine-bearing holly species from South America whose traditional use, preparation, and flavor is similar. The primary difference between cassina and maté is that while maté weathered the storm of European conquest, cassina has fallen into obscurity.

Today it’s better known as yaupon, and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Caffeine

Finally: Below 200 lbs

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On 25 March I was ready for a brag: my weight was at the threshold of breaking 200 lbs (90.7 kg). The lead-up:

19-Mar 203.2
20-Mar 202.9
21-Mar 202.3
22-Mar 202.2
23-Mar 201.4
24-Mar 201.1
25-Mar 200.4

Nice steady trend. But then a plateau ensued:

26-Mar 201.4
27-Mar 200.5
28-Mar 201.5
29-Mar 200.7
30-Mar 200.7
31-Mar 201.2
01-Apr 201.1
02-Apr 200.8

This morning, at last: 199.6 lbs.

I know enough now to just wait out plateaus: keep up the regimen, given it time, and loss will resume in time. I do have to admit that yesterday I threw a quiet little fit: a glass of wine (4 points) with lunch, which was a piece of halibut—it’s halibut season here, something I did not know about, and the fish counter is stacked with fresh halibut—2 teaspoons butter, and lemon juice (total 3 points). For dinner, roasted Brussels sprouts with 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and roasted salmon with lemon slices and another 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil (a total of 4 points, quite reasonable), but also a Manhattan (10 points) and a late evening salad (no points except 1 point for olive oil in dressing).

So altogether yesterday added up to 30 points, with my daily target being 24 (though I do get 42 points “surplus” allowance per week to use for such blowouts). But still I lost weight: 1.2 lbs. Go figure.

Still, my average weekly loss, which once was 2 lbs, is now 1.6 lbs, still perfectly reasonable. The chart:

I probably didn’t need to include the box, since the shape of the graph makes it obvious when The Wife was away. I do find it much easier to stick to the plan when she is here: planning on-program meals for her results in using the same plan for myself.

Still, glad to finally break through a 10% weight loss total to date.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 9:26 am

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

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Paul Lews writes in the Guardian:

Justin Rosenstein had tweaked his laptop’s operating system to block Reddit, banned himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and imposed limits on his use of Facebook. But even that wasn’t enough. In August, the 34-year-old tech executive took a more radical step to restrict his use of social media and other addictive technologies.

Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him from downloading any apps.

He was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook “likes”, which he describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button in the first place.

A decade after he stayed up all night coding a prototype of what was then called an “awesome” button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called “attention economy”: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy.

These refuseniks are rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their companies are making the world a better place. Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers and product managers who, like Rosenstein, several years ago put in place the building blocks of a digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves. “It is very common,” Rosenstein says, “for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”

Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

But those concerns are trivial compared with the devastating impact upon the political system that some of Rosenstein’s peers believe can be attributed to the rise of social media and the attention-based market that drives it.

Drawing a straight line between addiction to social media and political earthquakes like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, they contend that digital forces have completely upended the political system and, left unchecked, could even render democracy as we know it obsolete.

In 2007, Rosenstein was one of a small group of Facebook employees who decided to create a path of least resistance – a single click – to “send little bits of positivity” across the platform. Facebook’s “like” feature was, Rosenstein says, “wildly” successful: engagement soared as people enjoyed the short-term boost they got from giving or receiving social affirmation, while Facebook harvested valuable data about the preferences of users that could be sold to advertisers. The idea was soon copied by Twitter, with its heart-shaped “likes” (previously star-shaped “favourites”), Instagram, and countless other apps and websites.

It was Rosenstein’s colleague, Leah Pearlman, then a product manager at Facebook and on the team that created the Facebook “like”, who announced the feature in a 2009 blogpost. Now 35 and an illustrator, Pearlman confirmed via email that she, too, has grown disaffected with Facebook “likes” and other addictive feedback loops. She has installed a web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor her Facebook page so that she doesn’t have to.

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s, members of the last generation that can remember a world in which telephones were plugged into walls.

It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.

One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organiser Nir Eyal.

Eyal, 39, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has spent several years consulting for the tech industry, teaching techniques he developed by closely studying how the Silicon Valley giants operate.

“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes. “It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended”.

He explains the subtle psychological tricks that can be used to make people develop habits, such as varying the rewards people receive to create “a craving”, or exploiting negative emotions that can act as “triggers”. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation,” Eyal writes.

Attendees of the 2017 Habit Summit might have been surprised when Eyal walked on stage to announce that this year’s keynote speech was about “something a little different”. He wanted to address the growing concern that technological manipulation was somehow harmful or immoral. He told his audience that they should be careful not to abuse persuasive design, and wary of crossing a line into coercion. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 9:05 am

Strop Shoppe Vivace and the Dorco PL602

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Strop Shoppe, which I miss, came up in a discussion on Wicked Edge, so I decided to use it today, and the lather was once again excellent, thanks in part to the Wet Shaving Products Monarch.

My Dorco PL602 did its usual excellent job, and a splash of Sierra finished the job.

The discussion followed my recommendation of Van Yulay soaps as being interesting, quite good, and worth trying. I was surprised at some responses, as from the person who said that the soap was not even worth considering (though he had never actually tried the soap—presumably because it wasn’t worth considering). I do realize that the soap is probably not for everyone, but to say that it’s not for anyone, particularly in the absence of any experience at all with the soap, struck me as odd.

But in several of the remarks there was an implicit narrowness of the acceptable. In restaurant terms, some seemed to embrace the idea that a restaurant could be good in only one way: white tablecloth, unobtrusive service, classic cooking. I tend to like variety, and though I like such restaurants a lot, I also like out-of-the-way and odd little places so long as the food is good. I am interested in the food. I would love to eat from a really excellent food truck (think Roy Choi’s start), even though the approach is quite different.

Same with soaps: I’m interested in the soap itself. And the same with razors, which is why I used my Dorco PL602 this morning. In terms of material and presentation in the package, it doesn’t rank very high, but in terms of what I consider most important—feel and performance—it is first rate.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2018 at 8:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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