Later On

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

Archive for March 11th, 2019

Very good comedy special

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Comedy, Video

Facebook and Twitter Turned to TurboVote to Drive Registrations. Officials Want Them to Turn Away.

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I would bet many share my contempt for Facebook and for Zuckerberg and Stanberg. I know the arguments that they are simply following the foreordained path of unfettered capitalism. I agree. That’s irrelevant. The point is that they have zero honor. They have no grasp of, or feeling for, dignity, self-respect, or meaning (as in “the meaning of your life”). They have nothing more than dictionary definitions, and so they move along, making as much money as they possibly can, because … that’s the meaning of life, right?

Jessica Huseman reports in ProPublica:

The National Association of Secretaries of State is asking the social media companies to direct prospective voters to government sites after claims TurboVote occasionally failed to properly process registrations, among other missteps.


In 2018, Facebook and Twitter decided to play a role in helping people register to vote in what promised to be a momentous midterm election. To do so, the social media platforms directed users almost exclusively to a website called TurboVote, run by a nonprofit organization known as Democracy Works. TurboVote was launched in 2012, and it promised to streamline voter registration and remind people to cast ballots on Election Day.
Evidently, things did not go seamlessly.
The National Association of Secretaries of State, or NASS, whose members oversee elections in all 50 states, has claimed that TurboVote occasionally failed to properly process registrations, and that in other instances it failed to notify people who thought they had registered to vote but had not actually completed the necessary forms.
The TurboVote website went down when it couldn’t handle the volume of attempted registrations on Sept. 25, 2018 — National Voter Registration Day — and the organization was unwittingly used in a scam when someone pretending to be an employee of TurboVote attempted to convince eager voters to share their personal information over the phone.
As a result, NASS has written to Facebook and Twitter asking them to end their relationships with TurboVote as the 2020 election cycle gets underway. The association is asking the social media companies to simply direct prospective voters to government sites with accurate information on how to register.
For its part, TurboVote acknowledges that many people who tried to use its site did not complete the voter registration process — either because they’d overlooked a step or because their registration was rejected for another reason.
“Helping people understand whether or not they have successfully registered is a challenge we are committed to solving,” Kathryn Peters, a co-founder of Democracy Works, said in a statement.
TurboVote acknowledges the other problems and says it is collaborating with states to implement improvements, including integrating with the three states whose systems allow third parties to submit complete voter registrations directly, bypassing the issues identified in 2018.
In the statement, TurboVote said it has helped “millions register and vote nationwide.” NASS asked TurboVote to provide a detailed accounting of who these registrants were — who was new versus changing their address or simply a duplicate — but to date has yet to receive one. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 4:35 pm

Memes move to a new level: How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Science

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This might be viewed as the meme equivalent of the emergence in lifeforms of the ability to fly. Dan Falk writes in Quanta:

No human, or team of humans, could possibly keep up with the avalanche of information produced by many of today’s physics and astronomy experiments. Some of them record terabytes of data every day — and the torrent is only increasing. The Square Kilometer Array, a radio telescope slated to switch on in the mid-2020s, will generate about as much data traffic each year as the entire internet.

The deluge has many scientists turning to artificial intelligence for help. With minimal human input, AI systems such as artificial neural networks — computer-simulated networks of neurons that mimic the function of brains — can plow through mountains of data, highlighting anomalies and detecting patterns that humans could never have spotted.

Of course, the use of computers to aid in scientific research goes back about 75 years, and the method of manually poring over data in search of meaningful patterns originated millennia earlier. But some scientists are arguing that the latest techniques in machine learning and AI represent a fundamentally new way of doing science. One such approach, known as generative modeling, can help identify the most plausible theory among competing explanations for observational data, based solely on the data, and, importantly, without any preprogrammed knowledge of what physical processes might be at work in the system under study. Proponents of generative modeling see it as novel enough to be considered a potential “third way” of learning about the universe.

Traditionally, we’ve learned about nature through observation. Think of Johannes Kepler poring over Tycho Brahe’s tables of planetary positions and trying to discern the underlying pattern. (He eventually deduced that planets move in elliptical orbits.) Science has also advanced through simulation. An astronomer might model the movement of the Milky Way and its neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, and predict that they’ll collide in a few billion years. Both observation and simulation help scientists generate hypotheses that can then be tested with further observations. Generative modeling differs from both of these approaches.

“It’s basically a third approach, between observation and simulation,” says Kevin Schawinski, an astrophysicist and one of generative modeling’s most enthusiastic proponents, who worked until recently at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). “It’s a different way to attack a problem.”

Some scientists see generative modeling and other new techniques simply as power tools for doing traditional science. But most agree that AI is having an enormous impact, and that its role in science will only grow. Brian Nord, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory who uses artificial neural networks to study the cosmos, is among those who fear there’s nothing a human scientist does that will be impossible to automate. “It’s a bit of a chilling thought,” he said.

Discovery by Generation

Ever since graduate school, Schawinski has been making a name for himself in data-driven science. While working on his doctorate, he faced the task of classifying thousands of galaxies based on their appearance. Because no readily available software existed for the job, he decided to crowdsource it — and so the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project was born. Beginning in 2007, ordinary computer users helped astronomers by logging their best guesses as to which galaxy belonged in which category, with majority rule typically leading to correct classifications. The project was a success, but, as Schawinski notes, AI has made it obsolete: “Today, a talented scientist with a background in machine learning and access to cloud computing could do the whole thing in an afternoon.”

Schawinski turned to the powerful new tool of generative modeling in 2016. Essentially, generative modeling asks how likely it is, given condition X, that you’ll observe outcome Y. The approach has proved incredibly potent and versatile. As an example, suppose you feed a generative model a set of images of human faces, with each face labeled with the person’s age. As the computer program combs through these “training data,” it begins to draw a connection between older faces and an increased likelihood of wrinkles. Eventually it can “age” any face that it’s given — that is, it can predict what physical changes a given face of any age is likely to undergo.


None of these faces is real. The faces in the top row (A) and left-hand column (B) were constructed by a generative adversarial network (GAN) using building-block elements of real faces. The GAN then combined basic features of the faces in A, including their gender, age and face shape, with finer features of faces in B, such as hair color and eye color, to create all the faces in the rest of the grid.

The best-known generative modeling systems are “generative adversarial networks” (GANs). After adequate exposure to training data, a GAN can repair images that have damaged or missing pixels, or they can make blurry photographs sharp. They learn to infer the missing information by means of a competition (hence the term “adversarial”): One part of the network, known as the generator, generates fake data, while a second part, the discriminator, tries to distinguish fake data from real data. As the program runs, both halves get progressively better. You may have seen some of the hyper-realistic, GAN-produced “faces” that have circulated recently — images of “freakishly realistic people who don’t actually exist,” as one headline put it.

More broadly, generative modeling takes sets of data (typically images, but not always) and breaks each of them down into a set of basic, abstract building blocks — scientists refer to this as the data’s “latent space.” The algorithm manipulates elements of the latent space to see how this affects the original data, and this helps uncover physical processes that are at work in the system.

The idea of a latent space is abstract and hard to visualize, but as a rough analogy, think of what your brain might be doing when you try to determine the gender of a human face. Perhaps you notice hairstyle, nose shape, and so on, as well as patterns you can’t easily put into words. The computer program is similarly looking for salient features among data: Though it has no idea what a mustache is or what gender is, if it’s been trained on data sets in which some images are tagged “man” or “woman,” and in which some have a “mustache” tag, it will quickly deduce a connection.

In a paper published in December in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Schawinski and his ETH Zurich colleagues Dennis Turp and Ce Zhang used generative modeling to investigate the physical changes that galaxies undergo as they evolve. (The software they used treats the latent space somewhat differently from the way a generative adversarial network treats it, so it is not technically a GAN, though similar.) Their model created artificial data sets as a way of testing hypotheses about physical processes. They asked, for instance, how the “quenching” of star formation — a sharp reduction in formation rates — is related to the increasing density of a galaxy’s environment.

For Schawinski, the key question is how much information about stellar and galactic processes could be teased out of the data alone. “Let’s erase everything we know about astrophysics,” he said. “To what degree could we rediscover that knowledge, just using the data itself?”

First, the galaxy images were reduced to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 4:24 pm

Daily pleasures of a low-key sort

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I returned to Fairway to find several duck carcasses (with necks), two per pack. I bought one pack and they are now simmering in water with lemon juice, a bit of brown rice vinegar, salt, peppercorns, and two star anise. After another hour I’ll let them cool and pick the carcass.

I bought some lovely large shucked oysters and sautéed them in olive oil for lunch, and for this afternoon got a frozen pickled mackerel fillet (frozen; known as saba when you buy it as sashimi), which I’ll have with some Sheringham Distillery Akvavit, which I’ve been wanting to try:

A traditional Nordic spirit of tranquil unsung fortitude.

Notes of dill, caraway, anise & citrus with a hint of the ocean from locally harvested winged kelp.

Renowned Victorian bartender Shawn Soole fell in love with Akvavit when he visited Iceland in late 2015. The culture that is behind Akvavit in its native Scandinavian lands intrigued Shawn and he began an exploration into the diversity of each country’s native spirit. This is a representation of all his favourite things about Akvavit with our own island twist curated by the aptitude of Jason MacIsaac.

Made from B.C. white wheat, B.C. malted barley and botanicals from land & ocean, including sustainable hand-harvested local winged kelp (Alaria marginata).

The bottle lists caraway, dill, star anise, lemon, angelica, local hand-harvested sustainable winged kelp, and orris root. The bottle I got is from 2018, batch 1344 (batch number written by hand).

I am well into The Shanghai Factor, and I’m delighted that weiqui (the game known as Go in Japan) is part of the plot. The protagonist is playing against a Chinese intelligence officer who hopes to become his handler, and the protagonist notes, “As I had expected, it was the village idiot versus Bobby Fischer.” Very good and enjoyable novel.

Sockeye salmon was on sale for US$10/lb, so I got a big fillet for a stir-fry tonight with red chard, zucchini, and leek. (I wanted yellow summer squash, but there was none to be had, not even for ready money*.) I had them cut off the skin, which I’ll cut up for my breakfast mix (scallions, bok choy, jalapeño, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, and some seafood—salmon skin in this case), topped with a couple of eggs.

Days are getting warmer so soon I will again be Nordic walking. It will be good to get back to it.

  • The reference is to the first scene in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. While waiting for his guests, Algernon has eaten all the cucumber sandwiches that his butler had brought.

Algernon.  [Picking up empty plate in horror.]  Good heavens!  Lane!  Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?  I ordered them specially.

Lane.  [Gravely.]  There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir.  I went down twice.

Algernon.  No cucumbers!

Lane.  No, sir.  Not even for ready money.

Algernon.  That will do, Lane, thank you.

Lane.  Thank you, sir.  [Goes out.]

Algernon.  I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money.

From the time I first read the play, the phrase “ready money” has had a peculiar resonance. “Ready money” sounds ever so much stronger than “cash in hand,” which has a supplicant twinge to it.

With “ready money,” the money is ready. I’ve told before the story of how IBM tape drives on their early computers had two status indicators: “Active” or “Idle.” IBM is a marketing-first organization, and they thought about the number of drives showing “Idle” (all drives but one), and multiplied that by the monthly rental…

The status lights were changed: “Active” and “Ready.”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Daily life

With Michael Jackson, It’s Different

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Josephine Livingston writes in the New Republic:

On the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, a quote from Nas appeared in a Rolling Stone piece by the writer Touré: “When I got the news, the weather around me immediately changed drastically,” the rapper said. “It suddenly rained so hard. Wind blew like crazy. Clouds did something different. It was as if you felt him leaving the world.” Nas spoke about Jackson as if he were a god. (The article is headlined “Michael Jackson: Black Superhero.”) Quoting an array of African American luminaries on Jackson’s legacy, Touré explained just how much he meant to black people, and how rapidly his “Wacko Jacko” label was fading away after his death. Free of the mockery he experienced in his lifetime, Jackson was finally taking his rightful place in the canon of American icons.

Nowhere in Touré’s article is there mention of the multiple accusations of child abuse that were levied against Jackson—accusations that have gained new life with the release of HBO’s documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicles, in excruciating and credible detail, Jackson’s abuse of two boys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who have now come forward as adults. Touré’s omission is especially notable when you consider that he is a principal talking head in the other recent documentary about a serial abuser who was hiding in plain sight: Surviving R. Kelly, which chronicles, in excruciating and credible detail, the R&B star’s alleged abuse of numerous women and underage girls. That Touré, who unlike so many others wasn’t fooled by R. Kelly, got caught up in Jackson hagiography suggests that there is something fundamentally different about his case—that he is too important to too many people to give up easily; that there is something about Jackson that makes us all a little confused.

As the evidence presented in Leaving Neverland reverberates through the media, the reaction has been oddly muted. In The New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote a moving account of seeing through Jackson’s “magic trick” at last. Slate published a series of articles reckoning with his life and legacy, with Carl Wilson writing, “There are plenty of Jackson songs that will feel radioactive from now on.” Jackson has a few prominent defenders, like Wendy Williams, and legions of civilian fans who point out that a documentary is not the same thing as a conviction. Still, the atmosphere has not been filled up with the kind of debate or commentary that accompanied the controversies surrounding R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein, or Woody Allen. The predominant sense is of baffled silence, as if the magnitude of Jackson’s crimes is so great that it hushes all else. What, really, is there to say? The boys were so young, and they loved him so much.

But there is perhaps another reason the chattering class has been so uncharacteristically quiet: Michael Jackson presents a case too extraordinary for the media to easily absorb and process. Jackson was not just a pop star: he was the pop star, the King of Pop, the most famous famous person. To try to cancel him would be to point out a criminal at the very heart of the entertainment industry’s belief system, and to remove the laurels of the most significant black artist of the pop age. To analyze the phenomenon of Michael Jackson properly would mean taking on the laborious task of figuring out how we—meaning society at large—ended up with the kind of entertainment industry we have. And it would mean admitting that the American dream—a rapid ascent to stardom on the basis of sheer talent—is hollow.

The work of undoing Michael Jackson’s place at the core of American culture has simply been too hard, for too long. We’d have to start with the man in the mirror, as somebody once said. That’s not easy to do. Much criticism has been leveled at the mothers of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allowed their boys to spend the night in Jackson’s bed and stay with him for days on end without a chaperone—days that were filled with ceaseless molestation. It is easiest to blame them, because they are ideal scapegoats for a universal affliction, which is that fame is so important in America that it can blind us to what is happening literally before our own eyes, to our own kids. Painting these boys’ mothers as monsters is the shortest cut to absolving ourselves.

Exacerbating our incompetence in this matter is a long tradition of racist and lazy reporting on Jackson, which undercuts the media’s basic authority on the subject. The very idea of condemning him feels like joining a rather horrible tradition. In the 1990s, it was normal to ridicule his face, even after he went on Oprah to say, “This is the situation. I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It is something I cannot help, OK?” He told Winfrey, “I am a black American.” That didn’t matter to those who thought it was funny to say he looked like a white woman.

Racist coverage of Jackson also ended up enabling his crimes. The erratic character Wacko Jacko was defined primarily by Jackson’s supposed racial confusion (“Am I Black or White?” as the In Living Color parody song went), and it was Wacko Jacko who could plausibly claim to have an innocent relationship with all those boys. He was weird, he didn’t know himself, and his new apparent whiteness undercut the sense that he was a red-blooded adult. The lyrics to “Am I Black or White?” include the line “I’m still a virgin and I’m 33… And I hang out with Macaulay all night.” What Leaving Neverland reveals, to the viewer’s awakening horror, is that those boys he took on tour and trotted out for the cameras were, quite obviously, his boyfriends. How could we not have seen that?

Black celebrities have never been taken seriously the way white celebrities have, and scandals are the best place to see that prejudice in action. The alleged crimes of Kelly and Jackson are different, but the comparison is helpful, because Kelly provides a similarly warped paradigm: Jackson got away with it because nobody took him seriously, and Kelly, whose own former lawyer has called him “guilty as hell” of abusing underage girls, got away with it because nobody took the black girls he allegedly assaulted seriously.

We cannot trust Jackson or Kelly, or any of the music critics who defined their legacies for us. But who can you trust, besides the victims? Our imagination has been shaped by a racist mainstream press, the biased interests of a powerful music industry, and a moral obfuscation produced by that most intoxicating of drugs—fame. You may well have been lied to your whole life: about Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, yes, but also about the fact that no celebrity is quite what they seem. Famous people are personae, packaged and sold to you according to whatever standards of desirability are most profitable at that moment.

In this gargantuan mess of a situation, the fall of Michael Jackson contains the civilizational implications of a Greek tragedy. Harvey Weinstein, for example, was easier to interpret, neater in his moral typology: big bad rich man victimized weaker people, big bad rich man loses his wealth and status. In his case, we could at least convince ourselves that redemption was possible. But there is no narrative of righteous justice for Michael Jackson, not least because he’s dead. It’s too much to think about: too horrible, too unfixable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 1:22 pm

Get ready for Pete Buttigieg

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I have to admit that Buttigieg sounds impressive. Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Get ready for the Buttigieg boomlet. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a stellar showing on CNN’s town hall with him Sunday night, confirming a dispiriting truism about our politics. With eight years as mayor, military service and direct, substantive answers to questions, he is not considered a front-runner, but consider that a former congressman who’s yet to give a meaty policy address or explain his vision (other than togetherness) is about to enter the race and sprint near the top of the pack. Could voters actually listen for an hour, hear Buttigieg and decide, “Hey, maybe celebrity status isn’t a qualification or even a desirable trait in a candidate. Maybe I should go with the guy who has something to say about important issues and has run something”?
Yes, Buttigieg gave a great sound-bite answer about Vice President Pence — wondering whether he “stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump.” However, that wasn’t the best part of his appearance.
Buttigieg was impressive because he spoke directly, without political buzzwords or hyperbole. He actually answered questions and he had a comfort level with policy, even foreign policy(!), that many other candidates don’t.
He was asked about Venezuela. “Well, the situation in Venezuela is highly disturbing. And I think that the Maduro regime has lost its legitimacy,” he explained. “That’s why it’s not just the U.S. but 50 countries that have declined to recognize the legitimacy of that regime.” He continued, “That being said, that doesn’t mean we just carelessly threaten the use of military force, which is what it appeared the national security adviser was doing at one point, kind of hinting that troops might be sent to South America.” He took a swipe at national security adviser John Bolton (“I don’t understand how somebody who was involved in leading us into the Iraq War is allowed that near to the Situation Room to begin with”, but then answered smartly, “I don’t mean to disagree that we need to support democratic outcomes in that country. And so to the extent that sanctions can be targeted and can be focused on trying to bring about new free and fair elections so that there can be self-determination by the Venezuelan people, that puts in a government that I think has that legitimacy, then we should do our part not through force but through the diplomatic tool kit in order to try to bring that outcome about.”
That might be the best answer on Venezuela I’ve heard from any Democratic candidate — maybe the best foreign policy answer, period. He’s not shy about supporting democracy or afraid to denounce Nicolás Maduro, but he rightly says this isn’t a situation that would be improved by use of American troops.
He gave a similarly cogent answer on health care. I’ll quote in it full because it had the benefit of being specific, rational and personal:

First of all, we still have uninsured and underinsured people, millions. And it’s one of the reasons why we can’t be satisfied with where we are. The [Affordable Care Act] made a great difference. It made a big difference for members of my own family. But it hasn’t gotten us all the way there, and it’s vulnerable to being undermined. As a matter of fact, right now, it’s under attack by the current administration.
That’s why I believe we do need to move in the direction of a Medicare-for-all system. Now, I think anyone in politics who lets the words “Medicare-for-all” escape their lips also has a responsibility to explain how we could actually get there, because as you know, from working on this day in and day out, it’s not something you can just flip a switch and do.
In my view, the best way to do that is through what you might call a Medicare-for-all-who-want-it setup. In other words, you take some flavor of Medicare, you make it available on the exchange as a kind of public option, and you invite people to buy into it. So if people like me are right that that’s ultimately going to be more efficient over time and more cost-effective, then you will see that very naturally become a glide path.
But your question mentioned something else, right, which is even within Medicare, there are a lot of issues, delays, concerns about whether the rate setting and reimbursement is done in the right way, and so there’s also some technical work we’ve got to do under the hood.
You know, we as a country pay out of our health-care dollar less on patient care and more on bureaucracy than almost any other country in the developed world. And so it’s very clear that we’ve got to do some unglamorous technical work. Actually, some of the benefits of automation could come in this sense. You think about how many hands have to touch a prior authorization sometimes. And the right answer to that should be zero, but we’re not there yet. So we’ve got to do that, that kind of unfashionable technical work within [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to make the system more efficient.
We’ve also just got to broaden access to it until everyone has health care. I just refuse to accept that when citizens of just about every developed nation in the world enjoy this, that we should settle for less.
And it’s become very personal for me, too, because we lost my father a few weeks ago. And it was to cancer. It was a brutally difficult time for our family. I make decisions for a living, and I was not prepared for some of the decisions that we faced in consultation with the medical team.
But what I’ll say is, the decisions that we made only had to be about what was medically right for Dad and what was right for our family. We didn’t have to think about whether our family would be financially ruined, because of Medicare. And I want that to be available, that kind of security, that kind of freedom, frankly, to be available to every American.

Maybe that sounds really smart only because we’ve gotten so used to such half-baked, slogan-driven answers. But then again, campaigns are graded on a curve. If he sounds more informed and sensible than others, well then he deserves support. He addressed the “Aren’t you too young?” question a couple of times, but the real answer should be this: He’s a lot smarter than many people in the race and, coming from a red state, has a real understanding and respect for Republicans.
Here’s how he talked about impeachment: “I would like to see this president and the style of politics that he represents sent off through the electoral process, decisively defeated at the ballot box. … Because I just don’t think that’s what America is. I understand how it happened.” He went on: “Believe me, I come from the industrial Midwest. There are a lot of people who voted for him and also voted for me and also voted for Barack Obama. So these things are complicated. But part of how it happened was a lot of people felt that the system was letting them down and, frankly, kind of voted to burn the house down. And that’s, in some ways, what we got. I don’t think that he put forward a real program for how to turn our country into a better direction, though. And so I think that the best way to defeat and end this is through an election.” However, Buttigieg correctly observed that Congress still has a job to do: “Now, having said that, these investigations may return information that Congress just morally can’t ignore, and it may well be the case that they’re left with no choice, just in the name of justice, than to begin impeachment proceedings. And obviously, they’ll have to make that determination probably quite soon.”
Finally, he sounded like someone who knew how to make sober, fact-based decisions:

I first got my understanding about the power of big data when it was my job to crunch millions of lines of data related to grocery prices, but I also began studying the way data gets used. We need a comprehensive data law that will establish the rights we have over the value that is being extracted from data that is collected about us, including the right to be forgotten and certain rights over understanding how our data is used and who is accessing it.
And that’s something that — I know it’s not exactly what you probably had in mind when you were asking about McKinsey, but it’s something that’s on my mind a lot.
As to what Governor [Mitt] Romney was talking about, look, we do need to work to make government more efficient. One of the things we did when I came in, in South Bend as mayor was — kind of a banned phrase around the county city building was “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.”
We subjected everything we do to rigorous analysis, because at the city level, I don’t get to print money. We legally have to balance the general fund budget. And if I want to do more, we just have to figure out a way to do what we’re doing more efficiently or else we’ll have to do less of something else. And sometimes that’s the right answer, too.
So I think that on-the-ground knowledge of how to get something done that I maybe began to get in the business community, but really put to work in public service at the local level, will be useful at a time when, frankly, in federal budgeting we’re being told we can get something for nothing. And things that are completely unaffordable, like the tax cuts for the wealthiest, are being passed off as though they’re worth just as much as things that if we ever do deficit spending would be a better use of it, like investing in infrastructure and education and the things that we know have a payback and will pay for themselves in the long run.

Buttigieg is still the longest of long shots. However,  . . .

Continue reading.

Here’s his town hall appearance. Worth watching. 44 minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 11:21 am

The Well-Meaning Bad Ideas Spoiling a Generation

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Fascinating article and interview videos with Jonathan Haidt. Watch the title video (less than 5 minutes) and see what you think. He seems to me to hit the nail squarely on the head. Brian Gallagher’s report begins:

n 2011, a friend of mine in college asked me if I’d read The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt’s aim was to probe and distill—and “savor”—the moral precepts of antiquity in the light of modern science. The 2006 book was an answer to an overabundance of too-little-appreciated advice. “We might have already encountered the Greatest Idea, the insight that would have transformed us had we savored it, taken it to heart, and worked it into our lives,” Haidt wrote.” My friend was happy to encounter it: Haidt helped him through a difficult breakup.

I hadn’t heard of the book, but I had heard of its author. A paper of Haidt’s, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment,” had been assigned in my moral psychology course, and I was in the middle of writing an essay that argued against its conclusion. Haidt wrote that reason, compared to emotion, typically matters little to what we believe is right or wrong. The idea that feelings like disgust, as opposed to deliberation, tend to play a more powerful role in driving what we deem ethical was, to me, an aspiring philosopher that prized rationality, distasteful. Those were the days …

Haidt, meanwhile, was about to put out his next book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. In recent a conversation with Nautilus, at his office in the NYU Stern School of Business, Haidt said he began writing the book after George W. Bush won the United States presidential election. He was determined to help the Democrats win. “Liberalism seemed so obviously ethical,” he wrote. His research led him to an awakening. “Once I actually started reading the best conservative writing, going back to Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott in the 20th century, and Thomas Sowell more recently, and then libertarians,” he said, “I realized, Wow, you actually need to expose yourself to critics, to people who start from a different position.” The result was his “moral foundations” theory—roughly, there’s more to morality than the liberal emphasis on harm and fairness—which led Haidt to identify with no political tribe. He now defines himself as a centrist.

Which brings us to his latest salvo, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff, the president and CEO of F.I.R.E., the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It is a kind of culmination of, or epilogue to, the ideas Haidt wrote about in his first two books. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Haidt and Lukianoff look at the fraught climate on elite college campuses and the effect that social media and paranoid parenting, among other things, have had on generation Z, or i-Gen, the most recent cohort (born post-1995) after the millennials. Some of the chapters in the book, for example, go by names like “The Search for Wisdom,” “The Polarization Cycle,” and “The Quest for Justice.” It is, in part, an anatomy of the psychology of activism.

During his interview with Nautilus, Haidt described his thoughts on these contentious topics with both care and gusto. Our talk ventured from his sizing-up of the “intellectual dark web” to his notes on New Atheism, his reaction to the “grievance studies” hoax, and the parenting advice he has for new fathers, like me. The public intellectual brought his A-game.

Has something gone wrong with our conception of social justice?

Social justice has many meanings. I think the term was used [to refer to] a Catholic social justice in the 19th century. Some people, on the right especially, claim that the term is meaningless, that there’s only justice. I think that’s not right. I think that there are certain conceptions of justice that are about groups in society; and especially when groups are shut out or treated with lack of dignity, then I think talking about social justice as a particular subset of justice is useful.

What I’ve observed on campus—and what Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in our book—is that there’s an increasing tendency to define, to look at any place where there’s not numerical parity, where any group is underrepresented relative to the population and to say, “that is unjust.” And any social scientist who’s thinking in any other domain would say, “well, no, wait a second. You have to know the pipeline. You have to know how many people were trying to get in, were people treated differently because of their group membership?”

In fact, just today, The New York Times announced that it’s going to commit to publishing an equal number of letters from men and women, even though 75 percent of the letter writers are men. Men like to put themselves out in public and show off. But The New York Times has committed to this equal outcomes social justice, which says we’re gonna treat people unequally in order to attain equal outcomes.

That I think is unfair. Most Americans think it’s unfair. Most Americans think that you should treat people as individuals and not discriminate against anyone because of their race or gender. So yes, we are in the middle of a time in which many people who call themselves social justice activists are trying to achieve policies that most people think will treat individuals unfairly. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing—and watch the videos. (I’m not much of a video watcher, but I found these quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2019 at 10:16 am

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