Later On

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

Archive for December 8th, 2019

Styptic options

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I just came across this useful reference: “The 8 Best Styptic Pencils For Treating Shaving Cuts Fast.” It includes liquid styptics as well as styptic pencils.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2019 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Shaving

Is there a Mafia musical?

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We were talking about The Irishman and I wondered whether there was a Mafia musical. I immediately thought of Bullets Over Broadway, but that’s not a musical.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2019 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Finland Is a Capitalist Paradise

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The US, by comparison, is a broken system with little prospect of being fixed. Anu Partanen and  write in the NY Times:

Two years ago we were living in a pleasant neighborhood in Brooklyn. We were experienced professionals, enjoying a privileged life. We’d just had a baby. She was our first, and much wanted. We were United States citizens and our future as a family should have seemed bright. But we felt deeply insecure and anxious.

Our income was trickling in unreliably from temporary gigs as independent contractors. Our access to health insurance was a constant source of anxiety, as we scrambled year after year among private employer plans, exorbitant plans for freelancers, and complicated and expensive Obamacare plans. With a child, we’d soon face overwhelming day-care costs. Never mind the bankruptcy-sized bills for education ahead, whether for housing in a good public-school district or for private-school tuition. And then there’d be college. In other words, we suffered from the same stressors that are swamping more and more of Americans, even the relatively privileged.

As we contemplated all this, one of us, Anu, was offered a job back in her hometown: Helsinki, Finland.

Finland, of course, is one of those Nordic countries that we hear some Americans, including President Trump, describe as unsustainable and oppressive — “socialist nanny states.” As we considered settling there, we canvassed Trevor’s family — he was raised in Arlington, Va. — and our American friends. They didn’t seem to think we’d be moving to a Soviet-style autocracy. In fact, many of them encouraged us to go. Even a venture capitalist we knew in Silicon Valley who has three children sounded envious: “I’d move to Finland in a heartbeat.”

So we went.

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.

Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic. Nevertheless, to many people in America, the Finnish system may still conjure impressions of dysfunction and authoritarianism. Yet Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked them highest in the world, followed by Norwegians, Danes, Swiss and Icelanders. This year, the World Happiness Report also announced Finland to be the happiest country on earth, for the second year in a row.

But surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. Yes, Finland faces its own economic challenges, and Finns are notorious complainers whenever anything goes wrong. But under its current system, Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest societies, and like the other Nordic countries, it is home to many hugely successful global companies.

In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. According to the World Bank, doing business in Denmark and Norway is actually easier overall than it is in the United States.

Finland also has high levels of economic mobility across generations. A 2018 World Bank report revealed that children in Finland have a much better chance of escaping the economic class of their parents and pursuing their own success than do children in the United States.

Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, the nonpartisan watchdog group Freedom House has determined that citizens of Finland actually enjoy higher levels of personal and political freedom, and more secure political rights, than citizens of the United States.

What to make of all this? For starters, politicians in the United States might want to think twice about calling the Nordics “socialist.” From our perch, the term seems to have more currency on the other side of the Atlantic than it does here.

In the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are often demonized as dangerous radicals. In Finland, many of their policy ideas would seem normal — and not particularly socialist.

When Mr. Sanders ran for president in 2016, what surprised our Finnish friends was that the United States, a country with so much wealth and successful capitalist enterprise, had not already set up some sort of universal public health care program and access to tuition-free college. Such programs tend to be seen by Nordic people as the bare basics required for any business-friendly nation to compete in the 21st century.

Even more peculiar is that in Finland, you don’t really see the kind of socialist movement that has been gaining popularity in some of the more radical fringes of the left in America, especially around goals such as curtailing free markets and even nationalizing the means of production. The irony is that if you championed socialism like this in Finland, you’d get few takers.

So what could explain this — the weird fact that actual socialism seems so much more popular in the capitalist United States than in supposedly socialist Finland?

A socialist revolution was attempted once in Finland. But that was more than a hundred years ago. Finland was in the process of industrializing when the Russian empire collapsed and Finland gained independence. Finnish urban and rural workers and tenant farmers, fed up with their miserable working conditions, rose up in rebellion. The response from Finland’s capitalists, conservative landowners and members of the middle and upper class was swift and violent. Civil war broke out and mass murder followed. After months of fighting, the capitalists and conservatives crushed the socialist uprising. More than 35,000 people lay dead. Traumatized and impoverished, Finns spent decades trying to recover and rebuild.

So what became of socialism in Finland after that? According to a prominent Finnish political historian, Pauli Kettunen of the University of Helsinki, after the civil war Finnish employers promoted the ideal of “an independent freeholder farmer and his individual will to work” and successfully used this idea of heroic individualism to weaken worker unions. Although socialists returned to playing a role in Finnish politics, during the first half of the 20th century, Finland prevented socialism from becoming a revolutionary force — and did so in a way that sounds downright American.

Finland fell into another bloody conflict as it fought off, at great cost, the Communist Soviet Union next door during World War II. After the war, worker unions gained strength, bringing back socialist sympathies as the country entered a more industrial and international era. This is when Finnish history took an unexpected turn.

Finnish employers had become painfully aware of the threats socialism continued to pose to capitalism. They also found themselves under increasing pressure from politicians representing the needs of workers. Wanting to avoid further conflicts, and to protect their private property and new industries, Finnish capitalists changed tactics. Instead of exploiting workers and trying to keep them down, after World War II, Finland’s capitalists cooperated with government to map out long-term strategies and discussed these plans with unions to get workers onboard.

More astonishingly, Finnish capitalists also realized that it would be in their own long-term interests to accept steep progressive tax hikes. The taxes would help pay for new government programs to keep workers healthy and productive — and this would build a more beneficial labor market. These programs became the universal taxpayer-funded services of Finland today, including public health care, public day care and education, paid parental leaves, unemployment insurance and the like.

If these moves by Finnish capitalists sound hard to imagine, it’s because people in the United States have been peddled a myth that universal government programs like these can’t coexist with profitable private-sector businesses and robust economic growth. As if to reinforce the impossibility of such synergies, last fall the Trump administration released a peculiar report arguing that “socialism” had negatively affected Nordic living standards.

However, a 2006 study by the Finnish researchers Markus Jantti, Juho Saari and Juhana Vartiainen demonstrates the opposite. First, throughout the 20th century Finland remained — and remains to this day — a country and an economy committed to markets, private businesses and capitalism.

Even more intriguing, these scholars demonstrate that Finland’s capitalist growth and dynamism have been helped, not hurt, by the nation’s commitment to providing generous and universal public services that support basic human well-being. These services have buffered and absorbed the risks and dislocations caused by capitalist innovation. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Capitalists in the US are not so enlightened as those in Finland.

Later in the article:

But the Nordic nations as a whole, including a majority of their business elites, have arrived at a simple formula: Capitalism works better if employees get paid decent wages and are supported by high-quality, democratically accountable public services that enable everyone to live healthy, dignified lives and to enjoy real equality of opportunity for themselves and their children. For us, that has meant an increase in our personal freedoms and our political rights — not the other way around.

Yes, this requires capitalists and corporations to pay fairer wages and more taxes than their American counterparts currently do. Nordic citizens generally pay more taxes, too. And yes, this might sound scandalous in the United States, where business leaders and economists perpetually warn that tax increases would slow growth and reduce incentives to invest.

Here’s the funny thing, though: Over the past 50 years, if you had invested in a basket of Nordic equities, you would have earned a higher annual real return than the American stock market during the same half-century, according to global equities data published by Credit Suisse.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2019 at 8:19 am

AI responds to custom text prompts

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Talk to Transformer was built by Adam King and responds to a text prompt with a (machine-based) free association. Example just now (prompt in bold):

A white piano in an empty room with an open window. That was how I felt once I heard the second song I heard, and again later on as I heard part of the third and fourth songs.

I’d never heard more beautiful music, by an artist whose talents I knew and respected. I learned to hate about every word she spoke — “breath”, “wall”. I would be in awe if I still had my face, eyes, lips and nose, and had walked into a room with the very same number of songs on repeat in the same order.

The first time I used that same prompt the result was a poetic and evocative paragraph, this time less so. And when I used “He had a sled named ‘Rosebud.'” the generated text was earthbound and uninteresting — so it becomes a way of tryng to find a prompt that gives a good result.

Another example:

I love to shave with a slant razor. In fact, I just finished shaving my mom with a razor that is specifically made for her, using the most sophisticated and cutting edge synthetic blade I have ever seen.

I can’t remember exactly where we began, but there was probably a conversation about why we both had goatees. The legend goes that I started shaving, and never looked back.

Narrow razor controls or can you change the width? When I use the FineMen Avanti shaving package, I can adjust the width and draw up the front, but

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2019 at 7:10 am

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