Later On

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Archive for May 12th, 2020

David Perell: “Fifty ideas that changed my life”

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David Perell writes on his blog:

These are my guiding principles and the light of my intellectual life. All of them will help you think better, and I hope they inspire curiosity.

1. Inversion: Avoiding stupidity is easier than trying to be brilliant. Instead of asking, “How can I help my company?” you should ask, “What’s hurting my company the most and how can I avoid it?” Identify obvious failure points, and steer clear of them.

2. Doublespeak: People often say the opposite of what they mean, especially in political language. It allows people to lie while looking like they’re telling the truth. As George Orwell famously wrote in 1984, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

3. Theory of Constraints: A system is only as strong as its weakest point. Focus on the bottleneck. Counterintuitively, if you break down the entire system and optimize each component individually, you’ll lower the effectiveness of the system. Optimize the entire system instead.

4. Preference Falsification: People lie about their true opinions and conform to socially acceptable preferences instead. In private they’ll say one thing. In public, they’ll say another.

5. Faustian Bargain: A man once sold his soul to a demon in exchange for knowledge. At first, it seemed like a smart trade. But the man lost in the long-run. Tragically, what the man lost was more valuable than what he earned. In short, he won the battle but lost the war.

6. Mimetic Theory of Desire: Humans are like sheep. We don’t know what we want, so we imitate each other. Instead of creating our own desires, we desire the same things as other people. The entire advertising industry built on this idea.

7. Mimetic Theory of Conflict: People who are similar are more likely to fight than people who are different. That’s why Civil Wars and family feuds create the worst conflicts. The closer two people are and the more equality between them, the greater the potential for conflict.

8. Talent vs. Genius: Society is good at training talent but terrible at cultivating genius. Talented people are good at hitting targets others can’t hit, but geniuses find targets others can’t see. They are opposite modes of excellence. Talent is predictable, genius is unpredictable.

9. Competition is for Losers: Avoid competition. Stop copying what everybody else is doing. If you work at a for-profit company, work on problems that would not otherwise be solved. If you’re at a non-profit, fix unpopular problems. Life is easier when you don’t compete. (Hint: don’t start another bottled water company).

10. Secrets are Hidden in Plain Sight:  Most people think of secrets as Easter eggs. They assume that if a secret is important, it’s necessarily going to be hard to find. The best ideas can come from things that are so well-known that they aren’t well-seen.

11. The Never-Ending Now: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Wheel fix installed

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I mentioned the problem yesterday, and today the fix is in place. It was a 3.2-mile walk, which isn’t bad. I used my Nordic walking poles, which was pleasant. I found as I walked that Government Street is at right angles to the map I carried in my head. I imagine as I walk more around downtown Victoria the mental map will adjust.

I will say that I will be glad when I feel wearing a mask is no longer a mark of simple prudence.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Unreleased White House report shows coronavirus rates spiking in heartland communities

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Jonathan Allen, Phil McCausland, and Cyrus Farivar report for NBC News:

Coronavirus infection rates are spiking to new highs in several metropolitan areas and smaller communities across the country, according to undisclosed data the White House’s pandemic task force is using to track rates of infection, which was obtained by NBC News.

The data in a May 7 coronavirus task force report are at odds with President Donald Trump’s declaration Monday that “all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly.”

The 10 top areas recorded surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the previous week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its data and analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and — atop the list, with a 650 percent increase — Central City, Kentucky.

On a separate list of “locations to watch,” which didn’t meet the precise criteria for the first set: Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix. The rates of new cases in Charlotte and Kansas City represented increases of more than 200 percent over the previous week, and other tables included in the data show clusters in neighboring counties that don’t form geographic areas on their own, such as Wisconsin’s Kenosha and Racine counties, which neighbor each other between Chicago and Milwaukee.

So far, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. have died because of the coronavirus, and the rate of new cases overall hasn’t yet subsided. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that . . .

Continue reading.

Text of report, with charts, at link.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 12:25 pm

The Four Men Responsible For America’s COVID-19 Test Disaster

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President Trump keeps slamming China for our problems. The pandemic did indeed originate in China (as expected and long predicted), but China had nothing whatsoever to do with the Trump administration’s utter (and continuing) failure to respond to the threat and the US part of the epidemic.

Tim Dickinson reports at Rolling Stone:

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, flanked Donald Trump at the podium in the White House briefing room. It was February 29th, the day of the first reported U.S. death from the coronavirus, and the president fielded an urgent question: “How should Americans prepare for this virus?” a reporter asked. “Should they go on with their daily lives? Change their routine? What should they do?”

In that moment, America was flying blind into a pandemic; the virus was on the loose, and nobody quite knew where. The lives of tens of thousands hinged on the advice about to be delivered by the president and his top public-health advisers. Trump began: “Well, I hope they don’t change their routine,” before he trailed off, and, quite uncharacteristically, called on an expert to finish the response. “Bob?” he said. “Do you want to answer that?”

A tall man, with a tan, freckled head, and a snow-white chinstrap beard, Redfield stepped to the podium. “The risk at this time is low,” Redfield told the country. “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives.”

This reassurance came at precisely, and tragically, the wrong time. With a different answer, much of the human devastation that was about to unfold in the United States would have been avoidable. Academic research from Imperial College in London, modeling the U.S. response, estimates that up to 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented had the U.S. moved to shut down by March 2nd. Instead, administration leaders dragged their feet for another two weeks, as the virus continued a silent, exponential assault. By early May, more than 75,000 Americans were dead.

Even as he spoke, Redfield knew the country should be taking a different course. The Coronavirus Task Force had resolved to present the president with a plan for mitigation efforts, like school and business closures, on February 24th, but reportedly reversed course after Trump exploded about the economic fallout. Instead, the CDC director continued touting “aggressive containment” to Congress on February 27th. Experts tell Rolling Stone that ship had sailed when the virus made the leap from infected travelers into the general public. “If you’ve got a community spreading respiratory virus, it’s not going to be containable,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “You have to shift to mitigation right away.”

Patty Murray is the ranking member of the Senate’s top health committee, and represents Washington state, the nation’s first coronavirus hot spot. She blames the administration for a delay that “overwhelmed the health care system and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.” And she singles out Redfield, in particular, for “dereliction of duty.”

Despite months of alarms that the coronavirus was lurking at our doorstep, the Trump administration failed to mount an urgent response until the nation was engulfed and overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“We had ample notice to get our country ready,” says Ron Klain, who served as President Obama’s Ebola czar, and lists the rolling out of testing, securing protective equipment, and building up hospital capacity as necessary preventative steps. “We spent all of January and February doing none of those things, and as a result, when this disease really exploded  in March, we weren’t prepared.”

The government leaders who failed to safeguard the nation are CDC Director Redfield; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; and of course, President Trump. Together, these men had the power to change the direction of this pandemic, to lessen its impact on the economy, and constrain the death toll from COVID-19. Each failed, in a series of errors and mismanagement that grew into a singular catastrophe — or as Jared Kushner described it on Fox & Friends, “a great success story.”

Defeating an invisible enemy like the coronavirus requires working diagnostics. But when the CDC’s original test kit failed, there was no Plan B. The nation’s private-sector biomedical establishment is world-class, but the administration kept these resources cordoned behind red tape as the CDC foundered. Precious weeks slipped by — amid infighting, ass covering, and wasted effort — and the virus slipped through the nation’s crippled surveillance apparatus, taking root in hot spots across the country, and in particular, New York City.

The mismanagement cost lives. With adequate testing from the beginning, says Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor of public-health policy, “we would have been able to stop the spread of this virus in its tracks the way that many other nations have.” Instead, says Sen. Murray, the administration’s response was “wait until it’s too late, and then try and contain one of the most aggressive viruses that we’ve ever seen.”

Blind to the virus’s penetration and unable to target mitigation where it was needed, the administration and state governors had to resort to the blunt instrument of shuttering the economy, says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. And the lack of testing kept us in limbo. “Our economy is shut down because we still do not have adequate testing,” Jha says. “We have been woefully behind from the beginning of this pandemic.”

If the president’s deputies made trillion-dollar mistakes, accountability for the pandemic response lies with Trump, who waived off months of harrowing intelligence briefings, choosing to treat the coronavirus as a crisis in public relations, rather than a public-health emergency. Having staked his re-election on a strong economy, Trump downplayed the virus.

To the horror of public-health experts, America remains rudderless in the crisis. Obama’s CDC director, Tom Frieden, says “you can look back with 20/20 hindsight on lots of things.” But even months into the response — and despite Vice President Mike Pence nominally at the helm of the Coronavirus Task Force — Frieden says he can’t discern who is actually in charge of the federal response, “and that’s dangerous.”

The coronavirus would be a devilish test of any president’s leadership, but Trump has failed beyond measure. And the errors are metastasizing. “The failed coronavirus response is not a story of mistakes that were made and have now been fixed,” Klain says. “It’s the story of mistakes that continue to cost lives.”

THE ZEALOT

The front-line agency built to respond to a pandemic, the CDC, was placed in unreliable hands. Dr. Robert Redfield is a right-wing darling with a checkered scientific past. His 2018 nomination was a triumph for the Christian right, a coup in particular for evangelical activists Shepherd and Anita Smith, who have been instrumental in driving a global AIDS strategy centered on abstinence.

Redfield’s tight-knit relationship with the Smiths goes back at least three decades, beginning when Shepherd Smith recruited him to join the board of his religious nonprofit, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy (ASAP). The Smiths made their views plain in the 1990 book Christians in the Age of AIDS, which argued HIV infection resulted from “people’s sinfulness,” and described AIDS as a consequence for those who “violate God’s laws.” Redfield, a devout Catholic who was then a prominent HIV researcher in the Army, wrote the introduction, calling for the rejection of “false prophets who preach the quick-fix strategies of condoms and free needles.”

Redfield was a rising star at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, whose name had been floated as a candidate for surgeon general. But the late 1980s were benighted times in the AIDS epidemic, and Redfield championed discriminatory policies that he defended as “good medicine” — including quarantining of HIV-positive soldiers in a segregated barracks. These soldiers were routinely given dishonorable discharges after superiors rooted out evidence of homosexuality, and left to suffer the course of their devastating disease without health insurance. “It was dark,” remembers Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Coming Plague, who reported on Redfield’s actions. “It was the opposite of compassion.”

Redfield’s Army career derailed after he was accused of “sloppy or, possibly, deceptive” research for touting a trial HIV therapy that later proved useless. An investigation found no wrongdoing, but called out his “inappropriately close” relationship with Shepherd Smith, who also hyped the drug. Redfield insisted there was “no basis for any of the allegations,” but the scandal spurred his departure to a research lab at the University of Maryland.

Still, Redfield’s résumé — religious-right bona fides, a military background, and a knack for ingratiating himself with powerful people — primed his return to government. “Over the years, there have been several attempts to push him into powerful slots within Republican administrations,” says Garrett. “I don’t think most of his promoters have ever been particularly interested in the science.”

When his CDC appointment was announced in March 2018, Sen. Murray warned of Redfield’s “pattern of ethically and morally questionable behavior,” as well as his “lack of public-health expertise,” and urged Trump to “reconsider.” But the CDC post does not require Senate approval. Redfield sought to reassure CDC staff that his views had modernized, and that he now embraced condoms to slow HIV infection. He insisted at an all-hands meeting, “I’ve never been an abstinence-only person.” In point of fact, Redfield co-authored a 1987 textbook, AIDS & Young People, that preached abstinence until marriage, writing that “medicine and morality tell us the same thing.” It warned, in all caps, against the notion of safe sex: “IF YOU ENGAGE IN CLOSE SEXUAL CONDUCT, YOU ARE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH YOUR LIFE.”

THE INSIDER

The CDC reports to the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Alex Azar, a former executive for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly who gained infamy, in his five-year tenure, by doubling the price of insulin.

Azar is a creature of the GOP establishment: He cut his teeth as a Supreme Court clerk to Antonin Scalia, worked with Brett Kavanaugh on the Clinton-Whitewater investigation under special counsel Ken Starr, and served as a deputy HHS administrator in the George W. Bush era, before becoming Eli Lilly’s top lobbyist. Azar, 52, is the type of corporate leader Republicans have long touted as capable of driving efficiencies in the unwieldy federal bureaucracy. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell praised Azar’s nomination in 2017, insisting, “Alex brings a wealth of private-sector knowledge that will prepare him well for this crucial role.”

Azar sought to shrink the CDC, an agency that has been on the chopping block throughout the Trump administration. In HHS’s most recent budget proposal — unveiled this past February, 10 days after the World Health Organization declared a global emergency over the coronavirus — Azar sought an $85 million cut to the CDC’s Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program and a $25 million cut to Public Health Preparedness and Response. Azar defended the budget at the time as making “difficult, prudent choices.”

The Trump administration had also hollowed out the CDC’s China presence, slashing staff from 47 to barely a dozen. These cuts were part of a broad-reaching drawdown of America’s disease preparedness, including Trump’s decision to disband the National Security Counsel’s pandemic-response team. In late 2018, Azar’s HHS rejected a proposal, solicited by the Obama administration, to buy a machine capable of churning out 1.5 million N95 respirators a day, for use in a pandemic.

Despite this austerity crusade, the CDC’s initial response to the outbreak was by the book. On January 3rd, Redfield spoke with Chinese colleagues about a mysterious viral outbreak causing a rash of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, and immediately informed Azar. On January 11th, the Chinese published the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus, and the CDC began creating a diagnostic test. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

If the US is indeed at war with the epidemic, these men are guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy and should be tried for treason, the penalty for which in wartime is death.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 12:07 pm

The Royal Game of Ur

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The game, at around 5000 years old, is in the same age group as Go, but it is a very different game. It has some interesting aspects and nuance, and is not so simple a game as you might think — as the video points out, it’s on the order of backgammon, with a healthy amount of skill mixed in with chance.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 9:27 am

Posted in Games, Video

Country comparisons combating Covid-1o

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Fascinating charts of how Covid-19 has struck various countries and, in most cases, been vanquished. For example, look at Israel — how extremely rapidly it ramped up, and then fairly quickly dropped. I include this in the category “government” because it is in almost all cases the government that takes the lead in responding to major threats to public health, that being a governmental responsibility.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 9:25 am

Glenn Gould – Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor op. 31/2 “The Tempest”

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Good music is really extraordinarily good.

And if that doesn’t convince you, how about this:

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 8:55 am

Posted in Music, Video

Kansas sheriff finally pays up for stupid and botched raid

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I remember this from when it happened and now — seven years later — the sheriff’s department is finally giving up. Kansas.

Jacob Sullum reports at Reason:

The Leawood, Kansas, couple whose home was raided in 2012 after sheriff’s deputies claimed that loose tea found in their trash was marijuana will receive $150,000 for their trouble under a settlement agreement with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. The settlement—which caps seven years of litigation, including two trips to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit—falls far short of the $7 million that Adlynn and Robert Harte originally sought. But it represents an implicit acknowledgment that the Hartes and their children suffered an outrageous invasion of their privacy and dignity in the service of a comically inept publicity stunt.

Here are some of the absurd facts that emerged as the couple’s case was making its way through the courts:

  • The family was targeted because Robert Harte bought supplies at a hydroponic gardening store in Kansas City. Harte was planning to grow vegetables with his son as a science project. But to Sgt. James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who was staking out the store, he looked like a cannabis kingpin.
  • Wingo passed his hot tip to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, which sat on the information for eight months. Deputies did not start investigating the Hartes until early April 2012, a couple of weeks before they planned to conduct a bunch of pot raids on April 20, the unofficial stoner holiday.
  • The deputies never conducted a background investigation, which would have revealed not only that the Hartes had clean criminal records but that they were both former CIA employees with the highest level of security clearance.
  • Desperate to justify a raid that had already been planned, deputies rummaged through the Hartes’ garbage on three occasions. The first time around, Deputies Edward Blake and Mark Burns found “a small amount of wet, green vegetation,” which they deemed innocuous.
  • During his second inspection of the Hartes’ trash, Burns found the same leaves, which he suddenly decided looked like “wet marijuana plant material.” A drug field test supposedly confirmed the presence of THC.
  • When Burns dove into the family’s refuse a third time, just three days before the big 4/20 event, he found more leaves, which again supposedly tested positive for THC.
  • The “wet marijuana plant material” was actually loose tea that Adlynn Harte favored. Burns later confessed that he had never seen loose tea before but thought, based on his training and experience, that it looked like marijuana leaves.
  • A lab technician consulted after the raid disagreed, saying the leaves found in the Hartes’ trash didn’t “appear to be marijuana” to the unaided eye and didn’t “look anything like marijuana leaves or stems” under a microscope.
  • Field tests for drugs are notoriously unreliable. As 10th Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero noted after considering this case in 2017, one study “found a 70% false positive rate using this field test, with positive results obtained from substances including vanilla, peppermint, ginger, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf, basil, thyme, lemon grass, lavender, organic oregano, organic spearmint, organic clove, patchouli, ginseng, a strip of newspaper, and even air.”
  • The label on the test kit used by Burns warns that its results “are only presumptive in nature” and should be confirmed by laboratory analysis. Yet then-Sheriff Frank Denning, who authorized the search of the Hartes’ home without laboratory confirmation of the field test results, claimed he had never heard such tests could generate false positives, despite four decades in law enforcement and despite the warning on the label.
  • The visit to the hydroponic store and the tea in the trash were the sole basis for the search warrant.
  • On the day of the raid, 10th Circuit Judge Joel Carson noted in a 2019 opinion, “Bob opened the front door” shortly before 7:30 a.m., “and the deputies flooded in the foyer. Bob ended up on the ground with an assault rifle pointed at or near him. The deputies ordered Addie and the couple’s two young children to sit cross-legged against a wall. A deputy eventually allowed the family to move to the living room couch where an armed deputy kept watch over them.”
  • It soon became clear that Johnson County’s Keystone Cops had screwed up. “After searching the home for about fifteen to twenty minutes,” Carson wrote, “the deputies found the hydroponic tomato garden that was readily visible from the exterior of the home through a front-facing basement window. And after ninety minutes of extensive searching, a couple of the deputies claimed to smell the ‘faint odor of marijuana’ at various places in the residence. A drug-detection dog showed up, but did not alert the officers to any other areas of the house requiring further searches. The dog’s handler also did not smell marijuana.”
  • The deputies found no marijuana or any other evidence of illegal activity, even after searching the house “from stem to stern.” But the same deputies who did not know the difference between tea and marijuana also did not realize there could be a legal explanation for the purchase of hydroponic gardening equipment. Blake “testified that up to that point in time, he had never seen a layout of a hydroponic-grow operation similar to Plaintiffs’ that was not being used to grow marijuana.”

Lucero summed up the situation well three years ago. “The  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 8:28 am

Tobacco today, and a perfect shave

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I brought out the heavy-hitters and they delivered. RazoRock’s 400 synthetic seems to have bristles about as fine as yesterday’s Yaqi, and the lather it made from Phoenix Artisan’s Cavendish soap was thick, creamy, and fragrant with the smell of pipe tobacco (vs. a cigar fragrance). This is — as you see — the CK-6 formula, and I believe that accounts for some of the perfection of the shave — not simply during the shave, but also the post-shave skin-feel.

Three passes with my Baby Smooth left my face perfectly smooth with never a hint of a problem, and then a good splash of Cavendish aftershave will carry me through the day. This is an aftershave with legs.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2020 at 8:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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