Later On

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

Archive for October 14th, 2020

“A Car Crash Between Nicholas Sparks and ‘Mein Kampf’”

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Perhaps revealing a certain disengagement with current Hot Topics and Big Deals, my first thought was that the tattoo stood for “Peanut Butter” — he likes it that much?! If I were the waiter and a group of them came into the diner, my impulse (perhaps unwise) would be to say, “Let me guess: PB&J for everyone, right?”

The article by Maham Hasan in Vanity Fair is worth reading. It begins:

Talia Lavin, a self-professed agoraphobe who collects swords, spent about a year embedded deep in the online world of white supremacy. She was baffled by the fervor with which far-right trolls have targeted her over the past few years. Who or what merits this kind of hate? In Lavin’s case, being a proud Jewish “loudmouth” on Twitter and writing about far-right activities in The New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post, and Huff Post was enough. “To be publicly Jewish and female, and engaged in antifascist rhetoric—even in the form of caustic tweets—rendered me a vivid character in the imagination of extremists,” she writes in her book, Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy, out October 13. 

Her own tipping point—the reason she chose to immerse herself in the world of her tormentors—was Charlottesville. The chants of “Jews will not replace us” shook her out of her previous “quiescence,” she says. Instead of turning away, she felt compelled to investigate how deep the rot went. The answer: “None of this was new, none of this started with Trump, none of this will end with him,” she says.

Previously a fact-checker at The New Yorker, Lavin maps in Culture Warlords a blueprint of all the online places where white supremacists, white nationalists, Christian extremists, and incels thrive and multiply. She researches and carefully formulates identities vivid enough to thrill any white extremist. And then she infiltrates. She’s Ashlynn, an Aryan princess wielding guns and deer blood who asks for love letters from her would-be Nazi suitors on the dating website “The results were like a car crash between Nicholas Sparks and Mein Kampf,” she writes. She’s also Tom, a short, depressed incel angry at feminist bitches, his cystic acne and weak wrists showcased on, where membership requires listing your reasons for being an incel. In an American and European chat room hell-bent on a race war (Vorherrschaft Division), she’s a seductive Nazi darling coaxing information out of a Ukrainian Nazi (screen name: Der Stürmer)—a great admirer of Hitler and the Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant.

Was it worth it? “My mother’s parents were . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2020 at 7:12 pm

Bill Barr Buries Report That Exonerates Obama

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Barr’s action is not surprising and indeed is typical of conservatives. As I blogged a couple of days ago, the moral value of fairness/reciprocity ranks rather low for conservatives, whereas respect for authority and in-group loyalty (along wit purity/cleanness) are their guiding lights. So being unfair is for conservatives not a very big deal — hardly worth mentioning — whereas being disloyal to the in-group (by, for example, being a whistleblower) is an outrage.

Liberals, in contrast, place a priority on fairness/reciprocity and harm/care, and thus see a whistleblower as admirable but Bill Barr’s action as contemptible (though predictable).

Even so, Barr’s actions show clearly that the purpose of the investigation was purely political, and when it failed to deliver a result that coincided with the desired political message, the findings were suppressed — loyalty to the in-group rules.

Kevin Drum has a succinct summary worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2020 at 3:20 pm

Room-temperature supconductivity — but not, alas, room-pressure superconductivity

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It’s a cool room — 59ºF — and the pressure is about 3/4 the pressure at the earth’s core. Charlie Wood writes in Quanta:

A team of physicists in New York has discovered a material that conducts electricity with perfect efficiency at room temperature — a long-sought scientific milestone. The hydrogen, carbon and sulfur compound operates as a superconductor at up to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the team reported today in Nature. That’s more than 50 degrees hotter than the previous high-temperature superconductivity record set last year.

“This is the first time we can really claim that room-temperature superconductivity has been found,” said Ion Errea, a condensed matter theorist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain who was not involved in the work.

“It’s clearly a landmark,” said Chris Pickard, a materials scientist at the University of Cambridge. “That’s a chilly room, maybe a British Victorian cottage,” he said of the 59-degree temperature.

Yet while researchers celebrate the achievement, they stress that the newfound compound — created by a team led by Ranga Dias of the University of Rochester — will never find its way into lossless power lines, frictionless high-speed trains, or any of the revolutionary technologies that could become ubiquitous if the fragile quantum effect underlying superconductivity could be maintained in truly ambient conditions. That’s because the substance superconducts at room temperature only while being crushed between a pair of diamonds to pressures roughly 75% as extreme as those found in the Earth’s core.

“People have talked about room-temperature superconductivity forever,” Pickard said. “They may not have quite appreciated that when we did it, we were going to do it at such high pressures.”

Materials scientists now face the challenge of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2020 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Science

Why So Many Silicon Valley CEOs See Themselves as Victims

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Adrian Daub, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford University and the author of What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry Into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley, has an interesting article in OneZero on Medium:

The tech industry is known for making the seemingly impossible possible — but its greatest trick may consist of somehow managing to reframe a billionaire class and massive conglomerates as victims. We probably don’t talk enough about how the industry pulls this off: Tech leaders have long been infatuated with thinkers who reverse the commonsense picture of how power in our society is distributed and how it operates. And we have largely gone along for the ride.

Examples of self-styled victimhood are dime-a-dozen in Silicon Valley. In May 2016, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed he had brought down the media company Gawker using an immense legal war machine. He put hundreds of people out of work in an industry not exactly lousy with jobs. It was widely assumed he had done so because Gawker had revealed he was gay, a fact that he had preferred to keep private. And yet, in his justifications, he cast himself (and other celebrities, including other Silicon Valley titans, targeted by Gawker’s admittedly freewheeling style of scoop) as a “victim” of Gawker, accused the company of “bullying people,” and said he “thought it was worth fighting back.” There were expressions of concern about Thiel’s actions, but one had to marvel at the colossal act of reframing by which Thiel had justified his vendetta.

This victimization complex was also at play when Elon Musk called a rescue diver “a pedo guy” on Twitter and then claimed it was, in fact, he who was misunderstood. And more recently, Vice in July published a conversation between several high-profile venture capitalists on the Clubhouse social network in which they complained that journalists had too much power to “cancel” people. It revealed how some prominent founders and funders think about journalism, but above all, it was striking how they conceived of themselves. What emerged was a picture of very powerful people who genuinely seemed to feel deeply powerless, very much in the way Thiel presented himself: always in danger of being canceled and hounded by a click-hungry media elite that destroys honest, hard-working millionaires’ lives without any accountability whatsoever.

This funhouse picture of who has power and who doesn’t extends to how many tech CEOs think about their own companies. California recently passed AB5, a bill that decisively narrows the scope of who counts as an “independent contractor,” to the effect that Uber and Lyft drivers are now clearly employees. The rideshare giants and their allies have exhibited a truly monumental petulance in opposing it. They hired several big PR firms to conduct opposition research, and before long, supposedly spontaneous attacks cropped up on social media by concerned Californians who portrayed the rideshare giants as the hapless victims of a powerful cabal of unions, academics, and politicians.

The optic of a multibillion-dollar corporation spending millions of dollars arguing it’s been treated unfairly by being forced to play by the same rules as other companies already reveals the enormous distortion of scale involved in arguments of this type. The idea that your company is being victimized by nefarious professors and union organizers goes further, however: The kind of thinking that allows this to happen first involves a wholesale reconceptualization of power.

Thiel and Uber have to convince themselves that, if looked at the right way, power in society doesn’t flow as common sense would suggest it does. In this way of thinking, people who — to ordinary understanding — seem as though they have little or no actual power secretly have loads of it; the person who has somehow made billions and has a speaking slot at the ruling party’s national convention in truth has none of it. Tech loves its philosophical references and its profound-seeming ideas. So when it comes to this curious, but deeply useful, distortion of scale and power relations, tech unsurprisingly has expended extensive intellectual resources to convince itself of its victimhood.

Who made the powerless so powerful? While tech magnates almost never invoke him directly, the idea that in society the strong are the real victims goes back to 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his On the Genealogy of Morality. Christianity, Nietzsche argued, had managed the trick of telling the strong and powerful to aspire to the meekness and powerlessness of the people they had power over — to adopt, as he put it, a “slave morality.” Once Christianity had pulled this off, the weak and powerless were the true oppressors. The powerful were forced to understand their strength as sinful. Suddenly unsure of themselves and terrified of damnation, they had become the victims of a world-historic con.

Nietzsche proposed that exercising power wasn’t bad and that a moral system that said it was, well, that was unnatural and unhealthy. He wasn’t interested in economics; it was a question of morality for him. Ayn Rand applied this idea to places where it mattered to tech: to board rooms, to industries, to entire societies. Rand’s fiction works portray a world in which the strong are being hemmed in by “second-handers” who weaponize their own weakness, their own dependence on others, while the “makers” are forced to submit to regulation in penance for their own autonomy.

Rand’s influence is everywhere in Silicon Valley. A significant number of CEOs count themselves among her devotees (Travis Kalanick used to have the cover of The Fountainhead as his Twitter avatar). But her ideas circulate well beyond the fanboys. The idea of the CEO as the lone genius whose company is basically his work of art or the idea that the world is dominated by ossified institutions that hold down those who would disrupt them exist across the spectrum in the tech industry. They are ideas that centrally draw on Rand’s novels.

Let’s say you like this idea of the powerful being the true victims, but you’d prefer it to be even more counterintuitive. The thought of René Girard might be for you. A philosopher who . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

In a way, this is how Rand and Girard both work for people like Thiel: Not only do they offer tech billionaires the opportunity to understand themselves as morally pure and uniquely persecuted, but they also get to feel superior for being the only ones who see through our societal illusions and understand this fact.

There’s much more, and it’s good — and it explains a lot (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg).

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2020 at 10:27 am

Direct memetic transfer — and one of the best razors available (and it costs $6)

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You’ll notice that today’s brush handle is a direct imitation of the G.B. Kent handle from yesterday (and that handle might well be a direct imitation of some earlier handle — that’s how memetic evolution occurs: inheritance with occasional variation and occasionally a mutation (a new idea).

I can see why this handle has survival advantages: it’s handsome, it’s comfortable, and it’s compact. With the Plissoft synthetic know in this Maggard 22mm brush I easily got a good lather from Dapper Dragon’s Terre du Dragon shaving soap.

The Baili BR171 razor is really of the first rank in terms of feel (in the hand and on the face) and performance — and for $6 it’s a great flaming bargain. This is the one of which I now have extras for those willing to try DE shaving. If you don’t have one of these, it’s well worth acquiring.

Of course, there’s the shipping cost above the $6, so I usually order a soap and aftershave or some such so I can amortize the shipping cost across several items, meaning the shipping cost per item is much lower. This is my idea of saving money.

Three passes produced as good a shave as anyone could want, and a splah of Pinaud’s Lilac Vegetal finished the job. The initial fragrance is not all that appealing, but the drydown is very nice.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2020 at 9:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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