Later On

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

Archive for October 21st, 2020

A humane and decent man is running for President — here’s an example

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Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2020 at 5:00 pm

Facebook Manipulated the News You See to Appease Republicans, Insiders Say

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Facebook is out of control.

For quick confirmation read this post by Kevin Drum. For more details: Monia Bauerlein and Clara Jeffrey report in Mother Jones:

Near the close of the first year of the Trump presidency, executives at Facebook were briefed on some major changes to its News Feed—the code that determines which of the zillions of posts on the platform any one of us is shown when we look at Facebook. The story the company has publicly told is that it was working to “bring people closer together” by showing us more posts from friends and family, and to prioritize “trusted” and “informative” sources of news. The changes would also reduce how much news most people see, and therefore decrease revenue for many publishers.

What wasn’t publicly known until now is that Facebook actually ran experiments to see how the changes would affect publishers—and when it found that some of them would have a dramatic impact on the reach of right-wing “junk sites,” as a former employee with knowledge of the conversations puts it, the engineers were sent back to lessen those impacts. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, they came back in January 2018 with a second iteration that dialed up the harm to progressive-leaning news organizations instead.

In fact, we have now learned that executives were even shown a slide presentation that highlighted the impact of the second iteration on about a dozen specific publishers—and Mother Jones was singled out as one that would suffer, while the conservative site the Daily Wire was identified as one that would benefit. These changes were pushed by Republican operatives working in Facebook’s Washington office under Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan (who later made headlines for demonstratively supporting his friend Brett Kavanaugh during confirmation hearings).

Asked for comment, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone would only say, “We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers. We only made updates after they were reviewed by many different teams across many disciplines to ensure the rationale was clear and consistent and could be explained to all publishers.”

Glossed over in that non-answer answer is the fact that the changes were made with at least the knowledge of the disparate impact they would have on specific publishers. And that those changes appear to have been based, at least in part, on internal partisan concerns.

Stone would not comment on the slide deck. But according to someone who has seen it, it contained bar graphs indicating how much reach various news organizations would gain or lose under the revamped algorithm. One chart showed the Daily Wire, a site headed by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro that routinely shares false claims and malignant ideas (being transgender is a “delusion,” abortion providers are “assassins,” US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is not “loyal to America”). Another graph showed Mother Jones, whose rigorously fact-checked investigative work has garnered many of journalism’s highest awards, including—just months before that Facebook presentation—being honored as Magazine of the Year at our industry’s version of the Academy Awards.

Allow us to pause briefly while we scream out of the window. This kind of false equivalence is enraging enough when lazy pundits do it. But when the most powerful media company in the world uses it as the basis for deciding what information users should see or not see, it’s more than that. It’s an attack on your ability to stay informed. It’s an attack on democracy.

To be perfectly clear: Facebook used its monopolistic power to boost and suppress specific publishers’ content—the essence of every Big Brother fear about the platforms, and something Facebook and other companies have been strenuously denying for years.

It’s also, ironically, what conservatives have consistently accused Facebook of doing to them, with the perverse but entirely intended effect of causing it to bend over backward for them instead. This past Thursday the Daily Wire’s Shapiro inveighed against Twitter and Facebook suppressing a widely discredited New York Post story on Hunter Biden: “Social media companies are . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and IMO it’s alarming.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2020 at 4:57 pm

The EPA Refuses to Reduce Pollutants Linked to Coronavirus Deaths

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I sure will be glad to get back to a Democratic administration and is more interested in protecting the public than in protecting big business. Lisa Song and Lylla Younes report in ProPublica:

In April, as coronavirus cases multiplied across the country, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected scientists’ advice to tighten air pollution standards for particulate matter, or soot.

In the next few weeks, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler likely will reaffirm that decision with a final ruling, despite emerging evidence that links particulate pollution to COVID-19 deaths.

There was enough evidence to support a stricter standard before the pandemic, said Christopher Frey, an environmental engineering professor at North Carolina State University who studies air pollution. The added threat from the coronavirus is like “icing on the cake,” he said, and should compel Wheeler to adopt an even more stringent limit.

Particulate matter kills people. “It is responsible for more deaths and sickness than any other air pollutant in the world,” said Gretchen Goldman, a research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wheeler’s decision was specifically about fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, microscopic solid and liquid droplets less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. The pollution comes from cars, power plants, wildfires and anything that burns fossil fuels. When people take a breath, the particles can lodge deep into their lungs and even enter the bloodstream. The pollutant causes health complications that can lead people to die earlier than they would have, and it is linked to conditions such as COPD, asthma and diabetes.

Frey was part of a 26-member scientific panel that advised the EPA on particulate pollution until Wheeler disbanded the group in 2018. Twenty of the former members continued to review the science and provided unofficial advice to Wheeler as part of the public comment process. Their letter told Wheeler— a former coal lobbyist — that tightening the standard would avoid tens of thousands of premature deaths per year.

Firing the advisory panel and opting not to pursue a more stringent particulate standard were in keeping with the administration of President Donald Trump’s dim view of environmental regulation. By one tally compiled by The New York Times, 72 regulations on air, water and soil pollution, climate change and ecosystems have been canceled or weakened, with an additional 27 in progress. EPA leadership has sidelined or ignored research by agency scientists, and career staff are censoring their reports to avoid terms like “climate change” out of fear of repercussions from political staff. Many of the changes involve narrowing the scope of science, and scientists, that contribute to policy, experts said.

The EPA has an “apparatus of particulate matter science denial” that rivals its attacks on climate science, Frey said. “If I wanted to get rid of [regulations on] particulate matter, I would do all the things Wheeler is doing.”

Wheeler made his decision “after carefully reviewing [the] scientific evidence and consulting with the agency’s independent science advisors,” an EPA spokesperson said in a statement. “The U.S. now has some of the lowest fine particulate matter levels in the world, five times below the global average, seven times below Chinese levels, and 20 percent lower than France, Germany and Great Britain.”

These standards are set “based on protection of human health,” not how the levels compare to elsewhere, Michael Brauer, a public health professor at the University of British Columbia, said in an email. There are “ample studies” demonstrating health effects when particulate pollution is at levels “well below” the current standard, he said.

The National Association of Manufacturers did not return requests for comment. Jim Harris, a spokesman who represents many petrochemical facilities . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2020 at 12:28 pm

Republicans oppose the stimulus that would help millions

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Mitch McConnell told his Senate colleagues that he had advised President Trump not to work out a stimulus deal to help Americans workers and small businesses whose earnings have been decimated by the pandemic.

This shows clearly the attitude of the Republican party: Help for the wealthy, nothing for others.

Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos report in the NY Times:

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, privately told Republican senators on Tuesday that he had warned the White House not to strike a pre-election deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a new round of stimulus, moving to head off an agreement that President Trump has demanded but most in his party oppose.

Mr. McConnell’s remarks, confirmed by four Republicans familiar with them, threw cold water on Mr. Trump’s increasingly urgent push to enact a new round of pandemic aid before Election Day. They came just as Ms. Pelosi offered an upbeat assessment of her negotiations with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, telling Democrats that their latest conversation had yielded “common ground as we move closer to an agreement.”

The cost of their emerging compromise on a new round of aid to hard-pressed Americans and businesses has steadily climbed toward $2 trillion, inching closer to Ms. Pelosi’s demands even as it far exceeds what most Senate Republicans have said they can accept.

With coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the country and tens of millions of American families and businesses going without critical federal benefits they relied on for much of the year, economists and the chair of the Federal Reserve have said now is the time for a substantial infusion of federal money to fuel a still-shaky economic recovery.

A majority of voters agree, saying they would support a $2 trillion stimulus package. And Mr. Trump, who only two weeks ago scuttled the bipartisan talks, is now also pushing urgently for Congress to “go big,” as he grasps for political advantage in the waning days of his re-election race.

Yet the developments on Capitol Hill amounted to an extraordinary scene two weeks before the election, in which a badly weakened president — once the object of unwavering loyalty from congressional Republicans, who rarely broke with him on any major policy issue — was throwing concessions at Democrats to cement a deal that his own party was resisting.

“He’ll be on board if something comes,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, on Tuesday morning on “Fox and Friends.” “Not every Republican agrees with me, but they will.”

Mr. McConnell’s comments, which were earlier reported by The Washington Post, to his colleagues a few hours later suggested otherwise. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2020 at 9:08 am

A Persian Jar by another name, and a shave by Stealth

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The brush shown is clearly of the same shape as yesterday’s Persion Jar, but the name Rooney gave this shape is Style 2. (Rooney also offered Style 1 and Style 3, and those came ins Sizes 1, 2, and 3. The Style 2 however, comes only in that size, which corresponds to Size 1 for Styles 1 and 3. This nomenclature, though unambiguous, was at first confusing.)

I returned to working up the lather on my face instead of in a bowl, but with a new appreciation of carefully working in a little more water after i use the fully loaded brush to coat my stubble. The small driblets of water I add to the brush are worked into both the lather on my face and the lather in the brush by brushing briskly over my face and particularly my chin.

Dapper Doc’s Old-Time Lilac & Fig shaving soap is here in the CK-6 formula, so the lather was particularly good. This tub, BTW, is one of those that will not fit inside its own lid, a minor inconvenience for those whose bathrooms have minimal counter top real estate.

With a well-lathered stubble — especially since I took my time in lathering as I added and worked in small amounts of water — the shaving was easy, especially with the Stealth, a very fine slant. Three passes produce a great shave: comfortable, smooth shaving and a smooth finish.

A splash of Lilac & Fig aftershave, and I’m read for the day. I’m off to Home Depot for a half-sheet of rigid foam insulation. I awoke this morning with a new idea: remove the tempeh incubator’s lid flaps altogether and make what amounts to a plug for the top from gluing together two pieces of rigid foam insulation, one that fits snugly just inside the box top and the other just a bit larger to cap the edges. That will work better: better insulation and when I remove the top, easier access to the box. (The flaps kept getting in the way.)  Home Depot sells such foam insulation in sheets: 1″ x 2′ x 8′. You cut it with a knife. I’ll buy one of those, cut it in half to transport it, and then make the lid with plenty left over for other projects (gift tempeh incubators?).

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2020 at 8:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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