Later On

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

Archive for October 22nd, 2020

The illness that is Trump

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Anand Giridharadas writes in The Ink:

He is a weak man who has always longed to be a strong man, and he is a weak man’s idea of a strong man, and right before he got sick he made it clearer than ever that he intends to be a strongman. Some, knowing their history and knowing the pretensions of weak men and strongmen and weak men who become strongmen, have warned us about this potential from the beginning. But others, more cautious, more trusting in the power of institutions to save us, waited until recently to begin sounding the alarm. This is how democracy ends, they began to whisper. This is how it happens. He is attempting to do this right before our eyes.

Into the whispers landed a staggering story about his taxes. Here, again, the dyad of strength and weakness that defines Trump’s mind was at play. It seemed at first like a classic tale of plutocratic rigging. That’s how I read it and others read it, and there was much reason to read it that way. A man who manages to pay $750 in federal income taxes in a calendar year while, at that very hour, running for president on the basis of his special powers as a billionaire is the picture of a system that is conned, gamed, manipulated, overpowered. But a couple days after The New York Times story broke, two of its authors, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, went on the podcast The Daily and reframed their own story. This wasn’t a story about Trump’s cunning but about his brokeness, as Craig explained:

You know, rich people have great accountants. And they’re able to do all this wizardry to get a tax bill down. And we do see evidence that he’s employed accounting maneuvers that have helped him do that. But this is not a case of a rich guy hiding profits. This is a case of a man who runs businesses that year after year lose tens of millions of dollars.

There is, in other words, a kind of tax avoidance that represents strength at rigging things. But this was not that. This was a tax avoidance of weakness — a man just not that good at business. “There’s just basically nothing left to tax at the end of a year,” as Michael Barbaro, the host, summed it up.

Then, two days after the taxes story broke, in the longest week anyone can remember, came what swiftly became known as the Worst Debate Ever. At first, watching with my little boy, I was terrified. Trump’s performance of faux-strength was vulgar and crude, reckless and unpresidential, if that word still means anything. But it seemed to me it might work. Biden looked good and kind, but maybe he did look weak by the standards of the form of battle Trump had shown up to fight. And the moment I began to calm down was the moment when I realized how vast is the coalition of people who have been on the wrong end of that kind of fraudulent, hollow flexing of power. The women talked over in meetings, the men who as boys were thrown into lockers, the workers whose intelligence is overlooked, the people roughed up or worse by the cops just for being Black. I began to wonder if, by inflaming those memories and those sentiments, Trump doomed himself.

A few days after the debate, new polling came in. In the aftermath of the debate, Biden . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2020 at 5:46 pm

Disaster planning for less crazy folk

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Bad things happen — we read about them daily — and it makes sense to be prepared to a degree. Here’s an interesting and potentially useful article on non-extreme preparation, written by a Polish immigrant to the US. He moved to the US when he was 20, and his brief autobiography is also interesting (albeit of less practical use).

His article on disaster preparation begins:

1. Introduction

The prepper culture begs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a sense, it has all the makings of a doomsday cult: a tribe of unkempt misfits who hoard gold bullion, study herbalism, and preach about the imminent collapse of our society.

Today, we see such worries as absurd. It’s not that life-altering disasters are rare: every year, we hear about millions of people displaced by wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods. Heck, not a decade goes by without at least one first-class democracy lapsing into armed conflict or fiscal disarray. But having grown up in a period of unprecedented prosperity and calm, we take our way of life for granted – and find it difficult to believe that an episode of bad weather or a currency crisis could destroy almost everything we worked for to date.

I suspect that we dismiss such hazards not only because they seem surreal, but also because worrying about them makes us feel helpless and lost. What’s more, we follow the same instincts to tune out far more pedestrian and avoidable risks; for example, most of us don’t plan ahead for losing a job, for dealing with a week-long water outage, or for surviving the night if our home goes up in smoke.

For many, the singular strategy for dealing with such dangers is to pray for the government to bail us out. But no matter if our elected officials prefer to school us with passages from Milton Friedman or from Thomas Piketty, the hard truth is that no state can provide a robust safety net for all of life’s likely contingencies; in most places, government-run social programs are severely deficient in funding, in efficiency, and in scope. Large-scale disasters pit us against even worse odds; from New Orleans in 2005 to Fukushima in 2011, there are countless stories of people left behind due to political dysfunction, poorly allocated resources, or lost paperwork.

And so, the purpose of this guide is to combat the mindset of learned helplessness by promoting simple, level-headed, personal preparedness techniques that are easy to implement, don’t cost much, and will probably help you cope with whatever life throws your way.

Oh, one thing: in contrast to most other docs of its kind, this page is pure, unadulterated labor of love; there are no affiliate links, paid product placements, or ads anywhere in the guide.

2. Mapping out the unknown

Effective preparedness can be simple, but it has to be rooted in an honest and systematic review of the risks you are likely to face. Plenty of excited newcomers begin by shopping for ballistic vests and night vision goggles; they would be better served by grabbing a fire extinguisher, some bottled water, and then putting the rest of their money in a rainy-day fund.

To maintain sanity while trying to enumerate risks, I found that it’s best to focus on broad outcomes instead of trying to track down every single way for things to go south. Say, it should not matter if you are laid off because of a downsizing, because your new boss hates you, or because they finally catch you stealing paperclips. The outcome is the same: you are out of a job and urgently need a way to pay your bills.

Another insidious distraction is the desire to immediately figure out how to respond to all the scenarios we end up dreaming of. Let’s save that for later; by prematurely focusing on the second half of the problem, we may end up glossing over some of the less tractable scenarios – or make haphazard assumptions that will cloud our judgment in other ways.

I also found that to come up with a rational threat model, we need to think of “risk” as a product of both the probability and the consequences of a given event. By that metric, stubbed toes and zombie outbreaks are equally uninteresting; one of them has nearly zero significance, the other, nearly zero odds.

What else? Ah, right: the final piece of advice I have is to keep things uncomplicated. There are popular doomsday predictions that deal with cutting-edge particle physics, god-like computer hackers, vast government conspiracies, or extraterrestrial messages hidden in pop songs. I suppose we can’t really rule that stuff out, but historical data suggests that there’s a lot more merit in worrying about falling off a ladder or getting hit by a car.

All right! With these caveats in mind, let’s go over some canonical scenarios that are worth thinking about.

2.1. Problem space #1: Small-scale events

It’s always fun to speculate about . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2020 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

Nice illusion (of the optical variety)

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Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2020 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

A more distant cousin of the WWBT family, and the fragrance of pine and cedar

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I photographed my tub of Special 218 (a good tub, that sits comfortably inside its upturned lid) with lid removed so that you can see the darkness of the (glycerin) soap — due, I suspect, to pine tar, for certainly the soap has a rich, deep, dark fragrance of pine and pine resin. 

The brush has a very distinctive waist — it’s almost a miniature 400-style brush — and the knot (including the black base of the knot) unscrews from the (cammo) handle, which is tapped. The handle seems to be metal — at any rate, it has a nice heft — and the brush comes with two knots: a fine-bristled synthetic in the Target Shot coloring shown, and a silvertip badger.

The handle’s heft, shape, and texture make the brush extremely comfortable to hold, and this synthetic knot is a delight (beyond the coloring). It easily made and exceptionally thick and creamy lather, even given that this is a glycerin soap (which in my experience make excellent lathers — at least with soft water).

The Maggard V3A is a very comfortable razor — the “A” for “aggressive” is referring to efficiency, not to feel — and three passes removed all traces of stubble.

The crowning touch was the wonderful red-cedar fragrance of Anthony Gold’s aftershave, which seems excellent beyond the fragrance. I’m curious why there seem to be so few shaving soaps or aftershaves that go all-in on red cedar as the fragrance. Could it be expensive? It’s certainly a delight to the nose, so its scarcity in the market is a mystery to me.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2020 at 11:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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