Later On

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

Archive for October 28th, 2020

Tense semifindal decider between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump in 2019

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Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Games, Snooker, Video

How the experts messed up on Covid

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The Dunning-Kruger effect describes how ignorance leads to unfounded confidence, and it affects all who are unaware of their ignorance, regardless of their intelligence. Michael Story and Stuart Richie review a recent example of such unwarranted confidence in Unherd.com:

Masks work? NO.” Scott Atlas, a member of Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, wrote a tweet the Saturday before last that opened with these words — only to find it deleted by Twitter a day later. In the offending tweet, Atlas had written that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had both recommended against mask-wearing, and had in fact argued that it could cause “many harms”.

This violated Twitter’s policy against Covid-19 misinformation, so it had to go. As the New York Times noted, both the WHO and the CDC do recommend wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus.

The only problem is this: mere months ago, both the WHO and the CDC both had argued — in fact, argued very confidently — against the use of masks, just as Atlas said. It won’t do to ignore this rather inconvenient fact, as the New York Times did, or to pretend the statements were never made. That’s because the Atlas affair provides an object lesson in how overconfident claims by experts, especially on issues as fraught as Covid-19, can come back to bite them.

Throughout the pandemic, experts have been all too willing to make claims about the virus that bordered on the hubristic. It’s easy to forget, for example, that the first months of 2020 saw widespread and confident scepticism of any risk from the novel disease that was sweeping Wuhan. As an infamous (and since updated) BuzzFeed article advised readers not to worry about the coronavirus, but instead to worry about the flu, leading political figures found it difficult to resile from their initial “don’t panic!” stance, even as the pandemic began to take hold.

As late as 3 March, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, supported by his health commissioner, told residents to “go on with your lives + get out on the town despite coronavirus”. This plea for normalcy was made on the day that global coronavirus cases reached 90,000, and a mere month before the total Covid deaths in New York City exceeded those of 9/11.

It shouldn’t be damning to make a bad call — nobody gets every prediction right; any professional forecaster will tell you that the best you can hope for is to be wrong less often. But the fundamental problem is the high degree of confidence with which the bad calls were expressed. Stating a position without the attendant uncertainty makes it very difficult, should the situation change, to update your views without losing face. In a crisis, slowing down that view-updating process could cost time, money, and even lives. Even after the update is made, those who heard your original, dogmatically-expressed view might have lingering doubts — or might even use it against you.

Few areas better illustrate the pitfalls of expert overconfidence than the question of facemasks.

The initial messaging on masks from the WHO emphasised that masks were needed in medical settings where infected patients were likely to be coughing directly on or near healthcare workers.  The message was echoed by the US Surgeon General on Twitter, who exhorted citizens to “STOP BUYING MASKS!”, since they “are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching #Coronavirus”. Both emphasised the need to preserve mask supplies for healthcare workers.

This might have made sense given the assumption that the coronavirus behaved like influenza — the model disease most countries were using to plan for a pandemic. If that was the case, it was thought, masks would likely be ineffective at preventing transmission outside of hospitals. Indeed, studies of facemask use for influenza had found mixed results. This, coupled with a norm that health organisations should require ultra-solid evidence before making recommendations, somewhat paradoxically meant that the “masks don’t work” message became ever-more-confidently projected — even as the evidence behind it looked shakier and shakier.

In the UK, the public health community embraced the anti-mask message more strongly than most. For example, in care homes, where around half of the UK’s Covid deaths have occurred, staff were informed by the government in February that “face masks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 and do not need to be worn by staff” (incidentally, the following statement from the same document — “[i]t remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will be infected” — stands as one of the most tragic of the entire pandemic).

On 4 March, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty argued masks would reduce the risks of the non-infected “almost not at all” and said he would not advise wearing them. The medical website patient.info noted that its readers might see people wearing masks out and about. “Don’t worry if you haven’t bought one”, they wrote. “The masks are fairly ineffective for the average person. Only people caring for infected people and the infected people themselves needs [sic] to wear masks.” Even volunteer sewing groups were asked to make morale-boosting patterned scrubs for NHS staff instead of using their skills to boost the mask supply.

The anti-mask campaign soon escalated beyond messaging. In early March, two businesses selling facemasks were banned from producing adverts that claimed their products offered protection from “viruses, bacteria, and other air pollutants”. The adverts, it was said, were “likely to cause fear”. This was on the advice of Public Health England, who didn’t just not recommend masks, but claimed they might raise the risk of transmission, since they were “likely to reduce compliance with good universal hygiene behaviours”. Professor Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, said that the firms selling facemasks who linked their product to the pandemic were “callous” and “outright dangerous”, and that advertising masks in this way had “rightly been banned”.

The campaign to keep British faces uncovered culminated in a video released by the UK Government on 11 March, where the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries, told the Prime Minister in no uncertain terms that wearing a facemask was “not a good idea and doesn’t help”.

From the vantage point of mid-October, this seems more than a little odd. Masks are now mandated on public transport and in shops, are worn prominently in public by politicians and their public health advisers, and have become a normal part of life. The US Surgeon general who had so vehemently decried the buying of masks on Twitter now has a picture of himself wearing one at the top of his page. Once again, the issue was not necessarily that the original messaging was wrong — as we stated above, the evidence was patchy, and decisions still have to be made.

But the sheer effort undertaken to double down on what could only ever have been an uncertain message helped to narrow the range of options, and likely slowed the eventual change in policy as studiesmodels and reviews arrived to bolster the case for masks. Overall, whereas the data is far from knockdown, and there hasn’t yet been time to run and publish high-quality randomised trials, the observational and other evidence does point towards a protective effect of masks for this disease. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 3:45 pm

Let’s Count All the Errors and Lies in Brett Kavanaugh’s Defense of Voter Suppression

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Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate:

While the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett on Monday night, Justice Brett Kavanaugh handed down a startling opinion that laid out how the Supreme Court could steal the election for Donald Trump. Kavanaugh’s opinion was an assault on the integrity of America’s upcoming election; it was also extraordinarily sloppy, riddled with errors that would make even a traffic court judge blush. It’s worth highlighting these mistakes, not just to set the record straight but also to show how Kavanaugh uses falsehoods to twist the law against voting rights.

Mistake No. 1: Vermont hasn’t changed its election laws in response to the pandemic.

Monday’s order required Wisconsin to disqualify ballots that are mailed by Election Day but arrive shortly thereafter. A federal judge had ordered the state to count these ballots, but SCOTUS shot him down by a 5–3 vote. Kavanaugh defended his vote by writing that some states modified their voting rules in light of the pandemic while some did not. This divided response, Kavanaugh suggested, demonstrates that it’s perfectly reasonable for states to ignore the pandemic’s impact on elections and refuse to make voting easier and safer. Kavanaugh cited Vermont as an example of a state that has “decided not to make changes to their ordinary election rules.”

As the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office pointed out on Tuesday, Kavanaugh’s claim is “simply not true.” Because of COVID-19, Vermont chose to mail every registered voter a ballot on Oct. 1 this year. This action limits the risk that voters will receive their ballots when it is too late to mail them back on time. Vermont also authorized ballot processing 30 days out from the election to speed up vote-counting. “Those are our VT specific solutions,” the office wrote. It also provided the relevant state guidance to a commenter who considered sending a correction to Kavanaugh. Clearly, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is not happy that a sitting Supreme Court justice spread misinformation about his state’s election procedures.

Mistake No. 2: States declare the winner of an election on election night.

In one shocking passage, Kavanaugh baselessly cast doubt on the validity of mail ballots that arrive after Election Day in language echoing Trump’s. Noting that some states throw out these ballots, he wrote:

These States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election. And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.

There are really two errors here. The first is that late-arriving ballots can “flip” an election, which is obviously false; as Justice Elena Kagan retorted in dissent, “there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

The second error lies in Kavanaugh’s claim that states “definitively announce the results of the election on election night.” That is untrue: The media may call an election on election night; a candidate may call on election on election night; but the states do not “definitively announce the results” on election night. To the contrary, every state formally certifies results in the days or weeks following an election; zero certify results on election night. There is a good reason why: It takes a while to count every ballot, including those from members of the military, which frequently arrive late. A state’s duty is not to satisfy anxious candidates and voters but to get the count right. It is only cynical politicians who insist that a state must announce the results immediately.

Mistake No. 3: The Supreme Court unanimously endorsed a radical theory during the 2000 election litigation.

The most eye-popping part of Kavanaugh’s opinion was tucked away in a lengthy footnote that sought to retcon a theory too radical for the Bush v. Gore majority into the law of the land. To recap briefly: In Bush v. Gore, George W. Bush’s legal team—which included Kavanaugh, Barrett, and John Roberts—claimed that SCOTUS must police state courts’ interpretation of their own state’s election laws. These lawyers asserted that state courts unconstitutionally usurp power from state legislatures when they construe election laws in a way that SCOTUS doesn’t like. Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy ultimately balked at this theory, favoring a different rationale to hand Bush the election.

On Monday, however, Kavanaugh claimed that a “unanimous” Supreme Court endorsed the very theory that O’Connor and Kennedy rejected in Bush v. Gore. This position never drew support from a majority of the justices, let alone all of them. So how did Kavanaugh pass off this lie? He cited Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, the decision that preceded Bush v. Gore. But Palm Beach County did not say that federal courts must police state courts’ interpretation of election law. In fact, it barely said anything at all. Palm Beach County merely asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify an earlier decision. It even included a disclaimer that the decision declined to review “the federal questions asserted to be present.”

In other words, Palm Beach County did not enshrine Kavanaugh’s theory into law. It did not make any law, or even accept Bush’s contention that he had raised a genuine constitutional claim.

Mistake No. 4: There is a rule against federal courts changing voting rules before an election.

Kavanaugh alleged that the Supreme Court “has repeatedly emphasized that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election laws in the period close to an election.” That’s false. The Supreme Court has never stated this rule in a majority opinion. It has enforced it in a series of unsigned orders released without oral arguments, full briefing, or an opinion of the court—the so-called shadow docket cases. Kavanaugh is pretending that these shadow docket orders qualify as bona fide precedent. They do not.

Mistake No. 5: No one thinks they can return their ballot by Election Day if they request it by Oct. 29.

Kavanaugh wrote: “No one thinks that voters who request absentee ballots as late as October 29 can both receive the ballots and mail them back in time to be received by election day.” He cites no support for this assumption, probably because it’s wrong. Many states explicitly allow voters to request absentee ballots even closer to Election Day and instruct them to mail their ballots back. A large number of voters do wait until the last minute to ask for a ballot, which is why a strict deadline disenfranchises so many people. In August,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Kavanaugh is a well-foreseen disaster, for whom Sen. Susan Collins voted (may she be defeated).

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 3:38 pm

A statement from the person who wrote the anonymous NY Times op-ed about President Trump’s incompetence

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Miles Taylor, who worked at Department of Homeland Security, writes at Medium:

Why I’m no longer “Anonymous”

More than two years ago, I published an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times about Donald Trump’s perilous presidency, while I was serving under him. He responded with a short but telling tweet: “TREASON?”

Trump sees personal criticism as subversive.

I take a different view. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”

We do not owe the President our silence. We owe him and the American people the truth.

Make no mistake: I am a Republican, and I wanted this President to succeed. That’s why I came into the Administration with John Kelly, and it’s why I stayed on as Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security. But too often in times of crisis, I saw Donald Trump prove he is a man without character, and his personal defects have resulted in leadership failures so significant that they can be measured in lost American lives. I witnessed Trump’s inability to do his job over the course of two-and-a-half years. Everyone saw it, though most were hesitant to speak up for fear of reprisals.

So when I left the Administration I wrote A Warninga character study of the current Commander in Chief and a caution to voters that it wasn’t as bad as it looked inside the Trump Administration — it was worse. While I claim sole authorship of the work, the sentiments expressed within it were widely held among officials at the highest levels of the federal government. In other words, Trump’s own lieutenants were alarmed by his instability.

Much has been made of the fact that these writings were published anonymously. The decision wasn’t easy, I wrestled with it, and I understand why some people consider it questionable to levy such serious charges against a sitting President under the cover of anonymity. But my reasoning was straightforward, and I stand by it. Issuing my critiques without attribution forced the President to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling. I wanted the attention to be on the arguments themselves. At the time I asked, “What will he do when there is no person to attack, only an idea?” We got the answer. He became unhinged. And the ideas stood on their own two feet.

To be clear, writing those works was not about eminence (they were published without attribution), not about money (I declined a hefty monetary advance and pledged to donate the bulk of the proceeds), and not about crafting a score-settling “tell all” (my focus was on the President himself and his character, not denigrating former colleagues).

Nevertheless, I made clear I wasn’t afraid to criticize the President under my name. In fact, I pledged to do so. That is why I’ve already been vocal throughout the general election. I’ve tried to convey as best I can — based on my own experience — how Donald Trump has made America less safe, less certain of its identity and destiny, and less united. He has responded predictably, with personal attacks meant to obscure the underlying message that he is unfit for the office he holds.

Yet Trump has failed to bury the truth.

Why? Because since the op-ed was published, I’ve been joined by an unprecedented number of former colleagues who’ve chosen to speak out against the man they once served. Donald Trump’s character and record have now been challenged in myriad ways by his own former Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, Communications Director, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others he personally appointed.

History will also record the names of those souls who had everything to lose but stood up anyway, including Trump officials Fiona Hill, Michael McKinley, John Mitnick, Elizabeth Neumann, Bob Shanks, Olivia Troye, Josh Venable, Alexander Vindman, and many more. I applaud their courage. These are not “Deep Staters” who conspired to thwart their boss. Many of them were Trump supporters, and all of them are patriots who accepted great personal risks to speak candidly about a man they’ve seen retaliate and even incite violence against his opponents. (I’ve likewise experienced the cost of condemning the President, as doing so has taken a considerable toll on my job, daily life, marriage, finances, and personal safety.)

These public servants were not intimidated. And you shouldn’t be either. As descendants of revolutionaries, honest dissent is part of our American character, and we must reject the culture of political intimidation that’s been cultivated by this President. That’s why I’m writing this note — to urge you to speak out if you haven’t. While I hope a few more Trump officials will quickly find their consciences, your words are now more important than theirs. It’s time to come forward and shine a light on the discord that’s infected our public discourse. You can speak loudest with your vote and persuade others with your voice. Don’t be afraid of open debate. As I’ve said before, there is no better screen test for truth than to see it audition next to delusion.

This election is a two-part referendum: first,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 1:04 pm

Bad imports: India’s engineers have thrived in Silicon Valley. So has its caste system.

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Nitasha Tiku reports in the Washington Post:

Whenever Benjamin Kaila, a database administrator who immigrated from India to the United States in 1999, applies for a job at a U.S. tech company, he prays that there are no other Indians during the in-person interview. That’s because Kaila is a Dalit, or member of the lowest-ranked castes within India’s system of social hierarchy, formerly referred to as “untouchables.”

Silicon Valley’s diversity issues are well documented: It’s still dominated by White and Asian men, and Black and Latino workers remain underrepresented. But for years, as debates about meritocracy raged on, the tech industry’s reliance on Indian engineers allowed another type of discrimination to fester. And Dalit engineers like Kaila say U.S. employers aren’t equipped to address it.

In more than 100 job interviews for contract work over the past 20 years, Kaila said he got only one job offer when another Indian interviewed him in person. When members of the interview panel have been Indian, Kaila says, he has faced personal questions that seem to be used to suss out whether he’s a member of an upper caste, like most of the Indians working in the tech industry.

“They don’t bring up caste, but they can easily identify us,” Kaila says, rattling off all of the ways he can be outed as potentially being Dalit, including the fact that he has darker skin.

The legacy of discrimination from the Indian caste system is rarely discussed as a factor in Silicon Valley’s persistent diversity problems. Decades of tech industry labor practices, such as recruiting candidates from a small cohort of top schools or relying on the H-1B visa system for highly skilled workers, have shaped the racial demographics of its technical workforce. Despite that fact, Dalit engineers and advocates say that tech companies don’t understand caste bias and have not explicitly prohibited caste-based discrimination.

In recent years, however, the Dalit rights movement has grown increasingly global, including advocating for change in corporate America. In June, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a landmark suit against Cisco and two of its former engineering managers, both upper-caste Indians, for discriminating against a Dalit engineer.

After the lawsuit was announced, Equality Labs, a nonprofit advocacy group for Dalit rights, received complaints about caste bias from nearly 260 U.S. tech workers in three weeks, reported through the group’s website or in emails to individual staffers. Allegations included caste-based slurs and jokes, bullying, discriminatory hiring practices, bias in peer reviews, and sexual harassment, said executive director Thenmozhi Soundararajan. The highest number of claims were from workers at Facebook (33), followed by Cisco (24), Google (20), Microsoft (18), IBM (17) and Amazon (14). The companies all said they don’t tolerate discrimination.

And a group of 30 female Indian engineers who are members of the Dalit caste and work for Google, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco and other tech companies say they have faced caste bias inside the U.S. tech sector, according to a statement shared exclusively with The Washington Post.

The women, who shared the statement on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, argue that networks of engineers from the dominant castes have replicated the patterns of bias within the United States by favoring their peers in hiring, referrals, and performance reviews. . .

Continue reading.

One can think of it as an infectious disease — the meme equivalent of covid-19, perhaps.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law, Memes

Facebook approves Trump ads that violate its pre-election rules

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Facebook is a problem. It has power without accountability and no sense of responsibility beyond increasing profit. Zuckerberg is philosophically incompetent and seems to have little sense of community morality. Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

In September, Facebook announced that it would stop accepting new political ads starting October 27. From October 27 through Election Day on November 3, political groups are permitted to run, subject to limitations, Facebook ads approved and running before October 27.

In October, Facebook announced that after the polls close, it would ban all political ads indefinitely. The purpose of that policy is to prevent a campaign from declaring victory prematurely.

Both policies were part of a high-profile effort to convince the public that the company was taking election integrity seriously.

But on the first day of the moratorium, Facebook approved numerous Trump ads that appeared to violate its pre-election policies. At the same time, Facebook rejected scores of ads, many from groups aligned with Democrats, that do not violate its rules.

Popular Information contacted Facebook regarding Trump’s ads early Tuesday afternoon. Several hours later, Facebook told Popular Information that some of the ads did violate its policies and hundreds of Trump’s ads were taken down.

Election Day is not today

The Trump campaign produced a number of ads that said “Election Day is Today.” . . .

Continue reading. There is much more, and screenshots to document the offenses Facebook allowed against its own policies.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 11:44 am

Tub top as pedestal: Dr. Selby shows the way

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In response to my kvetching about shaving soap tubs that do not fit into their upturned lid, thus forcing me to find a place to put the lid on a limited countertop, Steve Riehle suggested that I not upturn the lid but use it as a pedestal to support the open tub. The scales fell immediately from my eyes — and his suggestion is exemplified by Dr. Selby’s 3X Concentrated Shaving Cream, whose lid is specifically designed to serve as a pedestal, as shown in the photo above.

I will keep that example — and his suggestion — in mind as I move through the large-topped tubs.

Dr. Selby’s is quite a nice source of lather, and this morning I used the Yaqi narrow-waist brush with its badger knot (rather than the synthetic knot I normally use), partly because I was using the Yaqi matching DOC razor and partly because I wanted to compare it to the Whipped Dog knot from yesterday, which it resembles in profile.

The Yaqi know does have its similarities, but I think the tips of the WD brush are somewhat smoother and softer. Of course, I’ve had the WD brush a lot longer, so it’s seen more use and perhaps what I detect is the difference between a badger knot that’s been used enough to acquire the comfort and polish of age and one that’s still brashly young.

The razor did a fine job, and a good splash of Diplomat was a satisfying conclusion. I sure wish I knew the fragrance profile of that aftershave — well, in a way, I do know it: I can smell it right now. But I’m also interested in a description written by someone whose sense of smell is better than mine. It has a definite spice note, but mixed with other things.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2020 at 11:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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