Later On

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Archive for December 2020

Americans’ acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy

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Robert Reich writes in the Guardian:

Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to re-elect Donald Trump – 46.8%of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election – don’t hold Trump accountable for what he’s done to America.

Their acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q Wilson and criminologist George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows.

The message: do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it.

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in poor communities. But America’s most privileged and powerful have been breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the members of the Sackler family that own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they’ve got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels’ investigations of his wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being “fake media” and “enemies of the people”, and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his re-election.

A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of evidence – and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those who voted for him.

Trump’s recent pardons have broken double-pane windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted because of a petitioner’s good conduct after conviction and service of sentence – but he’s pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them, he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law’s father, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, including women and children; border patrol agents convicted of assaulting or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It’s not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according to Wilson and Kelling. It’s the willingness of society to look the other way. If no one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including criminal charges. But it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a self-pardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents – strengthening congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general, demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress – a co-equal branch of government under the constitution – cannot rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don’t want to weigh in on political questions.

The appalling reality is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2020 at 5:01 pm

Politically, the US seems to have an autoimmune disease. Example: Wisconsin health-care worker intentionally spoiled more than 500 coronavirus vaccine doses

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An autoimmune disease results when the body’s immune systems attack the body instead of protecting it. From what I see, the US seems to be suffering from a kind of autoimmune disease.  A health-care worker destroys protective vaccines — and more generally, many people attack the measures epidemiologists and public heath authorities put in place to protect them. Police regularly (and with impunity) brutalize and even kill citizens they have sworn to protect. “Conservative” (but actually radical) politicians attack and attempt to destroy election results when they don’t like what voters chose. One party (the GOP) makes it an explicit goal to prevent the other party (Democrats) from accomplishing anything, and in fact simply refuses to do its actual duty (the Merrick Garland nomination, the presidential transition process). The US seems intent on destroying itself.

Andrea Salcedo and Isaac Stanley-Becker report in the Washington Post:

An employee at a hospital outside Milwaukee deliberately spoiled more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing 57 vials from a pharmacy refrigerator, hospital officials announced Wednesday, as local police said they were investigating the incident with the help of federal authorities.

Initiating an internal review on Monday, hospital officials said they were initially “led to believe” the incident was caused by “inadvertent human error.” The vials were removed Friday and most were discarded Saturday, with only a few still safe to administer at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., according to an earlier statement from the health system. Each vial has enough for 10 vaccinations but can sit at room temperature for only 12 hours.

Two days later, the employee acknowledged having “intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration,” the system, Aurora Health Care, said in a statement late Wednesday.

The employee, who has not been identified, was fired, Aurora Health said. Its statement did not address the worker’s motive but said “appropriate authorities” were promptly notified.

Wednesday night, police in Grafton, a village of about 12,000 that lies 20 miles north of Milwaukee, said they were investigating along with the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration. In a statement, the local police department said it had learned of the incident from security services at Aurora Health Care’s corporate office in Milwaukee. The system serves eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and includes 15 hospitals and more than 150 clinics, according to its website.

Leonard Peace, an FBI spokesman in Milwaukee, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the report:

The tampering will delay inoculation for hundreds of people, Aurora Health officials said, in a state where 3,170 new cases were reported and 40 people died Wednesday of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker.

“We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving the vaccine,” the health system said in a statement.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2020 at 12:31 pm

The Endgame of the Reagan Revolution

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Heather Cox Richardson writes a good summary of modern American political history:

And so, we are at the end of a year that has brought a presidential impeachment trial, a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 338,000 of us, a huge social movement for racial justice, a presidential election, and a president who has refused to accept the results of that election and is now trying to split his own political party.

It’s been quite a year.

But I had a chance to talk with history podcaster Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers yesterday, and he asked a more interesting question. He pointed out that we are now twenty years into this century, and asked what I thought were the key changes of those twenty years. I chewed on this question for awhile and also asked readers what they thought. Pulling everything together, here is where I’ve come out.

In America, the twenty years since 2000 have seen the end game of the Reagan Revolution, begun in 1980.

In that era, political leaders on the right turned against the principles that had guided the country since the 1930s, when Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided the nation out of the Great Depression by using the government to stabilize the economy. During the Depression and World War Two, Americans of all parties had come to believe the government had a role to play in regulating the economy, providing a basic social safety net and promoting infrastructure.

But reactionary businessmen hated regulations and the taxes that leveled the playing field between employers and workers. They called for a return to the pro-business government of the 1920s, but got no traction until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the Supreme Court, under the former Republican governor of California, Earl Warren, unanimously declared racial segregation unconstitutional. That decision, and others that promoted civil rights, enabled opponents of the New Deal government to attract supporters by insisting that the country’s postwar government was simply redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to people of color.

That argument echoed the political language of the Reconstruction years, when white southerners insisted that federal efforts to enable formerly enslaved men to participate in the economy on terms equal to white men were simply a redistribution of wealth, because the agents and policies required to achieve equality would cost tax dollars and, after the Civil War, most people with property were white. This, they insisted, was “socialism.”

To oppose the socialism they insisted was taking over the East, opponents of black rights looked to the American West. They called themselves Movement Conservatives, and they celebrated the cowboy who, in their inaccurate vision, was a hardworking white man who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone to work out his own future. In this myth, the cowboys lived in a male-dominated world, where women were either wives and mothers or sexual playthings, and people of color were savage or subordinate.

With his cowboy hat and western ranch, Reagan deliberately tapped into this mythology, as well as the racism and sexism in it, when he promised to slash taxes and regulations to free individuals from a grasping government. He promised that cutting taxes and regulations would expand the economy. As wealthy people—the “supply side” of the economy– regained control of their capital, they would invest in their businesses and provide more jobs. Everyone would make more money.

From the start, though, his economic system didn’t work. Money moved upward, dramatically, and voters began to think the cutting was going too far. To keep control of the government, Movement Conservatives at the end of the twentieth century ramped up their celebration of the individualist white American man, insisting that America was sliding into socialism even as they cut more and more domestic programs, insisting that the people of color and women who wanted the government to address inequities in the country simply wanted “free stuff.” They courted social conservatives and evangelicals, promising to stop the “secularization” they saw as a partner to communism.

After the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, talk radio spread the message that Black and Brown Americans and “feminazis” were trying to usher in socialism. In 1996, that narrative got a television channel that personified the idea of the strong man with subordinate women. The Fox News Channel told a story that reinforced the Movement Conservative narrative daily until it took over the Republican Party entirely.

The idea that people of color and women were trying to undermine society was enough of a rationale to justify keeping them from the vote, especially after Democrats passed the Motor Voter law in 1993, making it easier for poor people to register to vote. In 1997, Florida began the process of purging voter rolls of Black voters.

And so, 2000 came.

In that year, the presidential election came down to the electoral votes in Florida. Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 540,000 votes over Republican candidate George W. Bush, but Florida would decide the election. During the required recount, Republican political operatives led by Roger Stone descended on the election canvassers in Miami-Dade County to stop the process. It worked, and the Supreme Court upheld the end of the recount. Bush won Florida by 537 votes and, thanks to its electoral votes, became president. Voter suppression was a success, and Republicans would use it, and after 2010, gerrymandering, to keep control of the government even as they lost popular support.

Bush had promised to unite the country, but his installation in the White House gave new power to the ideology of the Movement Conservative leaders of the Reagan Revolution. He inherited a budget surplus from his predecessor Democrat Bill Clinton, but immediately set out to get rid of it by cutting taxes. A balanced budget meant money for regulation and social programs, so it had to go. From his term onward, Republicans would continue to cut taxes even as budgets operated in the red, the debt climbed, and money moved upward.

The themes of Republican dominance and tax cuts were the backdrop of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. That attack gave the country’s leaders a sense of mission after the end of the Cold War and, after launching a war in Afghanistan to stop al-Qaeda, they set out to export democracy to Iraq. This had been a goal for Republican leaders since the Clinton administration, in the belief that the United States needed to spread capitalism and democracy in its role as a world leader. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq strengthened the president and the federal government, creating the powerful Department of Homeland Security, for example, and leading Bush to assert the power of the presidency to interpret laws through signing statements.

The association of the Republican Party with patriotism enabled Republicans in this era to call for increased spending for the military and continued tax cuts, while attacking Democratic calls for domestic programs as wasteful. Increasingly, Republican media personalities derided those who called for such programs as dangerous, or anti-American.

But while Republicans increasingly looked inward to their party as the only real Americans and asserted power internationally, changes in technology were making the world larger. The Internet put the world at our fingertips and enabled researchers to decode the human genome, revolutionizing medical science. Smartphones both made communication easy. Online gaming created communities and empathy. And as many Americans were increasingly embracing rap music and tattoos and LGBTQ rights, as well as recognizing increasing inequality, books were pointing to the dangers of the power concentrating at the top of societies. In 1997, J.K. Rowling began her exploration of the rise of authoritarianism in her wildly popular Harry Potter books, but her series was only the most famous of a number of books in which young people conquered a dystopia created by adults.

In Bush’s second term, his ideology created a perfect storm. His . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Meißner Tremonia Warm Woods and Saint Charles Shave Woods, with the Ascension DOC

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Meißner Tremonia has revised their label design, as you see. Curmudgeon that I am, I like the old label better, but just as a book should not be judged by its cover, so a shaving soap should not be judged by its label. Warm Woods is a fine soap, very typical of MT soaps in its lather (and its use of clay, in this cased brown clay). The fragrance — “Woody, warm fragrance made from five different woods and balsamic resin” — is interesting, a deep sort of fragrance, and a good match to the aftershave. The soap’s ingredients are typical of MT soaps:

Stearic Acid, Cocos nucifera oil*, Aqua, Potassium Hydroxide, Orbignya Oleifera oil*, Sodium Hydroxide, Macadamia ternifolia oil, Glycerin*, Juniperus Mexicana oil (and) Bulnesia Sarmientoi Extract (and) Styrax Benzoin Sumatra (and) Alcohol (and) Amyris Balsamifera oil (and) Cedrus Atlantica oil (and) Pinus Cembra oil, Kaolin, Talc, Simmondsia chinensis oil*, Maris sal, Brown Clay, Limonene. *) organic quality

Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension stripped stubble comfortably and cleanly, and a splash of Woods aftershave ended the shave and started New Year’s Eve on a good note.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2020 at 10:04 am

Posted in Shaving

Why You Should Talk to Yourself in the Third Person

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Shayla Love writes in Vice:

According to the Bible, King Solomon, the Israelite king, was an incredibly wise man. People traveled far and wide just to ask for his advice, including two women who claimed to be the mother of the same baby. Solomon devised a clever way to solve the dispute.

Solomon’s wisdom, though, only applied to matters external to himself. His own life “was a shambles of bad decisions and uncontrolled passions,” wrote Wray Herbert in The Association for Psychological Science. “He kept hundreds of pagan wives and concubines, and also loved money and boasted of his riches. He neglected to instruct his only son, who grew up to be an incompetent tyrant. All these sins and misjudgments contributed to the eventual demise of the kingdom.”

This is referred to as Solomon’s Paradox. Whether the tales of Solomon are rooted in historical fact or not, they describe how we are often more wise when it comes to helping others than we are with ourselves. There’s something about the distance between yourself and another that provides the space to assess a situation more objectively, and control your emotions, rather than letting them cloud your thinking.

But there might be a remarkably simple way to access this kind of distance, and approach your own emotions, stress, and problems with a Solomon-esque distance: Talk to yourself in the third person.

Now, this suggestion might garner a certain gut reaction: that talking to yourself in the third person is strange at best, and annoying, narcissistic, or idiotic at worst. “Just think of Elmo in the children’s TV show Sesame Street, or the intensely irritating Jimmy in the sitcom Seinfeld—hardly models of sophisticated thinking,” wrote science journalist David Robson in The British Psychological Society Research Digest.

Yet decades of research now show that talking to yourself this way inside of your head—also called “distanced self-talk” can help foster psychological distance, a phenomenon that leads to better emotional regulation, self control, and even wisdom.

recent study in Clinical Psychological Science is the latest in a robust body of work from University of Michigan professor of psychology Ethan Kross, Bryn Mawr College assistant professor of psychology Ariana Orvell, and others. It cemented the findings that when people use words for themselves that they usually reserve for others—their name, and third- and second-person pronouns—they are better able to deal with negative emotions, even in emotionally intense situations, and even if they have a history of having a hard time managing their emotions.

Distanced self-talk also raises interesting questions about the ways that language influences our emotions, and highlights the importance of psychological distance overall—if you’re feeling overwhelmed, see if getting a little distance from yourself helps.

Humans have the ability for introspection, which helps us solve problems or plan for the future. But when bad things happen or intense negative emotions arise, this introspection can transform into its darker cousin: rumination. That’s when we end up incessantly turning over thoughts or are plunged into negative emotions, worrying ourselves in circles.

“Why does that happen?” Kross said. “And are there ways of making introspection work for us better?”

When we’re struggling with this kind of distress, we tend to zoom in, “almost to the exclusion of everything else. We lose the ability to take the big picture into account,” Kross said. Then, we might have a hard time coping with strong emotions, or finding ways to emotionally regulate. Emotional regulation, simply described, is the broad set of strategies that people use to change or modify what they’re feeling.

In those situations, being able to think about your experience from a more distanced perspective can be helpful. Psychological distance is a construct that’s been around for a long time, said Kevin Ochsner, Professor and Chair at the Department of Psychology at Columbia University.

There are many different strategies studied that create distance: You can picture a person or scene moving away from you, into the distance, like the opening lines in Star Wars. Even the act of physically leaning back has been shown to help more easily perform a difficult task.

“All those things will decrease the emotional punch,” Ochsner said.

Kross stumbled across talking to yourself in the third person about 10 years ago while exploring other distancing methods. By talking to yourself in the third person, or even second person (the pronoun “you”) he found that people bypassed a lot of the effort that’s usually put into trying to change your perspective to a more distanced one.

“The idea was—which continues to be fascinating to me—that we all have these tools that are baked into the structure of language that can serve this perspective shifting distancing function,” Kross said.

The official term for talking in the third person about yourself is illeism. Many people have an internal monologue that crops up, when we’re figuring out what to do, reflecting on the past, or guiding ourselves through day-to-day situations, but we frequently use the pronouns I, me, mine, and my.

In Kross and his colleagues’ work, they set out to see what would happen if they told people to modify that. In one study, they found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 8:31 pm

U.S. Diet Guidelines Sidestep Scientific Advice to Cut Sugar and Alcohol

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I do not understand the bad faith that consistently seems to drive government decisions. I do understand it is the result of kowtowing to money and power, but I can’t understand why so many people act exactly as if they had no integrity].

Roni Caryn Rabin reports in the NY Times on how the government quite deliberately includes in its dietary guidelines advice that they know is bad and will harm the public, and they do that willingly. One doesn’t wish to be judgmental, but it’s hard to feel anything but contempt for such decisions and actions:

Rejecting the advice of its scientific advisers, the federal government has released new dietary recommendations that sound a familiar nutritional refrain, advising Americans to “make every bite count” but dismissing experts’ specific recommendations to set new low targets for consumption of sugar and alcoholic beverages.

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” are updated every five years, and the latest iteration arrived on Tuesday, 10 months into a pandemic that has posed a historic health threat to Americans. Confined to their homes, even many of those who have dodged the coronavirus itself are drinking more and gaining weight, a phenomenon often called “quarantine 15.”

The dietary guidelines have an impact on Americans’ eating habits, influencing food stamp policies and school lunch menus and indirectly affecting how food manufacturers formulate their products.

But the latest guidelines do not address the current pandemic nor, critics said, new scientific consensus about the need to adopt dietary patterns that reduce food insecurity and chronic diseases. Climate change does not figure in the advice, which does not address sustainability or greenhouse gas emissions, both intimately tied to modern food production.

A report issued by a scientific advisory committee last summer had recommended that the guidelines encourage Americans to make drastic cuts in their consumption of sugars added to drinks and foods to 6 percent of daily calories, from the currently recommended 10 percent.

Evidence suggests that added sugars, particularly those in sweetened beverages, may contribute to obesity and weight gain, which are linked to higher rates of chronic health conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, the scientific panel noted.

More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese; obesity, diabetes and other related conditions also increase the risk of developing severe Covid-19 illness.

The scientific advisory group also called for limiting daily alcohol consumption to one drink a day for both men and women, citing a growing body of evidence that consuming higher amounts of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of death, compared with drinking lower amounts.

The new guidelines acknowledge that added sugars are nutritionally empty calories that can add extra pounds, and concede that emerging evidence links alcohol to certain cancers and some forms of cardiovascular disease — a retreat from the once popular notion that moderate drinking is beneficial to health.But officials at the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services rejected explicit caps on sugar and alcohol consumption.

Although “the preponderance of evidence supports limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease,” the report said, “the evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 edition does not substantiate quantitative changes at this time.”

The new guidelines concede that scientific research “suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death,” and that alcohol has been found to increase the risk for some cancers even at low levels of consumption.

But the recommendation from five years ago — one drink per day for women and two for men — remains in place.

The new guidelines do . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 5:07 pm

“Those of Us Who Don’t Die Are Going to Quit”: A Crush of Patients, Dwindling Supplies and the Nurse Who Lost Hope

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J. David McSwane reports in ProPublica:

Nurse Kristen Cline was working a 12-hour shift in October at the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when a code blue rang through the halls. A patient in an isolation room was dying of a coronavirus that had raged for eight months across the country before it made the state the brightest red dot in a nation of hot spots.

Cline knew she needed to protect herself before entering the room, where a second COVID-19 patient was trembling under the covers, sobbing. She reached for the crinkled and dirty N95 mask she had reused for days.

In her post-death report, Cline described how the patient fell victim to a hospital in chaos. The crash cart and breathing bag that should have been in the room were missing. The patient wasn’t tethered to monitors that could have alerted nurses sooner. He had cried out for help, but the duty nurse was busy with other patients, packed two to a room meant for one.

“He died scared and alone. It didn’t have to be that way. We failed him — not the staff, we did everything we could,” she said. “The system failed him.”

The system also failed her. Since the pandemic’s early weeks, Cline had complained that the Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs the nation’s largest hospital system, wasn’t doing enough to protect its front-line health care workers. She had filed complaints about inadequate personal protective equipment with the agency’s inspector general and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but they had done nothing. Many months into a pandemic, they were still having to ration masks and being asked to reuse them for as many as five shifts.

From Cline’s perspective and that of other health care workers I spoke with from the VA hospital in Sioux Falls, the lack of masks was a symptom of larger failures at the agency overseeing the medical care of 9 million veterans. The hospitals lacked staff and scrounged to find gowns, medical supplies, ventilators — everything needed to battle COVID-19.

While every American hospital was stretched by the pandemic, the VA’s lack of an effective system for tracking and delivering supplies made it particularly vulnerable, according to a recent examination by the federal Government Accountability Office. When the pandemic hit, the agency relied on a few big contractors to supply everything from N95 masks to needles to isolation gowns. Those few big contractors fell victim to a global shortage of masks. And the VA had no reliable tracking system to tell officials what hospitals have, what they need or what was expired. At the Sioux Falls facility, things got so desperate, the supply chain for masks relied on a guy named Steve who gave them out one at time from a nearby warehouse, employees said.

As COVID-19 overwhelmed the antiquated system, VA leadership asked employees at more than 170 hospitals to enter inventory by hand into spreadsheets every day and did “not have insight” into how resources were being deployed, the report said. In other words, the local Best Buy or Walgreen’s had more efficient ways of managing inventory to get supplies to the right place.

The resulting scramble, which ProPublica has investigated over the past eight months, was a disorganized, poorly overseen effort to buy masks and other supplies from just about anyone who said they could deliver. Hoping to compensate for a disastrous lack of preparation, the VA awarded more than 100 contracts worth over $120 million to vendors with whom it had never done business.

The COVID-19 pandemic came at a tough moment for the agency, which was more than a year into a massive reorganization by the administration of President Donald Trump that left hundreds of jobs empty and sent the VA scrambling to hire contract positions to help with, among other things, procurement of supplies.

Kevin Lyons, an associate professor and supply chain expert at Rutgers Business School, said nothing the VA did before or during the pandemic showed it had a handle on its own purchase and delivery of supplies, let alone prepare for a global shortage. His research is exploring how the Trump administration’s purge of hundreds of VA staff members created a path to disaster.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie had boasted about across-the-board staff cutbacks in November 2019, just weeks before the first confirmed U.S. COVID-19 case, noting that he had “relieved people as high as network directors to people at the other end of our employee chain.”

Lyons, an Air Force veteran, told me top VA officials have been able to claim all’s well — even as nurses and doctors describe continued shortages and rationing — because bureaucrats who awarded contracts did little or nothing to track how they worked out. He said the rapid-fire approval of contracts gave “the appearance that we’re doing something. But there was no connection between the nurses and the doctors who actually need it.”

“All they really care about is, you know, signing a contract, and then crossing your fingers and hoping that stuff comes,” Lyons said. “And that’s just not the way that supply chain is supposed to happen.” . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 4:40 pm

Plato in Sicily: Philosophy in Practice

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Nick Romeo, a journalist and author who teaches philosophy for Erasmus Academy, and Ian Tewksbury, a Classics graduate student at Stanford University, write in Aeon:

In 388 BCE, Plato was nearly forty. He had lived through an oligarchic coup, a democratic restoration, and the execution of his beloved teacher Socrates by a jury of his fellow Athenians. In his youth, Plato seriously contemplated an entry into Athens’ turbulent politics, but he determined that his envisioned reforms of the city’s constitution and educational practices were vanishingly unlikely to be realised. He devoted himself instead to the pursuit of philosophy, but he retained a fundamental concern with politics, ultimately developing perhaps the most famous of all his formulations: that political justice and human happiness require kings to become philosophers or philosophers to become kings. As Plato approached the age of forty, he visited Megara, Egypt, Cyrene, southern Italy, and, most consequentially of all, the Greek-speaking city-state of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily.

In Syracuse, Plato met a powerful and philosophically-minded young man named Dion, the brother-in-law of Syracuse’s decadent and paranoid tyrant, Dionysius I. Dion would become a lifelong friend and correspondent. This connection brought Plato to the inner court of Syracuse’s politics, and it was here that he decided to test his theory that if kings could be made into philosophers – or philosophers into kings – then justice and happiness could flourish at last.

Syracuse had a reputation for venality and debauchery, and Plato’s conviction soon collided with the realities of political life in Sicily. The court at Syracuse was rife with suspicion, violence and hedonism. Obsessed with the idea of his own assassination, Dionysius I refused to allow his hair to be cut with a knife, instead having it singed with coal. He forced visitors – even his son Dionysius II and his brother Leptines – to prove that they were unarmed by having them stripped naked, inspected and made to change clothes. He slew a captain who’d had a dream of killing him, and he put to death a soldier who handed Leptines a javelin to sketch a map in the dust. This was an inauspicious candidate for the title of philosopher-king.

Plato’s efforts did not fare well. He angered Dionysius I with his philosophical critique of the lavish hedonism of Syracusan court life, arguing that, instead of orgies and wine, one needed justice and moderation to produce true happiness. However sumptuous the life of a tyrant might be, if it was dominated by insatiable grasping after sensual pleasures, he remained a slave to his passions. Plato further taught the tyrant the converse: a man enslaved to another could preserve happiness if he possessed a just and well-ordered soul. Plato’s first visit to Sicily ended in dark irony: Dionysius I sold the philosopher into slavery. He figured that if Plato’s belief were true, then his enslavement would be a matter of indifference since, in the words of the Greek biographer Plutarch, ‘he would, of course, take no harm of it, being the same just man as before; he would enjoy that happiness, though he lost his liberty.’

Fortunately, Plato was soon ransomed by friends. He returned to Athens to found the Academy, where he likely produced many of his greatest works, including The Republic and The Symposium. But his involvement in Sicilian politics continued. He returned to Syracuse twice, attempting on both later trips to influence the mind and character of Dionysius II at the urging of Dion.

These three episodes are generally omitted from our understanding of Plato’s philosophy or dismissed as the picaresque inventions of late biographers. However, this is a mistake that overlooks the philosophical importance of Plato’s Italian voyages. In fact, his three trips to Sicily reveal that true philosophical knowledge entails action; they show the immense power of friendship in Plato’s life and philosophy; and they suggest that Plato’s philosopher-king thesis is not false so much as incomplete.

These key events are cogently expressed in Plato’s often-overlooked Seventh Letter. The Seventh Letter has proved an enigma for scholars since at least the great German philologists of the 19th century. While the majority of scholars have accepted its authenticity, few have given its theory of political action a prominent place in the exegesis of Plato. In the past three decades, some scholars have even moved to write it out of the Platonic canon, with the most recent Oxford commentary terming it The PseudoPlatonic Seventh Letter (2015). Each age has its own Plato, and perhaps given the apolitical quietism of many academics, it makes sense that contemporary academics often neglect Plato’s discussion of political action. Nonetheless, most scholars – even those who wished it to be a forgery – have found the letter authentic, based on historical and stylistic evidence. If we return to the story of Plato’s Italian journeys, which Plato himself tells in The Seventh Letter, we’re able to resurrect the historical Plato who risked his life in order to unite philosophy and power.

While The Seventh Letter focuses on the story of Plato’s three voyages to Syracuse, it begins with a brief synopsis of his early life. Like most members of the Athenian elite, his first ambition was to enter politics and public life. In Plato’s 20s, however, Athens underwent a series of violent revolutions, culminating in the restoration of the democracy and the execution of his teacher Socrates in 399 BCE. ‘Whereas at first I had been full of zeal for public life,’ Plato wrote, ‘when I noted these changes and saw how unstable everything was, I became in the end quite dizzy.’ He decided that the time was too chaotic for meaningful action, but he didn’t abandon the desire to engage in political life. Instead, in his own words, he was ‘waiting for the right time’. He was also waiting for the right friends.

When Plato first arrived in Sicily, a trip that likely took more than a week by boat on the rough and dangerous Mediterranean, he immediately noticed the islanders’ extravagant way of life. He was struck by their ‘blissful life’, one ‘replete … with Italian feasts’, where ‘existence is spent in gorging food twice a day and never sleeping alone at night.’ No one can become wise, Plato believed, if he lives a life primarily focused on sensual pleasure. Status-oriented hedonism creates a society devoid of community, one in which the stability of temperance is sacrificed to the flux of competitive excess. Plato writes:

Nor could any State enjoy tranquility, no matter how good its laws when its men think they must spend their all on excesses, and be easygoing about everything except the drinking bouts and the pleasures of love that they pursue with professional zeal. These States are always changing into tyrannies, or oligarchies, or democracies, while the rulers in them will not even hear mention of a just and equitable constitution.

Though the Syracusan state was in disarray, Plato’s friend Dion offered him a unique opportunity to influence the Sicilian kings. Dion didn’t partake in the ‘blissful life’ of the court. Instead, according to Plato, he lived ‘his life in a different manner’, because he chose ‘virtue worthy of more devotion than pleasure and all other kinds of luxury’. While today we might not associate friendship with political philosophy, many ancient thinkers understood the intimate connection between the two. Plutarch, a subtle reader of Plato, expresses this link nicely:

[L]ove, zeal, and affection … which, though they seem more pliant than the stiff and hard bonds of severity, are nevertheless the strongest and most durable ties to sustain a lasting government.

Plato saw in Dion ‘a zeal and attentiveness I had never encountered in any young man’. The opportunity to extend these bonds to the summit of political power would present itself 20 years later, after Plato escaped slavery and Dionysius I had died.

Dionysius II, the elder tyrant’s son, also didn’t appear likely to become a philosopher king. Although Dion wanted his brother-in-law Dionysius I to give Dionysius II a liberal education, the older king’s fear of being deposed made him reluctant to comply. He worried that if his son received a sound moral education, conversing regularly with wise and reasonable teachers, he might overthrow him. So Dionysius I kept Dionysius II confined and uneducated. As he grew older, courtiers plied him with wine and women. Dionysius II once held a 90-day long drunken debauch, refusing to conduct any official business: ‘drinking, singing, dancing, and buffoonery reigned there without control,’ Plutarch wrote.

Nonetheless, Dion used all his influence to persuade the young king to invite Plato to Sicily and place himself under the guidance of the Athenian philosopher. Dionysius II began sending Plato letters urging him to visit, and Dion as well as various Pythagorean philosophers from southern Italy added their own pleas. But Plato was nearly 60 years old, and his last experience in Syracusan politics must have left him reluctant to test fate again. Not heeding these entreaties would have been an easy and understandable choice.

Dion wrote to Plato that this was  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

He writes in The Seventh Letter:

I set out from home … dreading self-reproach most of all; lest I appear to myself only theory and no deed willingly undertaken … I cleared myself from reproach on the part of Philosophy, seeing that she would have been disgraced if I, through poorness of spirit and timidity, had incurred the shame of cowardice …

This reveals a conception of philosophy in which ‘theory’ is damaged by a lack of corresponding ‘deed’. The legitimacy of philosophy requires the conjunction of knowledge and action.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 1:15 pm

Million-Dollar Dip recipe

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes, Video

‘There’s No Place Like Home for The Holidays:’ Travel and COVID-19 Test Positivity Following Thanksgiving Weekend

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Click the chart to enlarge. Sunil Solomon writes on Facebook:

Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays! Two things that have troubled me about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are: (1) a lot of guidance is based on personal opinions or perspectives (i.e. not data driven); and (2) messaging has not been targeted at the general public and we often leave the lay man/woman to interpret scientific papers themselves, which can be very dangerous. And another major issue with a rapidly evolving pandemic is data becomes old very soon! This post is an attempt to address these.

DISCLOSURE: these data are from a survey we just completed less than 10 days ago and so it is not peer-reviewed. But it is data and not my personal insights into the meaning of life and Covid which have become all too common these days! These data (like most data) are not perfect. I would have traditionally waited for a peer-reviewed publication but by the time that is done, these data would be old and thousands more would have been infected over the holidays. If these data could prevent even one infection, I feel, this is way worth it!

We have also tried putting together a panel of Figures to try and communicate the message in a non-scientific way that could be correctly interpreted by anyone. It is our first take and so would appreciate any and all feedback on how to improve our scientific communication….also, if you like this, let us know what else with Covid is confusing and we will try and address that next 😉

WHAT DID THE DATA TELL US?

1.Public health officials in the US strongly advised against traveling and having gatherings with non-household members over Thanksgiving. Yet, about half the respondents surveyed across 10 US states had meals either outside their home or with non-household members.

2.People who had Thanksgiving with non-household members or at someone else’s house were more likely to have COVID-related symptoms, more likely to get a Covid test, and more likely to test positive.

3.People who went to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving were also more likely to engage in non-essential activities such as going to bars, restaurants, gyms, hair salons, etc. In fact, they reported over 30 non-essential activities in 14 days!!!!!

4.The more non-essential activities people took part in, the higher the likelihood of testing positive.

TAKE HOME MESSAGES:

1.There’s no place like home for the holidays. Stay home! Stay Safe!

2.If you are (like the most of us) experiencing pandemic fatigue, missing family (which can include dogs or any other animal) and tired of staying at home, GO OUT! But limit the number of activities. If you are missing your mother or your grandmother and want to see her, go see her….but do not stop at a bar to get a drink after you went to the gym and hair salon earlier in the day on your way to see her. You are placing yourself and her at risk! Fewer activities = lower risk for you (and your loved ones)! Remember “nothing is safe” and there is always a risk; but, going to multiple places multiple times multiplies this risk. You can reduce this even further by wearing a mask and keeping a distance from her and meeting her outdoors…all of or an many of the above as possible! Use your own judgment!!

I want to conclude with an analogy from HIV: harm reduction. For sexually active participants, we always message to reduce partners. We also always recommend using condoms especially with unknown partners. Replace partners with non-essential activities and condoms with masks/hand hygiene and I have the same advice for you for COVID. Think of venues you visit as sexual partners and since you have no control over who goes to these venues, think of them as unknown sexual partners. So, limit the number of venues and always wear a mask correctly (just like wearing a condom on your fingertips during sex doesn’t prevent HIV, masks on your neck don’t help with covid either) to minimize your (and your loved ones) risk of Covid.
If you like this post and think it makes sense, please share. Every infection averted gets us one step closer to getting back to normal (and going to the gym)!

You can follow us and give us feedback on instagram @pandemicpulse and twitter @pulsepandemic
For those of you who want the more detailed scientific version:

https://www.medrxiv.org/con…/10.1101/2020.12.22.20248719v1

For more information, see their website.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 11:45 am

Creed’s Green Irish Tweed (a fine fragrance) and an Edwin Jagger razor (a fine razor)

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Today I was struck anew by the fougère fragrance of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed. No wonder it is so often imitated (in a plethora of “Green-Irish-Tweed-style” shaving soaps). The lather, with the little Vie-Long brush was excellent owing to a few sessions of studying process by making lather in a bowl. The consistency was exactly right and the fragrance was wonderful.

This Edwin Jagger razor seemed especially good this morning. It’s easy to understand why the Edwin Jagger line is so popular (and the head so imitated, with a plethora of clones). Three passes left my face perfectly smooth and comfortable, and a splash of GIT EDT finished gthe shave — and the sun is shining! (as you see).

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2020 at 11:25 am

Posted in Shaving

When ‘The American Way’ Met the Coronavirus

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Bryce Covert writes in the NY Times:

The end of the year has been awkward for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. As he promotes his new, self-congratulatory book about navigating New York through its first coronavirus wave of in the spring, he is also battling a new surge of cases.

He’s not been too happy. At a news conference in late November, he lashed out at his constituents.

“I just want to make it very simple,” he said. “If you socially distanced and you wore a mask, and you were smart, none of this would be a problem. It’s all self-imposed. It’s all self-imposed. If you didn’t eat the cheesecake, you wouldn’t have a weight problem.”

His blunt rhetoric exemplifies how political leaders — in Washington and in red and blue states — are responding to the Covid-19 crisis. They’ve increasingly decided to treat the pandemic as an issue of personal responsibility — much as our country confronts other social ills, like poverty or joblessness.

Yes, it’s absolutely critical that we wear masks and continue to keep our distance. But these individual actions were never meant to be our primary or only response to the pandemic.

Instead, more than 10 months into this crisis, our government has largely failed to act. There is no national infrastructure for testing or tracing. States have been put in a bind by federal failure, but even so, many governors have dithered on taking large-scale actions to suppress the current surge.

As Governor Cuomo excoriated New Yorkers about mask-wearing, he took no responsibility for not shutting down indoor dining for weeks, well into the new spike.

“We’re putting a lot of faith in individual actions and individual collective wisdom to do the right thing,” Rachel Werner, the executive director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me, “but it’s without any leadership.”

It’s no great mystery what the government could do to control the virus. Every expert I spoke to agreed on the No. 1 priority: testing.

“The primary thing we really should have had is ubiquitous testing, and the government has just not chosen to do that,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University and an early adviser to the White House Covid task force.

States can do only so much with their limited resources to roll out a testing regime; it requires the resources and heft of the federal government. And while the year-end relief legislation provides more money for testing, it’s not nearly enough, particularly for producing and sustaining rapid testing.

Dr. Jha said that early in his time on the task force there was a lot of interest in building a robust testing system. “But it was killed by the political leadership in the White House,” he said.

Then, the Trump administration allowed financial aid to businesses and households to dry up during some of the worst months of the pandemic — and only just struck a last-minute deal to partly revive it.

The inconsistent aid had a cascading effect. Governors like Mr. Cuomo, who don’t have the budgetary ability of the federal government to extend substantial business relief, ended up in a difficult situation as the virus surged in late summer and fall. New York had to keep high-risk businesses open, it was argued, so that they could earn whatever meager revenue they could. But what is “the economy” worth if it comes at the cost of our physical well-being, our very lives?

Calling Covid restrictions “Orwellian,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said on “Fox & Friends” in late November that “the American people are a freedom-loving people” who “make responsible health decisions as individuals.” That, she said, is “the American way.”

I agree with her on one point: It is the American way to champion individualism over collective obligation. In 2019, 34 million Americans officially lived below the poverty line in this country, with many millions more struggling just above it — and that number has only increased since then. We could lift every family out of poverty by sending out regular checks; other countries use taxes to fund benefits that significantly reduce their poverty rates. Poverty, then, is a policy choice.

The pandemic gave us a crystal-clear window into this. The government’s initial response kept poverty from rising. But once stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits started expiring, millions of people were pushed into destitution. It took Congress months to reach a deal to send more help, and even so, the latest relief bill cut back on stimulus spending and slashed supplementary federal unemployment benefits in half.

“We’ve basically had a complete abdication of the federal response,” Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor in epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale, told me when asked about the interplay between public health and economic struggles.

If we want people to take individual actions to help curb the spread of the virus, we also need to invest in their ability to do so. The government could send every household masks — a plan the Trump administration nixed early on. It could pay Americans to stay home if they feel sick, test positive or work for a business that should close for public health reasons, to avoid choosing between their health and their bills.

“If you want people to do the right thing you have to make it easy, and we’ve made it hard,” Dr. Gonsalves noted. States, too, have been told they’re on their own, with Congressional Republicans refusing to agree to the money Democrats want to send to help fill the vast hole left by the pandemic. In response, some governors seem to be prioritizing businesses over public health, handing out ineffectual curfews to restaurants and bars rather than just shutting them down.

But to help . ..

Continue reading.

The meme of the independent individual, beholding to no one, going his or her own way without no community, no responsibilities to anyone save himself, is constantly promoted in movies, in books, and in stories — think of the Serge Leone/Clint Eastwood westerns as an archetype.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2020 at 12:28 pm

A fine interpretation of the Dying Swan in a street performance

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Lil Buck has a wonderful 3-minute dance performance that you really should see.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2020 at 9:12 am

Posted in Art, Video

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Yuzu/Rose/Patchouli and the inestimable Mk II

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Here you see Declaration Grooming’s Yuzu/Rose/Patchouli shaving soap (another of their joint projects with Chatillon Lux) in the bison-tallow formula. It also comes in the newer Milksteak formula, and that is the one I would recommend. The lather still was superb, with the RazoRock synthetic brush in the Italian-flag handle. Although this bears the same colors and is made of the same material as yesterday’s Omega brush, this handle is superior in providing a better grip and more interesting design.

The fragrance is very pleasing, and with Fendrihan’s marvelous Mk II razor I easily and comfortably produced a smooth result. A splash of Chatillon Lux’s aftershave toner in the same fragrance, and the day begins on a very nice note.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2020 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

How to tell whether you’re a jerk

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Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, Eric Schwitzgebel has a useful article in Nautilus. (Jerkitude might be related to the Dunning-Kruger effect in that (in my experience) people who are jerks are confident that they are not, and those who wonder whether they are jerks are not.)

Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk?

It seems like a reasonable question. There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world. And many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.

Psychologist Simine Vazire at the University of California, Davis argues that we tend to have good self-knowledge of our own traits when those traits are both evaluatively neutral (in the sense that it’s not especially good or bad to have those traits), and straightforwardly observable.

For example, people tend to know whether they are talkative. It’s more or less okay to be talkative and more or less okay to be quiet, and in any case your degree of talkativeness is pretty much out there for everyone to see. Self-ratings of talkativeness tend to correlate fairly well with peer ratings and objective measures. Creativity, on the other hand, is a much more evaluatively loaded trait—who doesn’t want to think of themselves as creative?—and much less straightforward to assess. In keeping with Vazire’s model, we find poor correlations among self-ratings, peer ratings, and psychologists’ attempts at objective measures of creativity.

The question “am I really, truly a self-important jerk?” is highly evaluatively loaded, so you will be highly motivated to reach a favored answer: “No, of course not!” Being a jerk is also not straightforwardly observable, so you will have plenty of room to reinterpret evidence to suit: “Sure, maybe I was a little grumpy with that cashier, but she deserved it for forgetting to put my double shot in a tall cup.”

Academically intelligent people, by the way, aren’t immune to motivated reasoning. On the contrary, recent research by Dan M. Kahan of Yale University suggests that reflective and educated people might be especially skilled at rationalizing their preexisting beliefs—for example, interpreting complicated evidence about gun control in a manner that fits their political preferences.

I suspect there is a zero correlation between people’s self-opinion about their degree of jerkitude and their true overall degree of jerkitude. Some recalcitrant jerks might recognize that they are so, but others might think themselves quite dandy. Some genuine sweethearts might fully recognize how sweet they are, while others might have far too low an opinion of their own moral character.

There’s another obstacle to jerk self-knowledge, too: We don’t yet have a good understanding of the essence of jerkitude—not yet, at least. There is no official scientific designation that matches the full range of ordinary application of the term “jerk” to the guy who rudely cuts you off in line, the teacher who casually humiliates the students, and the co-worker who turns every staff meeting into a battle.

The scientifically recognized personality categories closest to “jerk” are the “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality. Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.

Another related concept is the concept of the asshole, as explored recently by the philosopher Aaron James of the University of California, Irvine. On James’s theory, assholes are people who allow themselves to enjoy special advantages over others out of an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although this is closely related to jerkitude, again it’s not quite the same thing. One can be a jerk through arrogant and insulting behavior even if one helps oneself to no special advantages.

Given the many roadblocks standing in the way, what is a potential jerk interested in self-evaluation to do?

The first step to the solution is to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2020 at 10:54 am

Dr. David Suzuki on the covid-19 vaccine

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An interesting comment posted in Facebook:

Recently the Suzuki Elders received an email asking if we knew what Dr David Suzuki thought about the Covid 19 vaccine(s). The person asked “My husband and I are debating whether or not to have the corona virus vaccine administered to our family. We wondered “What would David Suzuki do?” Here, written in his usual fulsome manner, is David Suzuki’s response. We then asked for permission to post this letter to the larger public through our Elder Facebook page and Dr Suzuki agreed.

December 10 2020

I have a couple of responses to your query about the COVID vaccine. Vaccination, like antibiotics, is one of the great innovations of medicine and the story of how it came to be is a wonderful one. You may know it, but basically smallpox has been a terrible disease that practically wiped-out Indigenous people who had not encountered it before. In the 1700s it had been reported that milkmaids contracted cowpox from milking cows. They would get lesions on their hands and arms but would recover but never contracted smallpox that was a deadly disease, killing between 20 – 60% of its victims while 1/3 of the survivors went blind and almost all had disfiguring scars from the pox. Edward Jenner deliberately infected a boy with cowpox and when he recovered, Jenner injected smallpox (something that would never be done today) and the boy was immune.

That began vaccination that has saved millions of lives and in 1980 smallpox was eradicated worldwide. It’s now extinct. Now a big push is on to do the same with polio.

So, I am a big admirer of vaccination. It involves using the body’s own mechanism of immunity by injecting an antigen, usually a coat protein of a virus or sometimes a heat killed virus itself. The body recognizes a foreign material and creates antibodies to eliminate it. So, we have inbuilt defenses that vaccination accelerates. There have been contaminants in the past resulting from the way antigens are processed chemically. After widespread use, the Salk vaccine was found to carry a live virus that was ultimately found to be harmless. And there have been trace amounts of chemicals like mercury. But the whole basis of the anti-vax movement was a report that has been proved to be bogus, yet it is repeated over and over.

The speed with which the new vaccines have been developed is astounding. After more than 40 years, there is still no vaccine for HIV. The reason it has taken so long to get approval for the new ones is that there is a very elaborate assessment process to ensure safety.

Now the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are radically different from the traditional antigen injection. It involves injecting the gene (mRNA) specifying the coat protein (spike) and the gene gets into our cells where they produce the spike antigen and that, it turns out, is a very powerful way of getting our immune system to respond. The efficacy of this method is amazingly high. There might be some consequences that we can’t find until the treatment has gone on for years (esoteric issues like what happens to the mRNA, can it get into the nucleus of a cell and integrate into its DNA). What excites me is that this new approach could allow us to create vaccines very rapidly for any new viruses that emerge in future.

I’m sorry I’ve gone on so long. Most of medicine is about relieving symptoms when we are sick and depending on the healing capacity of the body, but vaccination is really a medical intervention that works. Would I take the new vaccine of Pfizer or Moderna? In a flash. I’m in a high-risk category and while I know I’m in the last part of my life, I don’t want to risk hurrying the end. Would I have any concerns about unexpected deleterious effect? Nothing is absolutely sure in medicine but I have no worries at all. Get it to me quick.

There is an aspect of anti-vaxxers (I know you’re not coming at it from conspiracy) that I have to rant about. A lot of folks are saying it’s their right to decide whether or not to get a shot. It’s all about freedom. The thing that bugs me is that freedom comes with responsibility otherwise it’s just license to do anything. If people resist mandated vaccination as a constitutional right, what about the right of everyone else who is sharing the same air? I hope they have a complete airtight case around them so they only breathe their own air. And they should not be allowed to use public medical facilities if they do get sick because they’ve opted out of the system by abrogating their responsibilities.

Thank you for your query. Please know I am not a medical doctor.

– – – David Suzuki

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2020 at 10:41 am

The way we train AI is fundamentally flawed

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Will Douglas Heaven writes in MIT Technology Review:

It’s no secret that machine-learning models tuned and tweaked to near-perfect performance in the lab often fail in real settings. This is typically put down to a mismatch between the data the AI was trained and tested on and the data it encounters in the world, a problem known as data shift. For example, an AI trained to spot signs of disease in high-quality medical images will struggle with blurry or cropped images captured by a cheap camera in a busy clinic.

Now a group of 40 researchers across seven different teams at Google have identified another major cause for the common failure of machine-learning models. Called “underspecification,” it could be an even bigger problem than data shift. “We are asking more of machine-learning models than we are able to guarantee with our current approach,” says Alex D’Amour, who led the study.

Underspecification is a known issue in statistics, where observed effects can have many possible causes. D’Amour, who has a background in causal reasoning, wanted to know why his own machine-learning models often failed in practice. He wondered if underspecification might be the problem here too. D’Amour soon realized that many of his colleagues were noticing the same problem in their own models. “It’s actually a phenomenon that happens all over the place,” he says.

D’Amour’s initial investigation snowballed and dozens of Google researchers ended up looking at a range of different AI applications, from image recognition to natural language processing (NLP) to disease prediction. They found that underspecification was to blame for poor performance in all of them. The problem lies in the way that machine-learning models are trained and tested, and there’s no easy fix.

The paper is a “wrecking ball,” says Brandon Rohrer, a machine-learning engineer at iRobot, who previously worked at Facebook and Microsoft and was not involved in the work.

Same but different

To understand exactly what’s going on, we need to back up a bit. Roughly put, building a machine-learning model involves training it on a large number of examples and then testing it on a bunch of similar examples that it has not yet seen. When the model passes the test, you’re done.

What the Google researchers point out is that this bar is too low. The training process can produce many different models that all pass the test but—and this is the crucial part—these models will differ in small, arbitrary ways, depending on things like the random values given to the nodes in a neural network before training starts, the way training data is selected or represented, the number of training runs, and so on. These small, often random, differences are typically overlooked if they don’t affect how a model does on the test. But it turns out they can lead to huge variation in performance in the real world.

In other words, the process used to build most machine-learning models today cannot tell which models will work in the real world and which ones won’t.

This is not the same as data shift, where training fails to produce a good model because the training data does not match real-world examples. Underspecification means something different: even if a training process can produce a good model, it could still spit out a bad one because it won’t know the difference. Neither would we.

The researchers looked at the impact of underspecification on a number of different applications. In each case they used the same training processes to produce multiple machine-learning models and then ran those models through stress tests designed to highlight specific differences in their performance.

For example, they trained 50 versions of an image recognition model on ImageNet, a dataset of images of everyday objects. The only difference between training runs were the random values assigned to the neural network at the start. Yet despite all 50 models scoring more or less the same in the training test—suggesting that they were equally accurate—their performance varied wildly in the stress test.

The stress test used . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

The researchers carried out similar experiments with two different NLP systems, and three medical AIs for predicting eye disease from retinal scans, cancer from skin lesions, and kidney failure from patient records. Every system had the same problem: models that should have been equally accurate performed differently when tested with real-world data, such as different retinal scans or skin types.

We might need to rethink how we evaluate neural networks, says Rohrer. “It pokes some significant holes in the fundamental assumptions we’ve been making.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2020 at 10:04 am

Augmented Hoppin’ John post

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I learned more about how and why Hoppin’ John has changed from what it was back in the day (late 19th century), and about how to replicate the earlier version, so I updated my Hoppin’ John post with the new information.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2020 at 9:55 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

The very excellent Fine slant and an excellent collaboration between Declaration Grooming and Chatillon Lux

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That Omega 21762 boar brush is a wonderfully soft and gentle brush, and well-loaded with Declaration Grooming’s bison-tallow formula of Unconditional Surrender made a fine fragrant lather.

Fine’s slant is one of the best slants available and a total joy if you use the correct angle (handle far from the face so the razor rides the cap and not the guard) and light pressure (the razor itself is light, so a good reminder) and a brand of blade good for you in that razor. With three easy passes, I had a totally smooth face.

Chatillon Lux is responsible for the fragrance,, and their aftershave lotion/splash is not only fragrant but also very nice for the skin. A great finish to a fine shave.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2020 at 9:48 am

Posted in Shaving

536 CE: The worst year in history

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Ann Gibbons writes in Science:

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit. At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640, when another signal in the ice—a spike in airborne lead—marks a resurgence of silver mining, as the team reports in Antiquity this week.

To Kyle Harper, provost and a medieval and Roman historian at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, the detailed log of natural disasters and human pollution frozen into the ice “give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire—and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy.”

Ever since tree ring studies in the 1990s suggested the summers around the year 540 were unusually cold, researchers have hunted for the cause. Three years ago polar ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica yielded a clue. When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur, bismuth, and other substances high into the atmosphere, where they form an aerosol veil that reflects the sun’s light back into space, cooling the planet. By matching the ice record of these chemical traces with tree ring records of climate, a team led by Michael Sigl, now of the University of Bern, found that nearly every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years was preceded by a volcanic eruption. A massive eruption—perhaps in North America, the team suggested—stood out in late 535 or early 536; another followed in 540. Sigl’s team concluded that the double blow explained the prolonged dark and cold.

Mayewski and his interdisciplinary team decided to look for the same eruptions in an ice core drilled in 2013 in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps. The 72-meter-long core entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, Saharan dust storms, and human activities smack in the center of Europe. The team deciphered this record using a new ultra–high-resolution method, in which a laser carves 120-micron slivers of ice, representing just a few days or weeks of snowfall, along the length of the core. Each of the samples—some 50,000 from each meter of the core—is analyzed for about a dozen elements. The approach enabled the team to pinpoint storms, volcanic eruptions, and lead pollution down to the month or even less, going back 2000 years, says UM volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including an interesting chart.

It’s worth noting that nature can dish out severe catastrophes with no warning. Humans should really try to get along, because certainly the future will at some point(s) see additional great catastrophes that will make the pandemic seem like a walk in the park.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2020 at 6:54 pm

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