Later On

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

Archive for February 2021

A clear snapshot of what’s wrong with Congress

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill requested by the Biden administration. The vote was 219 to 212, with two Democrats—Jared Golden (D-ME) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR)—voting no. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.

The coronavirus relief bill illustrates a crisis in our democracy.

This measure is enormously popular. On Thursday, the day before the House took up the bill, a poll by Morning Consult/Politico showed that 76% of Americans liked the measure, including 60% of Republicans. It includes $1400 stimulus checks which, together with the $600 checks in the previous package, get us to the $2000 checks that former president Trump, a Republican, demanded.

It includes increased unemployment benefits of $400 weekly, provides $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, establishes tax credits for children, provides money to reopen schools, funds $8.5 billion to distribute vaccines, and gives small business relief.

The bill is popular among Republican mayors and governors, whose governments cannot borrow to make up for tax revenue lost because of the pandemic and who are facing deficits of $80 to $100 billion even with money from the last relief packages. The deficits will require devastating cuts on top of the 1.3 million jobs that have already been cut in the past year. Relief is “not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” Fresno, California, mayor Jerry Dyer told Griff Witte of the Washington Post earlier this month. “It’s a public health issue. It’s an economic issue. And it’s a public safety issue.”

Those in favor of the measure note that while there is still close to $1 trillion unspent from previous coronavirus relief bills, currently unspent money has been assigned already: it is distributed among programs that are designed to spend it over a period of time. This includes federal employment benefits, which are distributed weekly; the Paycheck Protection Program, which is held in reserve for employers to apply for funds from it; enhanced medical matching funds to be distributed as the pandemic requires; and tax breaks to be spent as people file their tax returns.

The chair of the Federal Reserve, which oversees our banking system, Jerome H. Powell, has backed the idea of increased federal spending; so has Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Powell was nominated to his current position by Trump (he was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board by President Barack Obama); Yellen is a Biden appointee.

This is a bill that should have gotten some Republican votes in the House of Representatives.

But it didn’t. Republican lawmakers are complaining about the partisan vote and scoffing that President Biden promised to unify the country. But the problem is not the bill. The problem is the Republican lawmakers, who are determined to oppose anything the Democrats propose.

The American Rescue Plan bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican senators appear to be united against it. In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained about the Democrats’ “deliberately partisan process” in writing the bill, but the Republicans willing to meet with President Biden—McConnell was not one of them– proposed a measure that provided less than one-third the relief in the present bill. There is enormous urgency to passing the bill quickly, since current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

The Senate is evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans, with each party holding 50 seats (technically, Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are Independents, but they currently work with the Democrats). Although each party effectively holds 50 seats, the Democrats represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans do, in nation that has 328.2 million people [that is Democrats in the Senate represent 13% more Americans than do Republicans – LG].

In addition to their disproportionate power in the Senate, the Republicans can stop legislation through the filibuster. This is a holdover from an earlier era, in which a senator could stop a bill approved by a majority by refusing to stop talking about it, which would prevent the bill from coming to a vote unless senators voted to invoke “cloture,” a process that limits consideration of a pending bill to 30 additional hours. Today, cloture requires 60 votes.

The filibuster was rarely used before about 1960; in the early twentieth century, southern senators used it primarily to stop civil rights legislation. But as the volume of business in the Senate raised the need to streamline debate, the Senate reformed the filibuster so that a senator could simply threaten a filibuster to kill a bill.

Our current Republican lawmakers use these “holds” to kill any measure that cannot muster 60 votes, effectively turning the Senate into a body that requires not a majority to pass legislation, but rather a supermajority. Those who defend the filibuster argue that this supermajority requirement will make senators create bills that are bipartisan, but in fact it has meant that a small minority controls the Senate.

So Democrats will have to pass the American Rescue Plan through a procedure known as “reconciliation,” which enables certain budget bills to pass with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes currently necessary for a regular bill. But the Senate can only pass three bills a year through this process, and there are strict limits to what can be in them. The Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan judge of the procedural rules of the Senate, has decided that the $15-an-hour federal minimum wage in the current bill does not meet the requirements of reconciliation. Fifty-nine percent of Americans like the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, as the bill sets out, but the hike cannot be included in the convoluted process necessary to get the bill through without the supermajority the current filibuster system requires.

Senate leadership can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2021 at 9:13 pm

The fatal flaw of original intent

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2021 at 5:44 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Memes, Politics

The next time you have breakfast in a restaurant that offers eggs any style, order this

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Narration is in French, so I turned on subtitles. As she notes, you can make it with fewer eggs (in which case a small skillet might be desirable).

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2021 at 2:17 pm

Polyphonic overtone singing

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A better explanation:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

The Harlem Globetrotters of piano quartets

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The video is via John Zech’s article in Your Classical, which begins:

How dare these women take such liberties with Vivaldi and other greats?! I’m shocked … SHOCKED I tell you!

In honesty, I’m quite impressed. The women of Salut Salon quartet — Angelika Bachmann (violin), Iris Siegfried (violin and vocals), Anne-Monika von Twardowski (piano) and Sonja Lena Schmid (cello) — combine virtuosity, acrobatics and a sense of fun in their performances. The result is surprising, enchanting and overall, entertaining.

According to their official bio, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2021 at 8:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Music

So: Soju

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Readers know that I’ve been watching various Korean series (Crash Landing on You, complete in 16 episodes; The Uncanny Counters ditto; both on Netflix), and as a result I’ve become increasingly curious about soju, a distilled spirit of relatively low proof — about 40 proof, or 20% alcohol (compare, say, a typical gin at 86 proof, 43% alcohol).

Soju is a neutral spirit distilled initially from fermented rice, but the leading brand now uses a mix of rice, barley, and tapioca. That leading brand is Jinro and their Classic Chamisul Soju has been their flagship product since 1924, and I just got a small bottle to try.

Jimro Classic Chamiusul soju has a pleasant, neutral taste. It’s very smooth, probably because it’s filtered through charcoal four times. I can see substituting it for gin or vodka in cocktails —to make a lower-proof Martini, for example. They also make a Fresh Chaimsul Soju, which I will also try at some point. Soju is often served chilled, though right now I’m trying it at room temperature.

Jinro soju has been the largest selling spirit in the world for more than a decade. Chum Churum is another big brand, also good (I read). Generally soju is served chilled (or in a cocktail), but it’s not bad at room temperature. Still, I put the rest of the bottle in the fridge.

More info here. It’s worth a try. I have also found several Korean restaurants here, which I’ll try once going to a restaurant is a thing again.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2021 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food

Intimations of Spring

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In front of my apartment building just now:

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2021 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

“Falsification” falsified: The abuses of Popper

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Charlotte Sleigh, professor of science humanities and honorary professor in history at the University of Kent, UK, has an interesting essay in Aeon, one that made me rethink the idea of falsifying hypotheses in the Popperian sense, though it obviouslly is still important to search for disconfirming evidence to test hypotheses, whether in marketing, science, or relationships. She writes:

If you ask philosophically minded researchers – in the Anglophone world at least – why it is that science works, they will almost always point to the philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) for vindication. Science, they explain, doesn’t presume to provide the final answer to any question, but contents itself with trying to disprove things. Science, so the Popperians claim, is an implacable machine for destroying falsehoods.

Popper spent his youth in Vienna, among the liberal intelligentsia. His father was a lawyer and bibliophile, and an intimate of Sigmund Freud’s sister Rosa Graf. Popper’s early vocations draw him to music, cabinet making and educational philosophy, but he earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Vienna in 1928. Realising that an academic post abroad offered escape from an increasingly antisemitic Austria (Popper’s grandparents were all Jewish, though he himself had been baptised into Lutheranism), he scrambled to write his first book. This was published as Logik der Forschung (1935), or The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and in it he put forward his method of falsification. The process of science, wrote Popper, was to conjecture a hypothesis and then attempt to falsify it. You must set up an experiment to try to prove your hypothesis wrong. If it is disproved, you must renounce it. Herein, said Popper, lies the great distinction between science and pseudoscience: the latter will try to protect itself from disproof by massaging its theory. But in science it is all or nothing, do or die.

Popper warned scientists that, while experimental testing might get you nearer and nearer to the truth of your hypothesis via corroboration, you cannot and must not ever proclaim yourself correct. The logic of induction means that you’ll never collect the infinite mass of evidence necessary to be certain in all possible cases, so it’s better to consider the body of scientific knowledge not so much true as not-yet-disproved, or provisionally true. With his book in hand, Popper obtained a university position in New Zealand. From afar, he watched the fall of Austria to Nazism, and commenced work on a more political book, The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). Shortly after the war, he moved to the UK, where he remained for the rest of his life.

For all its appealing simplicity, falsification was quickly demolished by philosophers, who showed that it was an untenable way of looking at science. In any real experimental set-up, they pointed out, it’s impossible to isolate a single hypothetical element for disproof. Yet for decades, Popperianism has nonetheless remained popular among scientists themselves, in spite of its potentially harmful side-effects. Why should this be?

If you ask philosophically minded researchers – in the Anglophone world at least – why it is that science works, they will almost always point to the philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) for vindication. Science, they explain, doesn’t presume to provide the final answer to any question, but contents itself with trying to disprove things. Science, so the Popperians claim, is an implacable machine for destroying falsehoods.

Popper spent his youth in Vienna, among the liberal intelligentsia. His father was a lawyer and bibliophile, and an intimate of Sigmund Freud’s sister Rosa Graf. Popper’s early vocations draw him to music, cabinet making and educational philosophy, but he earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Vienna in 1928. Realising that an academic post abroad offered escape from an increasingly antisemitic Austria (Popper’s grandparents were all Jewish, though he himself had been baptised into Lutheranism), he scrambled to write his first book. This was published as Logik der Forschung (1935), or The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and in it he put forward his method of falsification. The process of science, wrote Popper, was to conjecture a hypothesis and then attempt to falsify it. You must set up an experiment to try to prove your hypothesis wrong. If it is disproved, you must renounce it. Herein, said Popper, lies the great distinction between science and pseudoscience: the latter will try to protect itself from disproof by massaging its theory. But in science it is all or nothing, do or die.

Popper warned scientists that, while experimental testing might get you nearer and nearer to the truth of your hypothesis via corroboration, you cannot and must not ever proclaim yourself correct. The logic of induction means that you’ll never collect the infinite mass of evidence necessary to be certain in all possible cases, so it’s better to consider the body of scientific knowledge not so much true as not-yet-disproved, or provisionally true. With his book in hand, Popper obtained a university position in New Zealand. From afar, he watched the fall of Austria to Nazism, and commenced work on a more political book, The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). Shortly after the war, he moved to the UK, where he remained for the rest of his life.

For all its appealing simplicity, falsification was quickly demolished by philosophers, who showed that it was an untenable way of looking at science. In any real experimental set-up, they pointed out, it’s impossible to isolate a single hypothetical element for disproof. Yet for decades, Popperianism has nonetheless remained popular among scientists themselves, in spite of its potentially harmful side-effects. Why should this be?

It was a group of biologists that gave Popper his first scientific hearing. They met as the Theoretical Biology Club in the 1930s and ’40s, at the University of Oxford, at house parties in Surrey, and latterly in London too. Popper visited them both before and after the war, as they wrestled with evolutionary theory and with establishing connections between their different biological specialisms. During the prewar period in particular, evolutionary biology was – depending on one’s outlook – either excitingly complex or confusingly jumbled. Neat theories of Mendelian evolution, where discrete characteristics were inherited on the toss of a chromosomal coin, competed to explain evolution with arcane statistical descriptions of genetic qualities, continuously graded across populations. Meanwhile the club’s leading light, Joseph Henry Woodger, hoped for a philosophically tight way of clarifying the notoriously flaky biological concept of ‘organicism’. Perhaps Popper’s clarifying rigour could help to sort it all out.

It is a striking fact that Popper’s most vocal fans came from the biological and field sciences: John Eccles, the Australian neurophysiologist; Clarence Palmer, the New Zealand meteorologist; Geoffrey Leeper, an Australian soil scientist. Even Hermann Bondi, an Austrian-British physical scientist, who operated at the speculative end of cosmology. In other words, it was the scientists whose work could least easily be potted in an attempted laboratory disproof – Popper’s method – who turned to Popper for vindication. This is odd. Presumably, they hoped for some epistemological heft for their work. To take a wider angle on the mystery, we might note the ‘physics envy’ sometimes attributed to 20th-century field scientists: the comparative lack of respect they experienced in both scientific and public circles. Popper seemed to offer salvation to this particular ill.

Among the eager philosophical scientists of the Theoretical Biology Club was a young man named Peter Medawar. Shortly after the Second World War, Medawar was drafted into a lab researching tissue transplantation, where he began a Nobel-winning career in the biological sciences. In his several books for popular audiences, and in his BBC Reith lectures of 1959, he consistently credited Popper for the success of science, becoming the most prominent Popperian of all. (In turn, Richard Dawkins credited Medawar as ‘chief spokesman for “The Scientist” in the modern world’, and has spoken positively of falsifiability.) In Medawar’s radio lectures, Popper’s trademark ‘commonsense’ philosophy was very much on display, and he explained with great clarity how even hypotheses about the genetic future of mankind could be tested experimentally along Popperian lines. In 1976, Medawar secured Popper his most prestigious recognition yet: a fellowship, rare among non-scientists, at the scientific Royal Society of London.

While all this was going on, three philosophers were pulling the rug away beneath the Popperians’ feet. They argued that, when an experiment fails to prove a hypothesis, any element of the physical or theoretical set-up could be to blame. Nor can any single disproof ever count against a theory, since we can always put in a good-faith auxiliary hypothesis to protect it: perhaps the lab mice weren’t sufficiently inbred to produce genetic consistency; perhaps the chemical reaction occurs only in the presence of a particular catalyst. Moreover, we have to protect some theories for the sake of getting on at all. Generally, we don’t conclude that we have disproved well-established laws of physics – rather, that our experiment was faulty. And yet the Popperians were undaunted. What did they see in him?

The historian Neil Calver argued in 2013 that members of the Royal Society were swayed less by Popper’s epistemological rules for research than by his philosophical chic. During the 1960s, they had been pummelled by the ‘two cultures’ debate that cast them as jumped-up technicians in comparison with the esteemed makers of high culture. Philosophy was a good cultural weapon with which to respond, since it demonstrated affinity with the arts. In particular, Popper’s account of what came before falsification in research was a good defence of the ‘cultural’ qualities of science. He described this stage as ‘conjecture’, an act of imagination. Medawar and others made great play of this scientific creativity in order to sustain cultural kudos for their field. Their Popper was not the Popper of falsification at all, but another Popper of wishful interpretation.

Although important to its participants, the two cultures debate was a storm in an institutional teacup.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2021 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Philosophy, Science

No, the Tuskegee Study Is Not the Top Reason Some Black Americans Question the COVID-19 Vaccine`

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April Dembosky reports for KQED:

As more surveys come out showing that Black Americans are more hesitant than white Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine, more journalists, politicians and health officials — from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Dr. Anthony Fauci — are invoking the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study to explain why.

“It’s ‘Oh, Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee,’ and it’s mentioned every single time,” says Karen Lincoln, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California. “We make these assumptions that it’s Tuskegee. We don’t ask people.”

When she asks the Black seniors she works with in Los Angeles about the vaccine, Tuskegee rarely comes up. People in the community are more interested in talking about contemporary racism and barriers to health care, she says, while it seems to be mainly academics and officials who are preoccupied with the history of Tuskegee.

“It’s a scapegoat,” Lincoln says. “It’s an excuse. If you continue to use it as a way of explaining why many African Americans are hesitant, it almost absolves you of having to learn more, do more, involve other people – admit that racism is actually a thing today.”

It’s the health inequities of today that Maxine Toler, 72, hears about when she talks to her friends and neighbors in LA about the vaccine. Toler is president of her city’s senior advocacy council and her neighborhood block club. She and most of the other Black seniors she talks to want the vaccine, but are having trouble getting it, she says, and that alone is sowing mistrust.

Those who don’t want the vaccine have very modern reasons for not wanting it. They tell Toler it’s because of religious beliefs, safety concerns or distrust for the former U.S. president and his relationship to science. Only a handful mention Tuskegee, she says, and when they do, they’re fuzzy on the details of what happened during the 40-year study.

“If you ask them what was it about and why do you feel like it would impact your receiving the vaccine, they can’t even tell you,” she says.

Toler remembers, and says the history is a distraction; it’s not relevant to what’s happening now.

“It’s almost the opposite of Tuskegee,” she says. “Because  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2021 at 12:16 pm

Palmolive shave stick and Progress, with Barrister & Mann Fougère

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I should also mention the very nice little Vie-Long brush, which always does a great job. Following MR GLO and a partial rinse, I rubbed the Palmolive shave stick (which I identified by the green color — if I were marketing director, I think I would find a way to put the brand name on the stick — perhaps a pattern in the foil wrapping) all over my stubble. It’s a slightly soft soap so it rubbed off easily, and the Vie-Long then raised a bountiful lather.

Merkur’s Progress, an excellent adjustable, quickly delivered three good passes with no problems, and I finished with a small splash of the fragrant Fougère aftershave. [

The weekend awaits.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2021 at 10:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

A 1,000,000-lb weight, accurate to within 5 lbs.

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Why “No Problem” Can Seem Rude: Phatic Expressions

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

Incompetence and Doomsday

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A reader pointed out this piece by Claire Berlinski in a comment (thanks, Damon), and I’m glad he did. It begins:

That was an edifying spectacle in Iowa, wasn’t it. David French wrote something I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time. There has been a broad breakdown in competence in the United States. No one quite understands why. But as he points out, American history, roughly since the turn of the century, has been a history of staggering incompetence, as an exercise in counterfactual imagination suggests:

What are the ripple effects if Palm Beach County election officials designed a less-confusing ballot for the 2000 election? How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs? Or, if we still failed on that front, how is our nation different if military and civilian leaders had not made profound mistakes at the start of the Iraq occupation?

We can do this all day. Let’s suppose for a moment that industry experts were better able to gauge the risks of an expanding number of subprime mortgage loans. . Would we be more trusting of government if it could properly launch a health care website, the most public-facing aspect of the most significant social reform in a generation? How can we accurately judge foreign threats if ISIS is dubbed a “jayvee team” the very year that it explodes upon the world stage and creates the largest jihadist state in modern history?

The United States was once known for extraordinary competence. Consider the D-Day invasion, the Manhattan Project, the Berlin Airlift, the moon landing: In example after example, the United States government—not the private sector, note—mobilized vast talent to overcome historically unprecedented military, economic, technological, and governance challenges. So widely-known was our government for competence that to this day, we’re the object of conspiracy theories worldwide. Whatever we do, however dumb and cack-handed, is presumed to be deliberate, because so mighty a superpower as the United States could not possibly be capable of screwing up in such stupid ways. Just yesterday I was assured that the CIA had unleashed the Wuhan coronavirus—cui bono, after all? How could I be so naive as to think it a mere coincidence that the virus just spontaneously emerged near a virus research facility?

This kind of thinking owes much to the belief that the United States’ government is greatly more competent than it is. That belief, in turn, is a function of our competence of yore. Nothing we’ve done in this century would warrant it.

The loss of competence is bipartisan. The GOP is gloating over the Iowa meltdown. They would, but they shouldn’t. The worst American mistakes of this century were made under the GOP’s watch. I don’t think this is significant, though. They could just as easily have been made with Democrats in power. As usual, partisanship is preventing us from thinking about problems that are bipartisan, national, and systemic.

What exactly has gone wrong?

The Software of American Public Problem Solving

The historian Philip Zelikow wrote one of the best analyses of this problem I’ve read—the best, in fact—in a little-remarked essay for the Texas National Security Review. “The “hardware” of policymaking,” he writes, “—the tools and structures of government that frame the possibilities for useful work”—are obviously important:

Less obvious is that policy performance in practice often rests more on the “software” of public problem-solving: the way people size up problems, design actions, and implement policy. In other words, the quality of the policymaking.

“Software,” he argues, includes organizational cultures for obtaining and evaluating information, doing analysis, and recording what has been done. It includes commonly understood habits that routinely highlight gaps in information or analysis.

These are the qualities, he argues, that made for competent policy in the mid-twentieth century—and they neither came out of the academy nor did they return to the academy. Rather, they came from the strong, decentralized problem-solving culture of American business, and from the military—in turn influenced by British staffing systems, which Americans envied and imitated.

the wartime and immediate postwar experience profoundly influenced organizational culture for another generation or so. A great many Americans had been drawn into the work of higher-level policy design on numerous topics. “One analyst referred to [the war] as the largest program in postdoctoral education for faculty in the nation’s history.”

The military and business cultures of the United States in this period, he notes, “were intensely oriented toward practical problem-solving.”

They emphasized meticulous written staff work: unending flows of information and estimates, habitual preparation of meeting records or minutes, constant and focused debates about priorities and tradeoffs, and guidance directives drafted with concise precision that a lawyer would envy.

The result, especially by 1943 and afterward, was marked in dozens of projects from the atom bomb to the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift. Any close study of such efforts reveals superior construction of large-scale, complex multi-instrument policy packages, including frequent adjustments.

The point about constant adjustment and iteration is notable. Even in military technology, most of the key Allied innovations turned out to be second-generation innovations. In other words, they were not the airplanes or ships that were available or in production at the start of the war. Instead, they were new or improved models of every kind, several of which had not even been imagined before the war. They were developed with agility and on a massive scale by a number of agencies and scores of companies in response to ongoing lessons learned, lessons that were constantly, consciously being extracted and studied.

It is difficult for those who have not pored through the archives to appreciate the scale and scope of this work, ranging from economic statecraft to amphibious operations to science policy. The extraordinary sets of official history volumes from World War II, familiar to historians of the period, give a sense for the work. They are also a striking illustration of the organizational culture that would produce such meticulous and admirable historical analyses.

The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. [my emphasis]

Naturally, as that generation aged and died, these skills atrophied. That generation knew a great deal about making effective policy. They could not figure out how to teach it to the next generation. They failed to put into place an appropriate educational system for training an equally competent policy-making class.

This is a powerful explanation. It fits the facts. It makes intuitive sense.

It explains, too, something else that has always puzzled me. Whenever  . . .

Continue reading. Damon provided a separate link to the piece from which Berlinski quotes extensively: “To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving,” by Philip Zelikow in the Texas National Security Review. (One hopes that a number of people in Texas will pay attention to his article following the catastrophic failure of the Texas power grid from problems repeatedly pointed out to the utility companies, the Texas government, and ERCOT (Electric “Reliability” Council of Texas).

The piece is about incompetence in government, but the private sector has proved equally if not more incompetent and with less reason: the mania for cutting taxes (the government’s only source of operating funds) have left the government grievously underfunded to carry out its tasks and responsibilities, to the point where the USDA has asked meat producers to take over the inspection of meat (can anyone detect the conflict of interest there), the FAA had Boeing do its own inspections and review in aircraft construction (do you recall the 737 MAX disasters (plural)?), the FDA is having pharmaceutical companies inspect their own products, and the IRS is too short-staffed to do any complex audits, so tax cheating is probably endemic now among those whose returns are complex. (Simple tax returns, like those filed by the lower middle class, are easy to audit, so they continue to be audited.) Worse, because the IRS is short-staffed and underfunded, it no longer does random audits, which provide statistical knowledge of how much tax cheating is being done and by what means.

In private industry, we have seen General Motors fail at building and selling cars, Wall Street fail spectacularly, bringing down the national economy through subprime mortgages and credit default swaps (and suddenly seeing that government assistance is a good thing), Purdue Pharma wrecking lives across the country.

In the private sector the root cause seems to me to be hypercapitalism, in which the sole goal is to increase profits, which leads to cutting costs and cutting corners. The shoddy results inevitably inch toward failure. That is the attitude that destroyed the Texas power grid, and that is the attitude that slashes taxes to underfund government so government services suffer.

And the root of that is manic individualism, the idea that a person is independent of community and so long as s/he gets what s/he wants, the rest can go to hell. Until individuals regain a sense of being a part of a community — not just an interest group — I doubt the situation will improve.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 12:34 pm

How a ‘beginners’ mindset’ can help you learn anything

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David Robson writes for BBC:

Tom Vanderbilt’s fascination with the process of life-long learning began with his daughter’s hobbies: piano, soccer, Tae Kwon Do. He wanted to encourage her new pursuits, and accompanied her to the lessons or tournaments. As she exercised her mind, he would answer emails, play with his phone or stare into space until his daughter had finished.

He soon recognised the hypocrisy of the situation. “I was impressing upon her the importance of having a broad education in all these different skills,” he says. “But she might have easily asked me, ‘Well, why don’t you do all these things then?’”

Starting with chess lessons, he decided to spend a year pursuing a range of new skills himself. He learnt to sing, draw, juggle and surf. At no point did he hope to fully master the abilities or to show off his prowess with an extraordinary feat, such as winning American Idol.

“As adults, we instantly put pressure on ourselves with goals,” he says. “We feel like we don’t have the luxury to engage in learning for learning’s sake.” Instead, he wanted to revel in the pleasure of the process.  [I generally do have a modest goal — e.g.,  to be the best on the block at doing x. – LG]

Vanderbilt details his journey in his January 2021 book Beginners, which combines his own personal revelations with the cutting-edge science of skill acquisition. Keen to find out more, we discussed the myths of adult learning, and the substantial benefits that the “beginner’s mindset” can bring to our lives.

How to learn well

Beginning the project in his late 40s, Vanderbilt knew that he would struggle to match the learning abilities of children like his daughter. Children are especially good at picking up patterns implicitly – understanding that certain actions will lead to certain kinds of events, without any explanation or description of what they are doing. After the age of 12, however, we lose some of that capacity to absorb new information.

We shouldn’t be too pessimistic about our own abilities, though. While adults may not absorb new skills as readily as a child, we still have “neuroplasticity” – the ability for the brain to rewire itself in response to new challenges. In his year of learning, Vanderbilt met many people, long past middle age, who were still exercising that “superpower”.

What’s more, Vanderbilt’s research revealed some basic principles of good learning that anyone can use to make our learning more effective. The first may seem obvious but is easily forgotten: we need to learn from our mistakes. So, rather than just mindlessly repeating the same actions over and over, we need to be more focused and analytical, thinking about what we did right and what we did wrong. (Psychologists call this “deliberate practice”.) Vanderbilt noted this with chess playing. You could put in the hours with hundreds of online games, but that was not going to be as effective as studying the strategies of professionals or discussing the reasons for your losses with a chess teacher.

A second principle is more counter-intuitive: we need to make sure that our practice is varied. When juggling, for example, it helped to switch the objects, or to change how high you throw them; he tried it sitting down, and while walking. As one scientist told Vanderbilt, this is “repetition without repetition” and it forces the brain’s learned patterns to become more flexible, allowing you to cope with the unpredictable difficulties – such as a mistake in one of your earlier movements that could lead you to lose control.

Even more intriguingly, Vanderbilt discovered that we often learn best when we know that we will have to teach others the same skill. It’s not clear why this is, but that expectation seems to increase people’s interest and curiosity, which primes the brain’s attention and helps ensure that it lays down stronger memory traces. (Vanderbilt had lots of opportunities to teach what he had learnt, since he often included his daughter in his projects.) So, whatever you are personally trying to master, consider sharing that skill with someone you know. And while you may find it helpful to observe true experts executing a skill, Vanderbilt found that it can also be useful to watch other novices, since you can more easily analyse what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.

With this knowledge, Vanderbilt made good progress with each of the skills that he set out to learn. Singing, he says,

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

At the end are the credits:

Tom Vanderbilt’s book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning (Atlantic Books/Knopf) was published in January. 

David Robson is the is author of The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton) – out now in paperback. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 11:57 am

Mennen and Southern Witchcrafts, with that wonderful Fendrihan Mk II razor

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A highly satisfactory shave is for me the best way to start the day, and today’s shave delivered, without a doubt. After washing my stubble with MR GLO, I rubbed the Mennen shave stick against the grain over my beard. As you can see in the photo, it is somewhat dried, but I encountered no problems at all. I easily transferred an ample amount of soap from stick to stubble, and then with the WSP Prince, created a very nice lather, working in small amounts of water to get the consistency I wanted. This stick has a very mild fragrance — clean, but barely present.

Fendrihan’s Mk II is a first rate stainless-steel razor. The one I have is the limited addition in bronze, available now again. (It’s also available in plain stainless steel, but that one’s currently sold out.) I like this razor a lot.

Three passes and I applied Southern Witchcrafts Valley of Ashes aftershave, a limited edition made for r/wetshaving. It’s an aftershave milk rather than a splash. It’s interesting in part because the ingredients listed on the label don’t match the ingredients in the catalog description. My guess is that the catalog description is the right one, based on the white color and feel of the milk:

Scent notes: Coal, Tar, Bourbon, Tobacco, Bitter Citrus, Smoke, Leather, Motor Oil, Burning Rubber, Diesel, Clove, Birch Tar, Bergamot

Ingredients: Water, stearic acid, shea butter, castor oil, potassium hydroxide, glycerine, coconut oil, sodium lactate, sodium hydroxide, jojoba oil, aloe powder, liquid aloe, isopropyl myristate, kaolin clay, fragrance

The fragrance is unusual and much more pleasant than the scent notes suggest.

And now it’s Friday and sunny and altogether a pleasant day. I liked this ratatouille variant so much I’m making it again today. It will serve as Other Vegetable. For Greens I currently have some gai pan mue, but I’m cooking a batch of tung ho today as well. This time I have black quinoa for Grain and black beans for Beans/Lentils. I got more walnuts for Nuts/Seeds (along with flaxseed daily, of course). Lately I’ve been eating the 3 pieces of fruit as breakfast — a tangerine, an apple, and a pear — and then have lunch (around 1:00) and dinner (around 5:00).

 

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

AI-generated video script ideas — some of which are good

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Software, Technology, Video

In the US it’s okay to kill journalism if you can make money from it.

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An email from The Intercept:

The journalism industry just received another body blow, and this one is devastating.

A vulture hedge fund that’s been called the “grim reaper of American newspapers” just bought Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, and six other major U.S. dailies.

Everyone knows what’s coming next. When Alden Global Capital bought the Denver Post in 2018, they canned one-third of the newsroom on day one. Regional newspapers in Northern California saw 850 out of 1,000 reporting jobs eliminated. As Vanity Fair put it, the “hedge fund vampire that bleeds newspapers dry now has the Chicago Tribune by the throat.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Is the GOP an Authoritarian Party?

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Michael A. Cohen (the journalist, not the lawyer) writes at Truth and Consequences:

In 2018, two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt published a book titled “How Democracies Die.” The two authors examined how democracies have historically fallen victim to the pull of authoritarianism. They argue that the process does not usually occur via a military coup but rather through the ballot box and the gradual erosion of political norms and capture of democratic institutions by would-be autocrats.

Levitsky and Ziblatt lay out four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior, as documented below:

The authors, whose book was published in early 2018, conclude that Donald Trump had demonstrated all four types of behavior. He refused to accept credible electoral results; described partisan rivals as criminals; endorsed violence by his supporters; and recommended restrictions on civil liberties, threatened media organizations and praised repressive measures in other countries.

In the three years since the book appeared, Trump exhibited even more antidemocratic behavior. But looking at this chart again raises a more pressing question: has the Republican Party become an authoritarian political party? Let’s take a look at this one by one (I’ve added in italics all the questions asked by Levitsky and Ziblatt that could be answered yes).

“Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.”

  • “Do they reject the Constitution or express a willingness to violate it?

  • “Do they suggest a need for antidemocratic measures, such as canceling elections, violating or suspending the Constitution, banning certain organizations, or restricting basic civil or political rights?”

  • “Do they attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections, for example, by refusing to accept credible electoral results?”

On Jan. 6, 139 House Republicans and 8 Republican senators voted to reject certified – and credible – election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. That is 65.8 percent of the GOP caucus in the House and 16 percent of Senate Republicans. Over the weekend, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is the number two ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden had legitimately won the 2020 election.

It’s essential to recognize that this is a shift in Republican behavior. While Trump consistently lied about the 2016 election, claiming, for example, that there had been massive fraud and he had actually won the popular vote, other Republican leaders largely rejected or refused to endorse Trump’s argument. In 2020, while they didn’t go as far as Trump did in trying to steal the election, their refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory and votes against certification represented an unambiguous effort to delegitimize an electoral result. The trend seems to be picking up steam among down-ballot Republicans. This past week, former Senator David Perdue of Georgia announced that he would not be running for his seat again, but in his statement suggested that he had lost because of “illegal votes,” which is a completely false assertion.

On the question of antidemocratic measures that seek to restrict basic civil or political rights, Republicans have engaged in a feeding frenzy since the 2020 election.

  • According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks anti-voting measures, “thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year.”

  • In Georgia, Republicans have proposed “tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting.” The legislation would create a new photo ID requirement for absentee ballots, shrink the window in which one can request a ballot, limit the use of drop-boxes, and prevent early voting on Sunday, which has traditionally been when many Black voters go to the polls.

  • In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has put his support behind legislation that would enact a “slate of new voting restrictions that would make it more difficult for voters to receive and return mail-in ballots in future Florida elections.”

  • In Arizona, GOP state legislators are pushing a bill requiring absentee ballots to be notarized, putting in place tougher voted ID requirements, and eliminating no-excuse absentee voting. Similar legislation has been introduced in Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.

  • In Iowa, legislation has been proposed to cut mail-in and in-person early voting from 28 to 19 days and prohibit absentee ballot request forms from being sent to eligible voters.

  • South Carolina Republicans would make it harder to satisfy witness requirements for absentee ballots and impose a signature matching requirement. This measure has already been rejected by a federal court.

Republicans have, of course, been doing this for years. But the 165 bills imposing greater voting restrictions is more than a fourfold increase from a year ago – and appears to be a direct response to the party’s failure to hold the presidency in the 2020 election. This represents an ongoing effort to restrict basic civil and political rights.

“Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.”

  • “Do they claim that their rivals constitute an existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life?

  • Do they baselessly describe their partisan rivals as criminals, whose supposed violation of the law (or potential to do so) disqualifies them from full participation in the political arena?”

During his Jan. 6 speech that incited the Capitol riot, Trump told his supporters to “fight like hell, or you won’t have a country anymore.” In the past, he has referred to Democrats as “treasonous,” “anti-American,” and “enemies.” The implicit message is that turning the country over to Democrats would, in effect, destroy America, i.e., constitute an existential threat.

It’s a notion that Republicans have taken to heart. According to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth pondering — are we witnessing the end of US democracy?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 10:39 am

Metalanguage in cultural communication

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The table above shows that knowing the meaning of a language’s words is just the first rung in being able to communicate with a speaker of the language. One must also know the meaning of phrases, and that (culturally determined) meaning may not agree with the meanings of the words — indeed, the phrase may have a meaning that flatly contradicts the meaning constructed by considering the words alone.

Kai Hammerich writes about this in Quartz:

There are times in business when we disagree but expressing disagreement comes more easily to some cultures than to others.

Germans disagree openly, considering it to be the most honest way. Americans and Finns are also admirably frank and direct. French people disagree openly, but politely. In the East Asian cultures, open disagreement is taboo—indeed most Asians are nervous about it. British people also dislike open conflict and use various instances of coded speech to soften their opposition in conversation.

The examples below indicate how ways of expressing disagreement may be affected by Swedish love of consensus, Chinese fondness for ambiguity, Italian indirectness, Japanese concern about loss of face, American cynicism, Swiss correctness, Filipino deference to superiors, Brazilian cheerfulness, and Finnish humorous reticence.

• I don’t agree (German)
• I’m afraid I don’t share your opinion (French)
• I agree, up to a point (British)
• Let’s agree to disagree (British)
• We agree (Japanese)
• We agree if all of us agree (Swedish)
• We agree and disagree at the same time (Chinese)
• Have another cup of coffee (Finnish)
• I agree with you, but I don’t think my board of directors will (Swiss)
• You gotta be kidding (US)
• You are the boss (Filipino)
• I suppose anything’s possible (Brazilian)
• Let’s go and have a Campari and talk about it tomorrow (Italian)

If your aim is to further your own business interests, then a good staring point is to try to view the situation from the other person’s cultural perspective. This will help you to understand and connect with other cultures on their terms. Through this you may find that it will be much easier to find common ground and create win-win situations.

Every culture believes it defines normality, and thus, viewing yourself through their lens is both respectful and often illuminating. However, this does not mean that

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 10:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Memes

Simulating alternate voting systems

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I just stumbled across a very interesting channel on YouTube: Primer. In particular, take a look at the 7 brief videos in the Evolution series.

But for an example, here’s a standalone video on voting systems.

As a point of interest, Wikipedia notes:

Ranked-choice voting is used for state primary, congressional, and presidential elections in Alaska and Maine and for local elections in more than 20 US cities including Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; Oakland, California; Berkeley, California; San Leandro, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Portland, Maine; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and St. Louis Park, Minnesota.[1] New York City is by far the largest voting population in the US that has opted for RCV, pending implementation in 2021.[2] RCV is commonly used for student leadership and other non-governmental elections.[1] It was used by all voters in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[3]

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Election, Math, Video

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