Later On

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

Archive for February 15th, 2021

Remembering Jeremy Heywood, the civil servant who ran Britain

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Tim Adams has a fascinating article in the Guardian. It begins:

Proverbial wisdom insists that no one gets to their final hours wishing they had spent more time in the office. By the account of Suzanne Heywood, however, her husband, Jeremy, would have politely begged to differ. As she writes in her memoir of his extraordinary career, the man who “ran Britain” – and who helped save it once or twice from catastrophe – was still sending emails, making calls right up to the last days of a life cut tragically short at 56. When his inoperable lung cancer spread to his liver, Suzanne half-suggested they took their remaining time together off to go travelling. She knew him much better than to imagine he would say yes.

Instead, they spent a good deal of those precious last months documenting Heywood’s 30 years at the heart of government – in the period roughly from Yes Minister to The Thick of It. As a young Treasury prodigy Jeremy Heywood had helped steer the Major government through Black Wednesday and the ERM crisis; as the wisest of old heads he had tried to help Theresa May firefight her way to Brexit. In between times he had been private secretary to Tony Blair; head of domestic policy for Gordon Brown, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service for David Cameron. Suzanne Heywood calls her book What Does Jeremy Think?, a phrase that was never far from the lips of anyone in government in all of that time.

The book is, in some ways, an alternative volume to that other political wife’s tale published last year: Sasha Swire’s breathless diary of the Cameron years. If Swire’s memoirs gave an insight into politics as we might imagine it to be – jealousies and egos and insider intimacies – Heywood’s gives an insight into the business of government from underneath the bonnet in Whitehall: mainly, one never-ending crisis meeting punctuated by elections and action plans and infrequent breaks for lunch. Over 30 years Heywood incrementally made himself the master of this realm, the vital link between political promises and pragmatism, understanding exactly what could be done and how best to do it, and holding much of that knowledge in his head. . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 5:02 pm

Matt Yglesias has an interesting column in defense of writing on controversial topics

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I had read the NY Times article Yglesias references, but knew little more, so his column was quite enlightening to me. He writes:

Some time ago, Scott Alexander, the pseudonymous author of the Slate Star Codex blog, announced that he was abandoning his site. The reason was that a New York Times reporter had been in touch with him explaining that he was doing a profile of the blog, and in the course of writing it he was compelled by some NYT policy to disclose Alexander’s real name.

Alexander is a practicing psychiatrist and felt that for reasons of professional ethics, this would jeopardize his job — so he shut the blog down in a rather dramatic fashion. This, in turn, led to a lot of condemnatory rhetoric from his fans and admirers, many of whom work in the technology industry and had a set of preexisting grievances with what they call “the media” and what I would call “the technology coverage of a half dozen outlets, notably including The New York Times.” Much of the ensuing rhetoric from the pro-SSC camp (though not from Alexander, who if anything is even-tempered to a fault in his public persona) struck me as overheated, but I was sad it had driven Alexander from the internet.

The good news is that he has since resurfaced on Substack at Astral Codex Ten. He also has a new job as the founder of Lorien Psychiatry, an innovative effort to use telemedicine to make psychiatric treatment much more affordable.

Then, on Saturday, Cade Metz’s NYT article about SSC finally dropped. And it’s terrible. (Read Alexander’s post about it, though I think he has too much of a conspiratorial view of this.1)

I tend to think that too much time and mental energy is expended, including by me, on critiquing bad articles, and not enough time and energy is spent on praising good ones. So I feel kind of bad about writing a detailed criticism of a single bad article. But, given the larger context in which this story appeared, my sense is it’s going to become a flashpoint for a whole bunch of interesting struggles, so I think it’s useful and informative to say what I think.

A tortured premise

On its face, the idea of profiling an obscure blog written by a pseudonymous psychiatrist that has a surprisingly high-clout readership is perfectly good. Alexander’s readers include many Silicon Valley people, including — as Metz details — some very high-ranking executives. It’s an interesting story.

But I think Metz kind of misses what’s interesting about it from the get-go.

  • Ross Douthat reads SSC, and so does Ezra Klein.
  • David Brooks has quoted him in The New York Times.
  • Tyler Cowen praises SSC and the larger “rationalist community” that it was a flagship publication of, but also critiques them, saying “I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community.”

As you’ll see in Metz’s story, the Vox writer Kelsey Piper is an SSC reader and a rationalist. But she works primarily for Vox’s Future Perfect vertical, which is a whole rationalist-inspired cornucopia of content.

In other words, this is an intellectual movement that’s somewhat influential in highbrow circles broadly, and that deserves to be situated as such. Well-known books like Toby Ord’s “The Precipice” and Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” are important parts of the rationalist firmament. There’s also Julia Galef’s excellent podcast “Rationally Speaking” on which you can hear me yacking.

There’s a lot more going on than “some tech executives read this blog,” in other words.

But Metz does not seem interested in actually exploring rationalist ideas or understanding their content or the scope of their influence. Instead, the article is structured as a kind of syllogism:

  • Scott Alexander’s blog is popular with some influential Silicon Valley people.
  • Scott Alexander has done posts that espouse views on race or gender that progressives disapprove of.
  • Therefore, Silicon Valley is a hotbed of racism and sexism.

One time years ago, I went to Silicon Valley for a few days. As a white guy, I would not be well-situated to assess the extent to which it’s a hotbed of racism and sexism anyway, so I won’t comment on the conclusion. But the logic is specious, and the whole thing is an incredible missed opportunity to help people understand some valuable and interesting ideas.

Rationalism as I understand it

When I first heard about rationalists I was intensely confused, because in college I took a few different classes that involved reading “rationalist” philosophers from the Early Modern period, and contemporary rationalists’ ideas are totally unlike early modern philosophical rationalists’ ideas.2 I should also note that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 3:57 pm

Dante: Our Medieval Contemporary

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Michael Glover writes at Hyperallergic:

Want a sure bet this year? Here’s one. That a medieval Florentine poet called Dante Alighieri (born 1265) will be news that stays news throughout 2021. Thanks to the sheer staying power of a great poem in three parts called The Divine Comedy, which he wrote in exile in the last years of his life, we will be commemorating the 700th anniversary of his death.

And this is in spite of the fact that so much about this work seems to work against him: a cosmology, a teleology, and an intricate belief system that, at first glance, seem as remote from us as the outer limits of our very own galaxy.

And yet Dante the Florentine is still present with us, this poet who has been translated again and again and again. Why?

Consider the storyline. The poem is a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Each of its three books consists of 33 cantos. An introductory canto to the entire work brings the whole up to exactly 100. The poem abounds in intricate examples of such orderliness and symmetry.

Dante is at the fiery center of the work from first to last. It is he who tells its story; it is he who dramatizes and reflects, often quite obsessively, upon his own predicament as a lost pilgrim exactly halfway through his life, who, having gone astray in a dark wood, is seeking guidance. The poem’s time-frame is three days: from Good Friday to Easter Sunday of the year 1300.

Luckily, the ombra (“shade” in Italian, i.e., ghost or soul) of a second poet comes to his aid, the Imperial Roman maestro Virgil. Dante is in awe of Virgil, whose great work, The Aeneid, Dante has studied intimately. Virgil accompanies Dante on his journey down through the nine circles of Hell, where they witness the sufferings of different categories of sinner. He stiffens Dante’s resolve, chides him for his fears, gives him courage, backbone, hope.

The lower the circle, the greater the suffering. The final circle, the ninth, is the miserable domain of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 2:52 pm

A cogent rebuttal to a comment by Joni Mitchell

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Joni Mitchell made a comment in 2004 that has recently become popular — or, as people now say, gone viral:

I heard someone from the music business saying they are no longer looking for talent, they want people with a certain look at a willingness to cooperate. I thought, that’s interesting, because I believe a total unwillingness to co-operate is what is necessary to be an artist – not for perverse reasons, but to protect your vision. The considerations of a corporation, especially now, have nothing to do with art or music, that’s why I spend my time now painting

Steve Lawson has 14 questions about that quotation. From his post:

1) Who was this ‘someone from the music business’ and which bit of the music business were they in? Why is this one unnamed person’s pretty gruesomely commercial focus being held up as a template for understanding the motivations and behaviour of everyone in ‘the music business’?

2) What the hell is ‘the music business’. I’m in the music business, clearly this person’s thoughts don’t reflect on me… were they in publishing? Sync? A&R? Running a label? A sub-label? The ‘music business’ is gargantuan – finding a person with really terrible opinions within its bounds has never been hard.

3) For every renegade artist through the history of music, I’ll show you a thousand successful and often brilliant artists how had a certain look and were willing to co-operate. Frank Zappa was a total one off. Find me the label that launched 500 Frank Zappas and we can have a talk about Zappaism as a business model.

4) I adore Joni’s music – Hejira is my favourite record of all time, and she’s easily in the top 10 or so most significant musicians of the last 100 years, but when she was signed, she was a beautiful young acoustic guitar playing singer-songwriter in the golden age of acoustic singer/songwriters. She didn’t need to co-operate, she was exactly what they were looking for. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was what she could do after a decade as a global icon, not the demo that got her signed in the first place.

5) Why are co-operation and artistic vision contradictory? . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Music

This town of 170,000 replaced some cops with medics and mental health workers. It’s worked for over 30 years.

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The question that immediately came to mind: Given that it worked, why has the approach not been widely replicated over that 30-year period? What are the barriers to learning? It’s a good model and a successful model, but people did not learn from it. Resistance to learning strikes me as a serious problem, one for which solutions should be found — and quickly.

Update: Resistance to change is an old problem. An example: After it was discovered that patients did much better after surgery (that is, they did not sicken and die nearly so often) when the surgeon washed his hands before performing surgery, the practice did not become common until an entire generation of surgeons of non-hand-washing surgeons had been replaced by a new generation for whom washing hands before surgery was normal. /update

Scottie Andrew reports for CNN:

Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn’t necessarily require police intervention.

In the town of 172,000, they were the first responders for mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide — the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent.

Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.

CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the US criminal justice system — pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.

Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. CAHOOTS wouldn’t work everywhere, at least not in the form it exists in in Eugene.

But it’s a template for what it’s like to live in a city with limited police.

It’s centered on a holistic approach

CAHOOTS comes from White Bird Clinic, a social services center that’s operated in Eugene since the late 1960s. It was the brainchild of some counterculture activists who’d felt the hole where a community health center should be. And in 1989, after 20 years of earning the community’s trust, CAHOOTS was created.

“CAHOOTS” stands for “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets” and cheekily refers to the relationship between the community health center that started it and the Eugene Police Department.

Most of the clients White Bird assisted — unsheltered people or those with mental health issues — didn’t respond well to police. And for the many more people they hadn’t yet helped, they wanted to make their services mobile, said David Zeiss, the program’s co-founder.

“We knew that we were good at it,” he said. “And we knew it was something of value to a lot of people … we needed to be known and used by other agencies that commonly encounter crisis situation.”

It works this way: 911 dispatchers filter calls they receive — if they’re violent or criminal, they’re sent to police. If they’re within CAHOOTS’ purview, the van-bound staff will take the call. They prep what equipment they’ll need, drive to the scene and go from there.

The program started small, with a van Zeiss called a “junker,” some passionate paraprofessionals and just enough funding to staff CAHOOTS 40 hours a week.

It always paired one medic, usually a nurse or EMT, with a crisis responder trained in behavioral health. That holistic approach is core to its model.

Per self-reported data, CAHOOTS workers responded to 24,000 calls in 2019 — about 20% of total dispatches. About 150 of those required police backup.

CAHOOTS says the program saves the city about $8.5 million in public safety costs every year, plus another $14 million in ambulance trips and ER costs.

It had to overcome mutual mistrust with police

White Bird’s counterculture roots ran deep — the clinic used to fundraise at Grateful Dead concerts in the West, where volunteer medics would treat Deadheads — so the pairing between police and the clinic wasn’t an immediately fruitful one.

There was “mutual mistrust” between them, said Zeiss, who retired in 2014.

“It’s true there was a tendency to be mistrustful of the police in our agency and our culture,” he said. “It was an obstacle we had to overcome.”

And for the most part, both groups have: Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner called theirs a “symbiotic relationship” that better serves some residents of Eugene.

“When they show up, they have better success than police officers do,” he said. “We’re wearing a uniform, a gun, a badge — it feels very demonstrative for someone in crisis.”

It seeks to overturn a disturbing statistic

And a great many people in Eugene are in crisis. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Most of CAHOOTS’ clients are homeless, and just under a third of them have severe mental illnesses. It’s a weight off the shoulders of police, Skinner said.

“I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-base for everything our community and society needs,” Skinner said. “We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioral health — all those things we tend to lump on the plate of law enforcement.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 1:17 pm

Pigs can play — and seem to enjoy — joystick-operated video games

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Candace C. Croney and Sarah T. Boysen have an interesting paper in Frontiers in Psychology. It begins:

The ability of two Panepinto micro pigs and two Yorkshire pigs (Sus scrofa) to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task was investigated. Subjects were trained to manipulate a joystick that controlled movement of a cursor displayed on a computer monitor. The pigs were required to move the cursor to make contact with three-, two-, or one-walled targets randomly allocated for position on the monitor, and a reward was provided if the cursor collided with a target. The video-task acquisition required conceptual understanding of the task, as well as skilled motor performance. Terminal performance revealed that all pigs were significantly above chance on first attempts to contact one-walled targets (p < 0.05). These results indicate that despite dexterity and visual constraints, pigs have the capacity to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task. Limitations in the joystick methodology suggest that future studies of the cognitive capacities of pigs and other domestic species may benefit from the use of touchscreens or other advanced computer-interfaced technology.

Introduction

Cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, and conceptualization permit animals to demonstrate adaptive behavior in complex, dynamic environments (Wasserman, 1993). These processes have been investigated in laboratory animal species, including non-human primates, rats, and pigeons, among other species, but have yet to be fully explored in farm animals (Curtis and Stricklin, 1991Duncan and Petherick, 1991). Over the past 2 decades, however, investigations of farm animal cognition have significantly increased, in part because of their implications for ethical obligations toward them, as well as for decisions relating to their production, care, and management (Croney et al., 2004Mendl and Paul, 2004Birch, 2018Franks, 2018Nawroth et al., 2019). Much of the existing literature on farm animal cognition has focused on the abilities of pigs ( Sus scrofa ; for reviews, see Held et al., 2002Gieling et al., 2011Marino and Colvin, 2015), although emerging studies have been conducted recently with horses (e.g., Brubaker and Udell, 2016), goats (Briefer et al., 2014), and sheep (Kendrick et al., 2001Doyle et al., 2013McBride and Morton, 2018).

Very early studies conducted by Yerkes and Coburn (1915) gave some indication of the pig’s capacity for complex learning. They found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Games, Psychology, Science

Wow! What a great shave! With Grooming Dept’s Moisturizing Preshave and Mumtaz shaving soap, aided by the vintage Merkur bakelite slant and a two-day stubble

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I won’t be able to stop feeling my face this morning. What a great shave! — both experience and result. Partly that’s because of my usual Monday practice — using a slant razor on a two-day stubble — but today was a step up because of the products used to prepare for the shave. Grooming Dept kindly sent me, on his own initiative, free samples of his Moisturizing Pre-shave Chamomile and Lemon and his Mumtaz shaving soap, which uses his Kairos formula (described below).

Pre-shave first, natch

The Chamomile and Lemon Moisturizing Pre-shave is sold out, but there are others. This one has these ingredients:

Aloe Vera Juice, Shea Butter, Safflower Oil, Stearic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Flaxseed Oil, Sorbitol, Propanediol, Avocado Oil, Sunflower Lecithin, Grapeseed Oil, Allantoin, Methyl Gluceth-20, Castor Oil, Glucomannan (Konjac root), Jojoba Oil, Panthenol, Tocopherols, Carnauba Wax, and Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Chamomile Oil, Lemon Oil.

The instructions are clear, and I followed them dutifully. A pea-sized amount is plenty, since it spreads easily as you massage it into the damp stubble. I did spend about a minute and a half massaging it in because it felt good and the fragrance is soothing. (I listened to my Sonicare toothbrush, which sounds 30-second intervals, to measure the time spent.)

I’m sure my technique will improve with practice, but I did indeed note a positive difference. And I definitely will be using this again. MR GLO can take a break.

Then the lather

It was easy to load the brush with Mumtaz. I did need to add just a speck of water during loading, and as the preshave instructions suggested, I also needed to add a very small amount of water as I worked up the lather on my face. West Coast Shaving currently has Mumtaz in stock (along with other Grooming Dept soaps — note that the link shows only the first page), and I’ll quote the WCS description:

• Traditional, lathering shaving soap
• Tallow-based with lanolin
• Scented with a complex aroma of citrus, jasmine, rose, incense, vanilla, civet, tonka bean, cedarwood, patchouli, and more. 

Grooming Dept is all about innovation with his unique ingredients and great scents. Mohammad is crafting his soap from the Bay Area but he has a loyal following around the globe.

Kairos is one of his newer soap bases. It has a tallow-recipe that includes lanolin, but that isn’t all. This soap is loaded with nourishing ingredients. Kokum butter, castor oil, avocado oil, glycerin, coconut milk, shea butter, and colloidal oatmeal are some familiar names, but they are accompanied by tucuma butter, cupuaçu butter, rice bran wax, collagen peptides, and more.

Mumtaz is scented with a spicy, musky, oriental aroma. Citrus notes of bergamot, lemon, mandarin, and orange blend with floral notes of jasmine and rose. Incense, vanilla, opoponax, civet, tonka bean, cedarwood, Iris continue the complex olfactory delight. Then a base of patchouli, vetiver, leather, musk, and sandalwood round out the fragrance.

The detailed ingredients list for the soap:

Water, Stearic Acid, Beef Tallow, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Kokum Butter, Castor Oil, Tucuma Butter, Avocado Oil, Glycerin, Coconut Milk, Goat Milk, Cupuacu Butter, Shea Butter, Safflower Oil, Collagen Peptides, Whey Protein, Betaine, Fragrance, Lauryl Laurate, Jojoba Oil, Lanolin, Colloidal Oatmeal, Rice Bran Wax, Meadowfoam Oil, Linoleic Acid, Ethylhexyl Olivate, Hydrogenated Olive Oil, Isostearic Acid, Allantoin, Sodium Lactate, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Gluconate, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Tocopherols, Silk Peptides.

And the shave was perfect

I did the usual three passes, and I noticed that the glide seemed better with the prep I had done. The Merkur vintage slant is excellent, and today I thoroughly enjoyed using it with this new prep. No problems and a totally smooth finish, with my skin feeling refreshed, soft, and happy.

A splash of Tabac and the week begins on a very positive note. If you are considering adding to your shaving armamentarium, I highly recommend Grooming Dept’s Moisturizing Pre-shave and at least one of the Grooming Dept shaving soaps. The Kairos formula is excellent, but I also really liked the Nai soap and the Mallard soap (formulae list here).

It’s good to start the week with something new that’s also nice.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 10:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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