Later On

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

Archive for February 25th, 2021

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

Texas Is a Rich State in a Rich Country, and Look What Happened

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We didn’t realize until now that the basic infrastructure of our civilization is fragile. Everything depends now on electricity, and we have not built robust systems to deliver electricity. But that is far from the only infrastructure weakness we accept — it’s just the one that Texas brought to our attention. Ezra Klein writes in the NY Times, and note the sentence I’ve highlighted:

A few months back, because I really know how to live, I spent a night reading “The Green Swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change.” The report, released in January 2020 by the Bank for International Settlements, argued that central banks, concerned as they are with the stability of prices and financial systems, were negligent if they ignored climate change. The economies we know are inseparable from the long climatic peace in which they were built. But that peace is ending. There are no stable prices in a burning world.

This is one of those papers where the measured language preferred by technocrats strains against the horrors they are trying to describe. What emerges is almost an apocalyptic form of poetry. One line, in particular, has rung in my head for months. “Climate-related risks will remain largely unhedgeable as long as systemwide action is not undertaken.” If you know anything about financial regulators, you know the word “unhedgeable” is an alarm bell shrieking into the night. Financial systems are built to hedge risk. When a global risk is unhedgeable, the danger it poses is existential.

The point of the report is simply this: The world’s economic systems teeter atop “backward-looking risk assessment models that merely extrapolate historical trends.” But the future will not be like the past. Our models are degrading by the day, and we don’t understand — we don’t want to understand — how much in society could topple when they fail, and how much suffering that could bring. One place to start is by recognizing how fragile the basic infrastructure of civilization is even now, in this climate, in rich countries.

Which brings me to Texas. Two facts from that crisis have gotten less attention than they deserve. First, the cold in Texas was not a generational climatic disaster. The problem, as Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental analyst at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote in his newsletter, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ worst-case scenario planning used a 2011 cold snap that was a one-in-10-year weather event. It wasn’t even the worst cold Texas experienced in living memory: in 1989 temperatures and electricity generation (as a percentage of peak demand) dropped even further than they did in 2011. Texas hadn’t just failed to prepare for the far future. It failed to prepare for the recent past.

Second, it could have been so much worse. Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of ERCOT, said Texas was “seconds and minutes” from complete energy system collapse — the kind where the system needs to be rebuilt, not just rebooted. “If we had allowed a catastrophic blackout to happen, we wouldn’t be talking today about hopefully getting most customers their power back,” Mr. Magness said. “We’d be talking about how many months it might be before you get your power back.”

This was not the worst weather imaginable and this was not the worst outcome imaginable. Climate change promises far more violent events to come. But this is what it looks like when we face a rare-but-predictable stretch of extreme weather, in a rich state in a rich country. The result was nearly 80 deaths — and counting — including an 11-year-old boy found frozen in his bed. I can barely stand to write those words.

Texas will not prove unique, or even all that bad, in terms of how fragile the assumptions beneath its critical infrastructure really were. Most of its mistakes are familiar to anyone who has ever covered the politics of infrastructure and disaster preparation. Shalini Vajjhala, who worked on climate resilience in the Obama administration and is now the chief executive of re:focus partners, a firm that helps cities prepare for climate change, put it sharply to me. “When I am successful, that means something hasn’t happened. That’s good policy, but it’s lousy politics. The first year, you’re applauded. The second year, your budget is cut. The third year, your staff goes away.”

It is not just our energy infrastructure that is unprepared for climate change. It is our political infrastructure. It is our social infrastructure. It is our psyches. There’s long been a hope that repeated climate crises will force Republicans to enlist in the fight to stop, or slow, climate change. How can you ignore the crisis when it is your constituents who are frozen, your home that is underwater? But what we saw in Texas is the darker timeline — a doom loop of climate polarization, where climate crises lead, paradoxically, to a politics that’s more desperate for fossil fuels, more dismissive of international or even interstate cooperation.

The state’s Republican leaders immediately blamed renewable energies as the lights flickered off across their communities. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Gov. Greg Abbott told Sean Hannity, going on to say that “it just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” Abbott was lying — the Green New Deal hasn’t passed, and the largest drop in electricity generation came from frozen natural gas and coal lines, not frozen wind turbines — but fact-checking his statement is like trying to knock the moon from the sky with a Wiffle bat. Climate politics long ago became culture war, and Abbott’s comments were simply stating which side he’s on. Honestly, I preferred Senator Ted Cruz’s impulse to quietly jet off to Cancún.

The most common mistake in politics is to believe there is some level of suffering that will force responsible governance. There isn’t. We saw this during . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 9:41 am

An ultra-smooth shave with Mystic Water Marrakesh and an Edwin Jagger razor

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Sometimes it seems that a beautiful shave simply emerges because the stars align. After washing my stubble with MR GLO, I applied an excellent lather easily awakened from Mystic Water‘s Marrakesh shaving soap:

“Marrakesh” is my original blend – dark iron-distilled East Indian patchouli, Virginia cedarwood, cinnamon leaf, oak moss, lime and petigrain essential oils, it’s a dark smoky blend that I also use in a 20% shea butter soap of the same name.  Mostly essential oils with one fragrance oil component.  With lanolin.

The soap does indeed have a lovely fragrance, and I again admired the comfort and efficiency of the head that Edwin Jagger and Mühle jointly developed. I do like this handle, a comfortable size covered in fluted hard rubber, offering an excellent grip.

Three passes left my face ultra-smooth, and a splash of Pashana finished the job. This is the way to start the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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