Later On

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

Archive for September 8th, 2021

John Mulaney tells Seth Meyers about his eventful year

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I found this absorbing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 4:36 pm

A Step Ahead of Illness: Walking daily may boost healthy aging

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The Harvard School of Public Health has a post worth considering:

Studies have shown that a regular walking habit can promote weight control, but it may also provide additional health benefits for body and mind as people age.

An Eat This, Not That! article published August 25, 2021 cited studies from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers who found that walking every day may help people live longer lives and stave off depression.

Research led by I-Min Lee, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, found that older women who walked at least 4,400 steps each day had greater longevity than those who walked less.

A separate study linked regular walking to improved mental health. “We saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity,” first author Karmel Choi, research advisor on resilience at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, said in the Eat This, Not That! article. “This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking.”

Other benefits that a daily walking habit may provide as people age include reduced risk of dementia,  stroke, and heart disease, and strengthened muscles and bones, according to other researchers cited in the Eat This, Not That! article.

Read the Eat This, Not That! here: What a Daily Walking Habit Does to Your Body After 60, Says Science

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 3:23 pm

System Error: An interesting discussion about tradeoffs in technology and society

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You can watch this discussion (which appeared in Browser) or read it below.

Uri: Hello. I’m delighted to be here today with three Stanford professors – philosopher Rob Reich, political scientist Jeremy Weinstein and computer scientist Mehran Sahami – who are authors of the new book System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot. Thank you all so much for being here today.

We’re going to play a very simple game we call The Last Word, where we ask you to answer difficult questions in a very specific number of words. Rob, we’ll start with you. Could you please tell us what this book is all about in exactly ten words?

Rob: [smiles] Alright: [counts on fingers] Reenergizing democratic institutions through the sensible regulation of Big Tech.

Uri: That was fantastic

Jeremy: Wow

Uri: Obviously the relationship between Big Tech and the democratic process, and our values as a society, is a very prominent topic on everyone’s minds these days, though often with more sound than light. I was wondering if you can tell us about the three perspectives you’re bringing to it, and what you hope to achieve with the book.

Jeremy: So let me start by building on Rob’s ten-word answer: in this moment, many people around the United States and around the world, feel that the effects of technology are washing over them. That it’s a wave that you have no agency in shaping or influencing. And our view is that we need to pivot that discussion and recognise that there’s profound agency that people have – as technologists who design technology, as users of technology, as citizens in a democratic society – and that ultimately the effects of technology are something that we can impact, impact by ensuring that our values are reflected in technology as it’s designed, and impact by shaping the way that government mitigates the harms of technology that is all around us.

Mehran: I think part of the message of the book as well is thinking not only in the big picture but also understanding what are the details of the technology and how they’re impacting people’s lives. So things like automated decision-making that are now using AI techniques to make consequential decisions in people’s lives; what happens with the future of work as AI scales; issues around privacy, as information about us is being gathered online and aggregated; and ultimately something many people are familiar with, the misinformation and disinformation that flows through social networks. So being able to disaggregate those technologies and understand the forces that are at play creates a greater urgency about why we need to do something about them.

Rob: The spirit of the book is after four years of teaching a class together at Stanford – in the belly of the beast of Silicon Valley, as it were – we wanted to try to expand the conversation in trying to reach really talented undergraduates using a technological lens, policy lens, and a philosophy lens to broaden the conversation.

And as Jeremy described, the book has answers of a certain kind to the dilemmas or problems of Big Tech, but they’re not a policy blueprint – “if only Congress would take our answers, things would miraculously get much better” – rather, it’s a way of shaping a new conversation and a new framework for thinking about the trade-offs that are encoded in the various products that Silicon Valley and Big Tech has brought to the world, and ensuring that the decisions that get made in the corporate boardrooms and product development lifecycles of the big tech companies are not the ones that are imposed upon the rest of us, because we haven’t exercised our own agency in trying to shape a technological future worth having.

Uri: I have to say that the book was very uncomfortable for me, as a young person who went through a similar university and had that feeling that these questions of values didn’t come up as much, and that we did all feel a little powerless, like we were a part of a bigger system that shaped us and which was out of our control. Which I think a lot of people feel, and I think that’s something really great about the way you’ve approached this and made us aware of how we’ve been shaped so far, but also an empowering story about what we can do, which I really appreciated.

Rob: Let me just add to that, if I can Uri – I’m a long time Browser reader, subscriber, I have some sense of maybe of the community of people who are likely to be listening. And there’s a sense in which of course it’s important that technological and scientific progress have delivered extraordinary benefits to societies and to individuals. And the question is not about, as it were, a values conversation that the philosopher or the policy maker shows up and says, stop, we need to slow it all down and make sure that we have a broader conversation that effectively brings a halt to technological progress.

To the contrary, the idea is that the interesting aspects of an ethics conversation and a policy conversation are really not about right and wrong, or true and false choices about technology or science, but rather about better and worse social outcomes. The ways in which so many of the technological advances of the past hundred or 200 years, when they are brought to market typically by private companies, and then the market consolidates, they exercise an extraordinary effect on society. And it’s the task of all of us to harness the enormous benefits and then to try to mitigate some of the harms. And that’s a task that goes far beyond the decision-making of people in companies alone.

This is why at the end of the day, I think ethics is an energising way of thinking about technology, not “the moral police have shown up to the technologists and told them when to stop.”

Uri: Absolutely. And well, on that note, Jeremy you are, I believe a philosopher who has spent time in government. I don’t know if that’s a rare beast.

Jeremy: Not a philosopher. I’m a political scientist who spent time in government, which is also a relatively rare beast.

Uri: So I was wondering if you could tell us in exactly five words, what you think are the main challenges in the ways that social values get stymied, or challenged, or fail to be implemented through the process of government?

Jeremy: [thinks]: building consensus around shared goals.

Uri: You are all so good at this, I’m absolutely gobsmacked.

Jeremy: Now can I add two sentences beyond that?

Uri: Please do, please do.

Jeremy: So in the book we write about democracy as a technology. Democracy is the technology that our society and many other societies have chosen to help us navigate really difficult value trade-offs, that as a collective of human beings living together where we can’t have everything we want, not everyone can get the outcomes they want, we have to make some choices.

And you can think about lots of different ways of making those choices. You could think about those choices being made by a single individual, like a king or the Pope, which was one way that societies used to organise themselves. You could think about leaving those decisions to companies, and that’s been a bit of the mode that we’ve been in with Big Tech. And this book is an argument about the role of our democratic institutions in making those choices. And the reason it’s hard to make those choices, and why I chose the words that I did, is that people want different things and they want them very enthusiastically, and they’re very unhappy when they don’t get the things that they want.

So this process of deliberation, and negotiation, and contestation, that’s what politics is all about. And right now we’re at a moment of a tremendous lack of faith in our democratic institutions and an inability to bridge the partisan divides in the United States. But it doesn’t mean that there’s some alternative way to accomplish that underlying task, that is the task of our democracy.

Rob: There’s a mistake that I think I perceive that technologists make sometimes  – and we discussed this in the book some – the important part for any reader to understand if they’re trying to figure out what’s going on in Big Tech: you don’t need to . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 2:56 pm

It’s possible to help more positive images pop into your mind

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Simon Blackwell, a post-doctoral researcher in the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, writes in Psyche:

Sometimes, the most interesting research findings are the ones you were not looking for. This happened to me in late 2007 when I was interviewing a participant about her experience of a study she had just completed that involved imagining positive scenarios every day at home for one week. The focus of the interview was about how helpful she’d found the sessions, what she thought of their length and frequency and so on. It wasn’t until my standard final question, ‘Is there anything else you’d like to mention?’, that the participant gave a reply – ‘Well, there was this one thing…’ – that completely changed my perspective on the depression intervention we were developing, and that continues to have a significant influence on my research to this day.

The woman, a graduate student in her 20s who was experiencing an episode of major depression, described to me how, during the study, certain mental images had begun popping into her mind spontaneously as she had been going about her day-to-day life. For most people, spontaneous mental imagery of various kinds is a common experience. Many of these images are associated with a phenomenon termed ‘mental time travel’, in which we relive events from the past or ‘pre-live’ possible events in the future. For example, hearing a particular song might trigger a memory from your childhood or youth, which could range from a still ‘picture’ in your mind’s eye, to a more complex immersive scene including sights, sounds, smells and the emotions you experienced at the time. Or, on a long Friday at work, you might find your mind wandering off and repeatedly playing out whatever it is you plan to do to unwind at the end of the day. My research participant’s description suggested that, inadvertently, our intervention seemed to have influenced these processes.

This was a particularly intriguing possibility for various reasons. Spontaneous mental imagery of future events is thought to serve important functions in daily life, for example in the context of planning, decision-making and guiding our ongoing behaviour. Via such imagery flashing into your mind, even if just briefly, you can experience a brief ‘pre-experiencing’ of an event, a taste of how it might be and how you might feel – for example, how enjoyable it could be. This can not only lift your mood in the moment, but lead to changes in your behaviour – you might take steps to make it more likely that the pictured event will indeed occur. In fact, some research has found that generating positive mental imagery of events or activities can lead to increased engagement in goal-directed behaviour, including increased engagement in exercise or completion of tasks that people had been putting off.

It’s worth noting that there is huge variation between people, both in the frequency with which they experience spontaneous imagery in daily life, and the quality of the imagery experienced. For example, research has found that people who are more optimistic tend to experience more positive and vivid future-oriented thoughts in daily life – they can easily see a positive future in their mind’s eye. Conversely, research indicates the opposite pattern for people who are depressed or have chronic low mood: they experience spontaneous positive future-oriented imagery less often, and it tends to be less vivid; in extreme cases, they might be completely unable to imagine anything positive happening in their future, even if they try.

It is easy to see how these differences in the experience of spontaneous mental imagery could have an impact in daily life. Imagery-rich mental time travel appears to be a ‘default’ activity that the mind turns to when it is otherwise unoccupied, meaning that such spontaneous imagery can be thought of as providing a kind of ‘background music’ to your life; the extent to which this imagery is relatively positive or negative could therefore have a broad impact on your mood and general outlook over the course of a day. The frequency and characteristics of spontaneous imagery might be even more consequential than the mental imagery we generate on purpose. Data from observational studies, in which participants kept a diary of spontaneous thoughts in daily life, suggest that spontaneously occurring future-oriented thoughts have a greater impact on emotion and behaviour than deliberate thoughts.

Returning to the participant who had such an impact on my work, the depression intervention she’d completed included a series of training sessions, during which she and the other participants listened to audio descriptions of mostly everyday situations structured such that the outcome was uncertain (ie, things might go well or badly), but in fact they always resolved positively. As they listened to the recordings, the participants had to imagine themselves in the scenarios as they unfolded. Our rationale for the study was that, via repeated practice imagining positive outcomes for initially ambiguous situations in the training, participants would start automatically imagining positive outcomes for the similarly ambiguous situations they encountered in their daily life, counteracting the negative thinking styles that characterise depression.

For example, a scenario might begin: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

From climate crisis to Brexit, alarmists have been proved right. It’s time to start listening

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Arwa Mahdawi writes in the Guardian:

After a week of apocalyptic weather and dystopian laws, the internet has been ringing out with unusual amounts of praise for “alarmists”. “The alarmists were right, about pretty much everything,” tweeted NBC News reporter Ben Collins on 2 September, after the US supreme court voted not to interfere with Texas’s extreme abortion laws. “Since the so-called alarmists have been right about everything, can we concede that they weren’t, in fact, being alarmists?” tweeted Mary Trump (who has amassed more than 1 million Twitter followers by being rude about her uncle Donald Trump) on the same day.

But alas, it looks as if some people would rather revise history than concede they were wrong. Only hours after Texas’s new abortion policy became law, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter deleted a tweet from 2018 in which he had mocked the activist Amy Siskind for saying that the US under Trump was just “a few steps from The Handmaid’s Tale”. Not only was this comparison way off, Stelter opined, “this kind of fear-mongering” doesn’t help anyone.

Siskind is far from the only activist to have had valid concerns dismissed as “hysterical” by a Reasonable and Objective White Man (and the occasional Sensible Woman in Power). Reproductive rights activists in the US have been warning about the end of nationwide legal abortion for decades; during the Trump years, when the supreme court was ruthlessly pushed to the right, these warnings reached fever pitch. But the powers that be didn’t bother listening until it was too late. You can’t just blame the Texas abortion laws on rightwing scheming; they’re also a result of “moderate” complacency.

Alarmists haven’t just been vindicated when it comes to the erosion of reproductive rights. Warnings that Brexit would be disastrous, for example, were dismissed by many conservatives as “Project Fear”. Now that we’re seeing empty supermarket shelves, and there are constant threats of food shortages, it’s hard to argue that those fears were unwarranted. Brexit is obviously not the only reason for shortages – the entire world is grappling with pandemic-induced supply chain issues – but it certainly exacerbated them.

And then, of course, there’s the environment. It feels as if . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 2:03 pm

If AT&T Had Managed the Phone Business like Google

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A Bell telephone from the 1920s

Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker:

A hundred years ago, 15 million telephones were in use in the United States—but that number would more than double by the end of the decade. Almost the entire network fell under the control of a single corporation, the American Telegraph and Telephone Company (or AT&T), which was somehow allowed to maintain its monopoly until the Department of Justice forced a breakup of the business in the 1980s.

But for most of its history, AT&T had almost total control of telecommunications in the US. As far back as 1907, the president of the company had made his strategy clear when he announced the motto of “one policy, one system, universal service.” The company’s dominance was so extreme, that even the phones in people’s homes were owned by AT&T, and merely leased or lent to users. On some phones you could even see the words molded into the equipment: “BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY—NOT FOR SALE.”

The folks at AT&T thought they were smart. But Silicon Valley folks would laugh at their naïve approach. Today’s tech titans would manage a monopoly of that scale very differently.

So just imagine a time traveling venture capitalist going back one hundred years to present a “Google” type strategy to AT&T’s senior management. Let’s call this visitor from the future “Mister Google.”

Setting: A boardroom in a 1920s style of corporate opulence—with wood paneling, leather chairs, and an imposing mahogany table taking up most of the length of the room. Around it are seated a dozen senior managers in the business attire of that era. At a podium at the head of the table stands Mr. Google, wearing the casual attire of the 21st century. Facing him at the far end of the table is Harry Bates Thayer, who served as President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in the early 1920s, dressed impeccably in a finely tailored suit.

MR. GOOGLE: I appreciate your willingness to meet with me, but you’ll be well rewarded for your time. I come with wisdom from the future. And that wisdom is pretty simple: You folks have been doing everything all wrong.

[Hems and haws from the audience.]

Only 30% of the public uses your telephones. We need to get that up to 80% penetration within the next 12 months.

[Sounds of laughter from the room, until AT&T’s vice president of marketing pipes up.]

VP MARKETING: That’s hardly a credible plan, Mister Google. By the way, are you related to Barney Google? [More laughter at this.] How do you propose we get tens of millions of people to install phones in their homes during the course of a single year?

MR. GOOGLE: It’s easy, you’re going to give away the phone for free.

[The laughter has now turned to gasps of shock and amazement.]

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: Free? Did I hear you say free?

MR. GOOGLE: You heard correctly. You have to give the phones away for free

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: There’s some catch or trick, no? We give away the phones, but we charge more for the monthly fee? Or we raise rates on long distance calls? Or. . . .

MR. GOOGLE: No, no, no. You don’t understand. Everything is free—the phone, the connection to the network, all the calls. . . .

[Total pandemonium breaks out in the boardroom—some are laughing, others are jeering, a few actually shouting out rancorous words of abuse. It takes a couple minutes before President Thayer can quiet things down. He then speaks for the first time.]

PRESIDENT: My dear Mister Google, this is quite absurd. You asked to speak to our management team with some vague promise of wisdom from the future, like a character in an H.G. Wells story—and you’re now wasting our time with a plan to turn AT&T into a charity, offering free communications as a philanthropic endeavor. Frankly I was expecting more from you. I believe this meeting has come to an end. I’ll ask you to leave promptly and never. . . .

MR GOOGLE: No, no, no—you damned fools. You will make more money with my plan. A whole boatload of money. You idiots are managing your platform all wrong.

VP ENGINEERING: What’s a platform?

MR GOOGLE: [Ignoring the question] We’re going to charge a lot of money—more than you’ve ever charged before. Only it won’t be the users who pay.

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: If the users don’t pay, whose going to pay for them?

MR GOOGLE: A lot of folks will be happy to pay. Let’s start with the advertisers.

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: Advertisers? Do you even understand how a phone works, Mister Google? There’s no advertising on a phone call.

MR GOOGLE: Not now, but there will be once we’ve established the new rules of the game. I’m thinking of a YouTube strategy—with maybe ten or twenty seconds of commercials before the phone conversation starts. Perhaps more ads later if the users keep on jabbering.

PRESIDENT: This is just getting stranger and stranger. I’m not sure what a ‘you too’ strategy is, but it sounds more like voodoo to me. You can’t insert ads in a phone call.

MR. GOOGLE: Oh yes you can—if you’re letting people make phone calls for free. They have no choice in the matter, do they? But that’s only the start. We will match the advertising to what customers are discussing on their calls. So if mom is complaining about her back pains, we pitch a healing ointment or some other medicinal product. If dad is calling about his car breaking down, we tell him about the latest Ford Model T.

VP ENGINEERING: But that’s impossible. How do we even know what people are talking about on their phone calls?

MR. GOOGLE: That’s a great question, and it makes clear how little you have done to exploit your platform. You need to monitor every call, and compile a file of information on every customer.

PRESIDENT: [Clearly alarmed] Monitor every call? Are you joking? That’s invading people’s privacy? That’s spying? That’s surveillance?

MR GOOGLE: Not in the least. It’s called . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 12:52 pm

18-foot kale

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An old postcard showing a grove.

I want one of the canes made from the stalks. 

Amelia Soth writes in Atlas Obscura:

SKYSCRAPER CABBAGES: THAT’S HOW BOTANIST Edgar Anderson described the massive kale endemic to Jersey, the little island off the coast of France. You can almost hear the wonder in his voice as he recalls his visit: “The lower leaves had all been harvested from time to time, as green food for cattle, and the plants had kept on growing until they were well over my head; I really walked in their shade.”

Up until recently, 12-foot kale was a common sight on the island of Jersey. Dotted throughout the agricultural landscape, the plants dwarfed everything except for full-sized trees. They clumped in thickets between potato fields, served as posts for beans to twine around, and even formed living fences. With their strange, nubbly stalks and drooping, silvery leaves, they looked like palms, lending the temperate little island an oddly tropical appearance.

Jersey’s gentle climate, stabilized by the sea, provides the perfect conditions for monster kale stalks to shoot towards the sky. Sown in the late summer, the plants could keep growing all through the island’s mild winter. The crop’s primary use, at least at first, was as animal fodder; according to some accounts, just 60 plants were sufficient to keep a cow fed for a year. Rolls of the famously rich and golden Jersey butter those cows produced could be wrapped up in leaves from the same plants before being taken to market. Another Jersey delicacy, the cabbage loaf, got its flavor from being baked between two jumbo leaves.

Although the plant is now known mostly as Jersey kale, it has gone by many names, attesting to its long history of human cultivation. In French, it was known as chou cavalier; in Portuguese, couve galega; in English, long jacks. Scientists knew it by the mellifluous name of Brassica oleracea longata; Victorian-era salesmen rebranded it under the tempting title “Waterloo Caesarian Evergreen Cow Cabbage.”

It’s hard to say exactly where the crop originated or how it came to attain its ultimate towering form. But we do know that it was the Jersey growers who hit upon the bizarre innovation that guaranteed the plant’s fame: kale walking sticks. On the island, after the plants had served their purpose as fodder, they lived a second life. Craftspeople on Jersey dried, sanded, varnished, and transformed them into canes. Particularly ingenious growers even discovered a method of digging up their kale and replanting it at a slant, so that the stem would grow into a curved handle.

When you hear “kale walking sticks,” what do you imagine? Whatever you’re picturing, I’m willing to bet that the real article is much more elegant: golden brown, appealingly knobbly, and extraordinarily light. They were irresistible souvenirs. “Nearly everyone . . .

Continue reading. More images at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 12:08 pm

The sluggish response when a government is no longer focused on public service

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Stephen Engelberg, Editor-in-Chief of ProPublica, sends out a regular newsletter. This is from the one I received this morning:

More than a decade ago, a young reporter named Sasha Chavkin filed a story for ProPublica about the sort of bureaucratic indifference that makes people hate their government. Across the country, thousands of people who had suffered grievous injuries that prevented them from working were being hounded for student loans they had no chance of repaying. Many had been classified as disabled by the Social Security Administration and were already receiving government support. But the Department of Education, which handles loan forgiveness, insisted that borrowers jump through a separate set of hoops to prove they were unable to work. In some cases, the department was garnishing Social Security payments sent to people with disabilities who were in arrears on their loans.

We published Sasha’s story on Feb. 13, 2011. It introduced readers to Tina Brooks, a former police officer who fractured a vertebra in her back and damaged three others in her neck when she plunged 15 feet down a steep quarry while training for bicycle patrol. Although five doctors and a judge from Social Security all agreed that she was fully disabled, Education Department officials continued to insist she pay off $43,000 in loans.

It was one of those stories where each paragraph makes you madder.

“I’m a cop, and I know how to fill out paperwork,” Brooks told Sasha. “But when you’re trying to comply with people and they’re not telling you the rules, I might as well beat my head on the wall.”

ProPublica is unusual among news organizations in that we measure our success by the tangible impact our stories achieve. As editors and reporters, we are trained to try to make every story well-written, fair, solidly documented and maybe even prizeworthy. But Herb and Marion Sandler, the founders of ProPublica, said from the very beginning that they had a higher goal for ProPublica: that our stories should make a difference.

It’s a tough target to hit. Journalists, myself included, are notoriously poor at forecasting which stories will spur change. Sometimes, we reveal utterly outrageous abuses and the reaction

is muted. Other times, people explode with anger and change comes overnight. New reporters hired from other organizations frequently ask: What’s a ProPublica story? My answer is that readers should finish one of our investigative articles with a clear understanding of what’s gone wrong and to whom they should send a blistering letter (or email) demanding immediate action.

I expected our 2011 story on disabilities and student loans to prompt swift action. Congress had already demanded that the Department of Education improve its handling of disability cases. An internal audit, which we obtained, had found that the department was failing to follow its own rules. It seemed like a political no-brainer to intervene, both for members of Congress and for the Obama administration. They stood to earn kudos for adopting an approach that is both required by law and a gesture of human decency.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, little of that happened. The Education Department made some modest improvements but continued to insist that people fill out applications for relief. The process remained cumbersome, and the burden remained on the disabled person to prove they were entitled to relief. Few loans were forgiven.

It was only last month that the department announced that it was enacting a new policy in which people deemed severely disabled by the SSA would automatically have their loans forgiven. The technique? A simple computer search that would match the names of people receiving disability payments with names of student loan borrowers. Officials said they would be writing off a staggering $5.8 billion in loans. Clearly, the existing procedures had not worked for the vast majority of disabled borrowers.

I asked Sasha what finally made the difference. His answer, not surprisingly, was politics. The left wing of the Democratic Party, notably Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have been pressuring the Biden administration to launch a broad program of relief for 43 million Americans who owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loans. President Joe Biden has never endorsed that idea. But as Sasha points out “this fix for disabled borrowers was something no one could reasonably oppose.” The no-brainer solution, he said, was always out there, but it “took a long time and a lot of unnecessary hardship” before it was politically beneficial to the people with the power to impose change.

It’s worth noting that this story is not yet over. The Department of Education continues to withhold debt relief from a substantial number of student loan borrowers who receive federal disability payments — people whose disabilities the SSA views as serious but that it believes have some chance of easing in the future.

Remarkably, one of the people we interviewed back in 2011, a carpenter and draftsman who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is among those who remain on the hook for his student loans. He has tried to return to work several times since 2011, but his medical problems made that impossible. SSA officials argue that his lung disease might someday improve enough to allow him to work.

“There’s no improving COPD,” the carpenter, Scott Creighton, said in our recent story. “Since I spoke to you last time I’ve had one pulmonary embolism and I’ve had one heart attack.”

Some have argued in recent years that we live in a post-shame era, that spotlighting outrageous wrongdoing no longer brings results. For those who feel that is true, I suggest you visit the page on which we list stories that have had an impact. I hope you’ll find it inspiring. I do.


Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 12:00 pm

Remembering the best

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Betty Byrum posted this on Facebook

One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a blank line after each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ and, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much,’ were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in

Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked. She nodded: ‘yes.’ Then he said: ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.

‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’

All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’

Chuck’s wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’

‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary’

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: ‘I think we all saved our lists’

That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

Remember, you reap what you sow. What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own.

I would guess this is apocryphal, but it’s a good story.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Those razors from the good old days: Not quite so good as all that

with 5 comments

I do treasure my tub of J.M. Fraser shaving cream. I have enough to last, thankfully. (It’s no longer made.) It’s a very effective shaving cream, though its strength is in its performance, not its fragrance (which is pleasant but not remarkable). What a job it does! The lather using my Edwin Jagger synthetic was excellent.

The shave was another story. I had to recognize that, as much I like this Gillette 1940’s Aristocrat, and as comfortable as it is, it just is not so efficient as a good modern razor. I thought it might be the blade, so I switched from the Astra Keramik Platinum that was in it — carefully saving the blade to try in a modern razor — to a brand new Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge, but it didn’t help all that much. I got a good-enough shave but good modern razors do better, and a surprisingly high proportion of modern razors are good. It may be that I am picky in what I buy, but almost always, a new razor is extremely comfortable and extremely efficient. There are exceptions (iKon OG-1, for example: long on efficiency, short on comfort), but I did not get such a high proportion of winners when I was using vintage razors.

A splash of Booster Aquarius, and here we already are, a week into September and halfway through the current week.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 9:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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