Later On

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

Archive for November 5th, 2021

Shifting software: to Vivaldi and to Google Calendar

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I stuck with Microsoft for a long time, though I did abandon Internet Explorer long ago — first for Firefox, then for Google Chrome, and then for Opera (built on the Chromium engine, so Chrome extensions also work on Opera).

Then I discovered Vivaldi, also built on the Chromium engine, tried it out, and very quickly moved to it as my main browser. Mostly I use Opera now to watch movies.

I don’t move cutover instantly, but try it out and spend some time learning it, but the move to a new and better platform doesn’t take long.

A while back, Microsoft Office — now, apparently Microsoft 365 — moved to a subscription model — $70 per year. That was when I started using Google Docs and Google Sheets, which work well enough and indeed have some advantages in that I can share a document or a spreadsheet.

I never used Safari, Numbers, or Pages, the Apple browser, spreadsheet, and word processor. I tried Safari and Numbers and didn’t like either, and I’ve never tried Pages (or Keynote, the Powerpoint equivalent). I don’t give presentations any more.

The most recent move, still in progress, is from Apples Calendar and Reminder to Google Calendar and Keep. I’ve been using Keep, mostly as a shopping list, but it does integrate with Google Calendar, and I’m starting to like Google Calendar a lot.

Back in the day, one didn’t have so much keeping up to do. The continuing effort to learn new tools and software does seem to eat into the advantages offered, but things move on and one must keep up.

If you’re keeping up, I recommend to your attentio Vivaldi and the Google programs (Docs, Sheets, Calendar, and Keep), though I’m well aware that many are well ahead of me.

Another recent switch: my default search engine is now Duck Duck Go, not Google.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

David Troy’s Situation Report, 11/5

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Dave Troy writes on Medium:

Holy hell, what a week.

What’s Happening Now

Most of the time, this behavior results in a boom/bust cycle where a lot of people lose out and they say they’ve learned a lesson, and then they do it again later. As I’ve said many times here, this is different.

What we’re seeing now is an attempt (and I stress, an attempt) to settle the longstanding grudge inspired by the New Deal in 1933, when Roosevelt abandoned the Gold Standard to pay for his new programs. Nixon sealed the deal in 1971, when he terminated convertibility of US Dollars into gold for other sovereign nations. And the gold-bugs are still pissed off today. Crypto is their revenge.

I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere. But this isn’t simply “tulips” or some other craze, this is a deep longstanding rift over monetary policy and whether central banks (the Federal Reserve, primarily) should have the right to inflate currency to deal with liquidity crunches, maximize employment, or otherwise manage the country’s affairs.

Looks like Eric Adams is a Trump pod-person. Whoops.

This week we saw a wave of Bitcoin noise from Eric Adams (pictured here with Trump ally Paolo Zampolli), New York’s newly elected mayor who vowed to take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin, and make New York City the capital of cryptocurrency finance. He was following up on a similar statement from Miami mayor Francis Suarez, who said he would take one paycheck, and then his entire salary, in Bitcoin. Miami is also a hotbed of crypto activity, as it pairs well with the city’s deep and storied relationship with organized crime, drug smuggling, money laundering, and importation of illegally-mined gold.

Vaccine disinformation spreader Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers also started shilling crypto and even paying people small amounts (I heard one report from someone who received .0016 BTC, or about $97) just to engage in his promotional campaign. Ironically, Rodgers has now also tested positive for COVID-19.

There are many other such shills and you’ll see them everywhere if you look. All of this serves to pump up buzz and interest in Bitcoin, and also building an in-group around crypto as a social identity. As part of a desire to belong, make money, and avoid missing-out, many people are borrowing money to buy cryptocurrency assets. That won’t end well. SEC, Treasury, and Federal Reserve urgently need to coordinate their plan for curbing this activity in the United States, at least, before millions of people lose their life savings and put themselves into an unrecoverable financial hole.

An enigmatic whistleblower re-emerges… with facts that check out. On Saturday, a GOP candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania named Everett Stern called a press conference at a Philadelphia hotel with the teaser, “New Intelligence of Ongoing Domestic Terror Threats Links to Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Patriot Caucus,” a hard-to-parse slug of text that is bound to make any editor skeptical, with words like terror, threats, links, and Flynn, it sounds like QAnon mushI myself was suspect; my BS filter has a high bar.

Someone sent me a link to the video of the press conference, though, and it became clear that this was something more important. But what was it, exactly? Stern indicated that he had been contacted by people connected to Michael Flynn and a group called Patriot Caucus to dig up dirt on other Pennsylvania GOP candidates and “move them” towards supporting the audit of the 2020 presidential results. What did he mean by “move them?” He meant extortion: threatening to expose dirt on those politicians. He claimed funding was coming from Houston real estate entrepreneur Al Hartman. Big, if true, indeed.

The internet quickly moved into verifying Stern’s story and background. He provided several names, facts, dates, and locations, all of which checked out. He pointed to a woman, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 5:09 pm

Inside the Pharmacist Rebellion at CVS and Walgreens

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Matt Stoller has a very interesting post at Big:

Today I’m writing about a worker revolt inside chain pharmacies, and how the broader anger from workers all over the country relates to both market power and politics.

BIG Announcements

  • Because of reporting in BIG, the legislation working its way through Congress on expanding Medicare was changed. Under previous rules, Medicare could only buy from the hearing aid cartel, but now it is allowed to pay for over the counter hearing aids. That’s a good thing. The legislation doesn’t address the vertical integration of the hearing aid cartel, though I’m optimistic in the long term we’ll get there.
  • Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times featured my arguments on how to fix Facebook. I discussed why breaking apart Facebook would actually create a safer and better social networking ecosystem.

Will the Great Resignation Turn Into the Great Rebellion?

Writing about monopoly is largely about pointing out problems, but increasingly it’s also about showing a society waking from its slumber, and beginning to fight back. This particular story has to do with a rebellion inside some of the biggest health care providers in America – the firms that control the pharmacists who dispense our medicine.

These days, chain pharmacies in America are massive, with CVS alone touching a third of Americans not just through its massive retail footprint but through its various subsidiaries in other parts of health care. While big business might seem as American as apple pie, in fact the size of these firms is a new phenomenon. From the late 19th century to the 1970s, pharmacies were small-scale, often single proprietor shops or small chains. Pharmacists always played a dual role, operating as small businesses dealing with medical firms, hospitals, and powerful distributors, but also as health care providers for local communities, often the sole such provider in rural areas.

But roughly forty years ago, after we de facto legalized monopoly power by relaxing antitrust law, bigger chains emerged, using mergers and aggressive pricing tactics. In February of last year, just before the pandemic hit in force, I wrote about the most important of these chains, CVS, and how it gained power over what had been a decentralized industry. Here’s a partial list of acquisitions.

  • 1977, CVS buys 36-store-chain Mack Drug
  • 1990, CVS buys 490-store-chain People Drug Stores in the mid-Atlantic
  • 1997, CVS buys 2600-store-chain Revco D.S. across the midwest for $3.7 billion
  • 1998, CVS buys 200-store-chain in Michigan for $1.5 billion
  • 1999, CVS buys online drug store Soma.com
  • 2002, CVS buys assets from bankrupt discount drug store chain Phar-Mor
  • 2004, CVS buys 1260-store-chain Eckerd stores, plus Eckerd Health Services and $1 billion mail order pharmacy benefits management business, plus three distribution centers from J.C. Penney
  • 2006, CVS buys 700-stand-alone Sav-On and Osco drugstores from Albertson’s
  • 2007, CVS buys Caremark RX pharmacy benefits manager for $26.5 billion
  • 2008, CVS buys 521-store-chain Long Drug Stores for $2.9 billion, including Rx America, a PBM with more than 8 million members
  • 2015, CVS buys Target corporation’s pharmacy business
  • 2018, CVS buys Aetna health insurance for $69 billion

Today, CVS spans not just pharmacies but health insurance, and pharmacy benefit management (PBM), which is a middleman that sits between pharmacies, doctors, and health insurance companies, taking a slice of every prescription pill and treatment sold. The market power of big pharmacy chains had a number of consequences, from lower pay for workers to higher prices and worse service to a slower roll-out of the vaccines. There are still upwards of 20,000 independent pharmacies in America, but every year it gets harder to stay in business.

What this means is that many pharmacists are now employees of big chains. And yet working as a pharmacist for a giant chain has also become increasingly difficult. Work loads have doubled over the last ten years, pay is down, and student debt loads are up (to nearly $200,000 for a recent graduate), even as the profits of Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart skyrocket. And that was before Covid, which put extra strain on pharmacists and technicians.

The worker stories coming out of the chain pharmacy world are awful. No bathroom breaks. No time for meals. Unforgiving corporate metrics like demerits for taking too long to answer the phone or fill prescriptions, requirements to ask a certain number of people per week to get a flu shot, and always a relentless push for more items to do than time to do them. And these sweatshop conditions for medical professionals don’t just mean an unpleasant day for a pharmacist or technician, it means more mistakes, and accidental deaths.

In fact, before the pandemic, the third leading cause of death in America was medical errors, at between 250,000 and 440,000 people a year, roughly the the size of Reno, Nevada dying annually. And of course, when there are safety issues caused by understaffing, the chains don’t stand by their pharmacists in front of state boards of pharmacy. If a pharmacist loses his or her license, they can’t practice.

All of this has caused deep concern within the profession. “I am a danger to the public working for CVS,” one pharmacist wrote in an anonymous letter to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy in April. Public officials and corporate executives have been hearing the complaints for years. But when things get really bad, the typical response from higher-ups for flagging morale is to… buy their pharmacists pizza. And that condescension from corporate executives and human resources officials is what finally lit the spark.

The key organizer of this rebellion is an Ivory Coast immigrant who lives in Oklahoma City named Bled Marchall Tanoe. Three months ago, . . .

Continue reading. It is interesting and may well impact you.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 4:07 pm

Ancient History Shows How We Can Create a More Equal World

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David Graeber and  are the authors of the forthcoming book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, from which this NY Times essay is adapted. Mr. Graeber died shortly after completing the book. The links are gift links, which bypass the paywall, so you can read the entire essay, which begins:

Most of human history is irreparably lost to us. Our species, Homo sapiens, has existed for at least 200,000 years, but we have next to no idea what was happening for the majority of that time. In northern Spain, for instance, at the cave of Altamira, paintings and engravings were created over a period of at least 10,000 years, between around 25,000 and 15,000 B.C. Presumably, a lot of dramatic events occurred during that period. We have no way of knowing what most of them were. This is of little consequence to most people, since most people rarely think about the broad sweep of human history anyway. They don’t have much reason to. Insofar as the question comes up at all, it’s usually when reflecting on why the world seems to be in such a mess and why human beings so often treat each other badly — the reasons for war, greed, exploitation and indifference to others’ suffering. Were we always like that, or did something, at some point, go terribly wrong?

One of the first people to ask this question in the modern era was the Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in an essay on the origins of social inequality that he submitted to a competition in 1754. Once upon a time, he wrote, we were hunter-gatherers, living in a state of childlike innocence, as equals. These bands of foragers could be egalitarian because they were isolated from one another, and their material needs were simple. According to Rousseau, it was only after the agricultural revolution and the rise of cities that this happy condition came to an end. Urban living meant the appearance of written literature, science and philosophy, but at the same time, almost everything bad in human life: patriarchy, standing armies, mass executions and annoying bureaucrats demanding that we spend much of our lives filling out forms.

Rousseau lost the essay competition, but the story he told went on to become a dominant narrative of human history, laying the foundations upon which contemporary “big history” writers — such as Jared Diamond, Francis Fukuyama and Yuval Noah Harari — built their accounts of how our societies evolved. These writers often talk about inequality as the natural result of living in larger groups with a surplus of resources. For example, Mr. Harari writes in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” that, after the advent of agriculture, rulers and elites sprang up “everywhere … living off the peasants’ surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.”

For a long time, the archaeological evidence — from Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica and elsewhere — did appear to confirm this. If you put enough people in one place, the evidence seemed to show, they would start dividing themselves into social classes. You could see inequality emerge in the archaeological record with the appearance of temples and palaces, presided over by rulers and their elite kinsmen, and storehouses and workshops, run by administrators and overseers. Civilization seemed to come as a package: It meant misery and suffering for those who would inevitably be reduced to serfs, slaves or debtors, but it also allowed for the possibility of art, technology, and science.

That makes wistful pessimism about the human condition seem like common sense: Yes, living in a truly egalitarian society might be possible if you’re a Pygmy or a Kalahari Bushman. But if you want to live in a city like New York, London or Shanghai — if you want all the good things that come with concentrations of people and resources — then you have to accept the bad things, too. For generations, such assumptions have formed part of our origin story. The history we learn in school has made us more willing to tolerate a world in which some can turn their wealth into power over others, while others are told their needs are not important and their lives have no intrinsic worth. As a result, we are more likely to believe that inequality is just an inescapable consequence of living in large, complex, urban, technologically sophisticated societies.

We want to offer an entirely different account of human history. We . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 8:54 am

Kurt Vonnegut offers advice to high school students

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Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 8:25 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Education

New Zealand’s Hugely Popular, Thrillingly Blue Mushroom

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The mushrooms typically appear on their own or in a very small cluster. BERNARD SPRAGG. NZ/FLICKR/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Jessica Leigh Hester writes in Atlas Obscura:

THE FIRST TIME MAHAJABEEN PADAMSEE stumbled across Entoloma hochstetteri in a New Zealand forest, she was happily startled. It was small, just a couple of inches tall, and she thought it seemed out of place. “I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Padamsee says.

E. hochstetteri is a mushroom, and it’s blue. It’s really, really, really blue—almost unbelievably blue, saturated in a way more often associated with kids’ markers or mouth-staining candy than with fungi. Padamsee, a mycologist at Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research in Auckland and curator of the NZ Fungarium, did her graduate work in Minnesota and was more familiar with members of the Entoloma genus that live in North America. Many of those are saprobic decomposers, but others are mycorrhizal, meaning they absorb nutrients by entangling their threadlike hyphae around the roots of particular plants. And as far as Padamsee knows, none of the North American varieties are blue. She was surprised to find one in the middle of a forest, not obviously allied with a tree. It was a little island of blue in a sea of green.

The diminutive mushrooms play an outsized role in New Zealand’s cultural landscape. On the $50 bill, they share space with the kōkako, a bird that sounds like a warbling brass section tuning up before a performance. The birds and mushrooms coexist beyond the currency, too, including in the Pureora Forest Park on the North Island, a lushly wooded landscape that reminds Padamsee of The Lord of the Rings.

The fungus also flourishes in locals’ lives. Māori have long used mushrooms as food, medicine, and pigments for tattoos. This little blue species also figures in kōrero and whakataukī, narratives and proverb-style oral traditions “passed down in Māori families in that part of the country where the mushroom and the kōkako are still living—or at least were until living memory, since this country, like the rest of the world, is undergoing ongoing rapid ecological loss and degradation,” says Georgina Tuari Stewart, an associate professor of higher education at Auckland University of Technology (Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau), in an email. (The kōkako that once flitted around the South Island are now presumed extinct, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, and rats, possums, and stoats have gobbled up a sizable share of the kōkako population on the North Island.)

With mycologist Peter Buchanan and Māori-language writer, editor, and researcher Hēni Jacob, Stewart  . . .

Continue reading.

The mushroom’s blues can vary from blue-gray to cerulean to the color of blue raspberry candy. BERNARD SPRAGG. NZ/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 8:21 am

“The Harder They Fall” — great movie, violent and stylized.

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Angelique Jackson has a good article in Variety on the writer and director who made the movie, Jeymes Samuel. It begins:

But just as quick as the draws in the gunfights that Samuel was choreographing for the screen, everything changed in an instant. “We were on set doing a run-through when we got the call: ‘Come down to the office,’” he tells Variety.

Tendo Nagenda, Netflix’s VP of original film, had arrived in New Mexico the day before. He landed just as the NBA canceled its games and Tom Hanks announced he had contracted COVID-19, “which for a lot of people made it real, ironically, at least within the film and entertainment world,” the executive recalls. “So the table read, and then the next day of shooting, turned into ground zero for how Netflix was going to deal with our films in production in the pandemic, in real time.”

The plan came down swiftly — the streamer put all of its productions on hold for 14 days. In some ways, it was comforting that Nagenda could reassure Samuel and his cast and crew in person that everyone would continue to be paid during the shutdown and impart that production would resume once things were safe. “Whether we’re down for two weeks or two months, we’re making this film,” Nagenda remembers saying in March. Production was shut down until September.

One year later, Samuel stepped away from putting the finishing touches on “The Harder They Fall” for his first major interview as a filmmaker over peppermint tea at SoHo House in Los Angeles. It was two days before he was scheduled to fly to England for the movie’s premiere at the London Film Festival. Samuel insisted that he felt no nerves, only excitement, particularly around the fact that his Western was tapped to open his hometown film festival, where he used to hustle to get tickets.

“It’s amazing beyond words, the poetry of it,” Samuel says, revealing that he actually sneaked into the festival’s 2004 screening of “Ray” and, after the Q&A, chatted up director Taylor Hackford about what a powerhouse performance King gave in that film. Now she’s in his movie.

• • •

On Oct. 22, King and the cast of “The Harder They Fall” will ride into select cinemas for an exclusive theatrical run before launching on Netflix Nov. 3, where the film will be widely streamed and meme’d on social media, while also analyzed and dissected by cinephiles and action junkies. It has the potential to launch Samuel’s career into the stratosphere. That’s because the movie was made as much for the internet generation as it was for Western aficionados, both of which define the director, who fell in love with the genre growing up in London, watching episodes of “Bonanza” and movies like “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

But the faces that gazed back at him from the screen under those ten-gallon hats were almost exclusively white and male. And when they weren’t, the Black characters and women were written as stereotypes or painted as subservient to the John Wayne- and Clint Eastwood-style heroes.

“Woody Strode is the most bronzed, chiseled Black man the Lord had ever given us. In ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,’ this guy couldn’t even get a drink in the bar,” Samuel notes, remembering a line from the film in which Strode’s character is told, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

“Can we at least see the bar where he goes to get a drink?” Samuel wonders. Samuel believes that kind of erasure and omission is why Westerns fall flat with many people of color.

“The problem is historically, more often than not, we’d be shown a really narrow viewpoint of what Westerns are,” he explains. “I grew up knowing all the words to ‘Windy City’ by Doris Day, from ‘Calamity Jane.’ But I never learned anything about Stagecoach Mary or Gertrude Smith. … I never learned anything about all of these amazing people of color.”

As a kid, Samuel took it upon himself to begin researching the Old West, discovering stories about outlaws and renegades like Rufus Buck, Nat Love and Cherokee Bill, reading about these Black people and becoming immersed in their mythology much in the way that other kids embraced comic books.

He started making short films around the same time.   .

Continue reading. It’s interesting, and the movie is definitely worth watching, despite the violence.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 8:14 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Declaration Grooming After the Rain with the German 37

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Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak-formula shaving soaps are top drawer, and the fragrance of After the Rain is fresh and pleasant. That’s my Whipped Dog silvertip, and it did a fine job.

Italian Barber’s RazoRock German 37 slant has a head that’s a clone of Merkur’s 37 slant, but has two advantages: 1) price — the German 37 is just $25 and the 37C is $55; and 2) design — the German 37 is a three-piece design, so you can swap handles if you want, something not possible with the Merkur 37 two-piece design. At one time, you could buy the German 37 head by itself, but I don’t see that listed on the site now.

Three passes to a perfect result, and then a splash of Fine Accoutrement’s American Blend. 

A great start for a new day.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2021 at 7:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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