Later On

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

Archive for July 22nd, 2022

Marriage in the US has been declining since 1949

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Interesting post by Kevin Drum. In the US, married couples as a percentage of all households hit its high-water mark (79%) in 1949, and it’s been declining (overall) ever since, though it did increase slightly after the Obergefell decision in 2015 made it legal for same-sex couples to marry. Good chart at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

A.I. and the fiction it writes

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Josh Dzieza has an interesting article in Verge on AI-assisted fiction writing. (Careful disclaimer: There is no AII involved in the writing of my blog, though I have indeed seen ads for AI software to assist in writing blog posts. I write my own.) Dzieza’s article begins:

On a Tuesday in mid-March, Jennifer Lepp was precisely 80.41 percent finished writing Bring Your Beach Owl, the latest installment in her series about a detective witch in central Florida, and she was behind schedule. The color-coded, 11-column spreadsheet she keeps open on a second monitor as she writes told her just how far behind: she had three days to write 9,278 words if she was to get the book edited, formatted, promoted, uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle platform, and in the hands of eager readers who expected a new novel every nine weeks.

Lepp became an author six years ago, after deciding she could no longer stomach having to spout “corporate doublespeak” to employees as companies downsized. She had spent the prior two decades working in management at a series of web hosting companies, where she developed disciplined project management skills that have translated surprisingly well to writing fiction for Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Like many independent authors, she found in Amazon’s self-service publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing, an unexpected avenue into a literary career she had once dreamed of and abandoned. (“Independent” or “indie” author are the preferred terms for writers who are self-publishing commercially, free of the vanity-press connotations of “self-published.”) “It’s not Dostoevsky,” Lepp said of her work, but she takes pride in delivering enjoyable “potato chip books” to her readers, and they reward her with an annual income that can reach the low six figures.

However, being an Amazon-based author is stressful in ways that will look familiar to anyone who makes a living on a digital platform. In order to survive in a marketplace where infinite other options are a click away, authors need to find their fans and keep them loyal. So they follow readers to the microgenres into which Amazon’s algorithms classify their tastes, niches like “mermaid young adult fantasy” or “time-travel romance,” and keep them engaged by writing in series, each installment teasing the next, which already has a title and set release date, all while producing a steady stream of newsletters, tweets, and videos. As Mark McGurl writes in Everything and Less, his recent book on how Amazon is shaping fiction, the Kindle platform transformed the author-reader relationship into one of service provider and customer, and the customer is always right. Above all else, authors must write fast.

Lepp, who writes under the pen name Leanne Leeds in the “paranormal cozy mystery” subgenre, allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months. Writer’s block is a luxury she can’t afford, which is why as soon as she heard about an artificial intelligence tool designed to break through it, she started beseeching its developers on Twitter for access to the beta test.

The tool was called Sudowrite. Designed by developers turned sci-fi authors Amit Gupta and James Yu, it’s one of many AI writing programs built on OpenAI’s language model GPT-3 that have launched since it was opened to developers last year. But where most of these tools are meant to write company emails and marketing copy, Sudowrite is designed for fiction writers. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. “Sudowrite” is, I assume, a gentle acknowledgment that the product is not actually “writing.” (Sudowrite = Pseudowrite)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 4:24 pm

Our Obsession With Growth Must End

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In the NY Times David Marchese interviews the economist Herman Daly on why never-ending growth is absurd and a harmful idea (gift link, no paywall):

Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and pretty much any hope of progress. But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains? That possibility — that prioritizing growth is ultimately a losing game — is one that the lauded economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he has developed arguments in favor of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the physical limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium. “Growth is an idol of our present system,” says Daly, emeritus professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, a former senior economist for the World Bank and, along with the likes of Greta Thunberg and Edward Snowden, a recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (often called the “alternative Nobel”). “Every politician is in favor of growth,” Daly, who is 84, continues, “and no one speaks against growth or in favor of steady state or leveling off. But I think it’s an elementary question to ask: Does growth ever become uneconomic?”

There’s an obvious logic to your fundamental argument in favor of a steady-state economy,1

1 One in which the population and the stock of capital no longer grow but, as John Stuart Mill has put it, “the art of living would continue to improve.”

 which is that the economy, like everything else on the planet, is subject to physical limitations and the laws of thermodynamics and as such can’t be expected to grow forever. What’s less obvious is how our society would function in a world where the economic pie stops growing. I’ve seen people like Peter Thiel, for example, say that without growth we would ultimately descend into violence.2

2 Speaking on the Portal podcast in 2019, the billionaire tech investor and libertarian-leaning conservative power broker said, “But I think a world without growth is either going to be a much more violent or a much more deformed world. . . . Without growth, I think it’s very hard to see how you have a good future.”

 To me that suggests a fairly limited and grim view of human possibility. Is your view of human nature and our willingness to peacefully share the pie just more hopeful than his? First, I’m not against growth of wealth. I think it’s better to be richer than to be poorer. The question is, Does growth, as currently practiced and measured, really increase wealth? Is it making us richer in any aggregate sense, or might it be increasing costs faster than benefits and making us poorer? Mainstream economists don’t have any answer to that. The reason they don’t have any answer to that is that they don’t measure costs. They only measure benefits. That’s what G.D.P. is.3

3 More specifically, it’s the monetary value of the final goods and services produced by a nation.

 There’s nothing subtracted from G.D.P. But the libertarian notion is logical. If you’re going to be a libertarian, then you can’t accept limits to growth. But limits to growth are there. I recall that Kenneth Boulding4

4 An economist, longtime professor at the University of Colorado and former president of the American Economic Association. He died in 1993 at age 83.

 said there are two kinds of ethics. There’s a heroic ethic and then there’s an economic ethic. The economic ethic says: Wait a minute, there’s benefits and costs. Let’s weigh the two. We don’t want to charge right over the cliff. Let’s look at the margin. Are we getting better off or worse? The heroic ethic says: Hang the cost! Full speed ahead! Death or victory right now! Forward into growth! I guess that shows a faith that if we create too many problems in the present, the future will learn how to deal with it.

Do you have that faith? [Laughs.] No, I don’t.

Historically we think that economic growth leads to higher standards of living, lower death rates and so on. So don’t we have a moral obligation to pursue it?  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 3:42 pm

A Domestic-Violence Helpline for Abusers

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In The Cut Andrea González-Ramírez describes an interesting and effective program to reduce domestic violence:

On a recent spring afternoon, Michelle Harris was sitting in her home office in Western Massachusetts when the phone rang. She took a deep breath and looked at the Post-it notes stuck to her work computer, little reminders to stay calm during difficult conversations. The anonymous man on the other side of the line said he was struggling in his marriage.

It’s an euphemism that Harris has come to know well over the past year as a responder for the 10 to 10 Helpline, the nation’s first helpline for people who harm their intimate partners. Like other callers before him, the man proceeded to describe a struggle that sounded a lot like abuse. He told Harris he routinely gets upset if his wife, with whom he shares small children, doesn’t prepare him a meal. And when he is angry, he sometimes uses physical violence and verbally berates her. Harris is the type of person who speaks deliberately, never blurting out a thought without weighing it first. She thanked the man for contacting the helpline and sharing his story. She then asked him what he wanted to get out of the call.

The helpline launched in April 2021. “My first call was, ‘I’m abusing my wife.’ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement,” said Harris, who is a survivor of domestic violence herself. “It was really validating to hear that somebody would willingly call, knowing that they were going to tell something really hard that they might have never talked to anybody about before.” Helpline staffers aim to respond with compassion, she said, but also to get callers to recognize and begin to change abusive behaviors.

About one in four women and one in ten men in the United States experience domestic violence, and 55 percent of female homicide victims are killed by their current or former intimate partner. And yet for decades, the bulk of efforts to end intimate-partner violence have focused on criminalization rather than prevention. This is due in part to widespread beliefs that perpetrators will not seek help and that victims’ only option is to walk away, even when doing so puts their safety gravely at risk. This approach also largely ignores how many survivors want the abuse to end and to remain with their partner, for reasons including children, finances, cultural values, and, yes, even love. As a result, there has historically been a lack of resources for people who want to stop hurting their loved ones. Those that do exist are difficult for an abusive person to access unless they are convicted of a crime or pay to get help.

Experts agree there’s no perfect formula for preventing intimate partner violence, but some initiatives focused on getting perpetrators to confront their behavior have had positive outcomes. A six-year-long study of 11 intervention programs in the U.K. found significant decreases in physical violence (from 61 percent to 2 percent) and some controlling behaviors (from 65 percent to 15 percent) among participants. In Iowa, perpetrators who went through a pilot, 24-week behavioral program were up to 50 percent less likely to be re-charged for domestic violence.

The 10 to 10 Helpline itself follows a model already established in other countries, including AustraliaColombiaNova ScotiaSweden, and the U.K. Respect Phoneline has been operating in the U.K. since 2004, and each month, it refers between 300 and 400 callers seeking help to stop abusing their partners to local support resources. “We work in a way that separates the person from the behaviors and highlights the choice element: You can choose to behave abusively, therefore, you can choose to behave in a non-abusive way,” Ippo Panteloudakis, Respect’s head of services, explained.

The helpline is one attempt to respond holistically to intimate partner violence in the U.S., built on the assumption that perpetrators will reach out for help if the resources are there. But what happens after an abuser hangs up the phone? Can they really change?

Experts believe that intimate-partner violence surged during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. According to JAC Patrissi, the 10 to 10 Helpline’s co-founder, removing victims from an unsafe situation had already been a challenge in the rural areas the helpline serves. “This whole idea of moving the survivor as the main intervention was never going to work before the pandemic, and especially not during,” she said. A group of local domestic-violence experts and community organizers got to discussing the lack of resources in Western Massachusetts: Why not offer de-escalation assistance and referral services to perpetrators instead of putting the onus on victims?

The helpline, manned by a team of six responders, operates daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Calls are free, confidential, and anonymous. The helpline doesn’t track all callers’ demographic information, but anecdotally, the majority of those who say they’ve used violence in their relationships are men. While perpetrators make up about 51 percent of callers, the helpline also offers support to survivors, family and friends, and professionals who work with abusive partners.

The responders’ goal is to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 2:42 pm

Though I don’t eat eggs, for this I would make an exception

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Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Video

The fallacy of thinking personhood begins at conception

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Some claim to believe that a fertilized human ovum is a person — that is, that personhood begins at conception. I disagree strongly. Personhood develops over time, just as (say) a heap of sand develops over time. If you start with a clean slate and place on the slate one grain of sand, you do not have a heap of sand. Add a second grain. Still no heap of sand. Continue adding grains of sand, one by one. At some ill-defined point, after many grains of sand have been added, you will have a heap of sand..

Personhood is like that. It’s not there at the beginning. In the photo at the right, well after the beginning, the fertilized ovum has become a blastocyst. The blastocyst is quite obviously not a person, though in time and with good fortune (for example, in the absence of a spontaneous miscarriage), it can become a person. But it is not yet a person at all.

People who claim that a blastocyst is a person are people who cannot tell the difference between an egg and a chicken nor between an acorn and an oak tree. An acorn is not an oak tree, though it has that potential. 

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 1:04 pm

A man who planted trees

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Read the full report on this effort.

Hikmet Kaya, retired forest engineer from Turkey, standing in front of a land which he afforested while holding a photograph of it from 41 years ago when he started.

From that report:

Hikmet Kaya has proved that good intentions and hard work can yield big rewards. The retired Turkish forest management chief has posed proudly in front of the barren land that he and his team have transformed into a lush forest. He began his career in the town of Sinop in 1978 and while he retired 19 years later, his legacy has continued to grow—literally.

Working together with his team and villagers, he brought in and planted 30,000,000 saplings over the course of his tenure. Long after his retirement, these trees have continued to grow; and today, this barren stepped land has undergone an incredible transformation. During the 19 years of afforestation efforts, Kaya never stopped working. And 41 years after he first began this ambitious afforestation project, he returned to the now-lush land with a picture of the once-barren environment, highlighting what a huge difference there is in the landscape. Needless to say, he admits he’s very happy with the results.

It’s a wonderful example to set for the rest of the country. According to Global Forest Watch, Turkey has seen a 5.4% decrease in tree cover since 2000. Deforestation was the overriding cause of much of this decrease, so contributing to its reversal is critical.

Combatting deforestation often comes down to governmental policy changes, which makes it important for . . .

Continue reading. The report includes links to stories about individuals who are planting trees.

That brought immediately to mind this short movie:

At one time, it was thought that forests grew where there was water and good rainfall, but as we are incessantly told, correlation is not causation, and in this case the causation is the reverse of what was believed: it is the forest that causes the rainfall and water. In fact, the amount of water that the Amazon forest releases into the atmosphere is greater than the amount of water that flows in the Amazon river. (Of course, we’re putting a stop to that by deforesting the Amazon basin to grow cattle so McDonald’s can make cheap hamburgers.)

Update: And another real-life example:

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:45 am

The Josh Hawley Trot in slomo with various soundtracks

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Click the link to see the full thread with the various soundtracks. (I like “Born to Run,” for example.) Though I call the move “the Josh Hawley Trot,” it was really more of a gallop.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:08 am

Psychological traits of violent extremism investigated using new research tool

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The Eldest pointed out a research study in Science Daily:

Researchers have developed and validated a new tool known as the Extremist Archetypes Scale to help distinguish different psychological traits found among people engaged in violent extremism. Milan Obaidi and Sara Skaar of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues present the tool and validation results in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 20.

People who join violent extremist groups may differ widely in their motivations, knowledge, personalities, and other factors. However, research into violent extremism has often neglected this variation, limiting the scope and usefulness of such research. To help address this issue, Obaidi and colleagues built on earlier research to develop a new scale that captures heterogeneity among extremists.

Their new Extremist Archetypes Scale includes five dimensions of extremist archetypes: “adventurer,” “fellow traveler,” “leader,” “drifter” and “misfit.” An “adventurer,” for instance, may be drawn to extremism out of excitement and the prospect of being a hero, while a “drifter” may seek group belonging. The researchers chose to treat archetypes as dimensions in order to allow for instances in which an extremist does not fall perfectly within a single archetype and to be able to capture a person’s transition into an extremist archetype.

Next, the researchers conducted several analyses to help validate the Extremist Archetypes Scale. They tested associations between people’s scores on the scale and their scores on several well-established scales that evaluate personality traits, sociopolitical attitudes, ideologies, prejudice, and ethnic identification. In addition, they validated the scale’s applicability across diverse instances related to gender, political orientation, age, and ethnicity.

The validation analyses supported the predictive validity of the scale — including across political orientation and ethnicity — as well as the idea that . . .

Continue reading.

Journal Reference:  Milan Obaidi, Sara W. Skaar, Simon Ozer, Jonas R. Kunst. Measuring extremist archetypes: Scale development and validationPLOS ONE, 2022; 17 (7): e0270225 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270225

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:03 am

Þe Olde Traditional Shave

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The letter Þ (thorn, which signifies the sound “th”) is usually replaced with the letter y — thus instead of “Þe [the] Olde Shoppe,” we see “Ye Olde Shoppe.” (Which means that in this instance, because “Y” is standing in for “Þ,”  “Ye” is pronounced “the.”) But it seems to me that being truly olde and traditional requires using Þ and not Y.

This morning’s shave struck me as olde and traditional for a few reasons. One is the design of my RazoRock 400, an homage to Þe olde Rubberset 400 but with the advantage of a modern plissoft synthetic knot. 

The shaving cream, too, is now (alas) one of Þe olde favorites, now no longer made. It was a bargain: a really excellent (and curiously effective) shaving cream that came in a 1-pound tub for a stunningly low price. I paid $13.75 for my tub, though over time the price inched upward, so that at the end a tub cost around $19. But one pound! And it was good — not just then, but also now: my tub still is first rate, and I got a wonderful lather this morning.

It’s a little too soon to put the RazoRock Game Changer into “Þe olde” category, even the first version, the .68-P, which is what I used today. [Oops! As sharp-eyed readers have noticed, the head in this photo is not the .68-P but the newer .84-P. Apologies for my error. – LG] But perhaps the razor acquires a tinge of antiquity just by being a double-edge safety razor that uses a blade whose design is well over a century old(e). 

“Swedish” Gillette Blades

Three passes left my face remarkably smooth. (Proof: I just remarked on the smoothness.) This splendid result is due to the harmonious synergy of prep (Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, J.M. Fraser shaving cream whose (wonderful) lather was created by the Rubberset 400 tribute brush), razor design (an extremely comfortable and efficient head and a splendid handle — the Barber Pole), superb blades from some time back (called “Swedish” Gillette blades because rumor had it that they were made there, the name Gillette itself a tribute to King Camp Gillette, who started the whole double-edge razor thing 121 years ago), my own skill from long practice and experience, and Victoria’s wonderfully soft tap water. (It took me way too long to realize (a) the importance of soft water for a good shave and (b) how greatly water quality varies from place to place.)

I ended the shave with another olde product, Pinaud Clubman: “The Pinaud brand and its Clubman line of fine men’s toiletries have been the go-to brand for men’s grooming products since their 1810 debut at the House of Ed Pinaud in Paris.”

A splendid start to the day. I’ve just been exchanging comments in a Quora thread with a man who has a beard so he can avoid the effort of shaving, having decided to live his life on the principle of least effort. Does he thus live in squalor? (Cleaning requires effort.) I wonder. 

What he overlooks is that in many cases — dancing, skiing, swimming, playing pickleball, et al. — effort is not so much beside the point as precisely the point: some efforts are pleasurable in themselves, and shaving rightly done is one of them: an enjoyable ritual that begins each day with a positive and self-affirming experience. 

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Earl Grey Cream: “a blend of fine Ceylon, Darjeeling, and Keemun teas, lightly scented with real oil of bergamot and sweet vanilla.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 8:27 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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