Later On

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

Archive for September 15th, 2022

Fairphone 4: A smartphone designed to be easy to repair

leave a comment »

You can even replace the battery (and do it easily). It’s an Android phone. Details here. Its IFixit score is 10 out of 10.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 7:12 pm

“What I Learned About Media Rage After Getting Fired From Fox”

leave a comment »

Chris Stirewalt, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and previously political editor of Fox News Channel, writes in Politico:

My first meeting in Roger Ailes’ boardroom of doom was on Election Day 2010.

At the time, I was the network’s new political editor. Republicans were poised to deliver a serious walloping to President Barack Obama and roll back the Democrats’ doughty majorities in both houses of Congress. The GOP was in a position to score major wins in governors’ mansions and statehouses from coast to coast.

The second floor of the News Corp headquarters on Sixth Avenue in New York was a hive of excited optimism. With Republicans looking forward to big wins, we knew viewership would be enormous that night. I was invited to the regular afternoon executive meeting for the first time so I could lay out the expectations we had on the Decision Desk and the politics team for what would transpire that night. I had only been with the company for about four months, and I was sweating it hard as I sat there at the far end from Ailes at a conference table roughly the size of a World War II aircraft carrier. The meeting was packed. Not only were executives from New York crowding in, but people like my boss Bill Sammon, who would have ordinarily joined the afternoon meeting by phone, were attending in person.

It felt like a steam bath in there, and I was running on about two hours of sleep and too many energy drinks. I had been up all night finishing the cards that we would use on the desk and the anchors would use on-air for quick reference guides on each race. They all had to be perfect (they still weren’t), but I couldn’t make my colleagues look foolish quoting my bad data. Plus, these were the five-inch by eight-inch little life rafts that I could hold on to as I tried to run the rapids of the many, many calls we were going to have to make that night. How many Republican votes in 2004 in Ozaukee County? When did the incumbent win his first term? What did the last polls say? Didn’t her husband used to have that seat?

After four straight days and nights of data obsession and rehearsals, I had to now appear to be a normal human in front of a room full of New Yorkers to whom I assume I appeared to be a sweaty bumpkin.

By the way, TV networks rehearse election nights with dummy numbers. The Decision Desk makes calls based on the pretend results to simulate the workflow and pinch points of the big night. If you’re making 100 calls, the hours between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. are bound to be chaotic. Then the election night team uses the practice calls to test the graphics, lighting, anchor and guest positions, and communications. After six cycles of working with that crew at Fox, we really learned how to make it hum by the end of my time at the network. But in 2010, I was clueless.

So there I was, exhausted, tweaking on taurine and looking around the room at people who had been with the company from the beginning. I was feeling very self-conscious. There was even one guy who dyed the temples of his hair white like Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos. The smell of aftershave and coffee was making me queasy. But I was the only one feeling that way.

The mood was jocular, and Ailes was having fun doing what he liked best in the world: busting balls. The language of Fox News in those days was definitely locker-room swagger. Men and women alike tried to match Ailes’s tough-guy energy. His top lieutenant, Bill Shine, carried it off perfectly. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a police officer. Shine didn’t talk too much, but he made the words count. And like Ailes, he never missed a chance to crack on someone, usually in an avuncular way. Razzing people over their teams, their neighborhoods or whatever was at hand was the language of belonging on Ailes’s crew. Bill O’Reilly was the avatar for these folks: suburban New York, Roman Catholic, traditional values but not necessarily socially conservative — the New York Post, not the New York Times.

I was definitely out of place. I had never been to New York as an adult until I started going up for Fox. I knew about as much about the TV business as a horse knows about making a saddle. It’s possible I was wearing a bow tie. As the execs went around the table offering the boss their updates, I rehearsed my lines in my head. Sammon teed me up, and I started racing through time zones and expected times for calls and generic ballot trends until Ailes interrupted to say, “What’s your number?”

The number, of course, was how many seats I forecast Republicans to win that night. “Our best guess is 64 seats, sir.” Ailes, mouth set like a bulldog and eyes staring through the back of my head, said, “Dick Morris says it could be one hundred. Why is yours so low?”

I figured Ailes, a smart man, knew that Morris, a network contributor at the time, was a joke. Morris had not yet reached the comic heights in his pronouncements that he would in 2012 and beyond, but the former Clinton advisor turned Republican Pollyanna was already pretty clearly making stuff up.

In 1874, after Republicans lost the whole South at the end of Reconstruction and during a financial panic and with a scandal-plagued GOP administration in the White House, they lost 96 seats. Obamacare was unpopular and all, but there just weren’t enough competitive seats on the post-1994 map to make such a number possible.

Morris said goofy stuff like that, I assumed, because it got him on TV. Sean Hannity in particular would bring Morris on to say that the red wave was a Krakatoa-sized tsunami that would change politics forever. They, and some other analysts who I previously thought were more principled and smarter than Morris, used the same routine for the 2012 presidential election. That time they made preposterous claims not only that Mitt Romney was obviously going to win, but that it would be by a landslide. The best I could say for Romney in that cycle was that he had a path to a narrow victory by picking off a couple of Blue Wall states if he could turn things around in Ohio, where he had been sucking wind all summer. But a landslide? Pish posh.

That 100-seat number in 2010 was just hype to juice ratings, and Ailes had to know that. Right? He was messing with the new guy. Right?

But I wasn’t sure. I didn’t say what I thought: Morris is feasting on the carcass of journalism like a lamprey eel on a dead nurse shark. But maybe Ailes believed the hype. I instead carefully explained how I had worked with the all-stars in our then-great Brainroom to check every seat and every estimate to make sure we were on the money. Ailes left me with “You’d better hope you’re right …” and I walked out in the herd of suits in a haze.

I had just disputed the maximum leader of Fox News and talked down Republican chances in a room full of people flying high on the thought of a ratings bonanza. I would eventually learn to say what I was thinking, lampreys and all. It served you better with Ailes, who in those days appreciated honest disagreement on his team. It was partly his scorpions-in-a-bottle management style, but also that he genuinely seemed to think it was better to air out disagreements. Bust balls or be busted.

I sat on those House races like a mother hen all night until  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 6:36 pm

Epiphenomenalism: One of philosophy’s most disturbing ideas

leave a comment »

Jonny Thomson writes in Big Think:

What if you don’t matter? What if all of your thoughts, precious feelings, great dreams, and terrible fears are completely, utterly, spectacularly irrelevant? Might it be that all of your mental life is just some pointless spectator, looking on as your body does the important stuff of keeping you alive and running about? What actually is the point of a thought?

This is the view of “epiphenomenalism,” and it might just be one of the most disturbing ideas in all of philosophy.

The pointless chiming of the clock

On any given day, we will make thousands of decisions and perform countless actions. We will move our legs to walk, open our mouths to eat, smile at our friends, kiss our loved ones, and so on. Today, we know enough about neuroscience and physiology to give a complete and full account of how this happens. We can point to the parts of the brain that activate, the route the nerve signals will take up and down the body, the way the muscles will contract, and how the body will react. We can, in short, give a full physical account of everything we do.

The question, then, is: what is the point of our consciousness? If we can explain all of our behavior quite happily (or “sufficiently” as philosophers like to say) with physical causes, what is there left for our thoughts to do?

Anthropologist Thomas Huxley argued that our thoughts are a bit like a clock’s chime at the hour. It makes a sound, but it makes no difference at all to the time. Likewise, our thoughts and subjective feelings might be very nice and appear very special to us, but they are completely uninvolved.

The problem of mind-body dualism

This all stems from a key problem of dualism, which is the philosophical idea that the mind and body are different things. There is something intuitive to the idea. When I imagine a flying dragon with fiery breath and leathery wings, that is entirely different from the physical world of lizards, candles, and bats. Or, put another way, you cannot touch with your finger or cut with a knife the stuff that happens in your head. But we don’t like believing that our thoughts don’t exist. So, what are they?

The problem in dualism is understanding how something mental, nonphysical, and subjective possibly could affect the physical world and especially my physical body. Yet, it clearly happens. For instance, if I want a cupcake, I make my hand move toward it.

So, how can the immaterial affect the material? This “problem of causal interaction” is not easily resolved, and so some philosophers prefer the epiphenomenalist response, “Perhaps our minds don’t do anything.” If we want to retain the idea that our minds exist but in a completely different way as the physical world, then it might be more palatable to jettison the idea that they do anything at all.

Integrated information theory

Then, what is the point of consciousness? There are some, such as neuroscientist Daniel De Haan and philosophers Giulio Tononi and Peter Godfrey-Smith, who argue that consciousness can best be explained by “integrated information theory.”

In this theory, consciousness is something that emerges from the sum of our cognitive processes — or, more specifically, the “capacity of a system to integrate information,” as Tononi writes. In other words, consciousness is a net product of all the other things our mind is doing, such as synchronizing sensory inputs, focusing on specific objects, accessing various types of memory, and so on. The mind is an overseer at the center of a huge web and is the result or byproduct of all the incredibly complex things it needs to do.

But this kind of “emergentist” theory (since the mind “emerges” from its operations) does leave us with some epiphenomenal questions. It seems to suggest that the mind does exist but that it can be fully explained and accounted for by other physical processes. For instance, if we suppose our consciousness is the product of our complex and various sensory inputs, as Godfrey-Smith offers, then what does conscious thought actually add to the equation that our sight, smell, interoception, and so on are not already doing? By analogy, if a “traffic jam” is just the term for a collection of stationary cars and trucks, what does the concept “traffic jam” add that all those vehicles don’t already provide? A traffic jam has no causal role to play.

This is not to say that consciousness is a mistake or without value. After all, without it, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Philosophy

Our Ancestors Thought We’d Build an Economic Paradise. Instead We Got 2022.

leave a comment »

Brad Delong, a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley and authorSlouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, has an interesting article in TIME magazine. It begins:

Human history before 1870 was generally awful. But after 1870 we began to wriggle out from the traps that we were then in. So most people back then would, had they been able to foresee our immense technological power and sophistication, have expected us to have built our world that we live in today into a paradise, a utopia.

We manifestly have not.

What went wrong?

The Sweep of History

Back before 1870 the human population was always too large relative to our low (and slowly improving) level of technology, and our limited ability to harvest natural resources. Why? Because poverty made infant mortality very high, and patriarchy meant that women’s durable social power (with a few exceptions) came pretty much from being mothers of surviving sons. Slowly-improving technology meant that there was not much room for this generation to be more numerous than the last and for people to still get fed: think of an average pre-1870 population growth rate of about 2.5% per generation. If you then do the math, you see that, in such a world, about one woman in three was left without surviving sons. Hence the drive to reproduce more—even if you already had living sons, to have another as insurance—was immense. That drive kept population growing whenever any technological headroom to support higher productivity emerged—breed strains of rice that grow more rapidly so you can get two crops a year, and find in a few centuries that the population of wetland Asia has doubled. That kept humanity poor. Before 1870 this world was a Malthusian world.

But there was even worse: In such a poor world, only a few could have enough. And the only way the few could get enough for themselves and their children was to find a way, through force and fraud, to take a substantial share of what the rest were producing and grab it for themselves. That meant that those who directed human society’s energies did so not toward making humanity more productive but, rather, making the force-and-fraud exploitation-and-extraction system run better for themselves. That meant that those ideas that were promoted and that flourished were not those that made humanity capable of doing more things more efficiently and effectively, but rather those that shored up the force-and-fraud exploitation-and-extraction system. That meant that the rate of technological advance was slow.

My crude guess is that there has been as much proportional technological progress—useful ideas discovered, developed, deployed, and then diffused throughout the global economy—making humanity more productive in the 150-year span since 1870 as there were in the entire nearly 10,000-year span since the beginnings of the creation of agriculture around the year 8000. Moreover, from 8000 to 1870 poverty, patriarchy, and slow technological progress kept humanity under the spell of the Devil of Malthus, with nearly all of the potential benefits of better technology being eaten up by population growth and resulting resource scarcity. Think of something like $900/year—the living standard of the poorest half-billion of our eight billion today—as the living standards of a typical human back before 1870.

Then, after 1870, everything changed.

Economic historians debate, and will debate as long as there is a human species, exactly why the change came in 1870. They debate whether the change could have come earlier—perhaps starting in Alexandria, Egypt back in the year 170 when Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus ruled in Rome, or in the year 1170 when Emperor Gaozong ruled in Hangzhou. They debate whether we might have missed the bus that arrived in 1870 and still, today, be trapped in a Malthusian steampunk, gunpowder-empire, or neo-mediæval world.

But we did not. A lot of things had to go right and fall into place to create the astonishingly-rich-in-historical-perspective world we have today. Three key elements—modern science and the industrial research lab to discover and develop useful technologies, the modern corporation to develop and deploy them, and the globalized market economy to deploy and diffuse them throughout the world—fell into place around 1870.

Hopes for the Post-1870 Era

Ever since, advancing science, turned into technology by industrial research labs, deployed at scale by modern corporations, and then diffused throughout the world by that magnificent crowdsourcing mechanism that is the global market economy have taken us on a wild ride. The rate of global technological progress, a rate that was perhaps 0.05%/year before 1500, 0.15%/year over 1500-1770, and perhaps 0.45%/year over 1770-1870, went into high gear, and has averaged 2.1% per year on average since. The deployed-and-diffused technological capabilities of humanity have thus roughly doubled every generation since 1870.

Soon after 1870 people got a clue that something had changed. Looking back at 1870-1914, economist John Maynard Keynes was to write . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 3:11 pm

A surprisingly strong link between altitude and suicide in the U.S.

leave a comment »

(click to enlarge)

I’ll save you the trouble and say it myself: “Correlation does not mean causation.” (I’ll add: “Causation does create correlation.”) Ross Pomeroy writes at Big Think:

You may have heard about the benefits of living at higher altitudes. Available evidence suggests that inhabitants enjoy reduced mortality from cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and certain types of cancer, as the body is forced to adapt to a life with less oxygen.

But dwelling at higher elevations may be a double-edged sword. As strong as the evidence is for altitude’s physical benefits, there’s equally impressive data showing that living at higher altitudes has mental costs, particularly an increased risk of suicide. In a systematic review published in May, researchers pored over all available published studies on the topic. Of the 19 studies conducted, 17 found a link between higher altitude and suicide.

In one, Hoehun Ha, an assistant professor of geography at Auburn University at Montgomery, and his colleagues compared U.S. suicide rates at the county level with the average altitude in each county. Since suicide is heavily affected by a multitude of variables, they also controlled for socioeconomic and demographic factors, such as unemployment rate, rates of substance abuse, ethnicity, and the ratio of population to primary care physicians.

“We found that, for every increase of 100 meters in altitude, suicide rates increase by 0.4 per 100,000,” he wrote.

Another study published just this month examined the association between altitude and suicide rates in American veterans. Critically, the researchers behind it controlled for population density, among a variety of other potential confounders. Higher altitude areas are often more sparsely populated, so perhaps loneliness is what’s leading to higher suicide rates, not elevation. But even when factoring in population density, they found a strong correlation between altitude and suicide.

“We also analyzed the 50 counties with the highest suicide rates and the 50 counties with the lowest suicide rates for the U.S. veterans population and found that there was a 3-fold difference in the mean altitude between these two groups of counties,” they added.

Given that the link between altitude and suicide has been so thoroughly vetted, researchers’ next task is to explain it. They have focused on one leading hypothesis: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 2:30 pm

Why boys should start school a year later than girls

leave a comment »

Research suggests a way to help boys — and teachers — have better success in school. Read this article (no paywall) by Richard Reeves in the Atlantic:

It was a light-bulb moment for me,” Christopher Schroeder, an entrepreneur, an investor, and a father of two boys, told me. His son Jack had been accepted to Beauvoir, the National Cathedral Elementary School, in Washington, D.C. But “it was clear to the school that Jack should wait a year,” he said—not because of his academic ability, but to give him more time to become socially and emotionally prepared. “My view was that smart kids should be pushed forward as fast as possible,” Schroeder recalled. “But as I laid out my case to the head of the school, she listened patiently, waited a moment, smiled at me, and said, ‘What’s your rush?’ ”

Jack started at the school a year later and ended up flourishing, largely, his father thinks, because of the decision not to rush him. When it was time for Jack’s younger brother, Ben, to attend the school, he also started a year later—at his parents’ insistence. “By then we were thinking, Why not? ” Schroeder said.

The idea of a delayed school start—often referred to as “redshirting,” a term borrowed from athletics—got a burst of popular attention in 2008, when Malcolm Gladwell presented evidence in his book Outliers that children older than their classmates do better on academic tests and in life generally.

The value of a later start, which many teachers and administrators call “the gift of time,” is an open secret in elite circles. And it’s a gift overwhelmingly given to boys. In the past few months, I’ve interviewed dozens of private-school teachers, parents, educational consultants, and admissions officers, largely in the D.C. metro area. I learned that a delayed school entry is now close to the norm for boys who would otherwise be on the young side. One former head of an elite private school who now consults with parents on school choice and admissions told me, “There are effectively two different cutoff dates for school entry: one for boys and one for girls.”

Nationally, delayed entry is uncommon. Before the pandemic (which seems to have caused a surge in the practice), about 6 percent of children waited an extra year before beginning kindergarten. But here, too, some children were much more likely to be held back than others: specifically, those with affluent or well-educated parents, and who were white, young for their year, and male. Among summer-born boys whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, the rate was 20 percent in 2010.

The reason little boys wear almost all of the red shirts is not mysterious; the fact that boys mature later than girls is one known to every parent, and certainly to every teacher. According to a Rand survey, teachers are three times more likely to delay entry for their own sons than their own daughters. The maturity gap is now demonstrated conclusively by neuroscience: Brain development follows a different trajectory for boys than it does for girls. But this fact is entirely ignored in broader education policy, even as boys fall further behind girls in the classroom.

On almost every measure of educational success from pre-K to postgrad, boys and young men now lag well behind their female classmates. The trend is so pronounced that it can result only from structural problems. Affluent parents and elite schools are tackling the issue by giving boys more time. But in fact it is boys from poorer backgrounds who struggle the most in the classroom, and these boys, who could benefit most from the gift of time, are the ones least likely to receive it. Public schools usually follow an industrial model, enrolling children automatically based on their birth date. Administrators in the public system rarely have the luxury of conversations with parents about school readiness.

But public-school kids should have the same opportunities as private-school kids, and public-school officials should be able to have those conversations. As a matter of policy, the public schools that aren’t already flexible about school start should be made so—and I believe that, as the default, all states and school districts should enroll boys a year later than girls.

A proposal to give a boost to boys may sound odd to some, given the inequities that many girls and women still face. But I am betting on our ability to think two thoughts at once . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 1:01 pm

Insurers force change on police departments long resistant to it

leave a comment »

Police departments — at least small- to medium-sized police departments — may finally change their attitude and tactics, no long acting as a military occupation in a hostile territory (see previous post) and becoming more guardians of the public and public order. Kimberly Kindy has an encouraging article (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post:

ST. ANN, Mo. — A patrol officer spotted a white minivan with an expired license plate, flipped on his lights and siren, and when the driver failed to stop, gave chase. The driver fled in rush-hour traffic at speeds of up to 90 mph, as other officers joined in the pursuit. Ten miles later, the van slammed into a green Toyota Camry, leaving its 55-year-old driver, Brent Cox, permanently disabled.

That 2017 police chase was at the time the latest in a long line of questionable vehicle pursuits by officers of the St. Ann Police Department. Eleven people had been injured in 19 crashes during high-speed pursuits over the two prior years. Social justice activists and reporters were scrutinizing the department, and Cox and others were suing.

Undeterred, St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez stood behind the high-octane pursuits and doubled down on the department’s decades-old motto: “St. Ann will chase you until the wheels fall off.”

Then, an otherwise silent stakeholder stepped in. The St. Louis Area Insurance Trust risk pool — which provided liability coverage to the city of St. Ann and the police department — threatened to cancel coverage if the department didn’t impose restrictions on its use of police chases. City officials shopped around for alternative coverage but soon learned that costs would nearly double if they did not agree to their insurer’s demands.

Jimenez’s attitude swiftly shifted: In 2019, 18 months after the chase that left Cox permanently disabled, the chief and his 48-member department agreed to ban high-speed pursuits for traffic infractions and minor, nonviolent crimes.

“I didn’t really have a choice,” Jimenez said in an interview. “If I didn’t do it, the insurance rates were going to go way up. I was going to have to lose 10 officers to pay for it.”

Where community activists, use-of-force victims and city officials have failed to persuade police departments to change dangerous and sometimes deadly policing practices, insurers are successfully dictating changes to tactics and policies, mostly at small to medium-size departments throughout the nation.

The movement is driven by the increasingly large jury awards and settlements that cities and their insurers are paying in police use-of-force cases, especially since the 2020 deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Those cases led to settlements of $12 million and $27 million, respectively. Insurance companies are passing the costs — and potential future costs — on to their law enforcement clients.

Larger law enforcement agencies — like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department or the New York Police Department — handle it in different ways, often by creating a special fund to finance settlements or by paying those costs from the county’s or city’s general fund. This insulates them from external demands by insurers.

Departments with a long history of large civil rights settlements have seen their insurance rates shoot up by 200 to 400 percent over the past three years, according to insurance industry and police experts.

Even departments with few problems are experiencing rate increases of 30 to 100 percent. Now, insurers also are telling departments that they must change the way they police.

In St. Ann, the impact has been profound.

Since the retooling, which took effect in January 2019, the number of police pursuits annually has increased slightly, but crashes during pursuits have dropped: from 25 in 2018 with eight injuries to 10 in 2021 with three injuries, according to data provided by the department. So far this year, the department says, there have been three crashes with no injuries.

The forced changes prompted Jimenez to equip his patrol cars with new technology to help nab motorists who try to outrun police. Sticky darts containing GPS trackers are shot from the front of patrol cars onto the backs of vehicles that speed away, so officers can fall back and catch up with them later.

While dozens of arrests have been made using the GPS technology, overall arrests in the city have fallen more than 30 percent since the change. Jimenez attributes that drop primarily to . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 12:47 pm

A razor insufficiently praised and the pleasure of a novelty fragrance

with 2 comments

Buttercream is not a classic fragrance, nor should it be, just as chocolate-chip cookies are not a main dish, nor should they be. But little bits of entertaining novelty are pleasant to encounter — the chocolate chips of daily life. Mama Bear’s Buttercream is a pleasant change of pace, even if but for a step or two, and a shave stick seems the ideal format for such novelties: a little, but not too much.

And, as usual, with soft water a glycerin-based soap — like Mama Bear’s soaps or Col. Conk’s — provides a very nice lather indeed. I added water to my Sabini brush a couple of times to bring forth the full lather, but once it was there, it was a pleasure (and a buttercream-fragranced pleasure this morning).

I have the impression that Fendrihan’s Mk II stainless-steel razor (here coated in bronze) does not get the recognition and praise that such an excellent razor deserves. This really is one of the best razors I own, and the price for this stainless-steel razor strikes me on the bargain side of reasonable. With three easy passes, I achieved a perfectly smooth and undamaged face.

A splash of Mr. Taylor’s aftershave and I’m reading for the day.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s London Afternoon: “Fragrant rose petals are interwoven with smoky Lapsang Souchong, sweetened with creamy vanilla and a touch of bright bergamot.”

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2022 at 9:32 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

%d bloggers like this: