Later On

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

Archive for December 13th, 2022

Tuba Skinny – Jubilee Stomp – Royal Street I

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Recorded in New Orleans

Shaye Cohn – Cornet
Todd Burdick- Tuba/Sousaphone
Robin Rapuzzi – Washboard
Jason Lawrence – Banjo
Max Bien Kahn – Guitar
Greg Sherman – Guitar
Barnabus Jones – Trombone
Ewan Bleach – Clarinet

Buy CD’s:

An even better take:

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

All People Are Created Educable, a Vital Oft-Forgotten Tenet of Modern Democracy

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Jack Cade's rebel mob with two pikes holding up two severed heads.
1867 Illustration of Jack Cade and his rebels with the severed heads of Lord Say and his son-in-law, hard-working administrators, killed because Lord Say built a paper mill, supported books, and spoke Latin. Shakespeare is very overt in his depiction of the imagined savagery of a self-governing mob.

Ada Palmer, an historian, novelist, composer, and professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago, writes in Ex Urbe:

Many shocking, new ideas shaped the American Experiment and related 18th century democratic ventures; as an historian of the period, I often notice that one of the most fundamental of them, and most shocking to a world which had so long assumed the opposite, often goes unmentioned — indeed sometimes denied — in today’s discussions of democracy: the belief that all people are educable.  I think it’s urgent that we bring that principle back into the spotlight if we want to defend democracy from one of its common failure modes: pseudo-populist oligarchy.

Within “all men are created equal” lies the sub-principle that all people, or specifically all enfranchised citizens of a state (which often at the time meant white male adults, though some made it broader, or narrower) that all such people are, if given appropriate educational resources, capable of learning, exercising sound judgment, and acting on said judgment, thus that they all people are equally rational and capable of competent self-governance.  This thesis does not assume that all people when adults are equally prepared to participate in government, but that all people when born have the capacity to absorb education if given access to it.  Rare intellectual disabilities might make the education process challenging for certain individuals, but (the thesis argues) even then the right support and resources make education possible, and such situations are not the default human state.  This is the thesis that all people are fundamentally educable. 

Many in the 18th c. who thought democracy was absurd rejected it because they disagreed with this thesis, believing that the majority of people (even of white men) were not educable, i.e. that even with educational resources most people were born incapable of being guided by Reason and making sound political judgments. Those who believed this predicted that government by the people would collapse into absurdity, since it would be led by a parliament of fools. We get a taste of what such critics of democracy thought would happen to America in the satirical scenes in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 in which Jack Cade’s populist rebels happily kill each other and laugh about it, and believe they can end hunger by having everyone eat on the king’s tab at restaurants and making the gutters run with wine (and which is the source of the much-misunderstood “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” step 1 in which executing everyone who can read is their step 2) — this is what many 18th c. anti-democrats believed would happen if governing was truly done by the people.

Often modern people have trouble wrapping our heads around how sure pre-modern Europeans were that human minds and their capacities (A) varied fundamentally, (B) were locked in at birth and immutable, and (C) were only very rarely rational or educable.  This doesn’t mean elite education, it means any education, grasping the basics beyond I’m hungry and I want to eat that fish.  Plato and Aristotle (and many transformations thereof over 2,000 years), described a human soul/mind led by three forces: the appetites, the passions, and the intellect i.e. reason.  The appetites were simplest and most bodily: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired and want to rest, I’m bored and want entertainment, I’m horny and want sex, my arms hurt I don’t want to carry this anymore.  The passions we might call mental but worldly: pride, ambition, loyalty, patriotism I want to be famous, I want to be respected, I want to be well-talked-of in the city, I want to protect my way of life, I want to have power, I want to advance the glory of the state, I want to battle evil, etc.  Reason, or the intellect, was the calculating, understanding, and contemplative power, which did math, understood the universe, aspired to the spiritual and eternal (whether Justice or the Pythagorean theorem) and exercised ethical judgment, weighing goods and bads deciding the best course (Eating this whole jar of pickles would be yummy but then I’ll get a stomachache; electing this demagogue would make me rich but then he would tyrannize the state.)  Both Aristotle and Plato say that different souls are dominated by different organs of the soul (i.e. either the appetites, passions, or intellect) and that only a tiny minority of human souls are dominated by the intellect, a larger minority by the passions, and practically all by the base appetites.  Plato’s Republic uses an exam/aptitude system to identify these rare souls of gold (as opposed to silver = passions, bronze/iron = appetites) and make them rulers of the city, and proposes a eugenicist breeding program to produce more.

The principle that souls of gold (i.e. souls fully capable of being educated & of wise rule) are a tiny minority, and that most humans are immutably not educable from birth, was very thoroughly absorbed into European belief, and dominated it for 2,000 years.  In Dante, we see the entire structure of Hell revolve around the appetites/passions/intellect distinction.  Medieval epistemology, psychology, and even ideas about medicine and plants incorporated this principle, and spun elaborate explanations for how and why different souls perceived the heavenly world (Good, Justice, Providence) better than others.  Eugen Weber’s powerful history, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, shows how people in the period wrote about their own French peasants in incredibly insulting, infantilizing, quasi-bestial terms, strikingly similar to the racist language we’re used to the Age of Empires using to demean non-Europeans. Anyone who hasn’t looked at period sources will struggle to believe how ferociously confident the European majority was in the thesis that the majority of people even in their own country could never understand a book, a moral quandary, or a political proposition.  Keeping the rare wise elites in charge was the only barrier between order and savagery.  The fact that so many people were willing to believe in the totally mythical tragedy of the commons (yes, it’s totally invented, real peasants took great care of their commons) is one relic of how certain people were for a long time (and some still are) that most people are not capable of making the kinds of prudent, sustainable judgments necessary for custodianship of a polity.

It took a lot to get even a small radical fringe by 1750 to entertain the notion that all people–or even just all men–were created equally educable.  A long survey of the causes would get unwieldy, but they include (among other things) contact with  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the essay:

Now, at one point I helped my Ph.D. adviser James Hankins with his research on the history of conservatism.  We (mostly he) looked at many examples over many times, places, and regimes, and observed after innumerable case studies that a consistent defining characteristic of conservative thought over time is the belief that some people are better at ruling than others, thus that the best way to run a government and society is to put those superior people in power.  Whether it’s a hereditary aristocracy, an exam-based meritocracy, an earn-the-franchise-through-military-service timocracy, or a divine right monarchy, many systems posit that some are more capable of rule than others, and that the best system will put them in power.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 5:01 pm

Orphaned neurological implants

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This article is grim but important. Cory Doctorow writes in Pluralistic:

The startup world’s dirty not-so-secret is that most startups fail. Startups are risky ventures and their investors know it, so they cast a wide net, placing lots of bets on lots of startups and folding the ones that don’t show promise, which sucks for the company employees, but also for the users who depend on the company’s products.

You know what this is like: you sink a bunch of time into familiarizing yourself with a new product, you spend money on accessories for it, you lock your data into it, you integrate it into your life, and then, one morning – poof! All gone.

Now, there are ways that startups could mitigate this risk for their customers: they could publish their source code under a free/open license so that it could be maintained by third parties, they could refuse to patent their technology, or dedicate their patents to an open patent pool, etc.

All of this might tempt more people to try their product or service, because the customers for digital products are increasingly savvy, having learned hard lessons when the tools they previously depended were orphaned by startups whose investors pulled the plug.

. . .

The looming threat of dissolution gives rise to a third startup dirty secret: faced with a choice of growth or sustainability, companies choose growth. There’s no point in investing in sustainability – good information security, robust systems, good HR – if it costs you the runway you need to achieve liftoff.

Your excellent processes won’t help you when your investors shut you down, so a “lean” startup has only the minimum viable resiliency and robustness. If you do manage to attain liftoff – or get sold to a Big Tech firm – then you can fix all that stuff.

And if the far more likely outcome – failure – comes to pass, then all the liabilities you’ve created with your indifferent security and resiliency will be someone else’s problem. Limited liability, baby!

Combine these three dirty secrets and it’s hard to understand why anyone would use a startup’s product, knowing that it will collect as much data as it can, secure it only indifferently, and sell that data on to sleazy data-brokers. Meanwhile, the product you buy and rely upon will probably become a radioactive wasteland of closed source and patent trolling, with so much technology and policy debt that no one can afford to take responsibility for it.

Think of Cloudpets . . .

. . .

It’s not just your data that goes away when a startup folds – it’s also the money you invest in its hardware and systems, as well as the cost of replacing devices that get bricked when a company goes bust. That’s bad enough when it’s a home security device:

But what about when the device is inside your body?

Earlier this year, many people with Argus optical implants – which allow blind people to see – lost their vision when the manufacturer, Second Sight, went bust:

Nano Precision Medical, the company’s new owners, aren’t interested in maintaining the implants, so that’s the end of the road for everyone with one of Argus’s “bionic” eyes. The $150,000 per eye that those people paid is gone, and they have failing hardware permanently wired into their nervous systems.

Having a bricked eye implant doesn’t just rob you of your sight – many Argus users experience crippling vertigo and other side effects of nonfunctional implants. The company has promised to “do our best to provide virtual support” to people whose Argus implants fail – but no more parts and no more patches.

Second Sight wasn’t the first neural implant vendor to abandon its customers, nor was it the last. Last week, Liam Drew told the stories of other neural abandonware in “Abandoned: the human cost of neurotechnology failure” in Nature: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

What this shows me is that capitalism does not have all the answers and in fact creates some of the most intractable problems. With profit as one’s sole guiding star, it is easy to lose the straightforward pathway and find yourself lost in a forest dark.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 1:47 pm

How the Corporate Takeover of American Politics Began

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 1:20 pm

Crypto Was Always Smoke and Mirrors

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Or, as I like to say, crypto was just high-tech Beanie Babies. Charlie Warzel writes in the Atlantic:

The world of cryptocurrency is rich with eccentric characters and anonymous Twitter personalities. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the early figures who called attention to the problems with Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, is a 30-year-old Michigan psychiatrist who investigates financial crimes as a hobby.

James Block, who runs a crypto newsletter called Dirty Bubble Media, has gotten overlooked in the swift and spectacular collapse of FTX. On November 2, a report from the crypto publication Coindesk highlighted the troubled balance sheet of Bankman-Fried’s crypto-trading firm, Alameda Research. Two days later, Block’s post titled “Is Alameda Research Insolvent?” went viral, and for good reason: Block had connected the dots from Coindesk’s earlier work to suggest that both FTX and Alameda had their money tied up in their own made-up tokens—an unsustainable circular flow of cash that would eventually sink FTX. Within a week, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Currently, Bankman-Fried is under investigation from federal prosecutors who are looking into whether he engaged in illegal market-manipulation tactics. He’s also supposedly going to testify before the House Financial Services committee in the coming weeks. Ignoring the advice of his lawyers, Bankman-Fried has given a series of interviews with independent journalists as well as national media outlets. Throughout, he has continued to deny wrongdoing, maintaining instead that he was ignorant of Alameda’s market positions. “I didn’t knowingly commingle funds,” Bankman-Fried told The New York Times at a conference late last month.

Block, a vehement crypto skeptic, has spent the past 18 months doing forensic blockchain research. He uses open-source tools to follow flows of money between crypto companies, repeatedly demonstrating how shadow banks and nefarious scammers inflate the value of worthless assets in order to generate enormous wealth that exists only on paper. Earlier this week, I called him to talk about how he got sucked into the world of financial-crime investigation, why decentralized finance isn’t actually transparent (or, in many cases, even decentralized), and whether there’s any value at all in the crypto ecosystem.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Charlie Warzel: I’m very curious about what your day job is like. My fascination is with your crypto work, obviously. But a side fascination here is that you do this in your spare time.

James Block: I’ve always just been fascinated with the weird mechanics of financial stuff and fraud—the mechanics of it and the complexity of how something so simple ends up being so bizarrely intricate. I’d heard about bitcoin, obviously, but I never really knew anything about crypto until probably June of last year. And then I found out about Tether, this company that claimed to have $69 billion under management but wouldn’t show anybody the books. And so that was just like candy to me. I couldn’t resist becoming interested in something like that.

Warzel: The world of finance has always been intimidating and impenetrable to me, but the more I learn, the more I get what you’re describing: complex, but actually very simple. And it all hinges on the vocabulary. I was reading about hedge funds recently, and it’s like, Oh, that financial instrument, they just made it up!

Block: This is a great way to talk about FTX and Alameda Research, and how they got into trouble with their stupid tokens. They created this incredibly convoluted mechanism out of thin air. A token is just code they created that has no value, but then you can make it very visible and pump it up to make it valuable. But it’s nothing. It’s smoke and mirrors. There’s nothing really complicated there, but it looks complicated if you don’t understand what they’re doing.

Crypto hides behind all this complexity, and people hear words like blockchain and get confused. You hear about decentralized networks and mining, and it sounds complicated. But you get right down to it, and it’s just a ledger. It’s just like somebody writing down numbers in a book, and it’s page after page of numbers. That’s all it is.

Warzel: So what made you start poking into FTX? From your newsletter, it seems you were looking a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 12:56 pm

Buddhist 5 Precepts forestall depression

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Batya Swift Yasgur writes in Medscape:

Following five key Buddhist teachings may help protect against depression, new research shows.

A study from Thailand showed that among people who observed what are known as the Five Precepts of Buddhism ― not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, tell ill-intentioned lies, or use intoxicants ― rates of depressive symptoms were significantly lower than among their counterparts who did not observe these Five Precepts.

“Observing the Five Precepts buffers the effects of perceived stress on depression,” study investigator Nahathai Wongpakaran, MD, professor, Geriatric Psychiatry Unit, Chiang Mai University, Thailand, told Medscape Medical News.

The study was published online November 30 in PLOS ONE.

Tackling the “Big Five”

Neuroticism is one of the “Big Five” personality dimensions inherent in depression. A “clinically significant depressive symptom is usually attributable to an interaction of the trait of neuroticism with a life stressor,” the investigators note.

Perceived stress — “thoughts or the feelings that individuals experience after encountering stressful life events” — is “strongly associated” with depression and often precedes it. Perceived stress may mediate the effect of neuroticism on depression.

The effect of neuroticism and perceived stress on depression may be “buffered” by positive variables, such as self-efficacy, resilience, equanimity, and religious participation. In particular, equanimity is “a strength found in Buddhist discipline.”

However, “observance of the Five Precepts is not well-known among international academic circles, compared with mindfulness meditation,” the authors note.

The researchers “observed that people who practice the Five Precepts usually have better health than those who do not.” In addition, previously in this population, a “favorable relationship” was found between the Five Precepts and resilience, which made the investigators think that following the precepts might be beneficial in other areas of mental health, such as depression.

To investigate, they  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 12:22 pm

Luxury is a shaving soap — and having the time to enjoy it

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A tub of shaving soap, the bottom half showing a light purple label with the word "Luxury" in all-caps, the top half being the white screw-on lid. On the lid are a small shaving brush, the Wee Scot by Simpson; a double-edge razor having a stainless steel handle with a flared base and a gold anodized aluminum head; and a small bottle of Grooming Dept Rejuvenating Serum Grapefruit & Vetiver with a yellow label and white plastic squirt cap.
Silhouetted figure of the back of a man who stands looking out through a window, with pulled-back draperies on either side, at a city scene that in the image is heavily blurred.

Grooming Dept Luxury is his Kairos formula, a tallow-based soup, and this has an oud + leather fragrance. My tub lacked the top label (shown at the right), but I certainly have no complaints on that score: the soap is superb and the fragrance is alluring.

My Simpson Wee Scot did a fine job. I did load it well, and it had plenty of lather for the entire shave. This brush was made long before Vulfix acquired Simpson, so I have no knowledge of the current quality of the Wee Scot today, but the one I have is peerless among my brushes: it always does a great job and its lather capacity is Tardis-like.

I didn’t much like the original handle on my RazoRock Lupo, so I swapped it for a Tradere handle I happen to have, and the combination works well. The Lupo has a fair amount of blade feel but is nonetheless quite comfortable. It’s also highly efficient, and three passes later my face was perfectly smooth.

A drop of Grooming Dept Rejuvenating Serum made for a fine finish, and my skin now feels wonderful.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Queen Victoria: “rich Darjeeling and Ceylon, smoky Lapsang Souchong, and sweet Jasmine.” This is really an excellent tea.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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