Later On

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

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“Chef,” on Amazon Prime, is a feel-good movie, something I need right about now

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Jon Favreau wrote and directed (cf. Swingersit’s interesting to boot), and : behind the scenes on a food truck. Very loosely based on Roy Choi, I would guess. (And I note he gets co-producer credit.) A pleasant film to calm shattered nerves.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2017 at 3:49 pm

Competition among corporations is good; too bad we have too little

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post on where the money has gone. With less government action of an antitrust nature, we see regional monopolies (in telecommunications, for example) and a concentration of power (banks too big to fail). Until and unless the US becomes energetic in antitrust, it will get worse over time.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2017 at 9:07 am

An ominous step: Justice Dept. Demands Data on Visitors to Anti-Trump Website

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

The Justice Department is trying to force an internet hosting company to turn over information about everyone who visited a website used to organize protests during President Trump’s inauguration, setting off a new fight over surveillance and privacy limits.

Federal investigators last month persuaded a judge to issue a search warrant to the company, Dreamhost, demanding that it turn over data identifying all the computers that visited its customer’s website and what each visitor viewed or uploaded.

The company says that would result in the disclosure of a large volume of information about people who had nothing to do with the protests. Over 1.3 million requests were made to view pages on the website in the six days after inauguration alone, it said.

Dreamhost is fighting the warrant as unconstitutionally broad.

“In essence, the search warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website,” two lawyers for Dreamhost, Raymond Aghaian and Chris Ghazarian, wrote in a court motion opposing the demand.

William Miller, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in the District of Columbia, provided court filings in the case but declined to comment. The government’s filing declared that Dreamhost “has no legal basis for failing to produce materials in response to the court’s search warrant.”

The fight, which came to light on Monday when Dreamhost published a blog post entitled “We Fight For the Users,” centers on a search warrant for information about a website, disruptj20.org, which served as a clearinghouse for activists seeking to mobilize resistance to Mr. Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

The website featured maps to organize blockades of intersections arranged around various themes — like feminism, gay rights, racial justice, climate change, immigrant rights, antiwar, and labor — and tips for legal observers. It offered printable protest signs, many critical of Mr. Trump, and afterward it posted pictures of protests.

Mr. Trump’s inauguration in Washington was the scene of massive protests. The large majority of the thousands of protesters engaged peacefully, some carrying signs and marching and others in civil disobedience, such as participating in sit-ins to block intersections.

But a smaller group of anarchists — sometimes called the “black bloc” of the so-called Antifa, or anti-fascist, movement — protested violently.

Rioting by a small group of anarchists has become common at broader left-wing demonstrations for the past generation, such as during anti-free trade protests outside World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999.

During the Trump inauguration, such protesters broke the windows of shops and bus stop shelters, set a limousine on fire and threw rocks at police in riot gear, who fired tear gas at crowds. One masked man sucker-punched Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist, as he was being interviewed; a video of that assault was widely shared on the internet.

More than 200 people were indicted on felony rioting charges related to property damage and assault during the inauguration.

On July 12, Judge Robert P. Wertheim, who was appointed to the District of Columbia’s superior court in 1981 and retired in 1992but still occasionally hears matters and was on duty that day, signed off on prosecutors’ request for the sweeping search warrant in pursuit of information about people who organized or participated in rioting.

Among other things it demanded that Dreamhost turn over “all records or other information” pertaining to disruptj20.org, including log files showing who visited the website, when, from where, and what they looked at, and all emails related to the website.

Dreamhost balked. And after inconclusive negotiations over the search warrant, the assistant United States attorney handling the matter, John W. Borchert, asked another superior court judge, Lynn Leibovitz, who is overseeing the rioting cases, to order Dreamhost to show cause for why it was not complying.

In court filings, Dreamhost argued among other things, that the demand was unreasonably broad, violating the Fourth Amendment, and could make innocent people afraid to view or communicate with websites containing political content, violating the First Amendment. But the government maintains that those constitutional concerns are inaccurate. . .

Continue reading.

Are the AntiFa crowd false flaggers? Anyone know personally any AntiFa people? Are they actually on the left? or are they just trying to blacken the eye of the Left?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2017 at 1:49 pm

Climate change starts to bite: “We’re Choking on Smoke in Seattle”

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Climate change is already degrading the environment in the continental US. Lindy West writes in the NY Times:

The weather forecast for Seattle on Wednesday reads “89 degrees, smoke.” We first noticed the smoke, drifting down from wildfires still burning in British Columbia, around Aug. 2, just as a heat wave sent temperatures spiking well into the 90s (the historical average for that week is 77) and the ubiquitous Pacific winds dwindled to a standstill. “Nature’s air-conditioning is broken,” the National Weather Service told the Seattle Times.

The sky turned brown and opaque. The neighboring city of Bellevue, which normally glitters above Lake Washington to the east, disappeared. The mountains disappeared. I haven’t seen a tree move in a week. It’s as though a giant cloche has been placed over the whole region, like God is playing molecular gastronomy and we are her smoked langoustine cotton candy duck balloons. You can feel the air on your skin, powdery and wrong, somehow both sweltering and clammy. Residents have been warned not to exercise; people with asthma are clutching their inhalers, white-knuckled.

There’s a mental health impact, too. To live in Seattle is to exist, perpetually, in the bargaining stage of grief. From October through May, generally speaking, it drizzles. Every day. This past fall and winter, we broke a 122-year-old record for rain and had only three sunny, mild days in six months. What gets us through the gray, like a mantra, is the promise of summer. Summers in Seattle are perfect, bright blue and fresh, and all winter long we assure ourselves, over and over, “This is worth it, for that.” Please let this one be a good summer, a long summer, a real Seattle summer. We need it. It’s our medicine.

This smoke is stealing our summer. People are on edge. Traffic seems worse. Yesterday, in the car, my husband was telling me about two guys he saw fighting on the street, when I got distracted by two guys fighting on the street. It’s been a freaky, tense time.

It was evocative, to put it mildly, to read in The Times about a forthcoming federal climate change report while choking on hot, brown smoke.

Not only are human behaviors “primarily responsible” for climate change, the report says, but the repercussions are not some vague abstraction for distant equatorial communities or our faceless descendants to deal with. Americans are feeling the impacts of climate change right this second.

“In the United States,” Lisa Friedman wrote, “the report concludes with ‘very high’ confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased.” The report also notes that cold waves are less common and heat waves are more common.

Scientists are nervously awaiting the Trump administration’s reaction to the report, citing fears that it might be changed or even suppressed altogether in order to appease President Trump’s denialist base and dystopian corporate bedfellows.

I don’t mean to imply that these wildfires and this smoke are the direct result of human-made climate change. I have no idea. I am not a scientist. What I mean is that they have thrown formerly intangible feelings of dread into stark perspective. All week I have stared at the low, dirty sky and thought, “What if this never left? What if it got worse?”

Irrespective of their cause, the fires’ impact — the claustrophobia, the tension, the suffocating, ugly air — feels like a preview (and a mild one) of what’s to come if we don’t take immediate and drastic steps to halt and mitigate climate change. Temperatures will almost certainly rise. Air quality will almost certainly decline. I do not want to live like this, and you don’t either.

It’s easy, if you are not in immediate danger of being swallowed by the sea or strangled by drought, to slip into normalcy. Moment to moment, for a lot of people in America, everything still feels fine, unchanged. Even if you genuinely believe that doom is coming, it is possible to set aside your panic for a while and, say, go get a coffee. Wash your dog. Bicker with your spouse. The stoplights still work and you can still buy avocados at the supermarket and life is still as mundane and tedious as it’s always been. Boredom is somehow even more reassuring than happiness.

But we’re well past the window of procrastination. This is the time.

Seattle this week looks like one of those old photos of America’s smog-socked skylines from before the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, an echo as oddly hopeful as it is horrifying. The thing about human-made climate change is that it’s human-made, which means that humans, to some degree, can unmake it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2017 at 10:12 am

Early feedback on results of providing a Universal Basic Income

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Nurith Aizeman reports at NPR:

You don’t have to convince Likezo Nasilele that giving people a small but steady stream of cash with no strings attached may be the smartest way to fix poverty.

Just a few years ago Nasilele and her husband, Chipopa Lyoni, couldn’t even afford to feed their four children properly. Then Nasilele, who lives in a rural village in Western Zambia, lucked into an experimental government program that has provided her with up to $18 every other month. In the 2 1/2 years since, she and her husband have more than doubled the money by using it to start several businesses.

“We’ve crossed from poverty to a better life,” marvels Nasilele. “We’re set up now!” Hundreds of other families in the experimental program tell a similar story.

So you’d think Zambian officials would be eager to scale up the program. And to a large extent they are. The government is now expanding cash aid to cover the entire country.

But there’s a catch. Nasilele’s family would not be eligible for the nationwide version of the program.

Instead, the government is reserving the money for people who really can’t work — the elderly, the sick, single moms with lots of kids. They’re not going to give it to the kinds of families that made up the vast majority of the 1,250 households in the pilot program: families where there’s both a mom and a dad, who are able-bodied.

That option was considered too controversial, explains Esther Ngambi, the official in charge of the new cash program.

“Everybody would be saying that you’re trying to give money to lazy people — that you’re encouraging laziness,” Ngambi says.

For years, evidence has been mounting about the effectiveness of cash aid over traditional aid to the poor such as food or seeds or job training. But Zambia’s experience suggests that when it comes to persuading governments to adopt the approach, evidence might not be enough. Zambia’s study — which spanned five years, analyzed data from 5,500 households and cost about $5 million — is one of the most significant to date. And the country’s commitment to pouring its own resources into cash aid has established it as a leader of one of the most intriguing trends in the fight to conquer poverty. Yet this is also a tale of how gut feelings about which poor people deserve our help, and which do not, can be so entrenched they led a government to ignore the most powerful lesson of its own experiment.

“I’ve never seen impacts so large in my life”

When the possibility of cash aid was first floated in Zambia, it seemed totally implausible. The year was 2009. Cash aid had already emerged as a hot idea among social scientists who research anti-poverty efforts. Nongovernmental groups had launched some small-scale efforts to do it in Zambia. And some of the donors involved, including UNICEF and the German and British governments, were pushing Zambia’s leaders to try cash aid in a bigger way.

But Zambian officials were wary of giving people money with no strings attached. “People would say, you’re just putting money into a bottomless pit,” recalls Ngambi. There was concern that people would squander the money on vices, she says. For instance, “that men will be using the money for beer.” And even if people used the money for legitimate needs like food, the assumption was that as soon as they spent it they’d be right back where they started and would need more help — making cash aid an unsustainable drain on Zambia’s budget.

Still, officials in Ngambi’s ministry, which administers social welfare programs, were intrigued enough to set up two pilot programs. The first gave the money to any mother of a young child. This was the program Likezo Nasilele signed up for. The second targeted people who were somehow incapacitated, meaning that working was more difficult for them, if not impossible — such as the disabled or elderly people caring for orphaned relatives.

Then officials commissioned a study of these pilots from one of the premier researchers on the subject, Ashu Handa, an economist and professor at the University of North Carolina. Handa runs a center called the Transfer Project that specializes in studying cash aid programs using the gold-standard of social science research — a randomized controlled trial in which you compare what happens to people who get the cash to an otherwise identical group of people who don’t. He’s done studies like this across Africa. But Handa says the experiment that Zambian officials asked him to design broke new ground.

That’s because previous research had primarily focused on whether people spend the money responsibly: Do they tend to buy more alcohol and tobacco? (As a rule, they don’t.) Do they tend to eat better and keep their children in school? (Generally, they do.)

But Zambian officials also insisted on checking “that in fact the money is used not just responsibly but actually productively.” In other words, are people able to invest it in ways that make them more money — maybe even grow the wider economy?

To answer that question, Handa collected a wealth of data on recipients’ economic activities: How much more did they invest in their farms? Did they buy more livestock? Did they hire others to help with the farm work? How much did they produce? And did they open other businesses not related to farming?

A few years later, in 2014, those results started coming in. “Holy smoke!” says Handa. “They were incredible.” In both versions of the program, the recipients managed to boost their spending, which is effectively a measure of their income, by more than 50 percent over what the government had given them. In other words, if they got $100 over the course of a year in handouts, they spent an extra $200 above what they had been spending before — proof that they were using the free money to make more money.

And the benefits spilled over into the local economy. The beneficiaries spent their extra income at local shops. A related study by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that, as a result, shopkeepers and business owners saw their profits go up by 50 percent.

These kinds of returns are head and shoulders above what you generally get from traditional aid, says Handa. “I mean, I’ve never seen impacts so large in my life.”

There were two ways that the recipients used the cash to get ahead. In families led by people who were unable to work, they mainly used the money to hire others to help them farm their land more productively. But the young families — because they were able-bodied — did something that Handa argues is remarkable, and even more promising when it comes to growing Zambia’s economy long term: They became entrepreneurial.

“We’re on another level now”

Take Nasilele and her husband. They live in a tiny village called Yuka, in a round hut made of sticks and mud. Before the cash program, the couple mostly worked day jobs in construction, pulling in about $30 a month. Not even enough to cover basics like soap or shoes or food, says Nasilele.

“We would have one meal a day and maybe in between we would just have mangoes from our tree,” she recalls. “The thing that saved us were our mangoes.”

Lyoni, Nasilele’s husband, says he was all the more frustrated because he actually had an idea for how to make more money — “a business to sell reed mats.”

He pulls out a mat to show me.

It’s about 6 feet by 10, woven from the reeds that grow in the marshes around their village. People sit on them or use them as fences and walls for their homes.

Making a mat takes hours. And in the village and its surroundings the mats sell for only 30 cents or so. But Lyoni thought if he could buy up a whole collection of mats from other people, rent a canoe and paddle across the marshes to a big town several hours away, he could probably sell the mats for 10 times as much.

To put together enough mats to make the trip worthwhile, “I figured we would need about $120,” says Lyoni. So when the couple found out Nasilele was going to get the government payments, they decided to save every penny for a mat business. They were so determined not to dip into their savings until they had reached the full amount that they gave the money to a local businessman to hold for them. It took more than a year.

Lyoni says he still remembers the afternoon his wife came home from getting the last payment. “I said to her, ‘Now everything’s going to be well with us.’ ”

And he was right. Their first trip selling mats in the big town, they turned a profit of $340. Soon they were buying land on which to grow cassava and millet for food and even some luxuries — like cute outfits for their children. And they’re setting aside money to replace their thatch roof with a metal sheet.

Now, this isn’t easy money. Mats are actually a scarce commodity since they take so long to make. It takes weeks to purchase enough. On their last trip their canoe capsized in choppy waters and they lost every single one. Lyoni has also developed pain and stiffness in one of his hands that’s been making it ever more difficult to row. . .

Continue reading.

See also How To Fix Poverty: Why Not Just Give People Money?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2017 at 7:37 am

Elevator innovation

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2017 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Can a better night’s sleep in a ‘hipster’ bus replace flying?

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Perfect for the awkward distances. But that we have come to that. Peter Holley describes it in the Washington Post:

Picture this: Your boss asks you to make a last-second trip to a city a few hundred miles away for a meeting tomorrow morning.

So how do you get there?

You could take an early-morning regional flight, but frequent delays on small carriers might mean you risk missing your meeting and spending more time on the tarmac than in the air.

You could spend a few hundred bucks on a train ticket, but don’t expect to get much sleep ahead of your meeting. You could also drive your own car, but that means confronting traffic jams and an exhausting night on the road.

For many people, moving between major hubs that are just far enough away to create complications — think Los Angeles to San Francisco, for instance — is a regular travel headache.

Tom Currier calls it the “500-mile problem” and now, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and his partner, Gaetano Crupi, say they have a solution. It’s called “Cabin” — a double-decker, luxury bus line with WiFi, a comfy lounge and sleeping pods that offer the same pressed sheets you’ll find at the Ritz Carlton.

Cabin began making overnight trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco last month. There’s nothing particularly innovative about packing people into a bus and moving them from one place to another after dark. But Currier argues that the company’s emphasis on providing passengers with a good night’s sleep separates Cabin from other forms of transportation. He says it allows the company to capitalize on Silicon Valley’s belief that a growing number of people will leap at any convenient opportunity to avoid driving as society begins to flirt with autonomous modes of transportation.

He compares the overnight bus ride to “teleportation.”

“We’re taking these 300-500 mile trips and turning them into an experience where you’re basically checking into a hotel in one city and then checking out of a hotel in another city,” Currier said. “And when you combine our service with Uber and Lyft in our destination cities, you’re replacing the need for having a car entirely.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2017 at 8:01 pm

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