Later On

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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Artistic nudity in 6th-grade classrooms

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David by Michelangelo – Florence Galleria dell’Accademia

A kerfuffle erupted in Florida when parents were not notified in advance that their sixth-grade child would be in a class where Michelangelo’s David would be displayed as part of the art curriculum. Some parents objected because of the genitals displayed on the statue.

Kevin Drum has an excellent discussion of the matter on his blog. He quotes the report in the Washington Post:

We don’t have any problem showing David. You have to tell the parents ahead of time, and they can decide whether it is appropriate for their child to see it….No one has a problem with David. It’s not about David.

I pointed out Drum’s post on Mastodon and got some pushback from someone who said that the parents who objected were “oversensitive” (meaning, I think, that they were more sensitive than he, who has the right amount of sensitivity). 

This conflict of opinions is exactly what I talked about in an earlier post, and so I thought I’d use the resolution I suggested there: submit it to — not to settle the matter, but just curious of what the AI would conclude.

I submitted this proposition: “Schools should be allowed to show art with nudity to sixth-grade students without notifying parents in advance.”

You can read the full debate. The Moderator concluded:

Discussions surrounding art with nudity in schools are always difficult due to the possible implications at stake hence, kudos to both debators for handling such an issue. However, Debator B presented strong arguments regarding the right of parents to choose, and the importance of an appropriate school environment for young children. As such, I declare Debator B the winner of this debate.

I note that the AI in Opinionate is not so intelligent as to know how to spell “debater,” but the overall argument is interesting. Debater A gave another indication of a lack of intelligence by remarking a couple of times that parents could opt out, apparently overlooking the part of the proposition that parents would not be notified in advance (and thus would have no opportunity to opt out, the very problem the principal created). 

Parents in general want what is best for their children, but they do not always agree on what that is. Some will take the view that their own idea of what is best should apply to all parents. I don’t think that position is defensible in any honest way.


Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2023 at 2:28 pm

The Six Steps to Cosmic Consciousness: A Pioneering Theory of Transcendence by the 19th-Century Psychiatrist and Adventurer Maurice Bucke

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Photograph from the late 19th century of Maurice Bucke when he was elderly with a full and flowing white beard and moustache. It is a three-quarter view of his face, and he is gazing intently to the right.

Maria Popova writes in The Marginalian:

“Our normal waking consciousness,” William James wrote in 1902, “is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”

A year earlier, the Canadian psychiatrist and adventurer Maurice Bucke (March 18, 1837–February 19, 1902) published a stunning personal account and psychological study of a dazzling form of consciousness that lies just on the other side of that filmiest of screens, accessible to all. Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (public library) went on to influence generations of thinkers as diverse as Albert Einstein, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Alan Watts, and Steve Jobs.

By his own account, Bucke was “born of good middle class English stock,” but grew up almost entirely without education, working tirelessly on his parents’ farm in the backwoods of Canada — tending cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs, working in the hay field, driving oxen and horses, and running various errands from the earliest age. He learned to read when he was still a small child and soon began devouring novels and poetry. He remembers that, like Emily Dickinson, he “never, even as a child, accepted the doctrines of the Christian church” — a disposition utterly countercultural in that era of extreme religiosity.

Although his mother died when he was very young and his father shortly thereafter, Bucke recalls being often overcome by “a sort of ecstasy of curiosity and hope.” (What a lovely phrase.) At sixteen, he left the farm “to live or die as might happen,” trekking from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from Ohio to San Francisco, working on farms and railroads and steamboats, narrowly escaping death by illness, starvation, and battle on several occasions. In his twentieth year, he heard of the first major discovery of silver ore in America and joined a mining party, of which he was the only survivor, and barely: On his way to California, while crossing the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, he suffered frostbite so severe that one foot and a few toes on the remaining foot had to be amputated.

When he finally made it to the Pacific Coast, Bucke used a moderate inheritance from his mother to give himself a proper college education. He devoured ideas from books as wide-ranging as On the Origin of Species and Shelley’s poems. After graduating, he taught himself French so that he could read Auguste Comte and German so that he could read Goethe. At thirty, he discovered and became instantly besotted with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which he felt contained vaster truth and richer meaning than any book he had previously encountered. It was Whitman who catalyzed Bucke’s transcendent experience.

More than a century before Michael Pollan insisted in his masterly inquiry into the science of psychedelics that “the Beyond, whatever it consists of, might not be nearly as far away or inaccessible as we think,” Bucke suggests that it might be just a poem away. Writing in the third person, as was customary for “the writer” in the nineteenth century, he recounts his transformative illumination:

It was in the early spring, at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful. He was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city; the next, he knew that the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an aftertaste of heaven. Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain.

Although the illumination only lasted a moment, Burke felt that he learned more in those few seconds than in all his years of study, more even than what could ever possibly be taught by the standard modes of scholarship. (“The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,” Patti Smith would write a century later.) In that instant, as “the secret of Whitman’s transcendent greatness was revealed,” he experienced something he could never forget, which he called “cosmic consciousness” — a term he borrowed from the English philosopher and poet Edward Carpenter, who was among the first Western thinkers to popularize the ancient teachings of the Eastern philosophical and spiritual traditions.

Continue reading.

A color illustration of a naked man standing on the shore of a calm sea, his back to the viewer, and his arms open with his hands resting on his head, facing a brilliant sun on the horizon.
Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2023 at 6:42 pm

The Future Is Handmade

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Craftsmanship Quarterly has an interesting article with a video. Todd Oppenheimer writes:

One day in December, 2003, when he was a young archaeology student, Maikel Kuijpers was attending a workshop at the Netherlands’ National Museum of Antiquities, and was handed a sword made during the Bronze Age. The workmanship of the ancient weapon immediately captured him. “The lines, the details, the fine balance when holding it,” he recalls. “The attention put into its making was still resonating three thousand years later.”

Kuijpers realized that this ancient weapon posed enough questions about the nature of knowledge—how it’s produced over time, and why knowledge matters—that it could inspire a long-term program of study. Over the next 15 years, as he developed a master’s thesis on metalworking technology, Kuijpers thought about almost nothing else. His journey took him from excavation sites and artisans’ studios to the heights of academia, eventually earning him a Ph.D. in Archaeology from Cambridge University.

The dissertation for that Ph.D. turned into a 318-page addition to the annals of academic research on the nature of craft and skill. Kuijpers’ case study for this inquiry was “Bronze Age Metalworking in the Netherlands”, which became a book entitled “An Archaeology of Skill” (Routledge, 2017). Along the way, with help from the Netherlands’ Centre for Global Heritage and Development, Kuijpers also produced a remarkable documentary, called “The Future is Handmade.” Running just over 12 minutes, the documentary features interviews with several of the world’s leading experts on craftsmanship, played over scenes of various master artisans at work. The cast includes a tailor, a violin maker, a ceramicist, a winemaker, and a barber. The resulting film, brief as it is, is nothing short of a tour de force—both intellectually and emotionally.


During his explorations, Kuijpers was continually surprised by what he saw in the workshops he visited. “When you watch artisans at work,” he told me, “in a strange way it’s very calming.” Time after time, Kuijpers noticed a lack of stress in these workshops. One reason, he concluded, is that when people are working with their hands, quality can’t be rushed; nor can it be faked. “Masters don’t need to say they’re the masters—it’s obvious in the work.”

He also noticed an atmosphere of order, which seemed to arise from a shared sense of the hierarchy in these workshops. “I’m Dutch,” he says, “and we pride ourselves in having a very egalitarian society, so we don’t generally see hierarchy as a good thing.” Much of that view, he believes, comes from the very different atmosphere that tends to dominate white-collar offices, where there is often confusion about whether the boss really deserves to be in charge. “In an artisan’s workshop, it’s perfectly clear who the master is, and where everyone else stands on the hierarchy of skill.”

The power structure that hierarchy created inside artisan workshops left Kuijpers feeling surprisingly impressed, and hopeful that we can somehow find a way to spread its virtues. “It’s more stable, more easily accepted,” he told me. “It’s very clear, and it exists outside of social influences.”


Throughout Kuijpers’ film, one expert after another talks about . . .

Continue reading.

Update: This account seems relevant.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2023 at 6:09 pm

Redpilled, QAnon, Anti-Vaccine: Conservative versions of ‘woke’

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Gil Duran and George Lakoff write at FrameLab:

In our previous post, “Time to Get Woke About Woke,” we analyzed the meaning of the term “woke” and how it has been co-opted by Republicans as a catch-all label for anything associated with liberal moral values. This post will delve into a more insidious tactic employed by Republicans, which involves denouncing perceived progressive radicalism while simultaneously promoting and glorifying their own version of radicalism.

While Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are busy decrying “woke” politics (and labeling all Democratic policies as woke), they are also busily embracing their own versions of woke. The Republican Party fully embraces radical politics — as long as those radical politics reflect its own moral beliefs.

Many Republican leaders have been fully engaged in the radical politics of election denial, vaccine denial and unprecedented efforts to strip away the rights and freedoms of women, people of color and LGBT people. While condemning “ideological conformity,” DeSantis has simultaneously made it easier to ban books, has limited the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in schools and has forbidden the teaching of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies.

Last year, DeSantis signed the Stop Woke Act, which “prohibits in-school discussions about racism, oppression, LBGTQ+ issues and economic inequity,” according to The Guardian. This is quite extreme. It’s also clearly an effort to enforce, rather than prevent, ideological conformity — specifically, ideological conformity to a strict conservative moral worldview.

Politicians like DeSantis accuse others of embracing radicalism while they openly embrace conservative radicalism. The Republican Party, after all, is the party responsible for the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. This kind of radical politics is far more dangerous and destructive than any other force in the United States today. But Republicans, experts at distraction, prefer to focus the debate on issues like gender pronouns and drag shows.

Redpilled: Woke Republicans

There’s even a word that describes the Republican version of woke: Redpilled. The metaphor of redpilled comes from the movie The Matrix, where the character played by Keanu Reeves must choose between a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will awaken him to the true nature of reality, in which nothing is as it seems. The blue pill will allow the character, Neo, to remain blissfully asleep and unaware. He takes the red pill.

Take the red pill” has become shorthand for the process of converting to a reactionary and conspiracy-tinged Republican view of the world. In 2020, Elon Musk, who has been going through a very public meltdown into reactionary politics, urged his Twitter followers to “take the red pill.” This earned a cringeworthy response from Ivanka Trump, who tweeted enthusiastically that she had already taken it. (This, in turn, earned a memorable response from Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski, a trans woman, who tweeted: “F— both of you.”)

The core of the Republican base celebrates and encourages conservative versions of wokeness/radicalism. The Fox channel and other extreme propaganda outlets churn out a constant stream of disreality to keep their audiences “awake” to a range of imaginary grievances and threats. Just look at the rise of QAnon, an outlandish and thoroughly debunked anti-government conspiracy theory believed by 25% of Republicans.

The Republican base has become an extreme radical movement, increasingly prone to violence and lacking in commitment to democracy. Republicans love radicalism — as long as it’s a version that serves their belief system.

Linguistic misdirection

It’s no accident that, at a time of rising Republican radicalism, Republicans are busy framing the Democratic Party as the true radical menace. Such misdirection serves an important strategic purpose.

First, it distracts from the true threat to democracy, which is the violent radicalism of the Republican Party.

Second, . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2023 at 3:00 pm

AI responsibility in a hyped-up world

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Per Axbom has an interesting essay on the ethics of AI, an important issue given the onrushing ubiquity of AI in our daily life. He writes:

It’s never more easy to get scammed than during an ongoing hype. It’s March 2023 and we’re in the middle of one. Rarely have I seen so many people embrace a brand new experimental solution with so little questioning. Right now, it’s important to shake off any mass hypnosis and examine the contents of this new bottle of AI that many have started sipping, or have already started refueling their business computers with. Sometimes outside the knowledge of management.

AI, a term that became an academic focus in 1956, has today mostly morphed into a marketing term for technology companies. The research field is still based on a theory that human intelligence can be described so precisely that a machine can be built that completely simulates this intelligence. But the word AI, when we read the paper today, usually describes different types of computational models that, when applied to large amounts of information, are intended to calculate and show a result that is the basis for various forms of predictions, decisions and recommendations.

Clearly weak points in these computational models then become, for example:

  • how questions are asked of the computational model (you may need to have very specific wording to get the results you want),
  • the information it relies on to make its calculation (often biased or insufficient),
  • how the computational model actually does its calculation (we rarely get to know that because the companies regard it as their proprietary secret sauce, which is referred to as black box), and
  • how the result is presented to the operator* (increasingly as if the machine is a thinking being, or as if it can determine a correct answer from a wrong one).

The operator is the one who uses, or runs, the tool.

A diagram showing interaction of operator with AI. Operator inputs (eg) a question, The question goes to the computational model which uses an information store (which also gets input from the operator and is a two-way street with the computational model). The computational model produces an answer or output, which the operator decodes (and perhaps uses to provide feedback to the information store) and uses as output from the total system.

What we call AI colloquially today is still very far from something that ‘thinks’ on its own. Even if texts that these tools generate can resemble texts written by humans, this isn’t stranger than the fact that the large amount of information that the computational model uses is written by humans. The tools are built to deliver answers that look like human answers, not to actually think like humans.

Or even deliver a correct answer.

It is exciting and titillating to talk about AI as self-determining. But it is also dangerous. Add to this the fact that much of what is marketed and sold as AI today is simply not AI. The term is extremely ambiguous and has a variety of definitions that have also changed over time. This means very favorable conditions for those who want to mislead.

Problems often arise when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2023 at 12:25 pm

Elon Musk knocked Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ off course

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Faiz Siddiqui reports in the Washington Post:

Long before he became “Chief Twit” of Twitter, Elon Musk had a different obsession: making Teslas drive themselves. The technology was expensive and, two years ago when the supply chain was falling apart, Musk became determined to bring down the cost.

He zeroed in on a target: the car radar sensors, which are designed to detect hazards at long ranges and prevent the vehicles from barreling into other cars in traffic. The sleek bodies of the cars already bristled with eight cameras designed to view the road and spot hazards in each direction. That, Musk argued, should be enough.

Some Tesla engineers were aghast, said former employees with knowledge of his reaction, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. They contacted a trusted former executive for advice on how to talk Musk out of it, in previously unreported pushback. Without radar, Teslas would be susceptible to basic perception errors if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight, problems that could lead to crashes.

Musk was unconvinced and overruled his engineers. In May 2021 Tesla announced it was eliminating radar on new cars. Soon after, the company began disabling radar in cars already on the road. The result, according to interviews with nearly a dozen former employees and test drivers, safety officials and other experts, was an uptick in crashes, near misses and other embarrassing mistakes by Tesla vehicles suddenly deprived of a critical sensor.

Musk has described the Tesla “Full Self-Driving” technology as “the difference between Tesla being worth a lot of money and being worth basically zero,” but his dream of autonomous cars is hitting roadblocks.

In recent weeks, Tesla has recalled and suspended the rollout of the technology to eligible vehicles amid concerns that its cars could disobey the speed limit and blow through stop signs, according to federal officials. Customer complaints have been piling up, including a lawsuit filed in federal court last month claiming that Musk has overstated the technology’s capabilities. And regulators and government officials are scrutinizing Tesla’s system and its past claims as evidence of safety problems mounts, according to company filings.

In interviews, former Tesla employees who worked on Tesla’s driver-assistance software attributed the company’s troubles to the rapid pace of development, cost-cutting measures like Musk’s decision to eliminate radar — which strayed from industry practice — and other problems unique to Tesla.

They said Musk’s erratic leadership style also played a role, forcing them to work at a breakneck pace to develop the technology and to push it out to the public before it was ready. Some said they are worried that, even today, the software is not safe to be used on public roads. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. [Musk seems extraordinarily given to retribution. – LG]

“The system was only progressing very slowly internally” but . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

“No one believed me that working for Elon was the way it was until they saw how he operated Twitter,” Bernal said, calling Twitter “just the tip of the iceberg on how he operates Tesla.”

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 9:15 pm

Exponential growth is messing with our minds

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A gif that shows how Lake Michigan would be filled by exponential growth, in analogy with computing power doubling every 18 months (Moore's Law). From 1940 to 2015, no water seems to accumulate, but then from 2015 to 2025 the lake is abruptly filled. 

The caption on the gif reads: "How Long Until Computers Have the Same Power As the Human Brain? Lake Michigan's volume (in fluid ounces) is about the same as our brain's capacity (in calculations per second. Computing power doubles every 18 months. At that rate, you see very little progress for a long time--and suddenly you're finished."
A chart showing exponential growth over a 70-year period. For the first 60 years nothing seems to happen. Then in the next 5 years there's a little growth. And then the  growth line goes almost vertical.

The gif above shows the peculiarity of exponential growth, as does the chart at the right. Both are from a very interesting post by Kevin Drum, well worth reading, on why we are feeling disoriented by the rate of technological change in general and the increasing capabilities of AI in particular. (We who are science-fiction fans have been aware of this phenomenon for some time by reading novels about the Singularity, when AI becomes subject to managing its own improvement. Even now AI is designing better circuitry to implement better AI.)

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 4:56 pm

The disabled villain: why sensitivity reading can’t kill off this ugly trope

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Jan Grue writes in the Guardian:

Some years ago, I decided to read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. It may have been a fit of nostalgia for the Roger Moore films I grew up watching, or perhaps I was bored with writing short stories for a minuscule readership and wanted to know what mass-market success read like.

It was quite an experience – and one I found myself recalling recently, when I read that Fleming’s books were being revised, chiefly in order to remove some, though not all, of the casual racism. Also some of the misogyny, though likely not all of that either.

My first question, on reading the news, was what kind of reader exactly was the publisher, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, envisioning. Presumably someone who would, were it not for the most explicit slurs, really enjoy the ethnic stereotypes. Or someone who would, were it not for the full-on rapes, really enjoy the pervasive sexism. (Come to think of it, there are probably quite a few of these readers.)

The other question that struck me was this: what on earth are they going to do about disability?

As a wheelchair user, I could not help noticing that the original Bond books had, shall we say, an interesting relationship to embodied differenceIt was a feature of Fleming’s writing that would be all but impossible to alter through the interventions of a sensitivity reader, hired by the publisher to make the books more palatable to contemporary readers. Fleming’s attitude to disability was encoded not only in words and phrases, but in characterisation and plot – that is, in the stories’ most fundamental qualities.

It is not a novel observation that Bond villains tend to be, to use a less sensitive register, disfigured and deformed. Dr No with his steel pincers instead of hands, Blofeld with his scars, Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker, with his facial disfigurement and his pathetic attempt to conceal it with a “bushy reddish beard” (reddish hair may itself count as a deformity in these stories). Were they not successfully self-employed, most of Bond’s enemies would likely qualify for disability benefits.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 4:43 pm

Republican “reality” leads to a dictatorship

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Rumors that he is about to be indicted in New York in connection with the $130,000 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels have prompted former president Donald Trump to pepper his alternative social media site with requests for money and to double down on the idea that any attack on him is an attack on the United States.

The picture of America in his posts reflects the extreme version of the virtual reality the Republicans have created since the 1980s. The United States is “THIRD WORLD & DYING,” he wrote. “THE AMERICAN DREAM IS DEAD.” He went on to describe a country held captive by “CRIMINALS & LEFTIST THUGS,” in which immigrants are “FLOODING THROUGH OUR OPEN BOARDERS [sic], MANY FROM PRISONS & MENTAL INSTITUTIONS,” and where the president is “SURROUNDED BY EVIL & SINISTER PEOPLE.” He told his supporters to “SAVE AMERICA” by protesting the arrest he—but no one else—says is coming on Tuesday.

Trump’s false and dystopian portrait of the nation takes to its logical conclusion the narrative Republicans have pushed since the 1980s. Since the days of Reagan, Republicans have argued that people who believe that the government should regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, protect civil rights, and promote infrastructure are destroying the country by trying to redistribute wealth from hardworking white Americans to undeserving minorities and women. Now Trump has taken that argument to its logical conclusion: the country has been destroyed by women, Black Americans, Indigenous people, and people of color, who have taken it over and are persecuting people like him.

This old Republican narrative created a false image of the nation and of its politics, an image pushed to a generation of Americans by right-wing media, a vision that MAGA Republicans have now absorbed as part of their identity. It reflects a manipulation of politics that Russian political theorists called “political technology.”

Russian “political technologists” developed a series of techniques to pervert democracy by creating a virtual political reality through modern media. They blackmailed opponents, abused state power to help favored candidates, sponsored “double” candidates with names similar to those of opponents in order to split their voters and thus open the way for their own candidates, created false parties to create opposition, and, finally, created a false narrative around an election or other event that enabled them to control public debate.

Essentially, they perverted democracy, turning it from the concept of voters choosing their leaders into the concept of voters rubber-stamping the leaders they had been manipulated into backing.

This system made sense in former Soviet republics, where it enabled leaders to avoid the censorship that voters would recoil from by instead creating a firehose of news until people became overwhelmed by the task of trying to figure out what was real and simply tuned out.

But it also fit nicely into American politics, where there is a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2023 at 9:11 pm

The “highly processed food” equivalent in social media

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A good insight into the social media equivalent of manufactured snack foods.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2023 at 7:48 pm

Not so much low-information voters as anti-information voters

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2023 at 12:03 pm

A fearful country

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Dan Froomkin on Mastodon quoted this tweet:

RT @Rob_Weissman
It’s actually even worse than the $886B for the Pentagon.

Total spending on “security” is $1 trillion.

Everything else (excluding mandatory programs like SS and Medicare) totals $560 billion.

This is the budget of a fearful nation, not that of a caring country.

“A fearful nation” seems about right, when people feel they must arm themselves when they go to the grocery store, children in schools routinely have active-shooter drills (and actual active-shooter evens, including multiple dead, regularly recur).

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 11:04 am

Elon Musk Wants to Relive His Start-Up Days. He’s Repeating the Same Mistakes.

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In a post at Disconnect Paris Marx points out how Elon Musk has been consistent over the course of his career:

When Elon Musk announced his bid to take over Twitter in early 2022, he seemed on top of the world. On the back of soaring Tesla stock, he’d become the richest man on the planet and surrounded himself with sycophants who’d tell him anything he wanted to hear in the hopes he’d reward them for their fealty. But behind the scenes, things weren’t going so well.

In March 2022, the media reported that Musk and his girlfriend Grimes had split up. Then, in June 2022, court documents revealed that Musk’s trans daughter no longer wanted to be “related to my biological father in any way, shape or form” — a process that had clearly been in the works for a while. On top of all that, scrutiny of Musk’s companies was escalating as he couldn’t seem to pry himself away from his Twitter account. Many critics pointed out he exuded “divorced guy energy.”

But what does a rich guy do during their mid-life crisis? He couldn’t buy a fancy car, because he already has them, so instead he bought his favorite company for $44 billion. Despite his claims of protecting free speech and the public square, he seems to have had a deeper motivation: to return to the start-up years he felt nostalgic for.

The Hubris of Youth

Before Musk was Tesla’s Technoking and our collective Chief Twit, there was a period of a few years where he was just another guy trying to ride the dot-com boom to untold riches — and he imagined a “financial superstore” called was his ticket.

The idea didn’t come out of nowhere. Before moving to the United States, Elon Musk spent a few years in Canada and got himself an internship at Scotiabank, the country’s third-largest bank, in the early 1990s. He worked on its Latin American debt holdings, but wasn’t happy when his superiors wouldn’t agree to a series of risky trades that would’ve left them even more exposed to bad debt.

In The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, Jimmy Soni quotes Musk as saying the experience taught him “how lame banks are” and made him feel they were ripe for disruption. It didn’t matter that he was nineteen years old; he felt he knew better than everyone else. After selling his first company, Zip2, Musk decided to take his swing at the big banks.

Many of’s early staff came from the Canadian financial world, and they very quickly butt heads with the obstinate founder who seemed more interested in getting press than building a product. The concept struggled to go anywhere, and Musk was pushed by investors to merge with Peter Thiel and Max Levchin’s Confinity in 2000. Confinity’s PayPal product was what ultimately made everyone money when they sold the company to eBay in 2002.

But Musk never gave up on the idea. In 2017, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 March 2023 at 5:46 am

Many Differences between Liberals and Conservatives May Boil Down to One Belief

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Jer Clifton writes in Scientific American:

Disagreement has paralyzed our politics and our collective ability to get things done. But where do these conflicts come from? A split between liberals and conservatives, many might say. But underlying that division is an even more fundamental fissure in the ways that people view the world.

In politics, researchers usually define conservativism as a general tendency to resist change and tolerate social inequalityLiberalism is a tendency to embrace change and reject inequality. Political parties evolve with time—Democrats were the conservative party 150 years ago—but the liberal-conservative split is typically recognizable in a country’s politics. It’s the fault line on which political cooperation most often breaks down.

Psychologists have long suspected that a handful of fundamental differences in worldviews might underlie the conservative-liberal rift. Forty years of research has shown that, on average, conservatives see the world as a more dangerous place than liberals. This one core belief seemed to help explain many policy disagreements, such as conservative support of gun ownership, border enforcement and increased spending on police and the military—all of which, one can argue, aim to protect people from a threatening world.

But new research by psychologist Nick Kerry and me at the University of Pennsylvania contradicts that long-standing theory. We find instead that the main difference between the left and right is the belief that the world is inherently hierarchical. Conservatives, our work shows, tend to have higher belief than liberals in a hierarchical world, which is essentially the view that the universe is a place where the lines between categories or concepts matter. A clearer understanding of that difference could help society better bridge political divides.

[Read more about what brain and behavioral science reveals about conservative and liberal thought]

We discovered this by accident. My team was undertaking an ambitious effort to map all the most basic beliefs that people hold about the world we share. We call these tenets “primal world beliefs,” or “primals” for short. Primals reflect what people think is typical about the world—for instance, that most things are beautiful or that life is usually pain and suffering. We suspect these beliefs hold important implications for people’s mental health and well-being.

Our effort began with 10 projects to identify possible primals, such as gathering data from more than 80,000 tweets and 385 influential written works, including the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. After several rounds of statistical analysis with data from more than 2,000 people, we identified 26 primals and found that most beliefs clustered into three areas: the world is generally dangerous or safe, dull or more enticing and alive or mechanistic. We have created a free, scientifically validated online survey that you can take if you wish to learn how your own primals compare with the average.

In most of our studies, we also asked people to share their political party preference and to rate how liberal or conservative they consider themselves. In an early study focused on well-being, I noticed a surprising relationship between people’s beliefs and how they answered these two questions. Dangerous world belief was not linked to party or ideology as past research—including some of our own—said it should be.

We conducted nine more studies with nearly 5,500 participants, mostly Americans, to make sure we had it right. These studies pointed away from dangerous world belief as the core difference between liberals and conservatives and toward a different primal called hierarchical world belief. That primal, we found, was 20 times more strongly related to political ideology than dangerous world belief.

People high in hierarchical world belief see the world as full of differences that matter because they usually reflect something inherent, real and significant. Such individuals often separate things of greater value from things of less value. You might imagine that, to them, the world looks full of big, bold black lines. The opposite view—held by people low in this belief—tends to perceive differences as superficial and even silly. For individuals with this perspective, the world is mostly dotted lines or shades of gray. (To reiterate, primals concern tendencies only. Even people with a strong hierarchical world belief see some lines as arbitrary.) In our work, this primal was high in conservatives and low in liberals.

Most types of hierarchical thinking that have been studied, such as social dominance orientation, concern preferences about how humans should be organized. But hierarchical world belief relates to how people perceive the world to actually exist—regardless of what they’d like to see. In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2023 at 10:27 am

How to Grow Re-enchanted with the World: A Salve for the Sense of Existential Meaninglessness and Burnout

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An interesting (albeit for me overwritten) review of a book by Katherine May on re-awakening one’s sense of wonder and awe at the flow of life. Maria Popova writes in Marginalia:

There are seasons of being when a cloak of meaninglessness seems to slip over you, over everything, muffling the song of life. It is not depression exactly, though the two conditions make eager bedfellows. Rather, it is a great hollowing that empties you of that vital force necessary for moving through the world wonder-smitten by reality, that glint of gladness at the mundane miracle of existence. A disenchantment we may call by many names — burnout, apathy, alienation — but one that visits upon every life in one form or another, at one time or another, pulsating with the unmet longing for something elemental and ancient, with the yearning to see the world as beautiful again and feel its magic, to find sanctuary in it, to contact that “submerged sunrise of wonder.”

Katherine May explores what it takes to shed the cloak of meaninglessness and recover the sparkle of vitality in Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age (public library) — a shimmering chronicle of her own quest for “a better way to walk through this life,” a way that grants us “the ability to sense magic in the everyday, to channel it through our minds and bodies, to be sustained by it.”

May — who has written enchantingly about wintering, resilience, and the wisdom of sadness — reaches for the other side of that coma of the soul:

This life I have made is too small. It doesn’t allow enough in: enough ideas, enough beliefs, enough encounters with the exuberant magic of existence. I have been so keen to deny it, to veer deliberately towards the rational, to cling solely to the experiences that are directly observable by others. Only now, when everything is taken away, can I see what a folly this is. I don’t want that life anymore. I want what [the] ancients had: to be able to talk to god. Not in a personal sense, to a distant figure who is unfathomably wise, but to have a direct encounter with the flow of things, a communication without words. I want to let something break in me, some dam that has been shoring up this shamefully atavistic sense of the magic behind all things, the tingle of intelligence that was always waiting for me when I came to tap in. I want to feel that raw, elemental awe that my ancestors felt, rather than my tame, explained modern version. I want to prise open the confines of my skull and let in a flood of light and air and mystery… I want to retain what the quiet reveals, the small voices whose whispers can be heard only when everything falls silent.

To lodge herself out of this existential stupor, she turns to . . .

Continue reading.

This desire to escape an existential stupor may be for some what drives the desire to drink. (See previous post.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 March 2023 at 7:27 am

Some have the view that always the blame belongs to women

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Monica Hesse writes in the Washington Post:

I started my twice-a-decade rereading of “The Handmaid’s Tale” a few nights ago, and one scene that sticks out every time I pick up the book is when the miserable Janine is made to recount her sexual assault, then to assume responsibility for it. Her fault, her fault, Janine’s fellow trainees chant, surrounding her and pointing. This is the magic trick of Gilead’s worldview; this is the magic trick of a lot of conservative worldviews. Men are the ones in charge of what happens, but the women are the ones to blame.

Anyway, the next morning a friend sent me a clip of Tucker Carlson.

In a Tuesday evening segment, Carlson and Candace Owens discussed President Biden and Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who is seeking inpatient treatment for clinical depression while simultaneously recovering from a stroke. Carlson doesn’t believe either man should be in office — Fetterman because of his illnesses and Biden because of, Carlson claimed without evidence, diminished mental capacity due to age. But the point of that particular segment wasn’t to blame the politicians. It was to blame their wives.

“Why is Dr. Jill not the villain in this story? What is her problem?” Carlson demanded, asserting that a “a woman, a spouse, who loved her husband” would keep her husband away from campaigns. “What a ghoulish, power-seeking creep.”

“Absolutely,” Owens agreed. “These women are monsters.”

This wasn’t a new narrative in conservative media. “Jill Biden and Gisele Fetterman should be ashamed of themselves,” Laura Ingraham declared on air a few weeks ago. “Who’s the bigger elder abuser, Jill Biden or Gisele Fetterman?” radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted a couple of days after that.

“Jill Biden and Gisele Fetterman are failing their  . . .

Continue reading.

Misogyny is endemic on the Right.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 12:18 pm

Help young people limit screen time — and feel better about how they look

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Allison Aubrey’s article for NPR is very much related to the previous post:

U.S. teens spend more than eight hours a day on screens, and there’s growing concern over how social media may affect their mental health.

Now, a new study, published Thursday by the American Psychological Association, validates what some parents have experienced when their teenagers cut back: They seem to feel better about themselves. I’ve seen this in my own kids when they return from summer camp, where phones are not allowed. They seem more at ease and less moody.

Social media can feel like a comparison trap, says study author Helen Thai, a doctoral student in psychology at McGill University. Her research found that limiting screen time to about one hour a day helped anxious teens and young adults feel better about their body image and their appearance.

Her research arose from her own personal experiences.

“What I noticed when I was engaging in social media was that I couldn’t help but compare myself,” Thai says. Scrolling through posts from celebrities and influencers, as well as peers and people in her own social network, led to feelings of inferiority.

“They looked prettier, healthier, more fit,” Thai says. She was well aware that social media posts often feature polished, airbrushed or filtered images that can alter appearances in an unrealistic way, but it still affected her negatively.

So, Thai and a team of researchers decided to test whether slashing time on social media platforms including Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat would improve body image. They recruited a few hundred volunteers, aged 17-25, all of whom had experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression — which could make them vulnerable to the effects of social media.

Half of the participants were asked to reduce their social media to 60 minutes a day for three weeks, Thai says. The other half continued to use social media with no restrictions, which averaged about three hours per day.

The researchers gave the participants surveys at the beginning and end of the study, that included statements such as “I’m pretty happy about the way I look,” and “I am satisfied with my weight.” Among the group that cut social media use, the overall score on appearance improved from 2.95 to 3.15 on a 5-point scale. This may seem like a small change, but any shift in such a short period of time is striking, the authors say.

“This randomized controlled trial showed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2023 at 11:23 am

How Technology Hijacks Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist

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Tristan Harris has an interesting article on Medium:

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices

  • “what’s not on the menu?”
  • “why am I being given these options and not others?”
  • “do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
  • “is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)
  • “Who’s free tonight to hang out?” becomes a menu of most recent people who texted us (who we could ping).
  • “What’s happening in the world?” becomes a menu of news feed stories.
  • “Who’s single to go on a date?” becomes a menu of faces to swipe on Tinder (instead of local events with friends, or urban adventures nearby).
  • “I have to respond to this email.” becomes a menu of keys to type a response (instead of empowering ways to communicate with a person).

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets

Continue reading. There’s much more, plus illustrations of examples, which I omitted.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2023 at 10:25 am

The Case For Shunning

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A.R. Moxon writes in The Reframe:

So there’s this comic strip called Dilbert that a lot of people used to think was funny—certainly enough to sustain an enormously successful career in the funny pages for its creator, whose name is Scott Adams, and also a man who I discovered will block you on Twitter if you tell him that you expected better from the creator of Garfield.

I read Dilbert occasionally back in the day—that is in the 1990s. I thought it was pretty funny, I think. It’s hard to remember. The central message of Dilbert is that everybody is stupid except you, if I’m remembering correctly. It’s a popular message, which I presume helped make it a popular strip. There were books and plushies and even a TV show for a while. It broke through.

Anyway time passed as time does and before you knew it, it wasn’t the 1990s anymore. Eventually social media happened to us all, and everybody got online and broadcast their thoughts for all to hear, and we all got to find out that Dilbert creator Scott Adams is a massive bigot and a reactionary crank, which is something anybody who has been paying attention has known for at least a decade now.

Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert sure does seem to believe the central message of Dilbert. He’s very impressed by his own lack of stupidity, and also very impressed by what he perceives as the extreme stupidity of almost everyone else. He’s not impressed by too much else. He’s mostly skeptical.

He’s skeptical about the science, for one thing. What science?

Continue reading.

Later in the column;

It’s almost gotten to be boring, the degree to which people believe that what they refer to as “free speech” should not only allow them to say whatever they want (which it does), but should also prevent other people from understanding them to be the sort of person who says those things.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2023 at 8:29 pm

The Best Way to Explain the G.O.P. Is Found in the W.W.E.

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An interesting NY Times column by Abraham Josephine Riesman, pointed out by Dave Troy:

What shall we call contemporary Republican ideology? Is it conservatism? Libertarianism? Authoritarianism? Trumpism? Fascism?

How about kayfabe?

It’s a term that emerged from the sweaty, steroidal locker rooms of that most American of art forms, professional wrestling — but it’s a philosophical rubric that can be used to understand a wide range of phenomena: entertainment, business, religion and, especially, politics. Kayfabe rhymes with “Hey, babe,” and its linguistic origins are obscure; perhaps it’s corrupted Pig Latin for “be fake,” as some speculate. That would be appropriate, given what it denotes.

From pro wrestling’s very beginning, as a circus sideshow in the late 19th century, it has rarely been a legitimate athletic competition. Unlike the wrestling one might see in a school athletics meet or at the Olympics, the outcome of a pro wrestling match is determined ahead of time. The storylines and trash-talking monologues are crafted by writers. The most famous wrestlers — people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin — are often performing wild exaggerations of their own personalities. The grappling action between the combatants is a cooperative, semi-choreographed illusion of superhuman strength and impossible-seeming pain. Pro wrestling is, to answer a still-recurring question from outsiders, fake.

However, for that first century of the art form’s existence, the fakeness was never to be intentionally acknowledged to the public.

Kayfabe refers to pro wrestling’s central conceit: that everything the audience is seeing is real. As an adjective, it simply described something that was fake — for example, if two unrelated men were billed as brothers, that would make them kayfabe brothers. As an imperative verb, it meant staying in character: If you wrestled as a noble Native American character, you couldn’t let the press find out you were actually a womanizing Swede, and so forth. As a noun, it referred to the entire system of manipulations that upheld the industry.

The old-school kayfabe system — an oligarchy controlled by promotion-owners who acted as puppet-masters, giving wrestlers their marching orders about whom they had to pretend to be furious at for the next show — already had aspects that deeply resembled politics. Elected officials, too, pretend to be foes while actually being drinking buddies. Candidates sometimes tell rich backers one thing, and the public another. Election statements often sound ridiculous to those not caught up in the heat of the campaign.

So, too, did wrestling seem absurd to those who weren’t fans. In fact, it was absurd to many fans, too — even a child can notice, after a while, that some wrestling moves are impossible to perform without cooperation between the fighters. But these enthusiasts didn’t care that it wasn’t on the level; they loved the personalities and the spectacle, and they longed to lose themselves in the illusion. They wanted to believe. Whether out of pride or shame, fans would rarely acknowledge to detractors that their beloved “sport” was fixed. To defend its honor, they upheld the lie that it was real. Even if fans didn’t know the word, they were complying with kayfabe.

That is, until Vince McMahon killed it.

Mr. McMahon bought the World Wrestling Federation (or W.W.F.; it is now known as W.W.E.) from his father in the early 1980s and went on to make the material on the company’s shows even more outlandish. The wrestlers looked and acted like cartoon characters, all neon colors and improbable traits.

At Mr. McMahon’s behest, the W.W.F. started calling its product “sports entertainment,” a sly and unprecedented wink to the audience about what was really going on. Mr. McMahon and his wife — eventual Trump cabinet member Linda McMahon — pushed hard for the sport to be reclassified so that it did not need to face more challenging health regulations and taxes required for sporting events by quietly telling state legislatures that the pastime was fake; in lawsuits, they would sometimes admit the same fact. The admissions relied on simple, deeply misleading logic: If something was fake, how dangerous could it be?

When this very newspaper revealed in a February 1989 news story that the W.W.F. had confessed to fakeness in deregulation testimony, it was a seismic event. Without old-school kayfabe, the wrestling art form was naked. For years, the W.W.F. and the rest of the industry chugged along with their existing strategies, to greatly diminishing artistic and financial returns. Then, a remarkable, lucrative and dangerous breakthrough occurred.

In the mid-1990s, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2023 at 11:33 am

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