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“America is failing because it’s full of stupid people. Stupid people who can vote.”

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The 18th century worried about this a lot.
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duerig
1 day ago
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To be fair, most governments throughout history were venal, corrupt, ineffective, and unjust even when run by tiny minorities who deemed themselves worthier than the rest.
freeAgent
1 day ago
Sad, but true.
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Trump: Painting 'Black Lives Matter' On 5th Avenue Would Be 'Symbol Of Hate'

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"Black Lives Matter" has already been added to a street in Brooklyn, N.Y. Manhattan may be next up, but President Trump denounced a plan to have the words painted on Fifth Avenue.

President Trump blasted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to paint the words "Black Lives Matter" in front of Trump Tower. Trump said it would amount to "denigrating this luxury Avenue."

(Image credit: John Minchillo/AP)

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duerig
4 days ago
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I keep thinking that nothing this whacko does will ever shock me again. But promoting 'White Power' while calling 'Black Lives Matter' a symbol of hate in the span of a week just leaves me agog.
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CDC says U.S. has 'way too much virus' to control pandemic as cases surge across country

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Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), speaks during a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

The coronavirus is spreading too rapidly and too broadly for the U.S. to bring it under control, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.

The U.S. has set records for daily new infections in recent days as outbreaks surge mostly across the South and West. The recent spike in new cases has outpaced daily infections in April when the virus rocked Washington state and the northeast, and when public officials thought the outbreak was hitting its peak in the U.S. 

"We're not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control," she said in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association's Dr. Howard Bauchner. "We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it's very discouraging."

New Zealand's outbreak peaked in early April, when the country reported 89 new cases in a single day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On June 8, officials declared that there no more active infections in the island country of almost 5 million. Since then, a handful of cases have entered the country from international travelers, but health officials have managed to contain infections so far to fewer than 10 new daily cases per day through June.

South Korea was among the first countries outside of China to battle a coronavirus outbreak, but health officials managed to contain the epidemic through aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolating of infected people. The outbreak peaked at 851 new infections reported on March 3, according to Hopkins' data, but the country has reported fewer than 100 new cases per day since April 1. 

Like South Korea, Singapore found early success in preventing the spread of the virus through aggressive testing and tracing. However, in April the virus began to circulate among the island country's migrant worker community, ballooning into an outbreak that peaked on April 20, when the country reported about 1,400 new cases, according to Hopkins' data. Daily new cases have steadily dropped since then and on Sunday, the country reported 213 new cases, according to Hopkins' data.

While the outbreaks in New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore have been of different magnitudes and followed different trajectories, officials in all three countries now quickly respond to every new infection in order to stamp out what remains of the outbreak, Schuchat said. The U.S. stands in stark contrast as it continues to report over 30,000 new infections per day.

"This is really the beginning," Schuchat said of the U.S.'s recent surge in new cases. "I think there was a lot of wishful thinking around the country that, hey it's summer. Everything's going to be fine. We're over this and we are not even beginning to be over this. There are a lot of worrisome factors about the last week or so."

The sheer size of the U.S. and the fact that the virus is hitting different parts of the country at different times complicates the public response here compared with other countries, Schuchat said. South Korea, for example, was able to concentrate their response on the southern city of Daegu, for a time, and contact tracers were quickly deployed when new cases were later found in the capital Seoul.

"What we have in the United States, it's hard to describe because it's so many different outbreaks," Schuchat said. "There was a wave of incredible acceleration, intense interventions and control measures that have brought things down to a much lower level of circulation in the New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey area. But in much of the rest of the country, there's still a lot of virus. And in lots of places, there's more virus circulating than there was." 

The coronavirus has proven to be the kind of virus that Schuchat and her colleagues always feared would emerge, she said. She added that it spreads easily, no one appears to have immunity to it and it's in fact "stealthier than we were expecting."

"While you plan for it, you think about it, you have that human denial that it's really going to happen on your watch, but it's happening," she said. "As much as we've studied [the 1918 flu pandemic], I think what we're experiencing as a global community is really bad and it's similar to that 1918 transformational experience."

With the current level of spread, Schuchat said the U.S. public should "expect this virus to continue to circulate." She added that people can help to curb the spread of infection by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing their hands, but no one should count on any kind of relief to stop the virus until there's a vaccine.

"We can affect it, but in terms of the weather or the season helping us, I don't think we can count on that," she said.

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duerig
5 days ago
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Trump golfs. Americans die.
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This Image of a White Barack Obama Is AI’s Racial Bias Problem In a Nutshell

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MOTHERBOARD shares how racial bias is found in machine learning.

A pixelated image of Barack Obama upsampled to the image of a white man has sparked another discussion on racial bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Posted to Twitter last weekend, the image was generated with an artificial intelligence tool called Face Depixelizer , which takes a low-resolution image as an input and creates a corresponding high-resolution image through machine learning generative models. The online tool utilizes an algorithm called PULSE—originally published by a group of undergraduate students at Duke University.

Read more.

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duerig
8 days ago
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It isn't just racial bias. It is that so many of these kinds of tools are about interpolating plausible data and don't actually add any information. This is great if your tool is upscaling sprites in a video game or something. But not so great if it is somehow supposed to provide insight into the real world.

Opaque 'AI' tools will have any number of biases. And in some ways, the biases that we can easily recognize are not the big worry because at least we can understand them. It is the biases that nobody spots until it is too late that worry me. Because the operative word here is opaque. These things should be treated as flawed unless proven otherwise. But too many people see secrets and magic boxes as inherently more trustworthy.
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As Meat Plants Stayed Open to Feed Americans, Exports to China Surged

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Pork producers typically send 25 to 27 percent of their meat overseas, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. But that number jumped to 32 percent in the first four months of this year, driven by demand from China.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture reported that total pork exports to mainland China in April reached their highest monthly total since the agency began keeping track 20 years ago. Overall pork exports increased 22 percent from the previous April, to 291,000 tons, though that was down from March.

While the companies emphasize that exports to China include feet, tails and other parts most American don’t eat, about 40 percent of the April exports were whole carcasses. Some analysts believe those totals could be even larger. Meatpackers are notoriously secretive, and it’s unclear how many of the nation’s plants are designed to ship carcasses to China.

“Some of the plants would be companies that maybe own five or six pork plants, and they said in one of our small plants, we’re just going to do carcasses for China,” said Brett Stuart, the president of the consulting firm Global AgriTrends. “I don’t think any of them have really reported what they’ve done.”

Government data on exports is also incomplete. After the meat executives warned of shortages, Mr. Corbo of Food & Water Watch filed public-records requests asking the Department of Agriculture for a list of all “exports certificates” detailing meat exports from each company. The federal agency declined to release the amount or type of meat included in each shipment without the companies’ permission, he said.

Smithfield has been sensitive about its connections to China for years. On its website, the company points out that it is owned by an entity with shares that trade on the Hong Kong stock exchange and that all of its top executives are American.

In late November, Reuters reported that the pork plant in Smithfield, Va., the company’s hometown, was shifting production to meet Chinese demand. Workers described how they had shifted their focus away from American products and were now focused on slaughtering and slicing pig carcasses into thirds for shipments to China.

In late April, President Trump announced an executive order keeping meat plants open, and a few days later Smithfield issued a news release saying it would “immediately begin the process of retooling” its hometown plant. The company said the plant would process pork exclusively for American consumers.

In its statement, Smithfield said it was making the changes to the plant “to meet demand for fresh pork, bacon and the company’s iconic Genuine Smithfield Ham” from U.S. consumers.

But there may be other considerations for the move. “I think it’s on their radar that exports could fester into a P.R. problem,” said Mr. Smith, the livestock analyst.

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duerig
19 days ago
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I'm confused about why anyone thinks this is a bad thing. Maybe if there were an actual famine and ships were taking food away from starving people that would be a problem. And it has been a problem in certain times and places.

But these people are literally helping to feed the world in a crisis that is worldwide. Chinese and Korean workers risked their lives to make KN95 masks that were shipped to the US. Canadian workers risked their lives to make the pulp for masks and shipped them to the US.

I cried when I heard that our government was trying to prevent us from reciprocating. So I am relieved and proud that there have been ways in which we as a nation have stepped up to help all those people around the world who have helped us. Our society is better than this xenophobic bullshit.
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The Collapsing Leviathan

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I was seriously depressed for the last week, by noticeably more than my baseline amount for the new pandemic-ravaged world. The depression seems to have been triggered by two pieces of news:

  1. The US Food and Drug Administration—yes, the same FDA whose failure to approve covid tests in February infamously set the stage for the deaths of 100,000 Americans—has now also banned the Gates Foundation’s program for at-home covid testing. This, it seems to me, is not the sort of thing that could happen in a still-functioning society, one where people valued their own and their neighbors’ physical survival, and viewed rules and regulations as merely instruments to that end. It’s the sort of thing that one imagines in the waning years of a doomed empire, when no one pretends anymore that they can fix or improve the Leviathan; they’re all just scurrying to flee the Leviathan as it collapses with a thud. More broadly, I still don’t think that the depth of America’s humiliation and downfall has sunk in to most Americans. For me, it starts and ends with a single observation: where fifty years ago we landed humans on the moon, today we can no longer make or distribute paper masks, even when hundreds of thousands of lives depend on it. Look, there are many countries, like Taiwan and New Zealand, that managed to protect both their economies and their vulnerable citizens’ lives, by crushing the virus early. Then there are countries that waited, until they faced an excruciating choice between the two. But here in the US, we’ve somehow achieved the worst of both worlds—triggering a second Great Depression while also utterly failing to control the virus. Can we abandon the charade of treating this as a legible “policy choice,” to be debated in earnest thinkpieces? To me, it just feels like the death-spasm of a collapsing Leviathan.
  2. Something that, at first glance, might seem trivial by comparison, but isn’t: the University of California system—ignoring the advice of its own Academic Senate, and at the apparent insistence of its chancellor Janet Napolitano—will now permanently end the use of the SAT and ACT in undergraduate admissions. This is widely expected, probably correctly, to trigger a chain reaction, whereby one US university after the next will abandon standardized tests. As a result, admissions to the top US universities—and hence, most chances for social advancement in the US—will henceforth be based entirely on shifting and nebulous criteria that rich, well-connected kids and their parents spend most of their lives figuring out, rather than merely mostly based on such criteria. The last side door for smart noncomformist kids is now being slammed shut. From now on, in the US, the only paths to success that clearly delineate their rules will be sports, gambling, reality TV, and the like. In case it matters to anyone reading this, I feel certain that a 15-year-old me wouldn’t stand a chance in the emerging regime—any more than nerdy Jewish kids did in the USSR of the 1970s, or the US of the 1920s. (As I’ve previously recounted on this blog, the US’s “holistic” college admissions system, with its baffling-to-foreigners emphasis on “character,” “leadership,” “well-roundedness,” etc. rather than test scores, originated in a successful push a century ago by the presidents of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to keep Jewish enrollments down. Today the system fulfills precisely the same function, except against Asian-Americans rather than Jews.) Ironically but predictably, the death of the SAT—i.e., of one of the most fearsome weapons against entrenched wealth and power ever devised—is being celebrated by the self-described champions of the underdog. I have one question for those champions: do you not understand what your system will actually do to society’s underdogs? Or do you understand perfectly well, and approve?

To put it bluntly—since events like these leave no room for euphemism—a hundred thousand Americans are now dead from covid, and hundreds of thousands more are poised to die, because smart people are no longer in charge. And the death of the SAT will help ensure that smart people will never be back in charge. Obama might be remembered by history as America’s last smart-person-in-charge, its last competent technocrat—but one man couldn’t stop a tidal wave of stupid.

I know from experience what many will readers will say to all this: “instead of wallowing in gloom, Scott, why don’t you just make falsifiable predictions about the bad outcomes you expect from these developments, and then score yourself later?”

So here’s the thing about that.

Shortly after Trump was elected, I changed this blog’s background to black, as a small way to mourn the United States that I’d grown up thinking that I lived in, the one that had at least some ideals. Today, with four years of hindsight, my thinking then feels overly optimistic: why plain black? Why not, like, images of rotting corpses in a pit?

And yet, were I foolish enough to register predictions in 2016, I would’ve said that within one year, Trump’s staggering incompetence would surely cause some catastrophe or other to grip the country—a really obvious one, with mass death and even Trump’s beloved stock market cratering.

And then after a year, commenters would ridicule me, because none of that had happened. After two years, they’d ridicule me again because it still hadn’t happened, and after three years they’d ridicule me a third time.

Now it’s happened.

America, we now know, is like the cartoon character who runs off a cliff: it dangled in midair for three years, defying physics, before it finally looked down.

Look, I’m a theoretical computer scientist. By training, I deal in asymptotics, not in constant factors. I don’t often make predictions with deadlines; when I do, I often regret it. It’s a good thing that I became an academic rather than an investor! For I’ve learned that the only “oracular power” I have is to make statements like:

My eyes, my brain, and the pit of my stomach are all blaring at me that the asymptotics of this situation just took a sharp turn for the worse. Sure, for an unknown length of time, noise and constant factors could mask the effects. But eventually, either (1) society will need to reverse what it just did, or else (2) terrible effects will spring from it, or else (3) the entire universe no longer makes sense.

When I’ve felt this way in the past, option (3) rarely turned out to be the right answer.

So, what can anyone say that will make me less depressed? Thanks in advance!

Update (May 30): Woohoo!! Avoiding yet another tragedy, after years of setbacks and struggles, it looks like today the US has finally launched humans into orbit, thereby recapitulating a technological achievement from 1961 that the US had already vastly surpassed by 1969. I hereby retract the pessimism of this post.

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duerig
31 days ago
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The reason to be optimistic is that there is nothing inevitable about decline or failure. We as a society have failed to either prevent or manage the crises we face. But that failure does not dictate our future.

Every society has many periods of both decline and renewal. The narrative of a rise, a golden age, then a long decline does not actually describe the Romans or any ancient civilization. And it certainly doesn't apply to modern societies.

We see clearly a failure of leadership and coordination. But the strength of our system is that we change our leaders frequently. New leadership means new hope and a chance to reinvent ourselves into something better than before. Our society won't emerge from this crisis unchanged. But we can work to make things better and to become more prepared for the future. The long history of the world shows societies rebuilding after setbacks and renewing after declines again and again.
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