The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Collapse of the American Society

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Indi Samarajiva lived through the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka and just wrote about the decline of Sri Lankan society.

This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.

With 210,000+ Americans dead due to covid, protests all over America, and a government that is failing at the most basic level - are we witnessing the fall of American society?

I hope not, but with all that is going on, I am wondering what I am going to have for dinner…

Protect Yourself From Covid-19 Aerosol Spread

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A group of scientists have written up a Google Doc of advice for the public in a FAQ on Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission.

The goal of these FAQs is to provide information to the general public in an efficient manner about how to prevent aerosol transmission of COVID-19, with the hope that this will allow more informed decision making by individuals or organizations. All of this information has been posted in Twitter and other forums, but can be difficult to find. Having multiple experts working together, and having the ability to update this information also improves its quality. These FAQs represent our best understanding at this time, and should always be similar or more stringent than information provided by CDC, WHO, and most regional & local health authorities. If your authority has a more stringent guideline than discussed here, follow that more stringent guideline.

From the most important actionable take away form the FAQ:

3.5. How can I protect myself from aerosol transmission indoors?
We can never be perfectly safe, only safer. Hence, we need to take as many steps as possible to reduce the risk of our activities. You should try to avoid or reduce as much as possible situations that facilitate inhaling the “smoke” (exhaled air) from others. To reduce risk avoid:

Crowded spaces
Close proximity to others
Low ventilation environments
Long durations
Places where people are not wearing masks
Talking, and especially loud talking / shouting / singing
High breathing rates (e.g., indoor aerobic exercise)

Each one of these features potentially increases the aerosol concentration you might inhale indoors. So if you must enter one of the above situations, complete your tasks as quickly as possible to reduce your exposure duration and risk.

And of course, as always, wear a f**k'n face mask!

US Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes

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A US judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the US Postal Service.

Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

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From the editors of Scientific American:

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

Blade Runner 2020: San Francisco

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I didn’t know there was a prequel..

All day yesterday, my social media feeds were full of photos taken of the skies on the west coast, bloodied red and orange from the wildfires raging in California, Oregon, and other western states. Each fresh photo I saw shocked me anew. Friends told me: as weird as the photos look, they don’t do justice to what this actually looks like and feels like in real life. Automatic cameras (as on smartphones) had a tough time capturing the skies because the onboard software kept correcting the red and orange colors out — the phones know, even if climate change denying politicians and voters don’t, that our skies aren’t supposed to be that color.

I Need My Feet to Stand Up

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When asked why he hardly uses pedals - Keith Richards, in his usual witty way, offers some sage advice all of us aspiring musicians should take to heart.

As aware as I am that I was the bugger that started the foot pedal with Satisfaction, to me, that was a one of effect. I am not gonna go around on stage doing tip toes on different machines. I expect my sound to coming out of my amp and I don't wanna change it once its there. I am not fancy. I need my feet to stand up.

Keith Richards

Donald Trump Is a Coward

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Jeffrey Goldberg in a shocking article for the Atlantic

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Trump is a narcisist born of privilege who dodged the draft 5 times during the Vietnam war. For him to call the fallen veterans ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’ just shows what a sorry, selfish, cowardly excuse Donal Trump is for a man.

Like the Monster in a Godzilla Movie

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Rick Perlstein, author of the new book Reganland speaks with Walter Isaacson about how this sequence of events led to the current political climate in America. This interview is the best explanation of Trumpism came to be and what motivates it I have heard.

From the interview:

Pundits are always declaring, you know, conservatism a dead letter in American politics after liberals win and it never is. Right? It always comes back like the monster in a Godzilla movie you know. And the process I describe in all these books is the weaponization of the fear, the resentment and the anxiety about the social changes that are happening in America that eventually become excepted as part of American life. But when they are introduced to the scene like the idea that gays and lesbians should have the same rites as everyone else, they are terrified. And you can kind of use that terror to kind of frighten people into voting for candidates who come into office and do things like, you know, cut taxes for corporations. Thats a playbook that they have run again and again and again that reaches its modern apotheoses with Ronald Regan and is repeated again and again.

The Republicans refused to have a platform, they basically said our platform is supporting Donald Trump. So you know there is nothing wrong with being a conservative right? And there is nothing wrong with respecting the fears people have about social change. I think the challenge of leadership in a diverse and pluralist society is to respect the necessity of change but also kind of calm people’s fears about anxieties change brings.

And regarding the weaponization of resentment:

Thats the theme of my book Nixon Land, in which the figure at the center Nixon basically forms a social club for all the nerds at his college you know. Kind of weaponizes their resentment of the cool kids who are in the fancy fraternity. That becomes his political template. The nerds in his college fraternity become the silent majority in his famous speech of 1969. Its Sarah Palin talking about how these cosmopolitan intellectuals are trying to tell you that they are all more smart than you are - but really, you are the smart one. That sort of resentment at liberal culture elites. As opposed to the resentment the Democrats have traditionally mobilized for the working class and their resentment of their bosses - who are kind of telling what to do at the workplace is absolutely central to conservatism becoming a popular movement.

It all comes back to Nixon….

The best 20 minutes you will spend if you want to understand why we are where we are in the United States.

Trump Failed 180,000+ Died

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Joe Berkowits in an article Fast Company:

Watching the endless parade of speakers across the past four nights, one would scarcely piece together the fact that 181,000 Americans and counting have died from COVID-19. One might not realize that this level of death was far from assured, that the U.S. mortality rate, as a proportion of the population, is among the 10 highest in the world. One certainly would not know that President Trump dismissed early calls for action as a political maneuver from the Democrats, regularly suggested the virus would just go away “like a miracle” as recently as this past month, left sweeping decisions up to the governors of each state, and sent contradictory messages such as “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” to a scared populace unsure whether the lockdown was working or not. (It was.)

The convention speakers painted a picture of the coronavirus as an all-but-conquered foe, for whose defeat we have Donald Trump to thank. This image corresponded perfectly with the victory fireworks Trump’s team blasted off in the wake of his convention-closing speech.

Flaunting Impunity

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David A. Graham in The Atlantic:

Incumbent presidents have two goals for their renomination convention: Show voters what they’ve achieved in their first four years, and tell them what they want to do with another four.

Donald Trump and his Republican Party have skipped the second part—the president has repeatedly whiffed on articulating a second-term agenda, and the Republican National Convention has decided not to bother with a platform. As for achievements, the administration has little to go on there, either. Most of Trump’s 2016 agenda remains incomplete, stalled, or never begun, while the economy is in a tailspin and nearly 180,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

Yet Trump is using the RNC to show the nation what he has learned over the past four years: the power of impunity. Throughout the convention, Trump, his family, and his aides are using the backdrop of the federal government, in defiance of precedent, propriety, and likely federal law. The president is not so much showing the majesty of the federal government—this is not its finest hour—as reveling in the knowledge that no one can or will stop him. It is a flex for its own sake, and at heart, that is his message about what he will deliver in a second term, too.

The Cult of Trump

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One thing that is obvious is that the Republican party no longer supports any positions - only what Trump tell them to support. History will remember this years Republican convention as the moment when the Republican party ceased to be a political party, instead turning into a cult. The cult of Donal Trump.

Ezra Klein in an article for Vox sums it up best:

I have covered American politics for two decades and never have I seen a party more ferociously committed to supporting whatever it is their leader tells them to support.

The problem for Republicans is that the main thing Trump has told them to support is himself. There are no detailed policy proposals, much less a coherent ideology or set of governing principles. And so speech after speech followed the same template: How was America going to stop the coronavirus? By reelecting Donald Trump. How was it going to revive its economy? By reelecting Donald Trump. How was it going to ensure domestic harmony? By reelecting Donald Trump.

The contradiction at the heart of the convention, of course, is that Donald Trump is currently president. I’m dead serious. How would reelecting Trump resolve these crises that Trump has proven unable to resolve — and has, in many cases, worsened — in office? No one even took a shot at that Rubik’s cube. Instead, the speakers awkwardly talked around the fact of Trump’s incumbency. He was presented, strangely, as both incumbent and challenger; the man who had fixed America’s problems, but also the man needed to fix an America beset by more problems than ever.

Republicans Think Covid-19 Deaths 'Acceptable'

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Washington Post columnist Brian Klass documents deaths reported by various countries:

It is almost over in the six countries reported above. While in the US the Covid-19 virus is raging averaging 1000 deaths per day.

But what is even more shocking is that 57 percent of Repbulicans think that Covid-19 deaths are acceptable:

From a CBS News survey of over 2,000 registered voters:

Number of U.S. deaths from coronavirus has been been acceptable / unacceptable:

This leads me to conclude that either a majority of Republicans are sociopaths or they’re so ignorant they have no idea how much worse the U.S. has handled COVID-19 than other industrialized nations.

Less Drama More Mama

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With the Trump campaign falling apart, Keyllyanne Conway resigns. Not surprising, Kellyanne Conway is not dumb. The whole ‘will leave her position at the end of the month to focus on her family’ thing is a convenient out.

Kellyanne Conwway did something that most thought impossible. As campaign manager she brilliantly got Trump elected. If she stepped down afterwords, she could have had a brilliant future. But with all the lying, here career is pretty much over.

Then again this is politics…

Michelle Obama Makes the Case Against Trump

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Former first lady Michelle Obama tearing into Trump - using his own words against him.

So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a black woman speaking at the Democratic convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.

So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can, and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.


We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same.

We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown-bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.

Full transcript of the speech here.

Toyota to Upload Driver Data to Amazon

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Toyota has expanded its collaboration with Amazon Web Services by allowing auto-makers to upload performance data to the Amazon cloud.

Official blurb from Toyota about it’s Mobilty Platform says it will offer:

new contextual services such as car share, rideshare, full-service lease, and new corporate and consumer services such as proactive vehicle maintenance notifications and driving behavior-based insurance.

This is a shameless assault on consumer privacy. While the pitch will be to allow savings on insurance plan, I highly dought it. Most likely result of this is a restructuring of those plans to produce even more profit at the expense of driver rights.

And We're Scared of Democratic Socialism

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The Future Face of American Politics

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Manisha Sina in the New York Times opinion essay on what Biden’s pick for a VP means for the future of American politics:

Like most Democrats, I support Joe Biden because the country can ill afford the continuation of the “American carnage” that Mr. Trump ironically claimed he would end in his Inaugural Address. Mr. Biden’s big tent policy, his adoption of progressive policies championed by his opponents, and his promise to select a woman candidate for the vice presidency, sealed the deal for me. Mr. Biden had the luck to choose from an array of talented women. His decision to pick Kamala Harris as his running mate seems like a personal gift to me. Not only does she represent the very groups mocked and vilified by Mr. Trump: women, Black people and immigrants, but also, as a woman of Afro-Indian descent she might well be the future face of American politics.

The Tech Industry Needs Regulation

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About two years ago, Microsoft publicly asked a question for the first time: “Should there be a Hippocratic Oath for software developers creating AI systems the way there is for doctors?”

You can’t graduate from the Air Force Academy without taking an ethics course. In the military, there is a code of justice and there are people whose sole job is to make sure this code is followed, even though this doesn’t mean that the military makes no mistakes.

There are no common ethics codes to determine how lethal autonomous weapons and systems that are developed for the military should be used once they end up in the hands of civilians.

“In the top 10 Computer Science departments in the nation, there is only one that requires taking an ethics course to graduate. Ethics is a field that will have to get infused into Computer Science education. There should be a stand-alone course called Ethics for AI that every computer science major must take.”

Maybe we should start with holding FAANG responsible with regulations that have real teeth before we ask developers to push back against them.