Archive for April 2011
It’s in very bad shape indeed—a fact that’s obvious when banks foreclose on homes whose mortgages have already been paid. Here’s how things got so very bad—and how they can get worse. Hernando de Soto has a lot of experience in working out the roots of the financial difficulties of the third world, so he immediately recognizes when the same problems crop up in the developed nations. Well worth reading.
Very interesting article by Krista Conger on some recent research. It begins:
Type-2 diabetes is likely to have its roots in an autoimmune reaction deep within the body, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Toronto. The finding, coupled with a similar study by the same group in 2009, vaults the disorder into an entirely new, unexpected category that opens the door to novel potential therapies.
One possible therapy that proved effective in laboratory mice, . . .
Following Eddie’s suggestion, the soap with lid removed. Creed’s Green Irish Tweed is the fragrance favored by Cary Grant, FWIW, and the soap, though pricey, is extremely good. A very fine lather with the Simpson Emperor 3 Super, and then three smooth passes with the Feather stainless razor, still using a Feather blad of many shaves. Extremely smooth face, to which I applied a hearty splash of Acqua di Parma.
From the Creed site:
CREED Green Irish Tweed
As classic as a perfectly tailored tuxedo on Oscar night, CREED Green Irish Tweed is loyally worn by today’s Hollywood leading men who ask for it by name. A film colony legend like the stars who wear it, Green Irish Tweed has an invigorating freshness and pure masculinity that have made it not only one of the most artistic fragrances from Olivier CREED, but also one of the most successful.
Classification: Green / Woods / Classic
Characteristics: As refreshing as a walk through the Irish countryside, Green Irish Tweed is one of the signature scents of the House of CREED. Rich, fresh, green, spicy, sporty, original and unforgettable.
- Top Notes: French verbena, Florentine iris
- Middle Notes: Violet leaves
- Base Notes: Sandalwood from Mysore, ambergris
Interesting interview in which Justin Elliott of Salon talks with the Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay, who spent two years researching trutherism. From the interview:
Did you ever have success disabusing anyone of their conspiracy theory?
Not once. The reason is that when you debate a conspiracy theorist it’s like challenging an NFL football team to a game. Because conspiracy theorists have spent their lives memorizing every single detail necessary to win an argument. Even if you have the facts on your side in an abstract way, you’re not going to win an argument if you have to go look at Google or go to the library to rebut every single point. They have hundreds of little confusing bits of information that they can throw at you. Even if you bat away 99 of them, the 100th, if you don’t repute it immediately, they’ll say, “Ah ha! There’s an anomaly that you can’t explain.” The way they define the terms of the debate is that they just have to get you on one point, and then they have destroyed the validity of the conventional narrative.
The second thing is, it’s a cult. And you can’t disabuse a cult member of their beliefs, because it’s central to their identity. Hardcore conspiracy theorists are attached to their conspiracy theories with the same force of conviction that religious adherents are attached to their religions. You can’t rationally convince someone not to be a Christian or a Scientologist. That’s their identity, that’s who they are.
I blogged a few days ago on this general topic.
UPDATE: Here’s an earlier post (at Grist) that explains a major difference in how the two mindsets view explanations:
Those who refuse to accept things like global warming view the argument in favor of it as a house of cards: if you can find one incorrect assertion (pull out one card), the whole thing collapses. Scientists and others who accept the truth of global warming view the argument in favor of it as a jigsaw puzzle: even though some pieces are still missing, and some pieces might not quite fit, the overall picture is quite clear.
Of course, the conspiracy theorists don’t view their own arguments in this way. No matter how many errors you point out in their assertions, they never feel that the point(s) you refute are all that central. But if they find even one incorrect assertion in arguments against them, that invalidates everything: the entire body of knowledge can be dismissed because one scientist had an error in one paper. It’s how they think.
Fascinating article by Luke Mogelson in the NY Times Sunday Magazine on miscreants in the military.
I personally write chancery cursive, aka italic, and of course I believe that it’s highly readable—people generally view their handwriting as readable. But it appears that schools are throwing in the towel, and reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic now seems to have devolved to ‘rithmetic alone.
OTOH, it’s easier to frighten, manipulate, and trick an uneducated citizenry (take a look around), so perhaps limiting education to technical skills—and get rid of those damned liberal arts!—is make make an authoritarian government’s job easier. I mean the kind of government that will lock you in prison for years just to keep you out of the way, knowing that you have done nothing wrong.
I should point out that some schools are dropping the teaching of cursive because they want to prepare students for the 21st century and handwriting is not (in their view) a 21st century skill. But taking tests? Oh, that’s very important, so more and more of the school year is taken up with teaching to the test and then testing.
Look around and see what you think of the success of that approach. (Of course, the test companies think it’s great, and they say also that education is quite successful: look! the test scores are going up!
Thanks to TYD for the pointer.
Via PZ Myers. Hitchens was to address the American Atheist convention, but could not because of voice problems. So he sent this letter:
Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.
That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.
Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.
As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.
Ed Brayton points out how the release of the long-form birth certificate puts the GOP in a bind.
I still am having trouble with the idea that US government has deliberately kept in prison, for years, men who have done nothing wrong—and the government knows that, but still will no release them.
Why? Colossal egos in the military, people who cannot admit they were wrong. But now they know they were wrong, so that’s not it. I guess it might better be stated “colossal egos in the military, people who will do anything rather than let it be known that they made a mistake.”
But that can’t be it. We have civilian control of the military, and our president who has the authority to release prisoners (“Scooter” Libby owes his freedom, after his conviction, to that fact). Obama, of course, will not act—but why?
I truly do not understand this. If I was one of those men, imprisoned for years and knowing that I did nothing wrong, I would probably go insane. Hell, I think I’d go insane if I were one of the people knowingly keeping innocents locked up. That is so evil that it’s hard to grasp.
Picture yourself, minding your own business, and suddenly you are captured by soldiers (who do not speak your language), roughed up, tortured, and imprisoned. What would you think?
UPDATE: Here’s an excellent column by William Pfaff on the topic. From his column:
. . . Yet something still might usefully be said about this situation, obviously a phenomenon of totalitarian character, emulating, no doubt wittingly, the destruction of judicial constraint in the Nazi system by means of arbitrary imprisonment in concentration camps and by methods generalized in Gestapo and SS practice, and in Stalinist Russia by its secret police and forced labor camps. In the last, bizarrely enough, a system of known (or knowable) sentences existed in places – a system of cause and effect – which has never existed at Guantánamo, an absence apparently exploited deliberately as a means of terrorization and the psychological destruction of prisoners. Sentences did end for those who survived the Gulag.
Guantánamo has also been a factor in what it is not unreasonable to call the totalitarianization of American political culture, taking place through the effective prohibition (or demonization) of certain political stances, or the advocacy of certain political positions, deemed “unpatriotic” and therefore unacceptable in the political discourse of the nation – including, in some cases, in congressional discourse and debate.
This amounts to the development of an American version of Newspeak. You can speak of certain things only in politically antisepticised and inherently falsified language. In combination with the domination of electoral politics by paid political advertising, thereby disqualifying candidates lacking the funds of their rivals, and the Supreme Court’s rejection in 1976 of the argument that “an unconstitutional means test for election” to public office in the United States thereby exists, a plutocratic form of government has been legally ratified.
This was reinforced by . . .
Now that the latest batch of documentation of the terrible abuses the US military dished out at Guantánamo, we should perhaps reflect again on how President Obama, in direct violation of the highest US laws, is protecting those who tortured the prisoners, many of which were guilty of nothing.
And even when the military knew that the men imprisoned were guilty of nothing, they still kept them imprisoned because… because why? Because it would have been a lot of trouble to ship them back home? Because they’re just foreigners? Or have brown skin? Or what? I do not understand the government deliberately—and at some expense—keeping people imprisoned and abused for literally no reason at all. I think that any of us in that situation would be angry. And yet the country shrugs this off, and Obama is honored for his protection of torturers.
Just back, and the thick purple asparagus is roasting in the oven as I blog. Fresh organic strawberries—extremely fresh (they grow them here)—were $2/lb, so I got a couple of pounds and right now I’m having a strawberry snack. And I got a goose egg (the kind that geese lay, not a bump on the head). It’s large, and I have no idea how long to boil it. Duck eggs take about 15 minutes, but I think I’ll scramble this guy.
Our government is still involved in extremely bad practices that it does not hesitate to condemn wholeheartedly when done by other nations but somehow manages to excuse (by keeping it as secret and possible and punishing those who reveal the secrets) its own transgressions. Spencer Ackerman has an important and excellent story for Wired on the military doctors who assisted in the coverup:
They explained away the bone fractures, didn’t ask what caused the lacerations, and called the hallucinations routine. Rather than blowing the whistle, medical professionals entrusted with the care of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay turned a blind eye when there were clear indications of abuse.
That’s according to a newly published report from two physicians with unprecedented access to the medical records of nine Gitmo detainees.
Writing in the online journal PLoS Medicine, Physicians for Human Rights senior medical adviser Vincent Iacopino and retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist now in private practice, found that medical personnel at Guantanamo concealed mental and physical ailments that signaled abusive treatment.
The report — which represents the first independent review of any Guantanamo detainee’s medical record — is the clearest evidence yet that members of the base’s medical staff were complicit in the torture regime there.
“Medics have an independent, professional responsibility to identify and report incidences of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture,” Xenakis tells Danger Room. “They had a responsibility to speak up.”
“Personality disorders” and “routine stressors of confinement” were catch-all explanations for psychological disturbances, according to the report. “Temporary psychotic symptoms and hallucinations did not prompt consideration of abusive treatment.” . . .
Extremely pleasant shave today. I brought out Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, which I’ve not used for a while: terrific lather with the Rooney 1,1, and then three smooth passes of the Merkur Hefty Classic (“HD”) holding a Swedish Gillette blade.
Reader Eddie from the land of Oz suggested (after I took today’s photos) that future photos be made with the soap or shaving cream lid removed, so the photo shows the product. Good idea. I’ll start with the next shave.
I’m reading (during breakfast) Víve Hoy, a Spanish-language newspaper that seems to be part of the LA Times. With the new bookmarks (see previous post), it’s quite easy to double-click a word I don’t know and get an immediate definition—when I then use to create a new flashcard in my Anki deck titled “Random Spanish” to learn and begin reviewing.
(After I double-click the word, highlighting it, I copy the word and then paste it into the address bar of a blank tab, following “esen” (España – English). That takes me to the dictionary page for that word.)
Take a look: Link takes you to Firefox add-on page, and at the top is a link to the Chrome add-on page. Now I can type any of these into the address bar:
esen <some Spanish word> — goes to page defining the word in English
enes <some English word> — goes to page defining the word in English
conj <some Spanish verb> — goes to page showing complete conjugation
At the link are similar tools for French, Italian, Portuguese, and German. Not yet, unfortunately, Latin or Classical Greek. Or Esperanto.
The key is that our national government makes its decisions on the basis of official intelligence, so who controls the intelligence controls, to a large extent, our government. (Although government intelligence’s primary focus is international, the government’s responses to the information can have domestic impact—e.g., defense industries might get additional contracts.)
It has been good, as pointed out in this (recommended) column, that the government had the benefit of two independent sources of intelligence: DoD and the CIA. But now: only one point of view will control both sources of information. And control is the issue.
Scientists working on climatology and climate change have long predicted that one result would be storms of greater severity. I haven’t seen any comments on the amazing storm systems through the South that saw their severity as a symptom of global warming, but it was certainly a predicted consequence. And the storms will get worse as we continue to heat the globe with our CO2 emissions.
Steve of Kafeneio pointed out the advantage I have in losing weight: I’m retired, so I have fewer daily distractions.
That’s a good point, so I decided to see how much I could reduce the time commitment and effort, based on my experience to date.
First, minimize decision points. For example, work out a good breakfast (mine is oat bran, turmeric, homemade pepper sauce, a boiled egg, and Bac’Uns) and eat it daily. This may not be possible for those who demand novelty, but as a fallback, they can work out four or five good breakfasts and pick one daily. The idea is that breakfast no longer requires a decision.
Also, do eat a midmorning and midafternoon snack, but make it uniformly a piece of fruit: an apple, an orange, a cup of strawberries. No decision required: get the fruit, eat one piece (or one cup), and that’s the snack.
Thus food decisions come down to two times a day: lunch and dinner. I suggest that those decisions be:
1) what protein to have (and you’ll have 4 oz of whatever it is);
2) what starch to have (and, generally, you have 1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked, usually 1/4 cup before cooking—1/4 cup usually cooks to 1/2 cup, but if I have cooked rice on hand, for example, I take 1/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup, though the latter is a serving: I like a small serving of the starch)
3) the vegetables: pick two; and
4) how to cook: sauté, stew, stir-fry, roast, whatever.
That takes care of the decision part. No additional time involvement over what you’re doing now, since you already fix and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in any case. This just tailors the direction of your existing effort.
BTW, food decisions also are easier if you cull your cabinets of all foods you know or strongly suspect you should not eat—if it’s not around, you don’t have to decide whether or not to have some. So get rid of chips, sodas, candy, and the like. (For me, that includes croutons: I don’t have them in the house.)
Next, keep an accurate record of your foods, your weight, and your exercise, daily. Technology helps here: the Withings scale records your weight and lean-body mass and computes your BMI with every weighing, and since it is Wi-fi enabled, you automatically build a record that you can view as a graph, download as a spreadsheet, etc. No time required, and you can look at your record on your computer, iPad, or smartphone. So keeping daily accurate track of your weight takes no time at all.
The food does require entering the meal, but the breakfast and snacks can basically be entered with a keystroke, so again the only issues are lunch and dinner. I recommend using FatSecret.com or some similar site, and using your smartphone or iPad (or computer) to record the foods on the spot.
Exercise is similarly recorded in FatSecret or the like.
So the only significant time or effort demand so far is taking out your smartphone at a meal and recording what you ate.
The other thing is to look at the data—the record of foods, exercise, and weight—and think about it. I used a journal, but perhaps you can just review it of an evening, looking at the data and reflecting on it. You may find adjustments. You may find, like me, that you have been unconsciously eating foods of which you were unaware. But (in my experience) after about six months of keeping an accurate record and reviewing it, and tackling problems as they occur (my discovery of the “bites” problem), you’ll find that you “get it” and understand much better what’s going on. And controlling it at that point is rather easy—or so I’ve found.
The point: with a little technology, some of which you may already own, you can swing into this with practically no investment of time, just by paying attention.
Just a thought.