Archive for July 2011
Very interesting editorial in the NY Times:
Nearly six in 10 public school students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade. That was the astounding finding of an analysis tracking nearly one million students in 3,900 Texas schools.
Schools are right to expel students who pose a threat to others. But suspensions for less serious, nonthreatening behavior have become routine in recent decades, with disastrous consequences. Children who are removed from school are at far greater risk of being held back, dropping out or ending up in the juvenile justice system.
The Texas study, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, raises alarms that should prompt every state to re-examine disciplinary policies.
For starters, schools should be required to deal with minor infractions at school, reserving suspension for serious offenses. Only 3 percent of the disciplinary actions taken in Texas were for serious criminal conduct that requires mandatory suspension or expulsion under state law. The remaining 97 percent were made at the discretion of school officials for misbehavior like fighting, misdemeanor drug or alcohol use, or disruptive classroom behavior.
The breakdown of who was punished is also chilling. African-American students and those with some disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom. A staggering 83 percent of black males had at least one discretionary violation, compared with 74 percent of Hispanic males and 59 percent of white male students. Minority students were more commonly given harsher out-of-school suspensions, rather than in-school suspensions, for their first disciplinary violation. . .
Extremely interesting article by Kathryn Schulz published over a month ago in the NY Times Sunday Book Review. I just found it today:
“Ars longa,” the ancient saying goes, “vita brevis.” Art is long, life short, and the problem is intensifying. As the literary ars lurches exponentially more longa — accommodating the printing press, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Google Books — our collective TBR pile towers ever more vertiginously overhead. Which raises a question: What are we mortal beings supposed to do with all these books?
Franco Moretti has a solution: don’t read them. Moretti is not a satirist. He’s an Italian literary scholar and the founder of the Stanford Literary Lab, which opened last year, published its maiden pamphlet in January and followed up with another last month. The first pamphlet asks whether computers can recognize literary genres, and the second uses network theory to re-envision plots.
As its name suggests, the Lit Lab tackles literary problems by scientific means: hypothesis-testing, computational modeling, quantitative analysis. Similar efforts are currently proliferating under the broad rubric of “digital humanities,” but Moretti’s approach is among the more radical. He advocates what he terms “distant reading”: understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data.
We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of “Jude the Obscure,” become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.
The Lit Lab seeks to put this controversial theory into practice (or, more aptly, this practice into practice, since distant reading is less a theory than a method). . .
Interesting article by Ben Zimmer in the NY Times Sunday Book Review:
We like to think that modern fiction, particularly American fiction, is free from the artificial stylistic pretensions of the past. Richard Bridgman expressed a common view in his 1966 book “The Colloquial Style in America.” “Whereas in the 19th century a very real distinction could be made between the vernacular and standard diction as they were used in prose,” Bridgman wrote, “in the 20th century the vernacular had virtually become standard.” Thanks to such pioneers as Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, the story goes, ornate classicism was replaced by a straight-talking vox populi.
Now in the 21st century, with sophisticated text-crunching tools at our disposal, it is possible to put Bridgman’s theory to the test. Has a vernacular style become the standard for the typical fiction writer? Or is literary language still a distinct and peculiar beast?
Scholars in the growing field of digital humanities can tackle this question by analyzing enormous numbers of texts at once. When books and other written documents are gathered into an electronic corpus, one “subcorpus” can be compared with another: all the digitized fiction, for instance, can be stacked up against other genres of writing, like news reports, academic papers or blog posts.
One such research enterprise is the Corpus of Contemporary American English, or COCA, which brings together 425 million words of text from the past two decades, with equally large samples drawn from fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, academic texts and transcripts of spoken English. . .
In fact, I generally don’t drink fruit juice of any kind—being diabetic, I prefer to eat a piece of fruit rather than drink the juice. (Exception: 1/2 c pomegranate juice daily, in a glass of iced white tea with lime juice.) But orange juice seems especially nasty. Ben Popken at The Consumerist:
There’s a dirty secret in your glass of orange juice. Even though it says “not from concentrate,” it probably sat in a large vat for up to year with all the oxygen was removed from it. This allows it to be preserved and dispensed all year-round. Taking out all the O2 also gets rid of all the flavor. So the juice makers have to add the flavors back in using preformulated recipes full of chemicals called “flavor packs.” Mmm, delicious, fresh-squeezed ethyl-butyrate!
Author Aliissa Hamilton covers this in her book, “Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.” Of her findings, she writes on the Civl Eats blog:
Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. . .
The US seems to be moving in this direction, with corporations and the wealthy gaining more and more control of the government. In Honduras, the process is well advanced:
Nathan Myhrvold is a genius and a polymath. He made hundreds of millions of dollars as Microsoft’s chief technology officer, he’sdiscovered dinosaur fossils, and he recently co-authored a six-volume cookbook that “reveals science-inspired techniques for preparing food.”
Myhrvold has more than 100 patents to his name, and he’s cast himself as a man determined to give his fellow inventors their due. In 2000, he founded a company called Intellectual Ventures, which he calls “a company that invests in invention.”
But Myhrvold’s company has a different image among many Silicon Valley insiders.
The influential blog Techdirt regularly refers to Intellectual Ventures as a patent troll. IPWatchdog, an intellectual property site, called IV “patent troll public enemy #1.” These blogs write about how Intellectual Ventures has amassed one of the largest patent portfolios in existence and is going around to technology companies demanding money to license these patents.
Patents are a big deal in the software industry right now. Lawsuits are proliferating. Big technology companies are spending billions of dollars to buy up huge patent portfolios in order to defend themselves. Computer programmers say patents are hindering innovation.
But people at companies that have been approached by Intellectual Ventures don’t want to talk publicly.
“There is a lot of fear about Intellectual Ventures,” says Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Twitter, among other companies. “You don’t want to make yourself a target.” . . .
I now have time to putter about the kitchen, cooking meals as I eat them. But back when I lived in Iowa and was working, I really enjoyed using the slow cooker to have dinner ready—especially in the winter, when I could enter the house out of the cold and walk into a warmth full of the fragrance of dinner ready. One favorite was beef short ribs…
I like to cook my eggs over easy, which requires that I use the skillet to flip them. This is easily learned (practice with dried beans over the sink), but if the egg is not fresh enough, the yolk is very apt to break. I found this useful guide to determining egg age—and just how long they last (though after a certain point you might was well go for scrambled to begin with).
Made it for lunch. Very easy, very quick, very tasty. I ate it with Forbidden (black) Rice. For oil, I went with 1.5 tsp peanut oil, 1.5 tsp toasted sesame oil (this for 6 oz tofu and most of a bunch of scallions). Didn’t have ginger, but will make this again and include it.
Now that I’ve made my own Worcestershire sauce, I can use some to make my own A1 sauce:
I have no idea why making one’s own condiments (pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, A1 sauce, and the like) is so satisfying, but for me it is. For one thing, I suppose, I can increase the quantity of garlic to a reasonable level.
Bobby Timmons’s great tune—and quite a good video, too. From 1958.
Looks terrific. I would say the anchovies are critical.
This stuff is great.
Andrew Sullivan has a post that describes innovative designs for a better Nutrition Facts label. It does look cool.
The industry, of course, weighed in against the report before it was even issued—the industry fears that regulations might require safe devices, which might reduce profits. Barry Meier reports for the NY Times:
The government’s system for regulating many medical devices should be abandoned and replaced because it fails to examine their safety and effectiveness before sale, according to one of the nation’s top scientific groups.
In a report, released Friday, a panel of theInstitute of Medicine found that the existing rules were never intended to provide safeguards for screening out dangerous or ineffective products. The panel urged the Food and Drug Administration to devise a new regulatory system for the so-called moderate risk devices — a category that now includes artificial hips, external heart defibrillators and hospital pumps — because the current system was not fixable.
“If you want to make sure that a product is safe and effective, you have to start by asking the question whether it is safe and effective,” said William Vodra, a member of the 12-person panel assembled by Institute of Medicine and a lawyer who has worked closely with device producers.
The report, which was commissioned by the F.D.A., follows a number of recalls of medical devices, like one involving so-called metal-on-metal artificial hips that have failed in thousands of patients, crippling some of them. Those implants received little, if any, testing in patients prior to being implanted in tens of thousands of people. . .
Continue reading. Note what corporations have become: quite overt in rejecting good practice in favor of higher profits, and completely uncaring of the damage they cause. And you can see why corporations spend billions in efforts to control the government, efforts that are increasingly met with success.
I had been avoiding l’Occitane’s Cade shaving soap because I had not been able to get so good a lather as I wanted, though (as Steve of Kafeneio found) it makes a fine superlather with l’Occitane Cade shaving cream. But I got to thinking: “The Feather blade turned out to be fine now that I’ve had more practice, so maybe l’Occitane’s shaving soap will turn out to be fine if I use Creamy Lather technique.” And lo! it was!
Taking my time loading the Vie-Long horsehair brush, not worrying about the lather slopping down across the bowl into the sink, and keeping the brush briskly at work on the soap, I did indeed get a very dense Creamy Lather—not in great abundance, but the brush was filled with plenty of good lather for a shave. And I do like the Cade fragrance.
The flare-tip Super Speed (and I don’t think that it has a red tip, though the paint is worn away so much I can’t be sure) did a fine job, thanks in part to the Personna 74 blade (thanks, Zach!). Three smooth passes and a very fine shave.
A pass of the alum bar, which I’ve resumed using for some reason, and a splash of Paul Sebastian.
I got out my full collection of Super Speeds and, with the English Gillette Rocket and Aristocrat Jr., I have 6 razors, just the right number for a week o’ shaves. So next week will be Super Speed week all over… well, all over my apartment, I suppose. “All over America” seems over-ambitious.
Very good progress on the fifth edition once I actually printed out the pages and started working with paper instead of the screen. You just can’t move around a file so swiftly as you can flip through pages, plus it’s easier to keep track of where you are and what you’re doing when you’re marking up printed pages. It’s one of those things I know but periodically must relearn.
Any authoritarian government worth its salt knows the importance of keeping all citizens under surveillance. The US has already moved a long way in that direction, and recently has taken another giant step, described here.
Although the information collected about you (your ISP must retain customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and dynamic IP addresses—a record of your personal information and financial activity access numbers plus the web sites you visit) presumably is kept private (except when hacked and stolen), the FBI can get any information they want with a National Security Letter (thanks to the Patriot Act) and the ISP or other source cannot tell you that the information has been released: it’s against the law. — Not to mention that this puts the information on-line and thus accessible to NSA for data trawling and pattern-seeking.
So pretty much all this activity becomes an open book for law enforcement to browse as they want. That’s probably not the stated use, but I imagine that’s what it will become.
Of course, now that we have this law, we’ll all be perfectly safe.
Following on from yesterday’s leader editorial in the Times, comes a half page opinion piece by Anushka Astana titled ‘A drugs revolution must start with cannabis‘, the subheading reading: ‘The classification system is deeply flawed. But it’s the whole punitive approach that needs a overhaul’ (unfortuntaely as with yesterday’s leader the full text is behind a paywall – so you will need to buy a subscription or hardcopy (p.37) to read it in full).
The piece opens with a broad critique of the classification system before making a more substantive call for reform, suggesting ‘We should reject the punitive approach and focus on reducing harm’ . It then explores the legalisation debate with the sort of nuance so often absent from the taditionally polarised media debate: . . .