Archive for November 2011
Video via Wicked_Edge, posted by psywiped:
Extremely nice shave today, comparing two iKon razors: The H2O two-piece razor (in front, holding a Treet Black Beauty carbon-steel blade, previously used) and the S3S three-piece razor (in back, holding a previously used Personna 74).
The New Forest brush, a doughty little guy, worked up a great lather immediately from the MdC soap, still a favorite. Intermixing the razors across the passes, I found (doubtless “found again”) that:
a. The asymmetry is pleasant, but I don’t really try to exploit it: I use the two sides interchangeably, with both razors.
b. Both razors do an excellent job, and the feel is not the same as the usual razor: the head feels different against the skin.
c. Of the two, the S3S appeals to me more just because of the heft and weight of the head—and whether it’s true or not, it gives the illusion that it is shaving more easily due to that weight. I just like the overall feel better. But, that said, the H2O is quite a good razor and I do like it a lot. But if I had to choose one, I’d choose the S3S.
A little bit of Aspect as the aftershave, and now I need to get going for the cleaning ladies.
It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.
We regret the deaths of “Afghan civilians killed by extremists“, eh? But not the scores, or hundreds, or (most likely) thousands killed by US forces? Those are okay?
Man, what a revealing statement. “Afghan lives mean nothing to the US, according to the NY Times.” Won’t that play nicely on the world stage? But the reason they hate us? Our freedoms. Take it from a man whose level of knowledge is legendary: George W. Bush.
Greenwald also has some words on this.
We currently are wiping out entire species at an accelerating rate. Given evolutions slow trudge up Mount Improbable, we are being incredibly foolish—so perhaps evolution didn’t do such a good job, eh? Thomas Lovejoy writes in The Scientist:
Every living thing—plants, animals, microorganisms—shares an extraordinary history that stretches back 4 billion years to the origins of life on Earth. Although countless species have come and gone in that grand interval, today we share the planet with tens of millions of species, simultaneously shaping the Earth’s very form and function. Akin to the miracle of loaves and fishes, living things have turned, and continue to turn, stone into soil. The presence of life on Earth is so robust that it has markedly affected the composition of our atmosphere and continues to do so. Indeed, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration rises and falls in an annual rhythm tied to the seasons by biological activity—almost as if the planet itself was a living organism.
When I studied biology in high school, the tree of life consisted basically of two sturdy trunks, one the animals and the other the plants, with some “lesser” things around its base. Today, with 1.9 million species so far discovered and the ongoing mapping of their phylogenetic relationships, that tree resembles something more like a spreading bush with three terminal twigs at one end that represent animals, plants, and fungi. All the rest consists of different microorganisms, many representing forms dating from the early history of life on Earth. Many of these microorganisms have strange appetites and strange metabolisms. In a sense they are the real “environmental extremists.”
Because each species represents a set of biological solutions to problems particular to its own survival, the diversity of Earth’s organisms is, in essence, an incredibly valuable reference library with a countless number of volumes, most of them yet to be cataloged. Societies, excepting the most despotic, place enormous value on libraries and never justify them in terms of their economic benefit.
There are many reasons to value biological diversity as we do any great library. The life sciences are transformed regularly by the discovery of previously unknown biological properties in organisms that had been considered esoteric or lacking in utility. A case in point is . .
Very slowly. Richard Dawkins, in Climbing Mount Improbable, points out how people looking at, say, the human eye and wondering how on earth that could have evolved, are looking at the sheer cliffs of the north face of Mount Improbable, with the eye way up near the peak and us at the foot of the cliff, thinking, “There is no way to get up there.” But if we travel around to the foot of the mountain on the south side—which is a great distance away—we see a flat plain starting a gradual slope, so gradual that going up it is a stroll, not a climb or even a hike. But the slope stretches a very great distance indeed, and when we reach the end, we find ourselves standing atop those cliffs that seemed unclimbable.
He develops this analogy in several directions, quite usefully, but take a look at the length of that slope, as Susan Milius reports in Science News:
A new effort to date the early history of modern animals finds a lot of evolutionary dawdling.
The last common ancestor of all living animals probably arose nearly 800 million years ago, a multidisciplinary research team reports in the Nov. 25Science. From that common ancestry, various animal lineages diverged and evolved on their own paths. Yet the major animal groups living today didn’t arise until roughly 200 million years later, in an exuberant burst of forms preserved in fossils during what’s called the Cambrian explosion.
“There’s a deeper history that’s been missing from the fossil record,” says study coauthor Kevin Peterson of Dartmouth College. He and his colleagues have been pushing back that date for a last common ancestor, and now, he reports, the analysis has the broadest reach yet. “We show that animals evolved quite a bit before they show up in the fossil record.”
This work updates the notion of a long evolutionary lag, when much of the basic biological toolkit was already in place for a later surge of new body forms, says paleontologist and study coauthor Douglas Erwin of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the Santa Fe Institute.
“The Cambrian explosion is like the industrial revolution,” Erwin says. Inventions that would later be important for a major shift in technology — or, in this case, genetic novelties important for evolution — appeared long before they played a role in widespread changes that had a major impact on life.
For understanding animal origins, the new paper “is really worthwhile as it stands back and tries to make sense of the whole picture,” says James Valentine of the University of California, Berkeley, who studies animal evolution.
Just what happened with animals during that Cambrian explosion remains one of the more celebrated puzzles in the history of life. Charles Darwin mused over how diverse animal forms appear suddenly (geologically speaking) without much in the way of precursors. Darwin’s answer, as Erwin puts it, was that paleontologists just needed to look harder.
More than a century of hard looking has turned up some signs, fossils as well as traces of biological chemistry, of enigmatic animal life before the Cambrian period began about 541 million years ago. Yet the relationship to modern animals often is not clear. Theories themselves have exuberantly exploded in number and form.
For the new study, Erwin and the rock side of the team . . .
I have a full-sze puck of Klar Seifen as well as the soap in the tin. I assume they’re the same stuff, but the lather today was not the equal of yesterday’s. Of course, I used today the Vie-Long boar+horsehair brush, so perhaps that accounts for it. I’ll try this soap again soon, with a badger brush.
I got the S3S and enjoyed a very nice shave indeed: the mass of the head makes kfor an easy, smooth shave, some credit for which must go to the newish Personna 74 blade. Three passes, a splash of Blenheim Bouquet, and I’m good for the day.
For the last while, I’ve been pondering why religion somehow gets special privileges (over, say, science, law, the military, medicine—any other field of human endeavor): why writing a parody, or a logical critique, or a statement of strong disagreement works well in fields other than religion, but in religion trouble is quickly encountered—in religion, manners are more easily breached, feelings more sensitive, offense more readily taken, physical counterattacks more likely. This aspect of religion seems to hold (so far as I can tell) for every religion, regardless of the content of their teachings.
I now have an understanding of a reason—one that satisfies me for now. First recognize that one cannot deny that we have feelings that all normal persons share: a profound sense of awe at certain events, at the time of the event and in later recollection, generally events that are fundamental to our humanity, and beyond that to our animalhood, and even to being a living entity. Birth. Death. Love. Death of someone you love. The end of love. Grief. These are events and memories that take one deep into a cluster of feelings and a primitive sort of pre-verbal knowledge and awareness that together are such that the only reasonable term for the experience is religious. It is clearly a powerful experience, the kind that changes people’s lives—the particular change depending on the person’s character, choices, previous experience, genetic predispositions, and who knows what, and the direction of change can be positive or negative or a mix: say the death of a parent causing changes in the direction of anger or bitterness but also in the direction of greater self-reliance and increased ability to come to a decision. (I’m making these up: they don’t reflect me or anyone I know, just examples to show the kind of thing I’m talking about.)
So far, so good. I think at this point we have universal agreement: we’ve had those feelings, we’ve had that experience, and we sense the profundity of the power.
The problem arises, as Lao Tzu would say, in the naming of things. So long as we knew without naming, we were fine. But when we started naming, we starting to try to put into words these wordless—these pre-word, unconscious, pre-cerebral—feelings/experiences/knowledge/emotions/awareness, then we really muck it up.
For one thing, words are the elements of ratiocination, and as soon as you start to reason—logically, rationally, based on actual experience—-about any religion, you quickly run into the fact that it makes no sense at all and also the precepts in the documents usually are far from daily practice. (Example: Left as an exercise for the reader.) That such a problem arises is totally understandable: what became “religion” as documented in words grew up in the swamps (as Rationality would view it), in the depths of wordless experience, so when it is put into words, it doesn’t work worth a damn.
Interestingly, each religion can see this clearly about every other religion. Just to be parochial and Western for a moment: the Baptists can see the problems in Mormonism, Mormans can see the things that don’t make sense in Catholicism, Catholics completely see what’s wrong with the Unitarians, the Unitarians see the difficulties of Scientology, and the Scientologists can see what’s wrong with all the others (and Scienitologists are not unique in having a clear perception of the wrongness of “the others”).
So one can’t talk about religion and it has special rules because “religion” as done in society is a quivering, fracturing, shaky pancake of words, a different pancake for each religion, but each sitting over the same profound awe-inspiring power of individual religious experiences. As soon as you start talking about it, it becomes obvious that the words don’t make sense, but those are secondary: the key is the power of the religious experience, which people want to share and, unfortunately, the language meme is so all-encompassing that words become the primary way to share—and words lead directly to conflict.
So one way to solve it is to skip the words: have and recognize the religious feelings and experiences and treasure them, but shut up about it already.
Not possible, unfortunately, for most people. Certainly it’s possible for hermits, religious and otherwise, and monks in monasteries, and various other examples of separating the religious experience from words—but this separation is too much. By not talking about anything, religious or secular, they’re throwing away the baby with the bathwater. There’s no problem using words in science, law, medicine, the military, and so on. Indeed, these human (and recent, evolutionarily speaking—much more recent than the core of religious experience, for that goes back to birth, sex, loss, death, and the like, all occurring from the very beginning, thus the depth of their power) endeavors are veritably built on langauge.
So: no talking about religion, but talking about everything else. That would work, except for one thing: we are a social species, and people want to do things together and to share.
So that brings us to drumming and and dance and music and painting and sculpture: all tied to religion ab ovo, I imagine. None need involve words at all, all are (or can be, or work best as) communal. And all can be used to communicate and share the experiences I have called “religious.” Indeed, theater presents the (simulated, evoked) experiences without words of a religious nature: Oedipus Rex arouses feelings of the nature and depth of religious feelings, but no religious “teachings” are conveyed in words. The ideas come from our active contemplation, as it were, of the actions/experiences of the players/characters.
Music, of course, is another medium through which to express the experience of religion, as is dance and the others. So let those be the media through which religious experience is shared and communicated, not words. Bach’s music is enjoyed by believers of diverse faiths, including secular—and note that those who hold that there is no God, still experience the profound feelings of awe and the depth of emotions at the aforementioned basic life experiences. I do think “religious feelings” is a good name for feelings of that sort, and the staunchest atheist will acknowledge having such feelings (adjective aside), simply because he is a living animal, and that’s the level of these feelings.
So my understanding leads to a way to test the idea: a large group of people of different faiths, not permitted to communicate anything about their particular religous (word) beliefs, but allowed to drum, dance, chant wordlessly, play musical instruments (have to avoid faith-specific hymns: only original works, how’s that?), sculpt, paint, …
I guess someone should apply for a grant. The Templeton Foundation?
UPDATE: The Wife reminds me that some religions forbid the use of graven (i.e., figurative) images, so their painted art is more abstract. It occurs to me if a particular religion can simply ban one of the social media that we use—no graven images, or (in the case of others) no music—then it would seem quite feasible to ban words, restricting expression and communication to the non-verbal and non-discursive arts.
I read once that it is difficult to get many patients to take their meds for hypertension. It’s not so much a financial issue (though for many it may be), but rather a compliance issue: patients just, on their own, decide to quit taking the meds. Again, something in people’s behavior I don’t understand. I have hypertension, and I take my meds for that (and for my diabetes and cholesterol) regularly. My hypertension med is down to very little now with the weight loss—a quarter of a tablet of Enalapril—but I take it every day.
Now I’m especially glad I do: Janice Neumann reports in the LA Times:
Now they can add cognitive decline to that list, after researchers discovered that patients with high blood pressure and other risk factors for stroke are more likely to develop thinking or reasoning problems than otherwise healthy individuals.
The link between cognitive decline and hypertension will put even more emphasis on prevention, said several stroke specialists.
“This takes the disease to an even earlier point, that if you don’t change these factors or modify or control them, you are likely going to develop some cognitive issues, even if you never develop stroke,” said Dr. Shyam Prabhakaran, director of the Stroke Program at Rush University Medical Center. “The impact of this study is really directly at primary care prevention.”
Prabhakaran said the study was impressive because of the large number of participants and their multiethnic backgrounds. . .
I subscribe to A.Word.A.Day, and today’s word arrived with an illustrated letter “R” for “redolent”:
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and if that’s true this week we’re going to send you a thousand words a day. Artist Leah Palmer Preiss (curiouser AT mindspring.com) has illustrated this week’s words in her delightfully whimsical style. Leah makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. She writes:
“I’ve always been fascinated by the conversation between words and images. Nearly all of my work — whether as a painter, illustrator, or calligrapher — combines visual and verbal elements in some fashion. Lately I’ve been exploring figurative letters. My first series of curiotypes (as I call them) was a full alphabet illustrating scientific terms.
“As a longtime fan of A.Word.A.Day, I was very excited when Anu Garg asked me to do a series of curiotypes for this week’s words. To create these particular pieces, I collaged printed texts (scanned from old dictionaries) onto canvas, then painted the image with acrylics, using many thin glazes and very small brushes. The originals are 6″x6″.
“If you’d like to see more of my work, including earlier stages of these images and the scientific alphabet mentioned above, please visit my blog, Oddments & Curiosities.”
Redolent, the email tells me, is an adjective:
1. Fragrant; smelling.
2. Suggestive; reminiscent.
From Old French redolent (smelling), from Latin redolent, present participle of redolere (to give off a smell), from re- (intensive prefix) + olere (to smell). Earliest documented use: 1439.
I’m now at two different eye drops instead of three, and twice a day instead of thrice: a definite plus. I will see him again 6 January and should then be able to get new prescription for lenses. I may also at that time set up surgery for left eye (also a cataract—the one in the right eye must have metastasized).
This morning at 2:45 a.m. I heard briefly the beep of a backing truck, then blessed silence for a moment or two, and then a jackhammer started. This was in the street directly in front of the apartment building. I went out to see: portable lamps, quite bright, guys with hard hats and reflective vests. I called the police department just from curiosity, and learned that Cal-Am (California-American, the water company that provides water to the city) had some soert of emergency and was at work. They went quiet in about 20 minutes, and this morning there were several big Cal-Am trucks in the street and a lot of sand. Back from doctor, and all is cleaned up.
We’ve noticed that shipping costs have increased substantially—oil prices, presumably—and so this is probably the last Christmas we’ll ship gifts. Gifts will go to gift cards or purchases shipping from Amazon.com or the like (with Amazon Prime, free two-day shipping, along with free streaming movies and other benefits: The Eldest told me about Amazon Prime shortly after it was instituted, and it’s been great).
By request, Klar Seifen. The soap is excellent and immediately produced a thick, creamy lather with the Vie-Long horsehair—thick enough that I had to add a couple of driblets of water as I worked it up on my beard. I took my time, enjoying the lather, and then did the first pass—so far as the moustache—using the Fat Boy with a Swedish Gillette blade that turned out to be on its last legs. I popped in a Kai and continued, but by the end of the second pass, I was hankering for ultimate smoothness, so I set aside the Fat Boy in favor of my vintage Slant for the ATG polishing pass—a good use, and I have a wonderfully smooth face as a result.
A splash of Klar Seifen Klassik, a favorite aftershave, and I’m off to see the ophthalmologist.
The Last Detective, of which there are so far but four episodes—and I’m in the middle of the fourth and already suffering withdrawal. Very enjoyable, in part because it allows visiting actor significant monlogues, in part because it repeatedly diverges from the expected. They use the word “quirky,” I use “entertaining.”
I watched the 1940 MGM sort-of musical live-action fantasy The Thief of Bagdad, clearly the source of much of Disney’s Aladdin. It was entertaining in a surreal way. Very strange, overall. The link is to the Wikipedia entry, which discusses the making of.
I also tried watching Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!, based on Max Shulman’s comic novel. Shulman had some popularity, but his writing seems too much of the moment to endure, and certainly the movie had not aged well at all: unwatchable, ultimately. But the movie was made in 1958, the year Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who star in the film, got married, and it’s obvious how totally smitten he is by her—and she, I think, by him, but I can read male body language better. And she is wonderfully young and cute in the film, which also stars Joan Colins before she fully vamped out.
Early to Whole Foods, where I bought two nice turkey necks—terrific for soup. I’m cooking the necks now: simmer for 3 hours in water with 2 Tbsp vinegar, 5 or so star anise, 2 bay leves, good grinding of black pepper, 1 tsp salt, an onion cut into chunks, a carrot (would be nice, don’t have), and some parsley, then remove necks from stock, let cool, and debone, adding meat back to stock with vegetables as you please. Starch will be 1/2 cup rice, and I’ll add Lacinato kale, dried tomatoes, squash, mushrooms, more onion, some garlic, and other things that might occur to me.
I also got a duck leg for dinner, Emergen-C for The Wife, persimmons for fruit snacks, and such. By going early, I found the parking lot almost empty and the store uncrowded.
I need to get back to my history reading. Pulling up my socks and going for it again.
UPDATE: This time I remembered the little bouquet garni cloth bags that The Wife gave me, so I put some whole cloves, allspice, and cardamon seed in one of the bags and added that, following The Eldest’s lead in using the whole spices at every opportunity, otherwise you never use them. And I minced a few cloves of garlic and added that as well.
The simultaneous effort to put more people in prisons (driven by idiotic drug laws, mandatory sentences, and a private prison industry doing all it can through funneling a portion of their profits back to legislators—kickback, in effect—to make more offenses require prison time and pass things like the 3-strikes law (a third felony conviction gets a mandatory life sentence)) and also the effort to provide less revenue to states (by cutting taxes) means that the US prison sentence in many states is as bad as any third-world dictator’s prison.
Take a look at this story by John Rudolf:
Late on the night of August 4, 2010, a badly beaten young man arrived at the trauma ward of Jackson Hospital here. Although the patient was hardly a flight risk, security was tight and prison guards crowded into the emergency room as doctors began treatment.
The patient’s limp body spoke to the savagery of an assault that had left deep contusions on his legs and torso, and inflamed knots bulging from his head and face. He was unresponsive, with fixed and dilated pupils, and doctors quickly diagnosed a traumatic brain injury. Only a ventilator kept him alive. He never regained consciousness and died the next day.
His name was Rocrast Mack. An Alabama prison inmate, his death at age 24 came at the hands of six corrections officers, who took turns battering him with their fists, feet and batons in retribution for a minor altercation with a female guard earlier that night, according to witness accounts and prison records.
Civil rights advocates call Mack’s death an avoidable tragedy, the inevitable product of a profoundly dysfunctional state corrections system in Alabama that ranks among the very worst America has to offer.
It is a system flooded with low-level drug offenders like Mack, who was sentenced to 20 years behind bars after pleading guilty to selling $10 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover cop in 2009.
Alabama is also emblematic of a broader problem facing America’s prison system: In many states, there simply isn’t enough room to hold all of the people who are incarcerated. Against that tableau, inmates often born and bred in hard luck circumstances now find themselves mired in a loop of violence that extends from the street and into prisons themselves.
Yet even in a nation that has little to boast about in terms of prison efficiency and quality, Alabama stands out for what appears to be the sheer brutality and freewheeling nature of its corrections system.
Starved of funds, the state’s aging prisons suffer from the worst overcrowding in the nation, operating at an average of 190 percent of their design capacity. Ventress Correctional Facility, where Mack died, is an outlier even by this standard. Built in 1990 and designed to accommodate just 650 men, the facility now holds 1,665 prisoners — more than 255 percent of its capacity. . .
I think James Fallows and Peggy Noonan have a good point—as does the commenter Fallows quotes.