Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 22nd, 2012

Great start: Anthony Zimmer

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I just started watching it and I feel I’m in excellent hands. A train movie, plot very economically set forth and pushed into motion with opposed forces seeking the same goal, who has ideas of his own, etc. At any rate, it’s wonderful at how neatly the whole intricate structure emerges, in motion, as it were.

UPDATE: Haven’t finished, but only opening on the train—misleading but okay. Maybe I’m just in the mood for a train movie, a fairly distinct genre. At any rate, it’s become obvious that this must be the movie of which The Tourist is a remake.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Movies

Economics Made Easy: Think, “Friction”

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Interesting column in the NY Times by Barry Schwartz:

CRITICS of Mitt Romney’s activities at Bain Capital have been described, somewhat hysterically, as critics of capitalism. They’re not. But they are attacking something. And understanding that something can have enormous implications for the shape of our economic institutions and activities going forward.

What Bain Capital, and firms like it, do is try to increase the efficiency of the companies they buy. They try to get more with less — to eliminate waste. They are not interested either in creating jobs or in destroying them. Nor are they interested in improving the lives of consumers by making products and services better and cheaper. They are interested in profit — for themselves and their shareholders. Sometimes a Bain success will lead to more jobs and better products. Sometimes it will not.

It may seem heartless to worship efficiency at any cost, including lost jobs and decimated communities, but it is important to understand that increased efficiency is the only way a society’s standard of living will improve. If your company raises your pay without becoming more efficient, it will have to raise its prices in order to pay you. This is true of all companies. And if all companies raise their prices to allow for higher wages, you will end up just running in place, with your higher wages exactly matched by the higher prices of the things you buy. It is only if your company and others find a way to pay you more without charging more that your living standard goes up.

So if we want to make material progress, we must become more efficient. In addition, as markets have become ever more globalized, increased efficiency of American companies has become a condition for their very survival.

So firms compete to become more efficient, and we as consumers, along with Bain Capital and its like, benefit from this competition.

What stands in the way of efficiency is friction. When automobile manufacturers struggle to squeeze as many miles per gallon as possible out of their car designs, friction is the enemy. Their aim is to design a vehicle that uses every ounce of fuel to move the car forward.

And so it is in the world of finance. As the historian Niall Ferguson reminds us in his book “The Ascent of Money,” hard as it is to imagine, people didn’t always have money. The invention of money went a long way toward reducing the friction, the inefficiency, in financial transactions. No longer did the farmer have to bring sacks of potatoes to the marketplace to trade for eggs and milk. Money was a medium of exchange that greatly reduced what some have called the financial coefficient of drag.

Arguably, much that has happened in the financial world over the last 200 years can be seen as a continuation of the revolution in efficiency begun by money. Credit, for example, meant that the farmer could go shopping for eggs and milk without even having the money. He could promise to pay it at a later date, after the potato harvest. Nor did the farmer need to save up the surplus from many years of bumper crops before buying more land. It was possible to get the land now with credit, and pay for it over time, in part with the proceeds from newly cultivated acres.

Much more recently, financial markets have been all about efficiency. This is one way to . . .

Continue reading.

Friction-free (or even very-low-friction) economics is what I have called “hypercapitalism”: when measurements are so precise and far-reaching and accurate and timely (thanks to networking and computers), and management is so removed from the lives involved in their enterprise (thanks to outsourcing and distancing of management staff in various ways), we enter the current era of laissez faire capitalism with enormous human costs quite visible—and with no accountability.

In my view, it’s the role of government to add sufficient friction (in terms of regulation requirements) to ensure the public welfare beyond simply keeping tainted meat out of the system (in which the current system shows frequent and conspicuous failures): in ensuring the health and prosperity of our communities. Businesses would like to be free of all obligations and to operate as bandit kings, but if controlled businesses can be an engine of energy—sort of like fire. But fire always wants to be free, to consume everything. And business will never cooperate in its control.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 3:19 pm

Separating state and church: Still important

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Intriguing column in the NY Times by Samuel J. Rascoff:

TWO years ago, John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism, spoke to members of a Muslim student group in a packed auditorium at the law school where I teach, offering his audience the White House’s position about what jihad does and does not mean.

Later that year, on a panel with me in that same auditorium, a commentator, Haroon Moghul, drew attention to efforts by American officials to build global networks of “acceptable” Muslim leaders.

There are other examples like these around the country. The Ohio Department of Public Safety has produced and distributed literature that declares, “When extremists attack and kill in the name of jihad, mainstream Muslims consider such acts as a total deviation from the true religion of Islam.”

Homeland Security officials were signed up for a 2010 conference in which one topic was “Seeking a Counter-Reformation in Islam.” In 2004, an inspector general criticized the Bureau of Prisons because it failed to “examine the doctrinal beliefs of applicants for religious service positions to determine whether those beliefs are inconsistent with B.O.P. security policies.”

In each of these cases, counterterrorism has put officials on a collision course with Islamic thought and practice — and, perhaps more dangerously, with the Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits government action “respecting an establishment of religion.”

From a national security point of view, challenging ideas that underpin radical Islam makes sense. Counterterrorism is ultimately about ideas; why shouldn’t officials try to marginalize the theological teachings cited by violent terrorists?

The problem is that when American officials intervene in Islamic teachings — interpreting them to believers in a national-security context and saying which are or are not acceptable — they create tensions, both legal and strategic.

The strategic problem is easier to see: . .  .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Government, Religion

Aha! What the memesphere is

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Regular readers know that I have a bee in my bonnet regarding memes: their rapid evolution, their influence on human evolution, their growing autonomy (in a weird way) and their control over us. The collection of all memes of all time is coextensive, I would say, with human culture: culture consists of memes and their connections, development, and influence: the memeverse.

Memes lead us toward generalities: language is an early, highly successful, highly influential, and highly developed meme, and language consists of little other than generalizations: horse, tree, run, deduce: all denote “things” of a general nature and yet, as I was posting earlier today, reality is always of extreme particularity: the general does not exist in reality as we experience it in our lives, only in our experience in using/doing memes: the memesphere of current activity.

And yet, though not “real” in the usual sense, memes are fascinating to us and to a great extent are us: much of what we view as ourselves comprises memes. So participating in the memesphere, inhabiting the memeverse, is deeply appealing at our most basic levels.

And yet: it is not reality, and it draws our attention away from reality.

What it is, I suddenly realize, is the Faerie Kingdom: the enchanted realm of non-reality (magic, rather) in which things are not as they seem and time runs at a different rate, and we linger beguiled. (Perhaps also the land of the lotus-eaters?) The memes are the magic that attract us and keep us from the actual daily reality.

So Edmund Spenser was writing an allegory on more than one level… hmm. I wonder how many legends, myths, fantasies, fairy tales, and the like can be profitably read in the light of the enchanted kingdom being the memeverse…

UPDATE: So, it occurs to me, one reason for the enduring appeal of the story of a dangerous magical land, unlike daily reality, could be that the pre-meme part of our mind—the part of the unconscious that corresponds to the mental state and workings of animal minds such as other primates and mammalian predators: by no means an unsophisticated mental apparatus, but rather one quite adaptable to managing complex lives in a changing environment with unpredictable challenges. Quite a good sort of mind, though not having a conscious aspect. And then along comes the Johnny-come-lately conscious mind and its creation of (and by) the memeverse where it wants to spend all its time, ignoring (and leaving to the unconscious self) the management and navigation of the real world, for the most part (estimates vary but run as high as half of activities done via the adaptive unconscious, as I recall). So the arrangement works, and those fantasies and fairy tales might be taken as one interpretation of it, with the appeal of the story coming in part from the unconscious recognition of what the story’s about.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that the Garden of Eden myths sort of fit this model: a golden era before moral judgments came into consideration (knowledge of good & evil: memes), a time when man and woman and all life lived and coexisted on the same level. But once memes entered the picture, moral judgments were possible, generalities were born, and the result schism within the mind separated us forever from the (internal) Eden we once enjoyed. It was never out there: it was always inside. But with consciousness and a sense of self derived from and to a great extent residing in the memeverse, spending all its time in the memesphere, the old ways of knowing and being were discarded/lost. A familiar story and one can understand its appeal in this reading: a major part of ourselves understands clearly the meaning of the story.

UPDATE 3: That the Garden of Eden story (and similar stories) present the change from the magical kingdom to daily life (and the memesphere) as a “fall” shows from which POV the story is told: that of the pre-meme unconscious, who would view the change as a loss.  And the story continues to have resonance because it’s not just something that happened to the human race long ago, as we moved toward more meme-involvement. It’s replayed in the life of each of us as we continue from birth to develop both our adaptive unconscious self and its knowledge of the world and also the conscious self, with its every greater participation in the memesphere.

Still, some occupations are deeply involved in a meme-free encounter with the particularities of reality. Physical skills pulls us into non-meme encounters, which generally trigger the “flow” state: I’m thinking of things like rock-climbing, woodcarving, gardening, and the like. Human touch is important to mental health, as any number of experiments have shown. Because of that, I speculate that occupations that involve much touching of another person—occupations such as beautician, therapeutic masseur/masseuse, physical therapist, and so on—provide some mental health benefits in that connection that, say, an accountant would not find in his/her job. If I’m right (speculation piled upon speculation), I would be interested to know the mental-health effects of occupations that involve lengthy and detailed meme-free interactions with the particularities of reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Damned clever

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Hope they make these.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

Criminal malfeasance in LA Unified School District

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 2:05 pm

What war on religion?

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Stephanie Mencimer writes in Mother Jones:

For months, Catholic religious leaders have waged a PR campaign criticizing the Obama administration for allegedly infringing on their religious liberties. They’ve blasted, among other things, an administration requirement (since rescinded) that institutions affiliated with religious organizations offer contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans. Religious conservatives are also fuming that the administration declined to renew a contract with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to provide services for human trafficking victims because the group refused to provide referrals for contraception and abortion to sexual assault victims.

Gary Marx, the executive director of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, sent out a fundraising letter this month urging people to sign a petition fighting Obama’s “war on religion,” writing: “The Obama Administration’s actions are evidence of a pattern of hostility towards religious institutions and an antipathy to uphold and protect the nation’s most fundamental founding principles.”

Republican members of Congress have joined the chorus, accusing the Obama administration of trampling religious freedoms. On Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will hold a hearing on precisely this topic. Among those testifying will be Rev. William Lori, chairman of the USCCB ad hoc committee on religious liberty, the group leading the charge against Obama’s contraceptive mandate.

But all the outrage about religious freedom has overshadowed a basic truth about the Obama administration: When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous. Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the US Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from. The USCCB, which has been such a vocal critic of the Obama administration, has seen its share of federal grants from HHS jump from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration it believes is virulently anti-Catholic, according to HHS data.

Far from waging war on religious organizations, Obama has largely left in place the federal faith-based infrastructure created by President George W. Bush. He has also increased the amount of federal dollars flowing to religious groups—much to the chagrin of civil liberties and civil rights groups. They believe the administration is turning a blind eye to ongoing and egregious constitutional violations over church-state separation by religious groups receiving millions in taxpayer dollars. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 1:58 pm

Why I mostly cook my own food

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And why I don’t like packaged cereals. Mark Bittman has a good article in the NY Times on the move of Pringles from Procter & Gamble to Kellogg, worth reading. From the article:

. . . For [the $2.7 billion that Kellogg paid for Pringles], you could feed 75 million children for a year, or fund Unicef’s child-assistance operations for two years. You could pay cash for NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover mission ($2.5 billion), and have still be able to foot half the cost of the president’s proposed strengthening of oversight of offshore oil and gas operations, which would save money in the long run. Or you could hire more than 60,000 teachers. Stuff like that.

But both P.&G. and Kellogg are in the business of making money, not feeding people with food[3]. Kellogg, as we all know, makes money by selling non-food to billions of people, and letting the chips (no pun intended) fall where they may. It’s best known for its roster of cereals, including Honey Smacks (with more than 50 percent sugar), Smorz, Scooby-Doo, and “healthy” offerings like All-Bran (a mere 26 percent sugar) and Low-Fat Granola (29 percent).

Basically, Kellogg is big in the business of selling hyper-processed grain heavily laced with sugar, so it makes sense that it seize the opportunity to jump into the market of selling hyper-processed potatoes heavily laced with fat and salt. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 10:56 am

Rethinking desirability of another big war

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Those who learned from experience (of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, for example) are starting to speak up against the idiot idea that we should launch yet another war of agression against another nation. James Fallows has a good post:

Anyone following the news already knows this, but for the record: it’s very good to see the NYT running, on page one and above the fold*, an analysis of the reckless agitation for a preemptive military strike on Iran, and of the risks this talk holds for all involved. Lots of people wrote these analyses, after the fact, about the panicky rush-toward-war mentality that preceded the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is certainly better to start talking about the problem now, when “hey, wait a minute” thoughts can make a difference.

Peter Beinert, in the Daily Beast, weighs in to the same effect.

I am only in internet range for a moment, so no opportunity to lard this up with references, links, and sub-arguments. Therefore I’ll make just this blunt point: this war talk is dangerous, it can lead to “Guns of August” consequences, and it is particularly dangerous to have Republican candidates decide that outdoing one another in warlike talk about Iran is good for them or the country.**
* This is a quaint allusion to the days when news came via “papers,” which had a fold across the middle of their front page.  [The more important stories were "above the fold", visible when the newspaper lay folded in the dispenser or at the newsstand. Less important (but still front-page) stories were placed below the fold.- LG]

** The Times says about the politics of the issue:

Israel… [JF: more accurately, the most hawkish voices in the Netanyahu administration] views the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to its very existence and has warned that Iran’s nuclear facilities may soon be buried too deep for foreign bombers to reach.

Israel’s [JF: Netanyahu's] stance has played out politically in the United States. With the notable exception of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, Republican presidential candidates have kept up a competition in threatening Iran and portraying themselves as protectors of Israel.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 10:49 am

Posted in Daily life

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Useful site was subject of a Cool Tools post.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 10:45 am

Posted in Technology

Observing from a distance

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In my redditor-of-the-day thread, one guy posted, “Any advice for a 17-year-old fellow?” Part of my answer, slightly edited:

Pay attention to what people around you say and do—and to what you yourself say and do—and more or less constantly ask, “What does that tell me?” And then pay attention to the answer. You will get better at this over time, but only if you practice. Journals are helpful in this effort.

A good example of watching one’s behavior for insight, rather than relying merely on introspection: John Dean, who was Counsel to President Nixon and finally stepped forward to tell the truth about Watergate, observed during the crisis that he had started buying scotch in half-gallon bottles because the fifths were not lasting so long as they had. (He talks about this in the book he wrote.) His internal monitoring of his drinking—he was still doing what he had always done, had a drink when he felt like it—didn’t reveal the increase, but the behavior he observed revealed what was happening and he took steps to cut back.

And in a contrary direction, Anne Lamott writes (in Operating Instructions) of a friend with such a fierce cocaine habit that the friend awoke one morning with her head stuck to the pillow because of how much her nose had bled, and she still didn’t think she had a problem: too much reliance on introspective judgment, not enough thinking about what her own behavior tells her.

Another: I recall reading of a physician addicted to cocaine who was trying to get a quick hit in a men’s room, dropped some on the floor, and without hesitation got down on his hands and knees and licked it up. That behavior suggests, to an impartial mind, that things have gone awry and it’s time for revisiting one’s priorities and perhaps a check-up.

People can really do that: look at themselves externally, as it were, and give appropriate advice. Generally speaking, people know exactly what they should do, given their behavior and situation. But they have to look at the situation’s external manifestations, not merely introspect about it. It’s another of those things that simply require practice over time to learn.

The point is to attempt to make accurate judgments about people based on what they say and do, and learn how to make judgments about yourself on exactly that same basis. It turns out that having access internally to all one’s memories and rationalizations and so on is simply distracting: those provide no more information that you can get from observing your words and behavior and in fact can be quite misleading (wishful thinking). This has been well established: predicting a person’s behavior in a situation based on external knowledge of the person is as accurate as the person him/herself can predict, knowing all that they know about themselves. (Timothy Wilson discusses this in his fascinating book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.) Moreover, as indicated in above examples, introspective analysis can become quite distorted if one is, for example, addicted. The physician on the men’s-room floor maintained enough external view of himself that, as I recall, he left the the rest room pondering what had just happened and did subsequently get help.

All this came to mind because of an extremely interesting article on deliberately inducing flow-like states to speed learning, and the discovery that getting “out” of your internal view of yourself—seeing yourself at a remove, as it were—works quite well.

The article, “Zap your brain into the zone: Fast track to pure focus“, is by Sally Adee and is available in its entirety even to non-subscribers. I found it quite interesting, but in the context of this post, I quote only one small observation:

. . . Defining and characterising the flow state is all very well, but could a novice learn to turn off their critical faculties and focus their attention in this way, at will? If so, would it boost performance? Gabriele Wulf, a kinesiologist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, helped to answer this question in 1998, when she and her colleagues examined the way certain athletes move (Journal of Motor Behavior, vol 30, p 169).

At the time, she had no particular interest in the flow state. But Wulf and her colleagues found that they could quickly improve a person’s abilities by asking them to focus their attention on an external point away from their body. Aspiring skiers who were asked to do slalom-type movements on a simulator, for example, learned faster if they focused on a marked spot ahead of them. Golfers who focused on the swing of the club were about 20 per cent more accurate than those who focused on their own arms. . .

As with these sports, so (I speculate) with our daily lives: if we can observe our words and behavior from “outside ourselves” as it were, ignoring all our usual internal explanations, rationalizations, and interpretations, perhaps we could better manage our lives: direct ourselves as we would direct someone whose well-being and success is of great importance to ourselves and spend less time creating/finding reasons for what we say and do. I suppose it amounts to focusing on the results of our words and behavior rather than on our motives: what things do we make happen (outside ourselves), looking on at what happens and what we did and ignoring the reasons we give ourselves for our actions: focus on results, ignore intentions, and make your judgments that way. We define ourselves (to others, and ultimately I think to ourselves) by the effects of our behavior: the results of our words and actions. The reasons for those words and actions are less important and always suspect, given to the degree to which we rationalize. For example, in thinking about something you’ve done that you want to examine, ignore the reasons you can offer and simply describe to yourself the objective behavior of yourself and others (if any). Describe it to yourself as a police report. Person A says something hurtful to Person B. Person B feels hurt. Person A’s explanation [to himself as much as to Person B - LG] that A was “just joking” is immaterial: if you’re Person A and judge this as I’ve suggested, the intention (to amuse … whom? Person B? I think not. For Person A to amuse himself? More likely.) and motive is ignored and we’re left with the facts: Person A said something that hurt Person B and when confronted about what he had done, Person A tried to deflect responsibility. Tentative conclusion: Person A is an asshole, and also: what is Person B doing hanging around with him?

UPDATE: A comment from a guy who took an objective look at his drinking. Excellent example of looking at behavior from the outside rather than introspectively.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 10:35 am

The particularities of reality

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I’ve lately been mulling over how very particular reality is: we never see a “chair,” but only specific chairs, each with its own unique history and set of mars and scratches. We don’t see a child, only specific children, each one completely unique, with his or her own life story, relatives, personalities, and so on. It’s quite noticeable with people who have cats as pets: each kitty seems to arrive with a unique personality, very unlike other kitties in all details, though similar in many respects (a tendency to nap, for example).

I enjoy science fiction and like time-travel stories, but when I think of actually returning to an earlier time, everything falls apart very quickly. The immediate picture is of oneself arriving (with some wealth, why not?) and amazing people. But then: how does one know the language and the customs of the times? Things change relatively quickly, and what is acceptable in one place and time can trigger big trouble in another. I once read a piece on how someone from today would fare in, say, England of a millennium ago: not well. The article (or story—at this point I don’t recall) recounted how many laws the modern visitor would unknowingly break in the course of a day.

And of course the web and net of acquaintanceship would undermine the visitor from another time, because what is always important to humans is whom you know and who knows you, who are your relatives and family, who are your friends and co-workers. We want to place people within the social framework with connections to known individuals, and if that is not possible, the isolated person is not trusted—but of course, any time traveler would immediately upon arrival begin to be enmeshed in particularities: the person who first observed the traveler, who first spoke with him or her, and going outward from there, fixing the novelty within the specific intermeshed linkages of the real.

All reality has this quality of great particularity. It’s only our minds that cluster particulars together and work with general terms rather than specific reality.

Samantha Smithstein recently had a column in the SF Examiner on how we thirst for wholeness. From the column:

In his correspondence with Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the psychologist Carl Jung stated his opinion that craving for alcohol was really “the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.” In their book on Maharishi Ayur-Veda, Transcendental Meditation, and treatment of addiction, authors David O’Connell and Charles Alexander state that in addition to genetics and physiology,addiction arises from the ‘mistake of the intellect,’ known as pragyaparadhain which one perceives one’s self not in terms of the wholeness of pure consciousness (the Self), but rather as a highly limited individual personality burdened with conflicting impulses and feelings, cut off from the wholeness of pure consciousness.” . . .

Even without attributing consciousness to reality, it’s certainly clear that in our minds we spend much time preoccupied with things at a more general level. I commented on the column:

I’ve been thinking recently that the disconnectedness is the tendency of people to leave particularities in favor of generalities. General terms are easier to work with, and laws and edicts are at the general level: applying to all equally. And yet our daily experience and we ourselves are of a most incredible *particularness*, unique, unduplicatable, and fractal in every aspect. And so for every other one to which these general laws apply.

The point is that if one starts “living” (as it were) among the general, thinking in general terms, coming to general conclusions, etc., one becomes disconnected from reality, which consists (so far as I can tell) of an infinity of particularities. Some forms of meditation focus on the particularity of a stone one holds, for example, and that sort of thing may be a form of reconnection. Certainly it seems that in moments of the kind of meditation that comes with “flow” one is highly aware of and completely focused on the particularities at hand—e.g., in climbing a rock face, one is intensely aware not of cliffs in general, nor even this cliff as an example, but *this part right here*,  studied in all its particularity to figure out the best route.

So perhaps these reconnections with the particularities of which reality is constituted helps connect us again to our own “real” lives.

I was reminded of this last night on reading in New Scientist a review by Linda Geddes of The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the digital revolution will create better health care, by Eric Topol. She writes:

BY THE end of this book, geneticist Eric Topol explains his intent has not been to provide a “techno-tour” of how the digital revolution will change healthcare. From the title, that’s what I had expected. Instead, I got an eye-opening account of why conventional medicine is doomed.

According to Topol, modern medicine’s focus on the population rather than the individual may be damaging our health. He describes how mass screening for breast or prostate cancer often falsely identifies people who don’t have the disease, leading to unnecessary interventions and worry, and how Plavix, an anticoagulant that is the second-most prescribed drug in the world, is ineffective in 30 per cent of people and can even raise their risk of blood clots.

It’s compelling stuff. Even if they don’t cause harm, drugs often don’t benefit most of the people who take them. Take Lipitor, a statin advertised as reducing the risk of heart attack by 36 per cent. Pfizer isn’t lying with this claim, but closer reading reveals 2 per cent of patients taking Lipitor had heart attacks, compared with 3 per cent taking a placebo – or just 1 in 100 people will avoid a heart attack by taking the drug. Topol slaps you in the face with facts like these and shouts: “wake-up!”

The answer, he says, lies in technologies that tailor medicine to the individual – something that has long been talked about, but which is finally almost within reach. Almost, because although Topol tells some incredible tales of individuals with unexplained diseases having their genomes sequenced to find a cure, they remain in a minority. Individualised medicine for the masses is still a long way off, and although Topol provides a seductive vision of the future, he is vague on just how we get there. . .

Continue reading. Reality does seem to consist of an infinitude of particularities, and we ourselves exemplify that in every way: the particularities of our genetic make-up, our life experiences—illnesses, accomplishments, acquaintances, preferences: the whole ball of wax. And that requires consideration of our uniqueness not only in medical treatment, but in education and other spheres. “YMMV” is not restricted to shaving products.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that perhaps an open fire or a fountain is so mesmerizing is that we are fascinated by the unique particularities of the flames and embers in on or the falling droplets of water in the other: very specific, very particular, and changing constantly.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 8:59 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Interesting graphic: Red-state freeloaders

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I suppose it’s not a surprise, psychologically speaking, that those most dependent on support from the Federal government are those who most hate that support. Brian Beutler in TPM DC has a good article and includes this thought-provoking map, for those who can be provoked into thought:

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 7:24 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Megs at 10

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Megs doesn’t much like to pose, but here she is on the tenth anniversary of her natal day. She doesn’t look a day over 5, does she. (It helps that she is prematurely gray.)

A friend recently lost her cat, who was full of years and had lived a good life—we always focus on the kitty’s quality of life, because it’s hard to face directly the loss of the little presence. Needless to say, as Megs enters her second decade—and I age myself—a certain amount of reflection on the time and manner of departure from life occurs, such as “when”. The immediate thought, of course, is “How does ‘never’ sound?”, but immediately reality obtrudes—as it so often does—and one realizes that “never” sounds pretty bad: lonely eons after the sun’s death and we live alone on a cinder ball, but that is paradise compared to the endless heat-death period when entropy finally wins. “Never” sounds extremely bad.

So mortality is good, but does present drawbacks: forced choices, for one thing. This life that you and I are living is the life that we get, so it’s wise to make the most of it. Once we done, if Epicurus is right, it’s back to being individual atoms bouncing around. So the quality of the life becomes important, for us as for our cats, and I don’t think that quality is something you buy but something you experience, and, as Aldous Huxley observed in Texts and Pretexts in 1932, “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” It’s our response that defines the experience we have. Choose your responses thoughtfully.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 7:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Megs

Feather and a Weber again

with 2 comments

A Feather blade in a Weber razor is indeed a very nice combination (for me). Thanks to NoHelmet for the suggestion. I used Dr. Selby’s concentrated shaving cream, which produces a wonderful lather and requires only a brief loading of the brush, a Frank Shaving Finest, which did a fine job. Three passes, a good splash of Floris JF aftershave, and I’m about to undertake cleaning-ladies-readiness.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2012 at 7:09 am

Posted in Shaving


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