Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Daily life’ Category

Some sort of Internet apotheosis has been reached

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2014 at 4:06 pm

Clever and functional application of 3D printing technology

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Homemade Ikea. And one would expect rapid memetic evolution: better designs displacing inferior efforts, with the curve of quality ascending quite rapidly at first.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2014 at 3:52 pm

Rise in autism rate

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I haven’t seen any articles specifically stating it, but it seems evident that autism is a result of some neurological abnormality, and given the lavish use of poisonous chemicals in the US, it makes sense that having increasing amounts of such things in the environment will damage fetuses, and we would see that sort of damage increase over time as we increasing poison the environment. It truly doesn’t seem all that surprising.

This is not the sort of problem that the free market can solve. It requires government action from a functional government with the interests of the public as its guide. That’s not the sort of government we have.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2014 at 10:33 am

Catching up

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I fell behind a lot, so I’m catching up. Some very interesting stories have emerged, but I will treat them briefly because I’ve discovered that I do enjoy non-computer time.

Here are three from Kevin Drum well worth the click:

A Criminologist Takes On the Lead-Crime Hypothesis
He finds the evidence unconvincing because he didn’t look at it.

The Right Wing Trains Its Hysterical Eye on Renewable Energy
Conservatives seem to hate renewable energy, presumably because businesses can’t make so much money from it as from oil and coal.

Wind Turbines Don’t Kill Very Many Birds
Very good article to bookmark. A chart from the article:


Rejecting wind turbines because they kill birds is straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.



Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2014 at 10:25 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP

I’m back, and with a stock story

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We lost our Internet connection for a week due to switching ISPs. Our independent ISP was suddenly offering broadband speeds of 12 Mbps, 18 Mbps and the like. We were at 3 Mbps, which is really only band, and so we signed up. Then we discovered it was simply AT&T Uverse, which the ISP was reselling to us (at a handsome markup). We cancelled (California has a 30-day cancellation requirement for contracts), but the AT&T system could not recognize the cancellation in connection with a residential account at the same number and address. (The ISP, being a business, had opened the account (using our phone number) in their name, in effect: the person on the account is the receptionist at the ISP, it was a business account, and so on.

The comment thread on the account grew lengthy as we worked each day with a new rep to try to cancel the old order in such a way that the new order could be entered. The guy who finally fixed it said that the comments show 7 separate cancellations applied, none of which affected status (because, I suspect, trying to cancel a business account from the residential side. The two operations seem to be totally separate: different profit centers, no doubt.

But now we’re set up with Uverse and have 18 Mbps and phone service (unlimited local and long distance), and the total bill is significantly less. I’m amazed.

But now I’m back, and I will first observed that, with no Internet, one seems to have more time. I finished Persuasion and have been reading various other things, plus playing with Diet Controller, an OS X program I’ve mentioned before. I’ve found various new features that are quite slick, and I’ve developed some tactics.

One, for example, finesses the craving for a late-night snack. I simply delay each meal so that I have a pretty late breakfast, lunch around 2:00, and supper at 7:00. I go to be before I really get hungry.

I thought I was quite clever in stalling meals until I really felt I needed to eat, but then I realized I had just worked out for myself the well-know idea of eating only when you’re actually hungry.

And I found that a cup of a good broth was extremely tasty as a filling snack with almost no calories. Initially I had started making stock so The Wife could have a restorative cup when she arrived home from her commute. But once I discovered how well it worked for me, I really got into making it.

Vegetarians may want to stop reading here. If you continue, it’s on you.

I like to make stock out of chicken backs and vegetables, but the local butcher doesn’t sell backs (though he referred me to a butcher who does). But what he did have, as it turned out, was chicken ribs: the complement of boneless chicken breasts—i.e., the bones from which the breast is cut. No one wanted them, so he sold me a two-pound bag for $2. They worked so well, I got a second bag, same price but somewhat larger than the first, and then the third bag, same price, but enough ribs to fill a 7-qt pot—not smashed together, but still, pretty solid. There were so many ribs in that batch that I first made stock of the ribs, and then cooked a bunch of vegetables in that.

After stripping the meat from that third batch, I had some observations.

First, I was stripping the cooked ribs (after they had been removed from the stock and had cooled) in a mindless sort of way. I was certainly paying close attention to what I was doing, but I was just watching myself work, with lots of tactile feedback. It’s somewhat the same thing in shaving: you are very much aware but you’re not thinking discursively: watch and control, but no internal cogitation in progress. What happens is that the adaptive unconscious learns, and it learns quickly if the conscious mind will stay out of the way. (Cf. Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson.)

And in the course of stripping enough chicken ribs to fill a 7-quart stockpot, I did indeed see quite noticeable improvement: I started recognizing the various parts and sections of the ribs, noted occasional anomalies (the occasional half-wishbone, and once a whole wishbone), and learned gradually how best to attack the various parts. And then I found myself trying to perfect my technique: not so much self-competition, as measuring my current performance against a Platonic perfect job of chicken-rib stripping.

I also found a kind of primeval pleasure in using my bare hands to strip meat from bones: the hand has evolutionary skill, and the practice of stripping cooked meat from bones has been with us prior to our own speciation.

I found that the pleasure from taking a bunch of stuff and turning it into food has a similar primitive pleasure. That pleasure is the satisfaction of cooking. For example, what I did:

Put about 3-4 lb chicken ribs in a 7-qt pot and add:

water to fill
1 Tbsp salt
the juice of 4-5 lemons
a good glug of Amontillado sherry

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Skim often early in the process to remove the scum.

After 1.5 hours, use a slotted spoon to remove chicken ribs to a large pan or platter to cool

Add to the stock:

2 leeks, cut into 1” cross sections, including much of the green (rinsed)
1 large fennel bulb and about 6” of fronds, bulb quartered and cored
½ enormous Spanish onion, the half cut into 4 pieces
10-12 cloves garlic, halved
1 bunch parsley
a dozen thin cross-sections of fresh ginger
2 large carrots, cut into 1” cross section
10-12 white mushrooms, cut vertically in half
about 2 c chopped celery
15-20 peppercorns
1-2 tsp thyme

Bring to boil, cover, and simmer 1.5 hours.

I used a perforated spoon to remove all the vegetables I could. After the larger pieces were out, I discovered a game: to see how many times in a row I could catch one or more peppercorns with the spoon (which has a large circular bowl with perforations just smaller, it turns out, than a well-soaked peppercorn).

While it’s nice to get so many ribs so cheaply, make a great stock, and have a pound and a half of meat picked from the ribs for chicken salad*, the real payoff is finding the particular pleasures at each step. There’s a definite sense of flow from turning stuff into food (examples: chopping up the vegetables, stripping the cooked meat from the bones) and even in finding how many peppercorns you can catch. The whole process can be meditative—in the sense of awareness without mind chatter—with the added bonus of seeing oneself improve through practice. And, of course, a big pot of excellent stock.

* Update: Chicken salad as I made it: In a large bowl put:

small pieces of cooked chicken
chopped onion
julienned carrot (for all the julienned stuff, I used the Swiss Bowmar V-Slicer with the small julienne insert: very efficient)
julienned celery
julienned daikon radish
[some chopped bread-and-butter pickles would not be amiss, but I had none]

I tossed that with this dressing:

1 large avocado
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt.

Process all of the above until smooth.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2014 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

US is now an oligarchy, not a democracy

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That explains why things with 90% public approval ratings don’t happen: the public is not in control. Read this post for details of the study that verifies the fact.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Effect of rape culture: Girls View Sexual Violence as Normal

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A press release from Sociologists for Women in Society:

New evidence from the journal Gender & Society helps explain what women’s advocates have argued for years – that women report abuse at much lower rates than it actually occurs. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 44% of victims are under the age of 18, and 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

The study, “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse,” will appear in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, a top-ranked journal in Gender Studies and Sociology. The findings reveal that girls and young women rarely reported incidents of abuse because they regarded sexual violence against them as normal.

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews conducted by Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse. Often times they rationalized these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states:

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

The researcher’s analysis led her to identify several reasons why young women do not report sexual violence.

  • Girls believe the myth that men can’t help it. The girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity. They perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behavior, and as something to endure, ignore, or maneuver around.
  • Many of the girls said that they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experiences.  They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offense or rape.
  • Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as “bad girls” who prompted the assault.
  • Hlavka found that girls don’t support other girls when they report sexual violence. The young women expressed fear that they would be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse. [Sisterhood may be powerful, but it apparently is also scarce. - LG]

The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men. In particular, the study pointed to how the law and popular media may lead to girls’ interpreting their abuse as normal. According to the author, policymakers, educators, and lawmakers need to address how sexual violence is actually experienced by youth beginning at very young ages in order to increase reporting practices, and to protect children from the everyday violence and harassment all too common in their lives.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Mending the broken world in which we live

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Today’s posts following my shaving post have focus on how badly broken is the world in which we live. The question then is: How do we respond. In looking at the levels of corruption, cruelty, and cynicism that seems to pervade the business world and the government, one can feel why the Old Testament God destroyed the world with the Flood, and then found Himself destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. One wants to smash evildoers, but it is impractical on a large scale (one becomes an evildoer in the process).

I recently saw a good movie Leaves of Grass, and the Ed Norton character talks to a rabbi about what amounts to this very issue. The answer she gave him was to talk about tikkun olam, a concept from Judaism that acknowledges that the world is broken and that our best response is to do what we can in daily life to repair it. This is better than Voltaire’s answer in Candide: Dr. Pangloss retreating to tending his garden and ignoring the world. And it’s better than simply giving up. Whether it can work—do many small repairs really help with the major structure—is an open question, but the key is this: It is all that we can do. So it’s that, or abandon all hope.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting psychological effect used by weight loss software

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I blogged earlier about the $5 OS X program Diet Controller, which I bought from the App Store. Most people nowadays have diet programs for their smartphones, but I still use dumb phones, so I wanted something on my computer.

The backstory: I lost a lot of weight, kept it off for a while but when I discontinued Pilates—which I liked a lot but finally realized I could not really afford—my weight gradually started creeping up over the months. Finally, I realized I had to Take Steps.

My main weakness is eating between meals—little snacks plus a bite here and a bit there—so my initial thought in getting the software was twofold: first, I would get a better idea of my caloric intake, and second, that writing down snacks and bites (and I’m very good at recording this: skipping entries distorts the data, and I’m the only one looking at it, so why not enter all food?) would make me conscious of what I was doing, and if I ate the snack anyway, at least I would know the caloric impact.

But Diet controller turned out to be a much better program than I expected. First, the user interface is very nice. Second, it has an interesting psychological aspect. Looking at the calories has helped it itself, but the program also has graphs of the “calorie balance” (which I tend to call the calorie deficit). The calorie deficit is the difference between the number of calories required in a day and the number of calories consumed that day.

The number of calories required per day is computer from a basic metabolism rate computer from weight, age, and general activity level (sedentary, for me) and the number of calories expended in exercise, which is entered in the exercise log. (No entries yet for me.)

Obviously, a positive calorie deficit is good—you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, so body fat is burned to make up the deficit—and a negative calorie deficit is bad. When you see the deficit chart day to day, somehow one becomes motivated to increase the deficit, and increasing something is more psychologically satisfying than decreasing something. So although the only way to increase the calorie deficit is to cut back on calories consumed, by focusing on increasing something (or at least maintaining what has been achieved) is psychologically more appealing than trying to make something smaller (calories consumed). Here’s one such graph (the program has several ways of viewing the deficit). It’s for 20 days (you can select number of days), and I started using the program on 30 March. You’ll notice the deficit went negative (i.e., I consumed more calories than I burned) at first, but then I start to figure it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.34.46 PM

It really is an excellent little program, and very nicely done. $5. Amazing.

That blowout on 3 April was because I made myself a big batch of oyster stew, which included 12 oz shucked oysters (555 calories) along with butter, flour, and whole milk. Delicious, but… But you will notice I’m catching on.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:37 pm

How can one raise children who are caring and moral?

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Adam Grant has an interesting column in the NY Times:

What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.

Despite the significance that it holds in our lives, teaching children to care about others is no simple task. In an Israeli study of nearly 600 families, parents who valued kindness and compassion frequently failed to raise children who shared those values.

Are some children simply good-natured — or not? For the past decade, I’ve been studying the surprising success of people who frequently help others without any strings attached. As the father of two daughters and a son, I’ve become increasingly curious about how these generous tendencies develop.

Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for nurture, and the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:56 am

An oil-oriented blog (not petroleum)

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I just received a nice note from the guy who has the blog MegaOils, all about oils and oil-based products—plant and animal oils, rather than petroleum. For example, the top post now is on Moroccan-oil-based shampoos. (My own favorite shampoo with oil is Martin de Candre’s shampoo made with hazelnut and borage oils. The only time I’ve been complimented on the appearance of my hair was right after I switched to that. A bottle lasts me just over 18 months.)

Oils are a fascinating group of substances. I use 2 tsp of emu oil mixed with 1/4 c Dr. Bronner’s Castile liquid soap to make my pre-shave beard wash after trying a variety of alternatives (olive oil, jojoba oil, lanolin oil—and I know that others like almond oil or grapeseed oil for this application). Emu oil seems to mix better and feels good, and some therapeutic benefits are claimed. But the main reason is its day-to-day performance compared to the other oils I tried. Lanolin oil in particular tended to clot over time, and so didn’t work well.

For foods, I go primarily with extra-virgin olive oil (organic and bottled by the producer—and I use only California oils because the degree to which European oils are counterfeit: see Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. But I also use: toasted sesame oil, virgin coconut oil (no hydrogenation), walnut oil (keep refrigerated), and a variety of animal fats: butter, duck fat, chicken fat, pork fat/lard (though watch out: grocery store lard is generally hydrogenated: avoid at all costs), beef fat.

And I eat oily fish: herring, sardines, mackerel, and salmon.

My shaving soaps use many different oils: shea butter, coconut oil, almond oil, kokum butter, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2014 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life

Pistorius sinking in a swamp of lies—his own

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Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:

What does it mean to fire a gun “accidentally”? If you point a gun at the door to a tiny cubicle, believing, you say, that a person is behind it, and fire four shots, can you also say, “I didn’t shoot at anyone. I didn’t intend to shoot at someone.… I didn’t shoot or intend to kill anyone”? That is the testimony of Oscar Pistorius, who is on trial for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. In a remarkable few days of cross-examination, Pistorius, an Olympian and a Paralympic sprinter, has, according to press accounts, placed the blame for his legal predicament on the police, his friends, his father, an ex-girlfriend, his own lawyers, and Steenkamp herself, who was behind the door when he shot. His defense is that he thought she was a burglar. Addressing the judge, he said, “My lady, I wish she had let me know she was there.”

But, then, guns behave strangely in Pistorius’s hands. As he tells it, they have an eerie autonomy. “I didn’t have time to think,” he has said, over and over again—only to pull the trigger, and pull it three more times again—as if the absence of thought attached to that act, the power of the gun, was an absolution. And sometimes, the trigger even pulls itself. Pistorius is being tried for Steenkamp’s murder, and for two other incidents in which he allegedly fired a gun. One was in a restaurant, when he asked to see a friend’s gun and took it from him under the table. While it was in his hands, and no one else’s, a bullet was fired. On the stand, he said that his friend was “stupid” to give him a loaded gun—and that, anyway, he, Oscar Pistorius, didn’t fire it. “I physically didn’t discharge it. It went off when it was in my possession, but I did not have my finger on the trigger,” he said.

“The gun went off by itself?” Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked.

“I know that my finger was not on the trigger,” Pistorius said.

As it happens, this particular gun, a Glock, has a safety feature that keeps it from discharging unless the person who is holding it has his finger fully on a sort of trigger-within-the-trigger and pulls. For the gun to have gone off otherwise would have been a “miracle shot,” as the prosecutor put it. This point is one of several, during three days of testimony so far, in which one wonders why Pistorius doesn’t take at least a degree of responsibility—saying, for example, that he pulled the trigger thinking the gun was empty, to get a feel for it. Instead, he has come across as a man so fixated on justifying himself that he can’t even hear it when he sounds illogical or cruel. After the shooting in the restaurant, he asked his friend to lie about what happened and take the blame. [A complete lack of accepting any responsibility at all for the various bad acts shows a mindset that  is part of the problem, I would think. - LG]

In addition to the miracle shot, there was the phantom bullet.  . .

Continue reading.

After reading the entire column, I would say that Pistorius is guilty of deliberate homicide beyond a reasonable doubt, but it doesn’t seem to have been a planned killing, just a spoiled brat’s tantrum of rage. The situation reminded me of this guy, who I would bet will end up with an outlook like that of Pistorius if he doesn’t already have it.

UPDATE: The prosecutor should have pointed out, when Pistorius said that firing the gun through the door was a terrible accident, that it was actually four separate accidents, one right after the other. What are the chances, eh?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

Why We’re in a New Gilded Age

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Paul Krugman has an interesting book review in the NY Review of Books:

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95

Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.

The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.

It therefore came as a revelation when Piketty and his colleagues showed that incomes of the now famous “one percent,” and of even narrower groups, are actually the big story in rising inequality. And this discovery came with a second revelation: talk of a second Gilded Age, which might have seemed like hyperbole, was nothing of the kind. In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.

Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.


What do we know about economic inequality, and about when do we know it? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 3:02 pm

A special gift the US provides to third-world countries: Continuing death

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The US seems to be too often criminally irresponsible in its global conduct. Indeed, the entire Iraq War was one enormous criminal action that devastated countless lives, American, Iraqi, and others: families wrecked by the premature and violent death of loved ones, strong and capable individuals being wrecked with wounds and trauma and the psychological costs. And the US continues on its course, seemingly ignoring the costs of its actions. Kevin Sieff reports in the Washington Post:

 As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.

The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.

Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.

“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, referring to the planning.

There are a growing number of tragedies at these high-explosives ranges.

Mohammad Yusef, 13, and Sayed Jawad, 14, grew up 100 yards from a firing range used by U.S. and Polish troops in Ghazni province. The boys’ families were accustomed to the thundering explosions from military training exercises, which sometimes shattered windows in their village.

But as those blasts became less common — a function of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal — the boys started wandering onto the range to collect scrap metal to sell. They did not know that some U.S. explosives do not detonate on impact but can still blow up when someone touches them.

Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.

“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.

One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 10:54 am

Venezuela is on a bad track

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In the NY Review of Books Daniel Wilkinson describes what’s going on in Venezuela. Pretty bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2014 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Steps to take in view of the Heartbleed bug

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James Fallows has some very useful tips, particularly on how to check whether a site is safe from the Heartbleed bug.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2014 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Cultural issues viewed in Korean-American cuisine

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Evidence doesn’t work. What’s the alternative?

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Several articles have been published in the wake of studies that show how presenting people with evidence that their view on a topic is wrong will not dissuade them but make them hold even more tightly to their view. Here’s one such article by Ezra Klein.

If the finding holds up—and the evidence so far is strong—then I don’t see what we can do. Since evidence and reason are pretty much useless (or, indeed, worse than useless), we are left with power, force, and violence as the way to win arguments. Indeed, in looking at history, those are how religious debates have been settled (since evidence is immaterial to a faith-based position).

And perhaps it is the case that power, force, and violence are the only way to settle disagreements on matters of fact—a depressing thought. I have the idea that I am open to evidence and rational argument, but I am by nature a loner and those who seem most unable to accept evidence and argument against their positions have, as Klein points out, much of their identity derived from belonging a group: changing their position would exclude them from the group, and group membership is essential to who they are. I don’t belong to groups, so I experience less pressure to conform, which makes it somewhat easier to consider evidence and reasoning.

At any rate, one gets the feeling that it’s hopeless: those who are in error on an issue will stick with their position to the death (thus religious wars), and no amount of contrary evidence or obvious inconsistencies in their position will have any effect beyond making them more certain of their position.

Perhaps Voltaire was right: There’s nowt to do but cultivate our gardens.

UPDATE: I’ve continued to ponder this question, which seems extremely important if we are to retain the gains of the Enlightenment. A few points:

Evidence-based arguments using reason does work in many instances: look, for example, at the success of science and technology.

Logical, reasoned argument based on evidence is a skill, not something innate that we can simply do. That means doing it well requires training and practice. Without training and practice, conclusions may well be based on desires, conformity with a social circle, or other factors irrelevant to the evience and the argument (cf. Klein’s example of Hannity and climate change). Desiring to remain in good graces with one’s social group is irrelevant to reasoned argument from evidence.

Some positions are contradicted by evidence and arrived at by flawed methods (e.g., wanting something to be true because it fits with the beliefs of your church or other social group). While restricting the argument to evidence and reasoning from that may be difficult—particularly for those untrained in reasoning from evidence—that nevertheless is more likely to reach correct answers (i.e., answers in accordance with reality).

It does seem that many people do not reason well and do not understand how to use evidence—and many may place a higher priority remaining in good graces with their social group than arriving at conclusions that match reality. This is indeed a problem: when policy decisions are based on fantasies, even well-intentioned fantasies, the results are not good.

The root cause is that we are social animals, so social needs have high priority. But that does not mean that reasoned argument from evidence is wrong or something we should abandon. And I think, in a proper education, students are taught to aspire to sound reasoning from evidence as the most productive approach and the best chance of matching solutions to reality.

UPDATE 2: Paul Krugman has a very good response to Klein’s article. He points out that, when your tribe’s beliefs are inconsistent with demonstrated facts, then choosing to go with one or the other is not symmetric between Conservatives and Liberals: although the experiment seems to suggest that the phenomenon is equally common on both sides, in fact it is not: as Krugman states, there is no liberal example of something on the scale of climate change denial (in which the stakes are so high), of vaccines causing autism, or the like. And I think this is because Conservatives are much more tribal in their orientation. You will recall how loyalty and authority rank very high with Conservatives and not with Liberals, whose major concerns are harm and fairness. (See this post for more information on the study.) If loyalty is a primary value, then taking a stand against a group belief is intolerable. And indeed you see that if someone takes a stand that’s different from the group’s views, s/he is often ostracized and strongly criticized by their group if the group values loyalty: dissent and standing apart from the group is not accepted in groups in which loyalty and authority are paramount. And those are exactly Conservative groups; Liberals are perhaps more tolerant, and in any event judge things by different primary values.

Because Conservatives value loyalty and authority so highly, they look to the group and its leaders for guidance; Liberals put less weight on those virtues and thus look instead at the evidence, less concerned about whose apple-cart they might upset.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 10:55 am

For those who travel: A good USB battery

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Smart appliances and boot-up time

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As more appliances get embedded microcontrollers with sophisticated operating systems and application programs, we have become used to a pause after we turn on the device, waiting while it boots up. My TV, for example, shows me a logo as it (slowly) initializes. And, of course, we have to reboot from time to time: hold the Kindle start button down for a couple of minutes and it forces a hard reboot—and during the reboot, you watch a progress bar. Smaller devices (like a remote) are rebooted by removing the batteries, waiting a few seconds, then putting them back in.

I suddenly connected with initiating pause with radios from my youth: those used tubes/valves that had to warm up before they would work, so we turned on the radio and waiting. When the transistor radio appeared, it was magical that you got sound the instant you turned it on. At first we couldn’t resist turning it off, then back on: immediate sound was a great novelty and showed technological progress.

Only now those days are gone and we’re back to waiting for the device to warm/boot up. It’s a long road that has no turning.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2014 at 8:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology


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