Later On

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

Archive for September 2nd, 2007

Interesting article on attitudes of atheism

with 10 comments

From the Scientific American:

Since the turn of the millennium, a new militancy has arisen among religious skeptics in response to three threats to science and freedom: (1) attacks against evolution education and stem cell research; (2) breaks in the barrier separating church and state leading to political preferences for some faiths over others; and (3) fundamentalist terrorism here and abroad. Among many metrics available to track this skeptical movement is the ascension of four books to the august heights of the New York Times best-seller list—Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006), Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell (Viking, 2006), Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great (Hachette Book Group, 2007) and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)—that together, in Dawkins’s always poignant prose, “raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled.” Amen, brother.

Whenever religious beliefs conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, we must respond with appropriate aplomb. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about irrational exuberance. I suggest that we raise our consciousness one tier higher for the following reasons.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

Banned!

with 18 comments

Just got the following from B&B:

You have been banned for the following reason:
You violated the agreement we had arrived at, and broken your promise – as a result, you have been banned.

Date the ban will be lifted: Never

So weird. I don’t recall any agreement, but that’s sort of beside the point. So my shaving posts will be found here, at ShaveMyFace.com and at TheShaveDen.com. See you there…

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Good large tumblers

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I have one of these Nalgene large tumblers and like it quite a bit (detail here). It is a two-part tumbler: take the two apart, and you have a shaker; put the two together, and you have a double-walled tumbler that doesn’t sweat if it contains, for example, iced cold-brewed coffee (to pick something totally at random). One tip: I actually did have to watch the video to figure out how to take the tumbler apart the first time.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Sam Harris on religious thinking

with 3 comments

It’s sort of a tough column, but interesting. I would guess that he’s not a Christian:

Humanity has had a long fascination with blood sacrifice. In fact, it has been by no means uncommon for a child to be born into this world only to be patiently and lovingly reared by religious maniacs who believe that the best way to keep the sun on its course or to ensure a rich harvest is to lead him by tender hand into a field or to a mountaintop and bury, butcher, or burn him alive as offering to an invisible (and almost certainly fictional) God.

In many ancient cultures whenever a nobleman died, other men and women allowed themselves to be buried alive so as to serve as his retainers in the next world. In ancient Rome, children were sometimes slaughtered so that the future could be read in their entrails. The Dyak women of Borneo would not even look at a suitor unless he came bearing a net full of human heads as a love offering. Some Fijian prodigy devised a powerful sacrament called “Vakatoga” which required that a victim’s limbs be cut off and eaten while he watched. Among the Iroquois, captives from other tribes were often permitted to live for many years, and even to marry, all the while being doomed to be flayed alive as an oblation to the God of War; whatever children they produced while in captivity were disposed of in the same ritual. African tribes too numerous to name have a long history of murdering people to send as couriers in a one-way dialogue with their ancestors or to convert their body parts into magical charms. Ritual murders of this sort continue in many African societies to this day.

It is essential to realize that such impossibly stupid [I would say, rather, ignorant and misguided – LG] misuses of human life have always been explicitly religious. They are the product of what certain human beings think they know about invisible gods and goddesses, and of what they manifestly do not know about biology, meteorology, medicine, physics, and a dozen other specific sciences that have more than a little to say about the events in the world that concern them.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Religion

Bush on disbanding the Iraq military

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James Fallows has an excellent post:

There are so many things to scream about in this NY Times report of George W. Bush’s view of his “legacy” that it is hard to know where to start. But I’ll start with this, describing Bush’s extended recent interviews with the author Robert Draper:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

Think about this. The dissolution of the Iraq military is one of the six most-criticized and most-often-discussed aspects of the Administration’s entire approach to Iraq. (Others: the decision to invade at all; the assessment of WMD; the size of the initial invasion-and-occupation force; the decision not to stop the looting of Baghdad; and the operation of Abu Ghraib.) And the President who has staked the fortunes of his Administration, his party, his place in history, and (come to think of it ) his nation on the success of his Iraq policy cannot remember and even now cannot be bothered to find out how the decision was made.

Nearly four years ago, in an Atlantic article “Blind into Baghad” (and later in the book of the same name), I argued that the most plausible explanation for the otherwise bewildering chain of errors was the personal dynamics of the people at the top. The darkness of Cheney, the ideological cocksureness of Wolfowitz and operational cocksureness of Rumsfeld, the careerism of Tenet, the pliancy of Rice and (for different reasons) Powell. And, transcending them all, the magical combination of certainty and lack of curiosity of the man at the top:

Leadership is always a balance between making large choices and being aware of details. George W. Bush has an obvious preference for large choices. This gave him his chance for greatness after the September 11 attacks. But his lack of curiosity about significant details may be his fatal weakness. When the decisions of the past eighteen months are assessed and judged, the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness. Because of warnings it chose to ignore, it squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives.

That was too gentle. But it was based on what was known or knowable in the fall of 2003, six months into an already-faltering occupation. “History,” to which the president so often appeals, will have a richer set of evidence to draw upon.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 11:39 am

Competitive edge spreads like a disease

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Very interesting article at Science News, with great diagrams:

The economies of poor and developing countries often depend almost exclusively on a single product—perhaps timber or coffee—or on a handful of products at most. That’s hardly a startling observation, but what’s puzzled economists over the years is why it’s been so difficult for these countries to start up new activities in the hope of spurring economic growth and lifting themselves out of poverty.

While there have been a few success stories, such efforts have often ended up consuming heaps of money to little lasting effect.

A team of economists and physicists is now proposing a new way to look at development. The researchers have shown that a country’s competitive edge can spread from one kind of product to another along a well-defined network of links, much as disease epidemics tend to spread among people who are socially connected.

The newly charted map of products could help countries design good policies by indicating the most promising paths to creating new industries. The network’s structure also presages the hurdles that many developing countries will face along that path.

Traditionally, economists have tried to link a country’s commercial expansion to “factors of production,” such as reliable transportation infrastructure or the availability of skilled and unskilled labor, explains Ricardo Hausmann, an economist at Harvard University. For example, says Hausmann’s colleague and graduate student Bailey Klinger, conventional economic theory predicts that a country with the capacity for making computer chips should also be competitive in other industries that require skilled labor, such as vehicle manufacturing.

But when the two economists looked at actual data, such correlations often failed to show up. Many countries that export computer chips don’t export cars, and vice versa. Building and shipping cars requires very different skills and infrastructure than making computer chips does, the researchers point out.

Instead, the two found correlations that standard economic reasoning didn’t predict.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 10:58 am

Violence in schools

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Science News has a little different take on the back-to-school article:

As students head back to school this week, violence will follow a sizable number of them. Roughly 13 percent of public high school students report having had a fight on school property during the past school year. About 8 percent say that they were threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and 7 percent were bullied.

In some schools, however, a variety of violence-prevention programs have fostered substantial reductions in violent and disruptive behaviors, according to two new, independent research reviews. This positive effect occurs in all grades, from prekindergarten through high school, and in all schools, from the poorest to the wealthiest.

“These school-based programs improve learning and make the classroom a more peaceable kingdom,” says epidemiologist Robert A. Hahn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Pet food—mostly dog food

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The NY Times has an interesting article on pet food, though it’s mostly about dog food, since dog food is the big challenge:

Dogs can get along just fine on a daily ration of corn and soybeans. “That’s about the cheapest diet you could put together,” Fahey said, and it provides all the vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates a dog needs. But it wouldn’t sell to broad segments of the modern market.

“People buy diets on the basis of two things,” Fahey said. “The first is palatability. You put it on the floor and the dogs clean up the bowl.” He lifted a pencil from a desk and held it in the air. The second thing, he explained, is the appearance of the stool. “It should be half as long as this pencil, picked up as easily as this pencil, Ziplocked — and away we go.” He added, “We have to have that if they’re keeping the dog in the condo on the 34th floor and they have a white carpet.” All the more so if the dog is in bed, under the sheets.

The reason Fahey has spent his scientific career investigating all manner of starch, carbohydrate and fiber, the reason he has put tubes inside dogs to analyze what they have digested before they have finished digesting it — that reason suddenly became clear: George Fahey has been confronting the myriad challenges of controlling canine bowel movements. Premium dog foods contain at least 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat, he said. “Do we need to feed that much? No. But this way, you have a total tract digestibility of 88 percent, which is good if you don’t want that dog to go in your house when you’re out for the day. A corn-soy diet can’t do that. The dog can’t hold it.”

Cats use a litter box, so their food doesn’t have the outcome requirements, if I may state it that way, that dog food has.

The article includes a history of pet (dog) food, and also discusses the emergence of smaller brands that (like Innova, for example) use human-grade ingredients instead of industrial by-products. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 10:46 am

Posted in Cats, Food

The urge to explore

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Boldness vs. shyness seems to be genetically determined and both persist in species because both are important: the bold to try new foods and habitats, the shy to survive if the food or habitat proves deadly. And a given person is generally both bold and shy—e.g., bold in physical adventure, shy in social situations.

I was mulling this over with regard to shaving (of course) and how some shavers really want to settle down: find a brush, soap, razor, blade, and aftershave that works well for them, and then stick with those through thick and thin. Often, as is the human habit, this is cast as a virtue, a very good thing to do. But I think it comes down to the individual preference.

I, on the other hand, like to try new things in the areas of shaving and foods. For a while, I made it a point on every supermarket trip to buy a fruit, vegetable, meat, or whatever that I had never had before. In that area, I crave expanding my horizons. And, of course, I see that as a virtue, a very good thing to do. But in fact, it’s just my individual preference.

The same with shaving. I really enjoy trying new soaps, creams, brushes, razors, blades, aftershaves, and other paraphernalia. (You should see my bathroom: crammed to the ceiling with shaving stuff.)

OTOH, I really am a stay-at-home. Even as a kid, when we took a vacation, I’d rather stay home (and often did, when I was old enough). I was in late middle age before I ventured to Europe, with much trepidation. The Wife is shy in social situations, but an intrepid traveler, comfortable going places and seeing new things and relishing the adventure of it all.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Sunday shave(less)

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I like to skip shaving on Sundays so that on Monday morning I can mow down two days’ stubble. But someone asked for me to describe what I would have shaved with.

I did pick up the QED Mocha-Java shaving stick the other day, and thought that it’s been too long since I used an old favorite. It not only has a great fragrance, it seems to be very good for my skin. And I have a couple of Plisson brushes that I’ve not used recently.

And I got out my collection of Gillette NEW razors to view and select among, so those will certainly come up in the rotation soon. I’m still using the Croma blade, but I have some Nacets here (part of the Connaught sampler pack) that I want to try.

For aftershave, I have some Barbasol I’ve intended to use for days, but I keep being lured away by more exotic fare. Still, its turn is coming soon. But that Booster June Clover is so nice…

Someone did a study and found that more choices do not necessarily produce more happiness and better decisions than fewer choices. Yet, if asked, I would imagine that most people would say having more choices is better.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 9:26 am

Posted in Shaving

Kitty update

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Molly, trying on shoes

Molly, trying on shoes.

Megs is now a kibble-only kitty. She doesn’t seem to like any of the canned food I’ve tried, so back to Innova Evo kibble as her only food. (The vet recommends that food as well.)

Molly still has a touch of conjunctivitis in her right eye, but it’s improving quickly, and the vet saw a flea, so Molly had her first Advantage treatment. She did not like it. (Advantage is much cheaper from Amazon.com than from the vet, BTW.)

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 8:19 am

Posted in Cats, Megs, Molly

Political pet preferences

with 5 comments

A commenter sent me an email not long ago, saying that he could predict various preferences simply from my being politically liberal. Some were obvious (against guns, support the ACLU, and the like), but one prediction surprised me: that I liked cats.

Now I do like cats, though that’s hardly a secret. Also dogs. Also parrots. Also fish in small aquaria. But in his view conservatives do not like cats. That puzzled me. Is there any truth to that?

BTW, he was wrong about guns: I like them, mostly as fascinating gadgets, and I read about them and have owned them. I do favor some gun restrictions—why sell .50-caliber sniper rifles to the general public? or assault rifles, for that matter? But I personally enjoy reading about gun innovations—the Glock, for example, which still in many mysteries/thrillers I read somehow has a safety which the protagonist or villain clicks off. And I enjoy deciding whether I would want a 10 mm or a .40 caliber Glock.

He was right about the Bill of Rights. I strongly support it (and I thought conservatives did as well), and thus support the ACLU in its active defense of the Bill of Rights.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2007 at 8:13 am

Posted in Cats, Democrats, GOP

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