Later On

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

Archive for August 16th, 2008

A delicate exotic fruit

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Oscar Wilde wrote, in The Importance of Being Earnest (Act I, Scene ii):

Lady Bracknell. … I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

The above passage leapt to mind as I reflected on this comment on an earlier post:

Is your friend of high school age? About 15 or so?

I assume he is, and that his infantile opinions are based on what he’s seen on MTV Netherlands. What I can’t understand, however, is why you would post this sort of rubbish. It seems that to me that there is no price you will not pay to disparage the current administration. To hell with objectivity.

Notice that the comment contains no trace of fact or logical argument. It would serve in almost any situation, and can by made by a person who knows nothing of what he’s talking about. Like a delicate exotic fruit, it is perfect of its kind. I seldom see a written passage so devoid of content—meaningful content, I mean; it certainly has loads of insults, which for some serve as the means of argument and discussion.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

Starting to lose it

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Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Government

Imroving video through weaving in stills

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Take a look. Quite amazing, and now in the public domain.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Technology, Video

Exegesis on The Day the Music Died

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Via Don’stuff:

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 11:51 am

Posted in Music, Video

Comment on Georgia situation

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UPDATE: More here:

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 10:31 am

Interesting column on the Georgia situation

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The column is by Michael Dobbs, who covered the collapse of the Soviet Union for the Washington Post. (His latest book is One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.) His column begins:

It didn’t take long for the “Putin is Hitler” analogies to start following the eruption of the ugly little war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia. Neoconservative commentator Robert Kagan compared the Russian attack on Georgia with the Nazi grab of the Sudetenland in 1938. President Jimmy Carter’s former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said that the Russian leader was following a course “that is horrifyingly similar to that taken by Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s.”

Others invoked the infamous Brezhnev doctrine, under which Soviet leaders claimed the right to intervene militarily in Eastern Europe in order to prop up their crumbling imperium. “We’ve seen this movie before, in Prague and Budapest,” said John McCain, referring to the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in 1956. According to the Republican presidential candidate,”today we are all Georgians.”

Actually, the events of the past week in Georgia have little in common with either Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II or Soviet policies in Eastern Europe. They are better understood against the backdrop of the complica ted ethnic politics of the Caucasus, a part of the world where historical grudges run deep and oppressed can become oppressors in the bat of an eye.

Unlike most of the armchair generals now posing as experts on the Caucasus, I have actually visited Tskhinvali, a sleepy provincial town in the shadow of the mountains that rise along Russia’s southern border. I was there in March 1991, shortly after the city was occupied by Georgian militia units loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first freely elected leader of Georgia in seven decades. One of Gamsakhurdia’s first acts as Georgian president was to cancel the political autonomy that the Stalinist constitution had granted the republic’s 90,000-strong Ossetian minority.

After negotiating safe passage with Soviet interior ministry troops who had stationed themselves between the Georgians and the Ossetians, I discovered that the town had been ransacked by Gamsakhurdia’s militia. The Georgians had trashed the Ossetian national theater, decapitated the statue of an Ossetian poet and pulled down monuments to Ossetians who had fought with Soviet troops in World War II. The Ossetians were responding in kind, firing on Georgian villages and forcing Georgian residents of Tskhinvali to flee their homes.

It soon became clear to me that the Ossetians viewed Georgians in much the same way that Georgians view Russians: as aggressive bullies bent on taking away their independence. “We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism,” an Ossetian leader, Gerasim Khugaev, told me. “It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time.”

When it comes to apportioning blame for the latest flare-up in the Caucasus, there’s plenty to go around. The Russians were clearly itching for a fight, but the behavior of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been erratic and provocative. The United States may have stoked the conflict by encouraging Saakashvili to believe that he enjoyed American protection, when the West’s ability to impose its will in this part of the world is actually quite limited.

Let us examine the role played by the three main parties. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 10:12 am

How a judge tampers with a jury

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Terrible example of a judge overreaching his power.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Ocean acidifaction

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Good post with video of research done at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Insitute (MBARI), just a few blocks from my apartment. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 9:48 am

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, and the swerve

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Lucretius‘s book, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), is an amazing work. Jasha Klein, tutor and one-time Dean of St. John’s College in Annapolis MD told a story of a close friend and eminent scholar—Leo Strauss, as it happens—who had only that one book in his possession for a period and read and studied it intensively. It repays such study.

One well-known image in the book is that of the atoms (of which all the universe is made) falling endlessly through the void in parallel streams. From that, nothing would happen, but atoms, as Lucretius describes them, will at times swerve unpredictably in their course, which caused collisions and, ultimately, the world as we see it. The swerve is typically used to account for free will, though a good case can be made (and has been made, in uncounted St. John’s seminars) that the swerve accounts for love—De Rerum Natura is, after all, dedicated to Venus.

Bill Darkey, one of my tutors, pointed out that, if the atoms were falling uniformly through the void, then on looking at them, you could not tell whether they were falling together or simply stationery—what you observe would depend on your own movement. But the falling is needed, because otherwise all the energy that drives the universe would come from the swerve. Since they are falling, the atoms have the energy of their own movement, which drives the reactions following the collisions from the swerve.

But that’s not the point—the point is that once again the movement of atoms is used to account for free will:

“If the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect—what is the source of the free will possessed by living things throughout the earth?”—Titus Lucretius Carus, Roman philosopher and poet, 99–55 BC.

Human free will might seem like the squishiest of philosophical subjects, way beyond the realm of mathematical demonstration. But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.

The finding won’t give many physicists a moment’s worry, because traditional interpretations of quantum mechanics embrace unpredictability already. The best anyone can hope to do, quantum theory says, is predict the probability that a particle will behave in a certain way.

But physicists all the way back to Einstein have been unhappy with this idea. Einstein famously grumped, “God does not play dice.” And indeed, ever since the birth of quantum mechanics, some physicists have offered alternate interpretations of its equations that aim to get rid of this indeterminism. The most famous alternative is attributed to the physicist David Bohm, who argued in the 1950s that the behavior of subatomic particles is entirely determined by “hidden variables” that cannot be observed.

Conway and Kochen say this search is hopeless, and they claim to have proven that indeterminacy is inherent in the world itself, rather than just in quantum theory. And to Bohmians and other like-minded physicists, the pair says: Give up determinism, or give up free will. Even the tiniest bit of free will.

Their argument starts with a proof Kochen created with Ernst Specker 40 years ago. Subatomic particles have  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 9:04 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Russia’s view of the Georgia situation

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My friend from the Netherlands writes:

As you might imagine, the Russians see the Georgian situation very differently from how it is shown in the U.S. Note that State Dept.officials who are not named said that Saakashvili had been warned by the U.S. not to do anything drastic, which implies that the U.S. knew what he had in mind. The U.S. has been training the Georgian military and supplying weapons for them to use, as has Israel.

The Russians are most unhappy about the agreement wih Poland that will allow the U.S. to place an anti-missle system there, the purpose of which, according to the U.S., is for protection against missle attacks by ‘rogue states’, like Iran. That is obvious nonsense; Iran does not have that capability, but Russia does. Russia does not want to be crowded by NATO member states on its borders. The European members of NATO have resisted putting Georgia and Ukraine on track to join. They are beginning to resent U.S. pressure.

NATO was organized to counter the Warsaw Pact, which is no more. And so a new rationale had to be found to justify the exsistence of the organization. In fact, it has become a useful aid to the projection of U.S. power in the world. However, European member states are beginning to realize that there isn’t much advantage to them to be allied with the U.S., for several reasons. One is that Russia is geographically closer to Western Europe than is the U.S. Russia, after all, is a European country. Another is that Russia supplies oil and natural gas to Europe, and the countries of Western Europe need those fuels.

Also, it is becoming more and more apparent that the U.S., despite the enormous sums it spends on its military establishment, has not been able to pacify the two countries that it invaded and now occupies. America’s ambitions are not accompanied by commensurate power. There are clear signs of weakness. The U.S. has been hollowed out by debt; it functions on borrowed money, which renders it vulnerable to its creditors. While the economy of the U.S. is weakening, Russia’s is getting stronger all the time. (An observation: When V & I were in St. Petersburg last year, we visited several stores that were part of a chain of supermarkets. They are enormous; one of them had 60 checkout counters. They never close.)

The Europeans see that the economic strength of Russia is growing, as of course is China’s, and that the U.S. is getting weaker. NATO will continue to exist for a time, but some of the European member countries will be having reservations when they weigh the advantages against the disadvantages of being allied to a nation whose ambitions are not matched by its power. The U.S. needs NATO more than Europe does.

An amusing Russian take on the Georgian fiasco:

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 8:43 am

GTD application

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A commenter on the earlier post on David Allen and Getting Things Done pointed out GTDAgenda, a Web 2.0 application built directly on the GTD method. The basic service is free, but if you subscribe you get more capabilities. More info at the link. Many thanks for the pointer.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Slant and Sandalwood

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Looking at the responses on the Slant Bar Poll on SMF, I’ve decided to stick with the Slant Bar for a week or so and see how it works over the long term with me. So this morning—and in mornings to come—I picked up the Merkur Slant Bar. It carries an Iridium Super blade with just a couple of shaves on it, so I will continue using that.

Geo. F. Trumper Sandalwood shaving cream, made into rich lather with the Rooney Style 2. The Slant once again provided a smooth and flawless shave, and the aftershave was Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood.

The poll at SMF continues to accumulate results. As you see, those who see no difference between the Slant and the HD are in a decided minority: two-thirds can tell the difference, and of those 20% prefer the HD while the overwhelming majority, 80%, prefer the Slant. Still, the well-known shaving rule of YMMV holds true once again.

If you’ve used both Slant Bar and HD, what do you find?
Essentially no difference between them
32% [ 9 ]
Slant Bar noticeably better than HD
53% [ 15 ]
HD noticeably better than Slant Bar
14% [ 4 ]
Total Votes : 28

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2008 at 8:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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