Later On

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

Archive for January 11th, 2009

Is a spiritual person ipso facto religious?

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Scott brings up an interesting point in the comments: the relationship of spirituality and religion.

I see the two as independent: a religious person may be spiritual or not, and a totally secular person may be spiritual or not.

Here’s a few checkpoints for what I consider a spiritual person.

A person who stands in the middle of a vast, unlit countryside on a clear night looks up at the stars, Milky Way, moon, planets, galaxies. A person who feels nothing—a bunch of lights in the sky, big deal—is not spiritual. A person who feels a sense of awe at the vastness of the universe compared to the tiny spec of his/her own being has a chance of being spiritual, with or without religion. (My belief is that the natural world in all its complexity and majesty, from tiny parasites living on tiny bugs to superclusters of galaxies and everything in between, plus our own ability to write and appreciate music and poetry, is sufficiently awe-inspiring even without supernatural add-ons.

A person who feels a kinship with the living world and feels that all life deserves a chance to live its destiny is more spiritual than one who views living things as little machines without feeling, perfect for humanity to exploit in any way that it likes. Again, religion need not enter into it. In fact, you can find religious people on both sides of this question.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Daily life

Anime on the Web

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Useful post if you like anime—lots of links.

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11 January 2009 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

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Juan Cole: videos on the Gaza invasion

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Juan Cole has quite a few videos related to the Gaza invasion, which so far has resulted in around 863 deaths: 850 Palestinians (including many children) and 13 Israelis. I highly recommend you watch the videos and read the entire post. (Some videos may be too graphic, as when a cameraman captures the death of his younger brother.)

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11 January 2009 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Krugman on Obama’s stimulus plan

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It’s not enough, as is becoming increasingly evident. Krugman:

Still picking over the Romer/Bernstein official evaluation of the Obama economic plan. Again, kudos to the team for producing such a clear, honest assessment. But the more I look at the report, the more I wonder why anyone in the Obama team thinks the plan is adequate.

Here’s one way to look at it: R/B show the effects of the plan rapidly fading out during 2011. Yet at the end of 2011 the unemployment rate is still 6.3%. Meanwhile, the CBO estimates the natural rate, aka “full employment,” at just 4.8%. Why does the plan go away with the job undone?

Add: By my calculations, the Obama plan is supposed to reduce average unemployment over the next two years from 8.7% to 7.6%; over the next three years, it reduces average unemployment from 8.4% to 7.3%. So it closes around a third of the gap between actual unemployment and the natural rate. Plus, an average rate of unemployment 2.5 percentage points above the natural rate for 3 years, starting with a core inflation rate of 2.5, looks like deflation city to me — and remember, that’s the projection with the Obama plan.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 12:04 pm

Spirituality key to kids’ happiness

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To make children happier, we may need to encourage them to develop a strong sense of personal worth, according to Dr. Mark Holder from the University of British Columbia in Canada and his colleagues Dr. Ben Coleman and Judi Wallace. Their research shows that children who feel that their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships – both measures of spirituality – are happier. It would appear, however, that their religious practices have little effect on their happiness. These findings have been published in the online edition of Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies. Both spirituality (an inner belief system that a person relies on for strength and comfort) and religiousness (institutional religious rituals, practices and beliefs) have been linked to increased happiness in adults and adolescents. In contrast, very little work has been done on younger children. In an effort to identify strategies to increase children’s happiness, Holder and colleagues set out to better understand the nature of the relationship between spirituality, religiousness and happiness in children aged 8 to 12 years. A total of 320 children, from four public schools and two faith-based schools, completed six different questionnaires to rate their happiness, their spirituality, their religiousness and their temperament. Parents were also asked to rate their child’s happiness and temperament.

The authors found …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 12:01 pm

GKSS scientists refute argument of climate skeptics

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I wonder how much evidence climate skeptics require. Latest smackdown:

Between 1880 and 2006 the average global annual temperature was about 15°C. However, in the years after 1990 the frequency of years when this average value was exceeded increased. The GKSS Research Centre asks: is it an accident that the warmest 13 years were observed after 1990, or does this increased frequency indicate an external influence?

With the help of the so called „Monte-Carlo-Simulation” the coastal researchers Dr. Eduardo Zorita and Professor Hans von Storch at the GKSS-Research Centre together with Professor Thomas Stocker from the University of Bern estimated that it is extremely unlikely that the frequency of warm record years after 1990 could be an accident and concluded that it is rather influenced by a external driver.

The fact that the 13 warmest years since 1880 could have accured by accident after 1990 corresponds to a likelihood of no more than 1:10 000.

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11 January 2009 at 11:59 am

Enzyme attack on obesity?

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Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a new enzyme that plays a far more important role than expected in controlling the breakdown of fat. In a new study to be published Jan. 11 in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers report that mice that have had this enzyme disabled remained lean despite eating a high-fat diet and losing a hormone that suppresses appetite. “We have discovered a new enzyme within fat cells that is a key regulator of fat metabolism and body weight, making it a promising target in the search for a treatment for human obesity,” said Hei Sook Sul, UC Berkeley professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology and principal investigator of the research.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 11:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes

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The Guardian:

The United Nations’ most senior human rights official said last night that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza. The warning came as Israeli troops pressed on with the deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for “credible, independent and transparent” investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law, and singled out an incident this week in Zeitoun, south-east of Gaza City, where up to 30 Palestinians in one house were killed by Israeli shelling.

Pillay, a former international criminal court judge from South Africa, told the BBC the incident “appears to have all the elements of war crimes”.

The accusation came as Israel kept up its two-week-old air and ground offensive in Gaza and dismissed as “unworkable” the UN security council resolution which had called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”.

Protests against the offensive were held across the world yesterday just as diplomacy to halt the conflict appeared to falter.

With the Palestinian casualty toll rising to around 800 dead, including 265 children, and more than 3,000 injured, fresh evidence emerged yesterday of the killings in Zeitoun. It was “one of the gravest incidents” since Israel’s offensive began two weeks ago, the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said yesterday.

“There is an international obligation on the part of soldiers in their position to protect civilians, not to kill civilians indiscriminately in the first place, and when they do, to make sure that they help the wounded,” Pillay told Reuters. “In this particular case these children were helpless and the soldiers were close by,” she added…

Continue reading.

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11 January 2009 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Mideast Conflict

Tagged with

Scientific evidence fashionable again

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From The Economist:

ONE of the stranger beliefs of some politicians is that if they treat nature like a troublesome opponent and ignore it, it might go away and stop bothering them. In the opinion of many scientists George Bush, America’s retiring president, was just such a politician. It would be one thing, for example, to argue that it is too expensive to stop climate change and that adapting to such change is a better course of action. It is quite another, as White House officials have done in the past, to describe climate change as a liberal cause without merit.

Mr Bush’s administration also stands accused of suppressing the publication of research he did not like. In 2007, for example, Richard Carmona, then surgeon general, testified to Congress that Mr Bush’s officials had delayed and tried to “water down” a report which concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm. It has been criticised, too, for preferring AIDS-prevention techniques based on abstinence (which don’t work, but have a moral appeal to Mr Bush and his supporters) to those that use condoms (which do work). His attitude to research on embryonic stem cells did not endear him to many scientists, either, and although the disagreement in this case was about a matter of principle rather than one of scientific truth, the decision to stop funding such research was seen as yet another example of how low the stock of science had fallen in the government.

Well, it is rising now. On December 15th Barack Obama, the incoming president, announced that he was nominating Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, to be his energy secretary. At the moment, Dr Chu is head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has built up a big solar-energy-research project. He is also a strong advocate of research into nuclear power and foresees a world in which fossil fuels are largely replaced by other sources of energy.

On December 20th the president-elect followed Dr Chu’s appointment by nominating Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the government agency responsible for studying the climate, and also for keeping an eye on marine life. Dr Lubchenco has been critical of the Bush administration’s lack of respect for climate science, and for its inaction on greenhouse-gas emissions. She is also concerned about marine pollution and the appearance in the ocean of oxygen-depleted dead zones caused by such pollution.

On the same day John Holdren, a physicist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, who is an expert in the fields of energy, the environment and nuclear proliferation, was appointed as the new presidential science adviser, and he will enjoy higher authority in that position than his Republican predecessor did. In 2007, when Dr Holdren was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he argued publicly for swift action on climate change.

Geneticists, too, get a look in…

Continue reading.

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11 January 2009 at 11:37 am

Wonkish but good post on the stimulus plan

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Nate Silver of has an excellent post looking at the stimulus plan so far announced. Take a look.

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11 January 2009 at 11:34 am

Bush admits his own guilt for war crimes

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In an interview with Brit Hume that aired today on Fox News Sunday, President Bush admitted that he personally authorized the torture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He said he personally asked “what tools” were available to use on him, and sought legal approval for waterboarding him:

BUSH: One such person who gave us information was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. … And I’m in the Oval Office and I am told that we have captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the professionals believe he has information necessary to secure the country. So I ask what tools are available for us to find information from him and they gave me a list of tools, and I said are these tools deemed to be legal? And so we got legal opinions before any decision was made.

Watch it:

Bush staunchly defended the program, saying it saved American lives — despite interrogators’ claims to the contrary. He waved away the debate over torture by saying dismissively, “Look, I understand why people can get carried away on this issue.”

Last year, Bush admitted that he was “aware” that his national security team met to discuss KSM’s interrogation, and that he approved of the meeting. His admission today suggests Bush had a far more direct role in developing the specific torture program, which included waterboarding, a freezing cell, and long periods of standing and stress positions (all of which have long been considered torture).

What’s more, a former Pentagon intelligence analyst told Vanity Fair that “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence“; another former CIA official, who read all the reports from KSM’s interrogation, said, “90 percent of it was total f*cking bullsh*t.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 10:39 am

Crayon Physics Deluxe

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A good way for kids to learn about physics, but also an intriguing time-waster for boring afternoons. Take a look.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Crayon Physics Deluxe“, posted with vodpod

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11 January 2009 at 10:22 am

The pause problem

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I’ve actually made a lot of progress. The pause (for 2 seconds, as CPU usage spikes, every 7-10 seconds or so) is due to a cookie.

I ran Ad-Aware (free version) which kills bad cookies—and some good ones: apparently Firefox stores the session tabs in a cookie, so with Ad-Aware freshly run, if I exit Firefox and restart, no tabs are remembered.

After running Ad-Aware, the pause was gone. After a little browsing and work, the pause returned. I ran Ad-Aware, which removed 10 cookies. The pause was no more. So one of those 10, I figure, was the villain.

The Wife suggested I turn off (in Firefox) accepting third-party cookies. I did that, and I also bought Ad-Aware Plus (not free), which includes a real-time monitor, Ad-Watch, which can monitor cookies (along with much else). So far no pause. Maybe it’s fixed for good.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The GOP in a—wait for it—nutshell

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Steve Benen:

About three weeks ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sought out economists to oppose the idea of a government rescue package in response to the economic crisis. He knew he didn’t like the idea of injecting money into a struggling economy, he just needed some credentialed conservatives to tell him how right he is. As Matt Yglesias put it, Boehner “picked his policy position first, and then started looking for experts to back him second.”

And how’s the initiative going so far? Brad DeLong took a closer look at some economists who chose not to endorse the House Republican caucus’ opposition to a stimulus plan.

In fact, no current or former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers — Democrat or Republican, living or dead, sane or insane — has signed up for the Republican House caucus’s list of economists opposed to the stimulus package. None. Zero. Nada. Sifr. Efes. Wala sero. Kosong sifar. ‘Ole. Knin. Pujyam. Mann. Dim. Nocht. Null. Meden. Hitotsu. Sifuri. Ling. Sunya. Mwac. Ataqan. Saquui. Hun. Illaq. Wanzi. Wanzi. Pagh. Na. Uqua.


That should tell you something about today’s Republican Party.

It does, indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 9:00 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Tagged with

Oh noez! Noilly Prat changing the formula

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They’re going to make it much sweeter. Extremely bad news. Here’s the full story. From that article:

How sugary is [the new Noilly Prat]? If you took an old bottle of the dry vermouth and mixed it half-and-half with the Sauternes-sweet aperitif wine Lillet, you’d have a pretty good approximation of what to expect.

With the European Noilly Prat you won’t get the crisp and untinged visual clarity now expected of a Martini unless you dial the vermouth back to about an eighth or a tenth of the mix.

The article’s writer has switched to Vya vermouth, which I will try.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 8:08 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Drinks

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