Later On

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

Archive for February 3rd, 2010

The Internet is a scary place

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I just finished reading Fatal System Error, and I have to say that the police and government still seem not to have grasped the problem, which is frightening. And things are getting worse.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who uses the Internet (which I imagine would include those reading this blog) and in particular to those who work in IT.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 5:25 pm

Ugly discovery

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I keep thinking about the Italians in Lion of the Desert. Anand Gopal in The Nation :

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dusty streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaargoers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat handwritten note on Red Cross stationery to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. US forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

In the past few years Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland have begun to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In its attempt to stamp out the growing Taliban insurgency and Al Qaeda, the US military has been arresting suspects and sending them to one of a number of secret detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families. These night raids have become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The raids and detentions, little known or understood outside the Pashtun villages, have been turning Afghans against the very forces many of them greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

November 19, 2009, 3:15 am. A loud blast woke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni, a city of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of US soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s agriculture minister. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of them sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran toward the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted toward his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives—both of them children—remaining in the room. But they refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates and forced open closets. Finally they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. The Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of Al Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin to …

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 4:13 pm

Bad news for deniers: Dr. Mann totally cleared

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John Broder reporting in the NY Times:

An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said Wednesday.

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a roiling dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units.

While the Penn State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the continuing controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.

That faculty board did not look into the science of climate change itself, the university said in announcing its results. That, it said, is “a matter more appropriately left to the profession.”

Dr. Mann was named in 377 of the e-mail messages, including several that critics took to suggest that he manipulated or destroyed data to strengthen his case that human activity is changing the global climate.

In the best-known of the messages, he refers to a “trick” in a graph he produced a decade ago showing 1,000 years of essentially steady global surface temperatures followed by a sharp upward spike in the 20th century, seemingly corresponding to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The so-called hockey stick graph has become an icon for environmentalists. It was prominently displayed in a 2001 United Nations report concluding that greenhouse gases from human activities had probably caused most of the warming measured since 1950. A version of it appears in the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

In some of the e-mail messages, Dr. Mann refers to his assembly of data from a number of different sources, including ancient tree rings and earth core samples, as a “trick.” Critics pounced on the term and said it was evidence that Dr. Mann and other scientists had manipulated temperature data to support their conclusions.

But the Penn State inquiry board said the term “trick” is used by scientists and mathematicians to refer to an insight that solves a problem. “The so-called ‘trick’ was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field,” the panel said.

The e-mail messages also contained suggestions that Dr. Mann had purposely hidden or destroyed e-mail messages and other information relating to a United Nations climate change report to prevent other scientists from reviewing them. Dr. Mann produced the material in question, and the Penn State board cleared him of the charge.

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 1:52 pm

Focus and work on one thing at a time

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The Wife points me to this paper (PDF), the summary of which is:


Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 11:43 am

Just as I suspected: TV watching and educational level inversely correlated

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Clive Thompson on his blog:

How much TV do you watch? What’s the highest level of educational level you’ve attained?

According to data gathered by the web site hunch, these two aspects of your life are “almost perfectly inversely correlated”: The more advanced your degree, the less time you spend staring at the tube.

Here’s the background: Hunch is web site that gives you customized recommendations based on you answering questions about what you do and don’t like. (After parsing my replies to several questions, it advised me against buying an Apple tablet, for example.) In theory, the more people use Hunch, the more Hunch knows about our preferences and the smarter its recommendations get. So to gather even more information about people’s preferences more quickly yet, the site has a section called “Tell Hunch About You”, where you can answer oodles of survey-like questions about your demographics, your likes, dislikes, habits, patterns of consumption, beliefs, etc.

Over 66,000 people have answered questions about both their educational level and the amount of TV they watch. When the Hunch folks assembled the numbers, here’s what it looked like, according to their blog:

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Media

E.M. Forster

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I have a great fondness for E.M. Forster’s novels and his book Aspects of the Novel. In The New Criterion, Brooke Adams reviews Frank Kermode’s Concerning E.M. Forster:

E. M. Forster delivered the Clark lectures at Cambridge University in 1927; these were published that same year under the title Aspects of the Novel, and still enjoy influence even in our postmodern era. Eighty years later, in 2007, the same lecture series was delivered by Frank Kermode, who at ninety years of age continues to be the best literary critic in England. In honor of this eightieth anniversary, Kermode chose Forster as his subject for the Clark lectures, and his thoughts can now be read in Concerning E. M. Forster, the published version of the talks.

Both Forster and Kermode held fellowships at King’s College, Cambridge, but, as Kermode points out, the routes by which they made their way there were very different, the contrast being illustrative of the growing professionalization of academia, and particularly of literary studies, after the Second World War. The upper-middle-class Forster was admitted to King’s as an undergraduate at the end of the Victorian era; he went on, as everyone knows, to a distinguished literary career and, in 1946, was offered an Honorary Fellowship and a home at the college, where he resided from 1953 until his death in 1970. Kermode, born exactly forty years after Forster, went the red brick route, graduating from Liverpool University in 1940. He went on to teach at Newcastle, Reading, Manchester, and Bristol Universities and University College, London, before accepting a chair at Cambridge and his own fellowship at King’s—“a grammar school boy,” as he says, “making a belated appearance on this very different scene at the possibly inflexible age of fifty-four.”

Dissimilar backgrounds, yes; but Kermode clearly feels a profound affinity with Forster and a sympathy with his view of life. Not that these lectures exactly constitute a paean; Forster, Kermode remarks,

irritates readers [himself included] who nevertheless feel obliged in the end, to do him honor. I think that’s right, and will pay the debt of honor without ceding my right to some bouts of irritation… . There are reasons for dissentient judgments and some of these I shall try to express. To do so may, in the end, be a way of paying more tribute, for the causes of irritation may well be closely related to the causes of admiration…

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Obama’s quiet revolution

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Interesting article in The New Republic by John Judis:

These days, liberals don’t know whether to feel betrayed by or merely disappointed with Barack Obama. They have gone from decrying his willingness to remove the public option from his health care plan to worrying that, in the wake of Democrat Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts, he won’t get any plan through Congress. On other subjects, too, from Afghanistan to Wall Street, Obama has thoroughly let down his party’s left flank.

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for—but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

The regulatory agencies, most of which date from one of the three great reform periods (1901–1914, 1932–1938, and 1961–1972) of the last century, were intended to smooth out the rough edges (the “externalities,” in economic jargon) of modern capitalism—from dirty air to dangerous workplaces to defective merchandise to financial corruption. With wide latitude in writing and enforcing regulations, they have been described as a “fourth branch of government.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 10:07 am

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