Later On

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

Archive for November 19th, 2010

New ideas

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Innovations—mutant memes—require new names. If you’re copying the innovation from another culture, you’ll just take their word for it. But if it’s something developed within your culture, you’ll make up a word in your own language for it, generally by using some existing root in a new way.

That’s why it is significant that the words for wheel, wagon, thrill (the thing that lets draught animals pull the wagon), and axle are native Proto-Indo-European words, and that they are relatively late words—signifying that previously the words were not needed.

And as the Proto-Indo-Europeans, flush with the wealth achieved through superior technology (wheeled vehicles), spread across Eurasia and Europe, their language came with them and evolved—for example, to include words like "spoke" (of a wheel) that the Proto-Indo-Europeans apparently didn’t need.

And, as always when cultures meet and memes are exchanged, the word for the meme often goes along as part of the package. Thus (and this story is from TYD), as the Proto-Indo-European wave took over Greece and began its evolution into Greek (an Indo-European language), some words from the earlier inhabitants were retained—presumably for memes new to the PIE. Place names, for example, that end with –ssos or –nthos (Corinthos, Knossos, Parnassos). And, The Younger Daughter points out with some glee, the word for "bath" in Greek was not from the Proto-Indo-European language.

One imagines the scene: Two men, one standing by a huge wagon drawn by two oxen, one in the village square.

"Welcome, stranger. What an amazing contrivance! A ‘wagon,’ you said. I am.." Sudden fit of coughing and gasping and a little lurching, then, "There, that’s better. I think you’ll like that breeze in your face…  I say, I can tell that you must have traveled quite a spell. I imagine you want to take a bath. Probably before dinner. Maybe even right now, it’s…  What? Oh, you don’t know the word ‘bath.’ Aha. I think I see the source of the problem. Walk this way, I have something to show you that, in its own way, is as amazing as that ‘wagon’ thing."

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Daily life

Meet the new Speaker

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One thing that Pelosi did that raised a LOT of hackles in the House was to create an independent investigative body that looked into ethics complaints about Representatives. As you can imagine, Representatives hated this because—lo and behold—some turn out to be not so very ethical. (Charles Rangel is the latest person to get hit with charges.)

But not to worry: the GOP is going to put paid to that little embarrassment. Tanya Somanader at ThinkProgress:

This November, the future House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) rode the Tea Party rhetoric to power, promising to gut “business as usual” on Capitol Hill. Touting an earmark ban and public access to bills as clear moves toward transparency, Boehner seemed demonstrably clear on another accountability issue – congressional ethics. “I think the American people expect that their members of Congress should be held to a high ethical standard,” he said in August.

In spite of that expectation, Boehner is threatening to axe the Office of Congressional ethics.Established in March of 2008 after the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Office of Congressional Ethics is responsible for “launching investigations of wrongdoings by House Members” in order to “stiffen the spine of the House ethics committee.” Operating as an inspector general of sorts, the OCE has “won praise for reviving the House’s notoriously moribund and secretive ethics process.”

Despite strong conservative support for OCE, “GOP leaders are gearing up to kill the fledgling” OCE. In doing so, Boehner is clashing head-on with the rhetoric of many newly-elected Republicans and the driving force behind them — the Tea Party. In Boehner’s home-state, the Tea Party has not only noticed this fact, but has issued him a warning:

The Ohio Liberty Council, the main umbrella organization for 58 Tea Party groups in the state, supports efforts to strengthen the OCE and is warning House GOP leaders that any attempt to weaken it will upset Tea Party activists.

I[f] they move in the opposite direction of transparency that this office provides, I think we will be very upset about that,” said Chris Littleton, president of the Ohio Liberty Council and the Cincinnati Tea Party. “Symbolically, it’s a huge problem for them … they should be as transparent as they can be. Any opposition to that would be inappropriate on their part.”

Boehner’s antipathy for the OCE is no secret. He voted against its creation in 2008 and has repeatedly questioned its value. Asked whether Boehner would “heed the call to strengthen, not shutter, the OCE,” his spokesman Michael Steel said “we haven’t made a decision” at this time, which, as the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel notes, “appears to leave open the possibility that it may be defunded.” Indeed, the Sunlight Foundation, which is working with the GOP transition leaders on their transparency agenda, said GOP leaders “won’t vote publicly to kill the OCE but will simply quietly defund it next year.” As the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington notes, Boehner is “an establishment, country-club Republican trying to embrace the tea party folks without making any of the changes they require.”

As a New York Times editorial notes, “outraged taxpayers who voted against business as usual in Washington” will undoubtedly be “dumbfounded” if Boehner weakens or eliminates this linchpin of congressional ethics. The destruction of the OCE will signal “a retreat to the days of good old boy self-policing and no real accountability.” To the Tea Party, that’s decidedly off message.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 9:05 am

Pelosi’s reputation

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I don’t understand what Nancy Pelosi did to bring such condemnation. It’s easy to find evidence of how unpopular she now is, very difficult to find the reasons for it (other than that she was the Democratic Speaker of the House in a Congress that brought reforms to Wall Street and to healthcare. It’s easy to find people who dislike her, difficult to find substantive reasons for the dislike. Steve Benen:

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked respondents whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of various political figures and parties. President Obama continues to have the highest positive ratings, and Democrats continue to enjoy more popularity than Republicans.

But it’s the ratings for congressional leaders that stand out. The leader with the very lowest positive ratings is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — only 11% have a favorable view — but that’s only because most Americans have no idea who he is. Among the recognized figures, it’s outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who fares the worst — 24% have a favorable opinion of her, but literally twice as many, 48%, hold her in low regard.

This is in keeping with what Nate Silver’s analysis found yesterday. In terms of favorability ratings, the American political figures with the highest positives are Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Al Gore, in that order. The figure with the highest negative is Pelosi.

After going through the available data, Silver concluded the current House Speaker is "among the least popular politicians in America today — perhaps the single least popular one that maintains an active political role."

A party leader’s principal goal isn’t necessarily to be popular, and Ms. Pelosi was exceptionally successful at advancing legislation through the House in 2009 and 2010, whipping votes to pass a stimulus package, an energy bill, and a health care bill (twice!), among many other pieces of the Democratic agenda.

Still, the role of the party leader changes when a party goes from being in the majority to the minority. And it noteworthy that, of the several reasons that Jonathan Allen and John F. Harris at Politico cite for why Ms. Pelosi is likely to retain her top position in spite of her poor public image, almost none have to do with any tactical or strategic advantage the Democrats might gain from selecting her; instead, they have to do with institutional politics.

I don’t mention this to bash Pelosi. On the contrary, I’ve long considered myself a great admirer of the Speaker.

Rather, I mention this as something of a case study. When Republicans decided they’d try to destroy Pelosi’s reputation in 2008, I scoffed. The vast majority of voters didn’t necessarily know who Pelosi was or what she stood for, so the crusade to tear down her name seemed like a waste of time. If people don’t know who Pelosi is, why invest resources in attacking her?

But Republicans have a knack for not accepting political circumstances as they are, but rather, using blunt force to create new political circumstances more to their liking. The GOP and its allies stuck with their anti-Pelosi campaign, directing as much fire at her as anyone, including President Obama. They set out to destroy her reputation, using "Pelosi" as a synonym for "radical liberalism," and in time their efforts paid off. Today, the House Speaker is poised to depart her post very unpopular, not because of any scandals, misjudgments, or mistakes, but because of a coordinated effort to convince the country Pelosi offends their values.

It’s almost impressive as a p.r. strategy — and by "impressive," I mean that in the same sense that it’s also impressive that tobacco companies manage to convince teenagers to smoke.

This can also serve as a reminder to Democrats. There was about a month in which Dems decided they’d try to make John Boehner something of a villain. It didn’t really go far, and most Americans still don’t know who he is. The point, though, is that it takes time and determination to sully a leader’s reputation in Americans’ eyes. Republicans were patient when it came to turning Pelosi into a monster; are Dems prepared to take their time with the new Speaker?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 9:01 am

The story of modern humans

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It’s amazing how quickly humans have ruined the planet once we got going. Modern human culture’s earliest roots probably don’t date back more than 12,000 years. I’m right now enjoying the fascinating book The Horse, The Wheel, And Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David W. Anthony, which describes the Proto-Indo-European culture from which sprang so much of the modern Western world. The way Anthony nails down the invention and roll-out of that technological marvel the wheel is wonderful.

I realized as I read it that I’d been brainwashed by all those cartoons of a pelt-clad caveman, cudgel in hand, admiring his giant stone wheel. Obviously, once one thinks about it, a wheel by itself is not of much use: one needs quite a few ideas and tools to make something worthwhile: an axle, for example, and a platform with some sidewalls: put that on two wheels and you have a cart, put it on four and you have a wagon: stable and better suited for large loads. But you also need a way to have an ox or horse pull the thing.

From the very oldest documents found, from one of the first human cities, we get a glimpse of this new invention.

Clay tablets with "wagon" signs impressed on them were found in the Eanna temple precinct in Uruk, one of the first cities created by humans. About thirty-nine hundred tablets were recovered from level IVa, the end of Late Uruk. In these texts, among the oldest documents in the world, a pictograph (figure 4.3.f) shows a four-wheeled wagon with some kind of canopy or superstructure. The "wagon" sign occurred jus three times in thirty-nine hundred texts, where as the sign for "sledge"—a similar kind of transport, but dragged on runners not rolled on wheels—occurred thirty-eight times. Wagons were not yet common.

These tablets date from 3300-3100 BCE, comfortably after the first appearance of wagons, probably in 3300-3400 BCE.

Making wheeled wagons calls for special tools and skills—it occurs to me that this invention much more likely came from  a city than an isolated farm—a city economy could support specialized craftsmen and also include enough wealth to finance the new technology: build and buy and use it.

It makes one wonder about daily life among the Proto-Indo-European people—and why was their culture so dominant in Europe and western Asia? Was it because they had wagons?

Wonderful book.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 8:57 am

Weight loss slow going

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I have finally learned not to celebrate with a special meal when I finally do lose some weight: if I do, the weight promptly returns. This morning I’m finally under 215 lbs again: 214.7. So my celebration, such as it is, will be to add sparkling water and juice of half a lime to my glass of iced white tea.

The fact is that I still have quite a bit of fat to lose: 30 more lbs is not an exaggeration. But I assume if I hang in there I eventually will lose it.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 8:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Sweet Gale again

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I’m really liking the fragrance (and lather) of Sweet Gale: a lovely shaving soap. And you’ll see that I’m favoring the artificial badger brushes these days: trouble-free top performance is the main reason: they consistently deliver a great lather.

Three passes with the iKon bulldog open-comb—a very comfortable and smooth shaver—and a splash of New York sets me up for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2010 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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