Later On

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

Archive for August 17th, 2011

Those who have no shame

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It must take a strong stomach to be around those school officials these days.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 5:47 pm

Not what I did on my vacation

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Video

Why it’s smart to be bilingual

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Interesting article in The Daily Beast by Casey Schwartz:

On a sweltering August morning, in a classroom overlooking New York’s Hudson River, a group of 3-year-olds are rolling sticky rice balls in chocolate sprinkles, as a teacher guides them completely in Mandarin.

This is just one toddler learning game at the total–immersion language summer camp run by the primary school Bilingual Buds, which offers a year-round curriculum in Mandarin as well as Spanish (at a New Jersey campus) for kids as young as 2.

Bilingualism, of course, can be a leg up for college admission and a résumé burnisher. But a growing body of research now offers a further rationale: the regular, high-level use of more than one language may actually improve early brain development.

According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information. These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as “executive function.” The research suggests they develop ahead of time in bilingual children, and are already evident in kids as young as 3 or 4.

While no one has yet identified the exact mechanism by which bilingualism boosts brain development, the advantage likely stems from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 12:04 pm

Sounds and language

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Very interesting article by David Robson in New Scientist:

Before reading this article, you might like to try our test: Which of these words sounds bigger?

Through the looking glass, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stumbles upon an enormous egg-shaped figure celebrating his un-birthday. She tries to introduce herself:

“It’s a stupid name enough!” Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. “What does it mean?”

“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.

“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: “My name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

PURE whimsy, you might think. Nearly 100 years of linguistics research has been based on the assumption that words are just collections of sounds – an agreed acoustic representation that has little to do with their actual meaning. There should be nothing in nonsense words such as “Humpty Dumpty” that would give away the character’s egg-like figure, any more than someone with no knowledge of English could be expected to infer that the word “rose” represents a sweet-smelling flower.

Yet a spate of recent studies challenge this idea. They suggest that we seem instinctively to link certain sounds with particular sensory perceptions. Some words really do evoke Humpty’s “handsome” rotundity. Others might bring to mind a spiky appearance, a bitter taste, or a sense of swift movement. And when you know where to look, these patterns crop up surprisingly often, allowing a monoglot English speaker to understand more Swahili or Japanese than you might imagine (see “Which sounds bigger?” at the bottom of this article). These cross-sensory connections may even open a window onto the first words ever uttered by our ancestors, giving us a glimpse of the earliest language and how it emerged.

More than 2000 years before Carroll suggested words might have some inherent meaning, Plato recorded a dialogue between two of Socrates’s friends, Cratylus and Hermogenes. Hermogenes argued that language is arbitrary and the words people use are purely a matter of convention. Cratylus, like Humpty Dumpty, believed words inherently reflect their meaning – although he seems to have found his insights into language disillusioning: Aristotle says Cratylus eventually became so disenchanted that he gave up speaking entirely.

The Greek philosophers never resolved the issue, but two millennia later the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure seemed to have done so. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Obama embraces economic ignorance

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For some odd reason, Obama has decided to ignore everything now known about the economy and how it works and put his trust in policies and initiatives that are known to worsen the problem. He’s not stupid, so presumably he just wants to get re-elected badly enough that he’s willing to damage the country on the off chance that it might help his election prospects… wait, that does sound stupid, doesn’t it?

Here’s the story from Dean Baker, an economist, in the Guardian:

front page story in Sunday’s New York Times gave the country the bad news. President Obama is no longer paying attention to economists and economics in designing economic policy. Instead, he will do what his campaign people tell him will get him re-elected, presumably by getting lots of money from Wall Street.

The article said that President Obama intends to focus on reducing government spending and cutting programmes like social security and Medicare. This is in spite of the fact that: “A wide range of economists say the administration should call for a new round of stimulus spending, as prescribed by mainstream economic theory, to create jobs and promote growth.”

In other words, President Obama intends to ignore the path for getting the economy back to full employment that most economists advocate. Instead, he is going to cut government spending – because his chief of staff and former JP Morgan vice president Bill Daley and his top campaign adviser David Plouffe both say this is a good idea.

While people are justified in having little respect for economists – almost the entire profession missed the $8tn housing bubble that crashed the US economy – it is still scary to see that policy will be determined by people with no knowledge of economics whatsoever. After all, do Daley and Plouffe even have a theory as to how cutting government spending could help the economy?

There, of course, is a theory as to how budget cuts could boost growth. The theory is that lower deficits in the present and/or near future will reduce fears that government spending will be crowding out private economic activity. This would lead to lower interest rates. Lower interest rates will provide a boost to investment and consumption. Also, lower interest rates in the United States will make dollar assets less attractive to investors. This will cause the dollar to decline against other currencies, improving our trade balance.

However, no part of this story makes sense in the current economic environment. US interest rates are already at ridiculously low levels, with the 10-year Treasury rate falling below 2.2% in the wake of the recent euro crisis. Does anyone really believe that the rate will go much lower even with large cuts to the budget?

Furthermore, even if interest rates did fall, it is difficult to believe that it would have much impact on either investment or consumption. Investment is not very responsive to interest rates even in the best of times. It is extremely unlikely that firms will rush to buy new equipment even if interest rates were to take another large plunge, when most are still operating with vast amounts of excess capacity.

Consumers remain heavily indebted due to the collapse of house prices. Furthermore, the huge baby boom cohort is going to feel more need to save than ever with the government slashing its social security and Medicare benefits.

The trade side of the picture doesn’t look much. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:39 am

Murdochs and minions lied to Parliament

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Now it will be interesting to see whether they get no punishment and are immediately forgiven for trying to lie their way out of trouble, or whether they actually face consequences. I do think they will try to avoid accountability and acknowledging responsibility because that is what business leaders do. But I hope they will be sentenced to some time in the slammer. It might help them reconsider some life decisions.

Here’s the story in the Guardian, by Nick Davies:

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.

In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named.

The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”.

Goodman’s claims also raise serious questions about Rupert Murdoch’s close friend and adviser, Les Hinton, who was sent a copy of the letter but failed to pass it to police and who then led a cast of senior Murdoch personnel in telling parliament that they believed Coulson knew nothing about the interception of the voicemail of public figures and that Goodman was the only journalist involved.

The letters from Goodman and from the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis are among a cache of paperwork published by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. One committee member, the Labour MP Tom Watson, said Goodman’s letter was “absolutely devastating”. He said: “Clive Goodman’s letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far. It completely removes News International’s defence. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime.”

Goodman’s letter is dated 2 March 2007, soon after he was released from a four-month prison sentence. It is addressed to . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Marian Wang has a brief article at ProPublica that has a lot of useful links:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:32 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Corn smut: Yum yum

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Terrific article about huitlacoche (which I recently had at Millennium, the vegan haute cuisine restaurant in San Fancisco), called “corn smut” in the us: a totally delicious fungus. The article includes a wonderful little video about huitlachoche and how to prepare it. It really is yummy: terrific mushroom taste. The article, by Tim Johnson in McClatchy, begins:

At this time of year, when corn grows high, some farmers go into their fields hoping that a disease has infected their crops.

They inspect for swollen husks, a telltale sign that a parasitic fungus has spread into a spongy iridescent mass inside the ears.

The farmers are pleased, for the fungus is one of the greatest delicacies of the Mexican kitchen. It’s been called the Mexican truffle, and a “food of the gods.” The unique, earthy taste has been part of local cuisine since Aztec times.

The name of the fungus in the indigenous Nahuatl language is huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-KOH-chay, sort of rhyming with Don Quixote). As hard as that may be to say, it’s infinitely sweeter sounding than the English name: corn smut. That moniker is a slur to huitlacoche’s complex flavors and defamation of its culinary properties.

“It’s completely different from other fungus. There are Ph.D.s here trying to figure out why its taste is so special,” said Dr. Clemente Villanueva, a geneticist at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, a top agricultural school that’s in the same valley as Mexico City.

The cultivation of huitlacoche is skyrocketing, as urban Mexicans are regaining an appreciation of foods native to their country. Once a haphazard if tasty infestation, huitlacoche now is being farmed commercially, with farmers injecting spores of the fungus into immature cornstalks. The fungus ruins the corn for human consumption, but it sells for much more than the corn itself, which can still be used to feed livestock. As a result, huitlacoche production has climbed fourfold in the past five years, Villanueva said. . .

Continue reading. And watch that video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Michelle Bachmann cannot admit error

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An inability to admit error can become a problem if it interferes with learning—and Michelle Bachmann is living proof of just how little a person can learn. This careful account of a grievous error she made, and the on-going lies she uttered to avoid admitting the error, tells you much about Bachmann.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:23 am

Posted in GOP

Collection of links to interesting sites

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Someone asked on reddit for links to little-known sites that more people should know. Quite a few responses. Among them:

Learn/Education/Tutorials

Tools

Tons more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:16 am

Saneeyeh Bil Fern in the oven now

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The Eldest sent me this recipe link at first light, and I went to the store first thing and got the makings for it. It’s in the oven now. I had grand plans to cut the olive oil to 3 Tbsp (about 2 tsp per serving, assuming four servings) but there were a LOT of vegetables, so I ended up doing the 1/2 cup after all. I suspect that this is going to make quite a few meals—starting with my lunch today and dinner as well, and maybe hand some off to The Wife (she can pick out the green beans). Ingredients:

4 10-oz. lamb shoulder chops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper,
 to taste
8 oz. green beans, trimmed
8 oz. okra
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 medium tomatoes, sliced 1⁄2″ thick
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1⁄2″ pieces
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 small eggplants, cut into 1⁄2″ pieces
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

UPDATE: Just had it. Changes I would make:

Oven at 335º rather than 325º. Maybe even 340º but no hotter.

Needs some herb-zip. Lemon juice would be a good addition, and grated lemon zest. I would also add some cayenne. If not lemon juice, a little wine vinegar or sherry vinegar. Thyme? Rosemary might work.

Pretty dang good. I would use 3 or even 4 tomatoes, not 2.

Think about including pitted Kalamata olives. And pine nuts.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Omega Synthetic beginner brush

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The Omega 643167 artificial badger shown is my current recommendation for beginner brush, based on fine performance and modest ($25) price. And once again it worked up a terrific lather, this time with QED Mocha Java shave stick, certainly a favorite. Just as an experiment, once I had plentiful lather, I tried working it up further in a lathering bowl and it did seem to improve the lather somewhat. Then three passes with the Merkur Slant holding a Swedish Gillette blade of several (many?) previous uses. A splash of Acqua di Parma, and I was ready to get started on the day—this some hours ago.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2011 at 11:07 am

Posted in Shaving

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