Later On

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

Archive for November 6th, 2012

Another GOPM: sausage and chicken

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1/2 c pearled barley
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 Italian pork sausage, cut into disks (4.6 oz)
1 leek, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 handfuls chopped celery
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks (7 oz)
good sprinkling of Mural of Flavor seasoning
1 zucchini, diced
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1/2 c Kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 eggplant, diced
several anchovy fillets from a jar (packed in olive oil)
1 Meyer lemon, sliced


2 Tbsp Country French vinaigrette
4 Tbsp Amontillado Sherry

I’ll return to make changes as needed and also deliver the verdict.

UPDATE: No room for kale: omitted.

VERDICT: Excellent. The pearled barley was not al dente this time, and I think the reason is simple: more liquid. Also, the anchovies were an excellent idea, worth repeating when they fit. Kale not missed. Rich taste, as you might expect.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 4:43 pm

It’s Time to Stop Using the ‘Fire in a Crowded Theater’ Quotation

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Something I didn’t know, explained in the Atlantic by Trevor Timm, who works on free speech and government transparency issues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Ninety-three years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote what is perhaps the most well-known — yet misquoted and misused — phrase in Supreme Court history: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

Without fail, whenever a free speech controversy hits, someone will cite this phrase as proof of limits on the First Amendment. And whatever that controversy may be, “the law”–as some have curiously called it–can be interpreted to suggest that we should err on the side of censorship. Holmes’ quote has become a crutch for every censor in America, yet the quote is wildly misunderstood.

The latest example comes from New York City councilmen Peter Vallone, who declared yesterday “Everyone knows the example of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater,” as he called for charges against pseudonymous Twitter @ComfortablySmug for spreading false information during Hurricane Sandy. Other commentators have endorsed Vallone’s suggestions, citing the same quote as established precedent.

In the last few years, the quote has reared its head on countless occasions. In September, commentators pointed to it when questioning whether the controversial anti-Muslim video should be censored. Before that, it was invoked when a crazy pastor threatened to burn Qurans. Before that, the analogy was twisted to call for charges against WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. The list goes on.

But those who quote Holmes might want to actually read the case where the phrase originated before using it as their main defense. If they did, they’d realize it was never binding law, and the underlying case, U.S. v. Schenck, is not only one of the most odious free speech decisions in the Court’s history, but was overturned over 40 years ago.

First, it’s important to note . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong

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Very interesting article (and interview) in the Atlantic by Yarden Katz, a graduate student in the Department of Brain and Cognitive sciences at MIT:

If one were to rank a list of civilization’s greatest and most elusive intellectual challenges, the problem of “decoding” ourselves — understanding the inner workings of our minds and our brains, and how the architecture of these elements is encoded in our genome — would surely be at the top. Yet the diverse fields that took on this challenge, from philosophy and psychology to computer science and neuroscience, have been fraught with disagreement about the right approach.

In 1956, the computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) to describe the study of intelligence by implementing its essential features on a computer. Instantiating an intelligent system using man-made hardware, rather than our own “biological hardware” of cells and tissues, would show ultimate understanding, and have obvious practical applications in the creation of intelligent devices or even robots.

Some of McCarthy’s colleagues in neighboring departments, however, were more interested in how intelligence is implemented in humans (and other animals) first. Noam Chomsky and others worked on what became cognitive science, a field aimed at uncovering the mental representations and rules that underlie our perceptual and cognitive abilities. Chomsky and his colleagues had to overthrow the then-dominant paradigm of behaviorism, championed by Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner, where animal behavior was reduced to a simple set of associations between an action and its subsequent reward or punishment. The undoing of Skinner’s grip on psychology is commonly marked by Chomsky’s 1967 critical review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, a book in which Skinner attempted to explain linguistic ability using behaviorist principles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Science

Why many kids cannot write: They were never taught

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Fascinating article on the importance of teaching the tools of writing, in the Atlantic by Peg Tyre:

In 2009, when Monica DiBella entered New Dorp, a notorious public high school on Staten Island, her academic future was cloudy. Monica had struggled to read in early childhood, and had repeated first grade. During her elementary-school years, she got more than 100 hours of tutoring, but by fourth grade, she’d fallen behind her classmates again. In the years that followed, Monica became comfortable with math and learned to read passably well, but never seemed able to express her thoughts in writing. During her freshman year at New Dorp, a ’70s-style brick behemoth near a grimy beach, her history teacher asked her to write an essay on Alexander the Great. At a loss, she jotted down her opinion of the Macedonian ruler: “I think Alexander the Great was one of the best military leaders.” An essay? “Basically, that wasn’t going to happen,” she says, sweeping her blunt-cut brown hair from her brown eyes. “It was like, well, I got a sentence down. What now?” Monica’s mother, Santa, looked over her daughter’s answer—six simple sentences, one of which didn’t make sense—with a mixture of fear and frustration. Even a coherent, well-turned paragraph seemed beyond her daughter’s ability. An essay? “It just didn’t seem like something Monica could ever do.”

For decades, no one at New Dorp seemed to know how to help low-performing students like Monica, and unfortunately, this troubled population made up most of the school, which caters primarily to students from poor and working-class families. In 2006, 82 percent of freshmen entered the school reading below grade level. Students routinely scored poorly on the English and history Regents exams, a New York State graduation requirement: the essay questions were just too difficult. Many would simply write a sentence or two and shut the test booklet. In the spring of 2007, when administrators calculated graduation rates, they found that four out of 10 students who had started New Dorp as freshmen had dropped out, making it one of the 2,000 or so lowest-performing high schools in the nation. City officials, who had been closing comprehensive high schools all over New York and opening smaller, specialized ones in their stead, signaled that New Dorp was in the crosshairs.

And so the school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well. “When they told me about the writing program,” Monica says, “well, I was skeptical.” With disarming candor, sharp-edged humor, and a shy smile, Monica occupies the middle ground between child and adult—she can be both naive and knowing. “On the other hand, it wasn’t like I had a choice. I go to high school. I figured I’d give it a try.”

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.

The number of kids enrolling in a program that allows them to take college-level classes shot up from 148 students in 2006 to 412 students last year. Most important, although the makeup of the school has remained about the same—­roughly 40 percent of students are poor, a third are Hispanic, and 12 percent are black—a greater proportion of students who enter as freshmen leave wearing a cap and gown. This spring, the graduation rate is expected to hit 80 percent, a staggering improvement over the 63 percent figure that prevailed before the Writing Revolution began. New Dorp, once the black sheep of the borough, is being held up as a model of successful school turnaround. “To be able to think critically and express that thinking, it’s where we are going,” says Dennis Walcott, New York City’s schools chancellor. “We are thrilled with what has happened there.”

In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—­the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-­school students—­who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.

Common Core’s architect, David Coleman, says . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Education, Writing

Very nice pitcher

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I recently ordered this 3-qt pitcher, and it’s just the ticket: rather than trying to buy a glass large enough for as much iced tea as I want, I can use a moderate-sized glass and the pitcher. Comfortable to hold, easy to clean (opening wide enough to insert hand and dishcloth), simple appearance: it’s terrific. And the price is right, too: $21.50 including shipping.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life

The war on abortion rights—and a leading fighter

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I find the woman described in this article to be highly unsettling in her arrogant authoritarianism: I’m in favor of allowing people to decide for themselves rather than bringing the government in to make the decision for them, but this is a large-government fanatic who believes that her decision is right for you, regardless of what you think, as you can see from the article by Emily Bazelon in the NY Times Magazine:

One day in the spring, I went with Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, a pro-life advocacy group, to meet two of her five kids at a Barnes & Noble near her office in Washington. We sat down in the Starbucks corner of the bookstore, and James and Sarah, who are 8 and 11, told me about the March for Life on the National Mall. They go every year, scouting out heating vents to stand on when it’s cold and competing over who can hand out the most Life Counts posters. “We start up chants,” Sarah volunteered, looking up from her Frappuccino with whipped cream. “Like ‘Fight Planned Parenthood.’ ”

Yoest put her arm around her daughter and finessed the slogan a bit. “We’re fighting Planned Parenthood to protect women,” she said. “When those babies aren’t born, that is a loss for their mothers, and that’s part of why they need a chance to live.”

It’s the kind of deft reframing of the abortion debate that has put Yoest (pronounced “yoast”) at the center of anti-abortion politics and enabled her to help push through the greatest number of abortion restrictions since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In 2011, after Republicans made gains in statehouses across the country, 24 state legislatures passed 92 abortion restrictions — more than double the total for any previous year. The pace slowed in the first half of 2012, with 40 new provisions passed in 17 states. Around one-third of the bills, with names like the Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act and the Women’s Health Defense Act, were written by A.U.L. They made it impossible for clinics to operate in some states, made the procedure harder to access in the first trimester and barred it outright later in pregnancy.

Though she has helped usher in hard-hitting changes in women’s health care, Yoest is especially good at sounding reasonable rather than extreme. She never deviates from her talking points, never raises her voice and never forgets to smile. While the organization that she runs is relatively small — its budget is about half that of the National Right to Life Committee — her personal appeal gives her outsize visibility. She’s the one making the case against abortion on the PBS “NewsHour.”

“The pro-life side realized, to their credit, that they had to rethink their image,” says Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice. “A lot of people in the middle were looking at them and saying, ‘You care about the unborn babies, but what about the mothers?’ So they started talking about protecting women, too, and Charmaine Yoest is the perfect face for that.”

Yoest got into politics early. When she was a teenager, she and her brother went door to door for a Republican candidate for Congress. Yoest’s mother and father are academics and Protestant evangelicals, and though they opposed abortion as a matter of course, that position didn’t define their politics. It didn’t define Yoest’s initially either: after college, she turned down a job with A.U.L. to work in the Reagan White House. There she met Gary Bauer, then chairman of Reagan’s Special Working Group on the Family, and in the late 1980s moved with him to the conservative Family Research Council, where she worked on promoting adoption and child care. In the early ’90s, Yoest married and left the council to have a family and get a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Virginia. She directed a project on work-life balance in academia, writing a dissertation called “Empowering Shakespeare’s Sister,” about the effects of paid parental leave on achievement for women.

The work-life balance hit home when she got an offer to be senior adviser for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2008. Yoest didn’t think she could go on the road as the job demanded, but her husband, Jack, who now teaches business at Catholic University, said that she should. Eventually they took the children out of school and piled into the family Suburban to spend weeks campaigning. After Huckabee pulled out of the election, Yoest was offered the job running A.U.L. This time, she threw herself into the anti-abortion cause.

The Yoests live in a D.C. suburb (she asked me not to name it) where the politics skew liberal but where Yoest says she feels at home. In 2009, when she had six months of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, the mother of one daughter’s classmate organized a lunch-making brigade for all the Yoest kids, and every school day, one family or another dropped off the lunches in a cooler by the front door. “We called it the magic fridge,” Yoest said. When she’s at one of her children’s baseball games or crew regattas and a parent asks about her work, she tries to deflect the question. “I tend to say, ‘Oh, gosh, it’s Saturday, it’s sunny — have you seen any good movies?’ ” she told me. After that, she’ll say she works at a nonprofit. If pressed further, she sticks to her TV talking points. “I explain that we work on moving forward legislation about informed consent, and making sure women get the best standard of medical care — the things most people agree on. So there’s a parallel between our public strategy at A.U.L. and my private discussions.”

None of this, however, means that Charmaine Yoest is a moderate. For all her emphasis on women’s health, her end goal isn’t to make abortion safer. She wants to make the procedure illegal. She leaves no room for exceptions in the case of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother. She believes that embryos have legal rights and opposes birth control, like the IUD, that she thinks “has life-ending properties.”

Nor does Yoest advocate for reducing abortion by increasing access to birth control. When I asked what she thought about a study, published in October, which found a 60 to 80 percent drop in the abortion rate, compared with the national average, among women in St. Louis who received free birth control for three years, she said, “I don’t want to frustrate you, but I’m not going to go there.” She referred me to a critique of the study’s methodology in National Review. “It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control,” she said when pressed on PBS last year. “Because that would be, frankly, carrying water for the other side to allow them to redefine the issue in that way.”

Yoest doesn’t like to speak this bluntly — she was taken aback when I reminded her of the PBS quote. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 12:46 pm

The loss of forage fish

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A somewhat disheartening article by Ellen Pikitch in The Scientist:

Despite their vital role in maintaining healthy oceans and their high economic value, only in recent years have forage fish—small fish that rank relatively low in the ocean’s food chain, such as sardines, anchovies, and herring—finally begun to garner the attention they deserve. Forage fish account for more than one-third of the world’s marine fish production, but are rarely directly consumed by people. Ninety percent of the catch is used in agriculture, in aquaculture, and as health supplements in the form of fish oil, which is valued for its rich supply of healthful omega-3 fatty acids.

To meet the demand of the industries depending on them, these fish are being pulled from the ocean at an enormous and increasing rate, resulting in serious declines in their numbers and knock-on effects that reverberate through ocean ecosystems. With price and demand continuing to skyrocket, it’s time to hit the brakes, and implement smarter management policies to avert further damage.

The recently released report, “Little Fish, Big Impact,” authored by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, an international team of 13 preeminent marine and fisheries scientists, sheds new light on the ecological and economical importance of forage fish. The authors, including myself, found that more than half the diet of many seabirds, marine mammals, and larger fish, such as tuna, cod, and salmon, consists of forage fish. And, as their food supply has declined, so has the abundance of these predator species. The report also revealed that the value of forage fish left in the ocean to support production of larger, commercially important species is twice their value in a net. Overall, forage fish are worth nearly $17 billion per year to commercial fisheries—$5.6 billion as direct catch and $11.3 billion as food for larger commercially important fish.

Prior to the formation of the task force, management guidance for forage fish generally focused only on forage species and ignored the many other species that depend upon them. Indeed, high fishing rates in the past led to boom-and-bust fishery yields and some spectacular collapses. In the Barents Sea, repeated collapses of the forage fish capelin in the 1980s and 1990s caused nutritional stress and cannibalism in cod, a predator fish, with consequent economic losses to the cod fishery. Starving mammals and sea birds died or left the area. This situation was addressed by the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fishery Commission establishing what is called the “capelin rule,” which prohibits fishing of capelin if the biomass of the population falls below 200,000 tonnes. This rule has been successful in preventing further collapses of capelin, and has also restored the cod population in the Barents Sea to very high levels.

After 3 years of intensive work involving the synthesis of existing information and the development of new science, including a global analysis of 72 food web models (Fish and Fisheries, DOI:10.1111/faf.12004, 2012), the task force came to our conclusion: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 12:38 pm

Feather stainless: Comfort and efficiency

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What do you call a razor that shaves completely comfortably and feels mild, but produces a BBS result no matter how much beard it tackles? Is it “aggressive” because it’s efficient at removing stubble? Is it “mild” because that’s the way it feels. The Feather stainless shows how awkward those terms can be in describing a razor’s shaving performance.

But to start at the beginning. I do like the Prairie Creations soaps, and the tallow+lanolin Spiced Rum produced an immediate thick lather with the Vie-Long horsehair brush. I did enjoy the lather—the fragrance, the feel, the look—and played with it on my beard for a while.

Then the Feather razor, this time with a Kai blade (an experiment: normally I use only Feather blades in this razor, which totally tames them), went to work: gentle passes producing a BBS result by the third pass. This razor is a wonderful mystery: a mild feeling combined with ruthless stubble removal.

A splash of Masters Bay Rum aftershave, and we’re off.


Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2012 at 8:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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