Later On

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

Archive for May 21st, 2013

Pilates Mat Exercises

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They’re hard. This will be a challenge.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Fitness, Pilates

The gloves are rapidly coming off

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Digby blogs:

You may have heard about the protests at the DOJ by foreclosed upon homeowners demanding that Eric Holder prosecute some bankers for their criminal activity. If you haven’t, you can read all about it here.

Unfortunately, I received reports last night that citizens exercising their right to peacefully protest were being casually tasered by the authorities.

This came from my friend Jason Rosenbaum, who was there:

At the start of the action, when the protesters and homeowners arrived at the south entrance of the DOJ, we were greeted by half a dozen police in tactical gear or uniforms and a metal barrier cutting off access to a small courtyard in front of the large DOJ doors. The group of protesters rallied at the barrier and the planters next to it that made up the square and homeowners slowly climbed over the barriers in an attempt to gain an audience at the DOJ and register their complaints. At that point, the police were keeping people from climbing over, but eventually the police retreated and a few homeowners and protesters made it over and sat down to occupy that space. More joined them. After about 10 minutes, as more climbed over the barrier and the crowd occupied more space, the police retreated up the few steps leading to the door, and eventually ceded the square entirely by going inside the DOJ, leaving the protesters and homeowners alone in the square. The protesters took down the barriers at that point and everyone occupied the square, complete with signs, chants, couches, tents, and the like. (There’s video/photos of this on my Twitter feed, @j_ro.)

That was phase one — for the next phase, the protest split into three groups, with one staying at the south entrance and the two others to take entrances on the north and west sides of the building. I went with the group going to the west, and we were met again by police presence at the west entrance. We pushed on through to the north entrance around the block, and again were met by police. After sitting down there for a bit and taking the intersection down the block, we were notified that our brethren needed our help back at the south entrance and we marched over.

When I got there with the crowd in my group, the police had about a dozen homeowners in plastic cuffs on the south steps and had set up a police line around the original square in front of the door. The people in my group rushed through the line to sit down with their fellow protesters and homeowners being arrested, and it was at this point that at least one officer took out his taser gun, pulled the trigger, and started using it to push back those in the crowd coming to the support of those being arrested. That’s what you see in my video. As Matt noted, it was over very quickly, with protesters looking to peacefully support those who were being arrested being tased and pushed back, and those being arrested led into a police van and driven away for processing.

At this point, as the arrests were being loaded into the van, another group of about a dozen sat down inside the police barrier and as far as I know they’re still there (I had to leave about an hour after the initial arrests). So there may be more arrests to come shortly.

There is nothing new about protesters gathering at government buildings. And it has never been a problem for the police to arrest protesters in an orderly fashion, even when the protesters are not cooperating by sitting down and refusing to move. This is the way civil disobedience has worked for many a moon.

Shooting protesters full of electricity in order to get them to fall to the ground in excruciating pain, dazed and compliant, however, is new. And it’s completely unnecessary, not to mention contrary to our long tradition of peaceful protest. I thought this sort of thing went out with the use of firehoses and police dogs.

It happened again today, this time well captured on video:

Note the casual sadism. The young woman is surrounded by three men as she links arms with another protester. She does not appear to be in any way violent or threatening. The big man behind her holds her around the neck and whispers in her ear (who knows what he told her, but if it’s the usual, he says “cooperate right now or you’re going to be tased.”) As a peaceful protester engaged in civil disobedience she naturally refuses. At this point, they would normally pick her up bodily and carry her to the paddy wagon. Instead, they hit her with 50,000 volts of electricity, she crumbles to the ground as her whole body is overwhelmed by pain.

And then . . .

Continue reading.

And consider this: We now have instituted two levels of law-enforcement authority in this country: regular laws as we’ve known in the past, and “terrorism” laws, which allow law-enforcement (and military) authority to do pretty much whatever they want, including (as we’ve seen) torturing prisoners to death with no repercussions at all—rather bonuses and rewards. The worrisome thing is that the above is being done under the regular-law rubric; I can only imagine what would happen if the authorities decided that they suspected terrorist-related activity or sentiments. Then it would have become much uglier.

UPDATE: Also see this article.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 2:10 pm

Funny and sad simultaneously: Obama tries to privatize TVA, GOP fights to keep it in government hands

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Gar Alperovitz and Thomas Hanna report at AlterNet:

Buried within the fine print of the 2014 Obama budget is a startling bit of history-changing policy. The government, the administration says, should consider selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s largest publicly operated—that is, “socialist”—institutions, and the largest public power provider in the country.

The TVA is a non-profi, free-standing public authority established by the Roosevelt administration during the Depression—a very large utility, if you like. It provides 165 billion kilowatt hours of power to 9 million Americans, has $11.2 billion in sales revenue, employs more than 12,500 people, and provides other educational, training and related services (such as navigation and land management, flood control, and economic development) to the people in the states and region around the Tennessee river basin.

Strikingly, it’s the free-market Republicans who object to this proposed privatization. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who has vehemently opposed government tax credits and subsidies for renewable energy, calls the proposal “one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” and fears that privatization would lead to higher energy costs for his constituents.

Congressman John L. Duncan, Jr., another Tennessee Republican, says privatization is “something that has been proposed in the past and been determined to be a very bad idea.” Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama (a state also served by the TVA), says he will “carefully study any proposals to restructure TVA” in order to make sure that it won’t result in a price hike. And Tennessee’s other Republican Senator, Bob Corker, is clear: “I doubt this idea gains much traction.” . . .

Continue reading. Shame on Obama for the drive to privatize, and shame on the GOP for demonstrating so clearly their utter hypocrisy (and logically incoherent positions).

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 12:15 pm

Cool: Category theory finds application

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Julie Rehmeyer writes at Science News:

Every pure mathematician has experienced that awkward moment when asked, “So what’s your research good for?” There are standard responses: a proud “Nothing!”; an explanation that mathematical research is an art form like, say, Olympic gymnastics (with a much smaller audience); or a stammered response that so much of pure math has ended up finding application that maybe, perhaps, someday, it will turn out to be useful.

That last possibility is now proving itself to be dramatically true in the case of category theory, perhaps the most abstract area in all of mathematics. Where math is an abstraction of the real world, category theory is an abstraction of mathematics: It describes the architectural structure of any mathematical field, independent of the specific kind of mathematical object being considered. Yet somehow, what is in a sense the purest of all pure math is now being used to describe areas throughout the sciences and beyond, in computer science, quantum physics, biology, music, linguistics and philosophy.

Samuel Eilenberg of Columbia University and Saunders Mac Lane of the University of Chicago developed category theory in the 1940s to build a bridge between abstract algebra (the generalization of high school algebra) and topology (the qualitative study of shapes, including those in very high dimensions). Very similar arguments repeatedly cropped up in the two fields in different contexts, so the mathematicians reasoned that some deeper structure must unite these situations.

They created an organizing framework that any field of mathematics could be put in. A “category” is a collection of mathematical objects together with arrows connecting them. So, for example, the natural numbers are the objects of a category, and one particular arrow in that category would connect each number to its double. Eilenberg and Mac Lane could then analyze maps between entire categories, and maps between those maps. This allowed the connections between different fields of mathematics to be formulated precisely.

Mathematicians sardonically dubbed the field “abstract nonsense.” Its extreme level of abstraction drains all the content out of the theory, since the objects can represent nearly anything. Draining the content, many expected, would also drain its power: What can anyone possibly say that will apply to essentially all mathematical objects?

Surprisingly, a lot. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with

The one potential scandal in the Benghazi incident

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Andrew Rosenthal points out the direction the inquiry should take:

The American public, Greg Sargent pointed out this morning, does not find a presidential scandal in either the Benghazi talking points or the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of right-wing groups seeking a tax-exempt and disclosure-free status.

In a C.N.N. poll released over the weekend, 61 percent of Americans say President Obama’s comments about the I.R.S. investigation were mostly or completely true, and 55 percent say the I.R.S. acted on its own. On Benghazi, 50 percent believe that early statements about the attack reflect what the administration believed at the time, compared with 44 percent – 76 percent of them Republicans – who say officials intentionally misled the public.

But Republicans are clinging to the idea of scandal, especially Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, who is desperately trying to find someone to blame for the murders of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Most recently, Mr. Issa subpoenaed Thomas Pickering, the former United Nations ambassador, who co-authored a review of the Benghazi attacks with Admiral Michael Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Issa’s committee should interview Mr. Pickering, and Mr. Issa is justified in demanding access to a classified version of the Pickering/Mullen report. But he wants to do it behind closed doors and Mr. Pickering wants to have his say in public. So Mr. Issa issued the subpoena, for a private deposition only.

It’s not clear why this all has to take place in private – other than the rather obvious notion that it could allow Republicans to leak Mr. Pickering’s answers selectively.

It is certainly odd that the Pickering-Mullen review team did not interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her deputies, but Mrs. Clinton and several other senior State Department officials have testified before Congress.

Mr. Issa could instead focus on the C.I.A.’s role in the Benghazi tragedy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 12:07 pm

Behinds the scenes of the Facebook IPO

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Quite an interesting story for the business-oriented.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 11:56 am

Posted in Business

Fascinating pattern in math and nature

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This article by Natalie Wolchover, published in Wired Science, is truly fascinating:

In 1999, while sitting at a bus stop in Cuernavaca, Mexico, a Czech physicist named Petr Šeba noticed young men handing slips of paper to the bus drivers in exchange for cash. It wasn’t organized crime, he learned, but another shadow trade: Each driver paid a “spy” to record when the bus ahead of his had departed the stop. If it had left recently, he would slow down, letting passengers accumulate at the next stop. If it had departed long ago, he sped up to keep other buses from passing him. This system maximized profits for the drivers. And it gave Šeba an idea.

“We felt here some kind of similarity with quantum chaotic systems,” explained Šeba’s co-author, Milan Krbálek, in an email.

After several failed attempts to talk to the spies himself, Šeba asked his student to explain to them that he wasn’t a tax collector, or a criminal — he was simply a “crazy” scientist willing to trade tequila for their data. The men handed over their used papers. When the researchers plotted thousands of bus departure times on a computer, their suspicions were confirmed: The interaction between drivers caused the spacing between departures to exhibit a distinctive pattern previously observed in quantum physics experiments.

“I was thinking that something like this could come out, but I was really surprised that it comes exactly,” Šeba said.

Subatomic particles have little to do with decentralized bus systems. But in the years since the odd coupling was discovered, the same pattern has turned up in other unrelated settings. Scientists now believe the widespread phenomenon, known as “universality,” stems from an underlying connection to mathematics, and it is helping them to model complex systems from the internet to Earth’s climate.

The pattern was first discovered in nature in the 1950s in . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 11:46 am

Posted in Science

Why the airplane stories disturb me

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This morning I linked to James Fallows’s report of three recent incidents of persons detained, harassed, and arrested for doing nothing whatsoever wrong. (Obviously this is a rule that applies with greater force to the the power group—white, older, wealthy male—than to, say, a member of an impoverished minority, whom the authorities hassle at will (cf. NYPD stop-and-frisk practices). Still, it was understood: people doing nothing wrong would not be hassled by authorities.

That principle appears in the Constitution, as amended: the 4th amendment against unreasonable search and seizure is one example (and relevant to the case at hand: the searches in theses cases was unreasonable because the pilots in question had done nothing wrong).

The importance of the breakdown of this rule—that if you do no wrong you’ll be left alone—is that we, who do make an effort not to do wrong, have passively acceded to the notion that, while we are not doing anything that is wrong, the authorities nonetheless are free to detain us, search us, hassle us, arrest us, Mace us, and otherwise subject us to humiliation and a feeling of powerlessness.

They have repeatedly shown that they can take such actions against people who have done nothing wrong, which means that they can do it to you, whenever they want, and the fact that you’ve done nothing wrong is irrelevant.

That seems wrong to me, but I see no evidence that this progress toward an authoritarian state is being slowed. Indeed, Obama seems to be accelerating it.

TL;DR: If authorities can hassle you when you do nothing whatsoever wrong, then they can hassle you at any time and you have no defense: you can’t get an answer to “What have I done?” because what you’ve done is not relevant.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

A new twin-primes result

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Amazing, and reported by Erica Klarreich at Wired Science:

On April 17, a paper arrived in the inbox of Annals of Mathematics, one of the discipline’s preeminent journals. Written by a mathematician virtually unknown to the experts in his field — a 50-something lecturer at the University of New Hampshire named Yitang Zhang — the paper claimed to have taken a huge step forward in understanding one of mathematics’ oldest problems, the twin primes conjecture.

Original story reprinted with permission from Simons Science News, an editorially independent division of SimonsFoundation.org, whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Editors of prominent mathematics journals are used to fielding grandiose claims from obscure authors, but this paper was different. Written with crystalline clarity and a total command of the topic’s current state of the art, it was evidently a serious piece of work, and the Annals editors decided to put it on the fast track.

Just three weeks later — a blink of an eye compared to the usual pace of mathematics journals — Zhang received the referee report on his paper.

“The main results are of the first rank,” one of the referees wrote. The author had proved “a landmark theorem in the distribution of prime numbers.”

Rumors swept through the mathematics community that a great advance had been made by a researcher no one seemed to know — someone whose talents had been so overlooked after he earned his doctorate in 1992 that he had found it difficult to get an academic job, working for several years as an accountant and even in a Subway sandwich shop.

“Basically, no one knows him,” said Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the Université de Montréal. “Now, suddenly, he has proved one of the great results in the history of number theory.”

Mathematicians at Harvard University hastily arranged for Zhang to present his work to a packed audience there on May 13. As details of his work have emerged, it has become clear that Zhang achieved his result not via a radically new approach to the problem, but by applying existing methods with great perseverance.

“The big experts in the field had already tried to make this approach work,” Granville said. “He’s not a known expert, but he succeeded where all the experts had failed.”

The Problem of Pairs

Prime numbers — those that have no factors other than 1 and themselves — are the atoms of arithmetic and have fascinated mathematicians since the time of Euclid, who proved more than 2,000 years ago that there are infinitely many of them.

Because prime numbers are fundamentally connected with multiplication, understanding their additive properties can be tricky. Some of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics concern basic questions about primes and addition, such as the twin primes conjecture, which proposes that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by only 2, and the Goldbach conjecture, which proposes that every even number is the sum of two primes. (By an astonishing coincidence, a weaker version of this latter question was settled in a paper posted online by Harald Helfgott of École Normale Supérieure in Paris while Zhang was delivering his Harvard lecture.)

Prime numbers are abundant at the beginning of the number line, but they grow much sparser among large numbers. Of the first 10 numbers, for example, 40 percent are prime — 2, 3, 5 and 7 — but among 10-digit numbers, only about 4 percent are prime. For over a century, mathematicians have understood how the primes taper off on average: Among large numbers, the expected gap between prime numbers is approximately 2.3 times the number of digits; so, for example, among 100-digit numbers, the expected gap between primes is about 230.

But that’s just on average. Primes are often much closer together than the average predicts, or much further apart. In particular, “twin” primes often crop up — pairs such as 3 and 5, or 11 and 13, that differ by only 2. And while such pairs get rarer among larger numbers, twin primes never seem to disappear completely (the largest pair discovered so far is 3,756,801,695,685 x 2666,669 – 1 and 3,756,801,695,685 x 2666,669 + 1).

For hundreds of years, mathematicians have speculated that there are infinitely many twin prime pairs. In 1849, French mathematician Alphonse de Polignac extended this conjecture to the idea that there should be infinitely many prime pairs for any possible finite gap, not just 2.

Since that time, the intrinsic appeal of these conjectures has given them the status of a mathematical holy grail, even though they have no known applications. But despite many efforts at proving them, mathematicians weren’t able to rule out the possibility that the gaps between primes grow and grow, eventually exceeding any particular bound.

Now Zhang has broken through this barrier. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 10:47 am

Posted in Science

7 tools for critical thinking

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Texas Republicans should feel free to skip this post since I am talking about critical thinking skills and the Texas GOP explicitly opposes such skills (for reasons that should be obvious to anyone except Texas Republicans). In an edited extract from his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking that appears in The Guardian, Daniel Dennet explains some basic tools:

1. USE YOUR MISTAKES

We have all heard the forlorn refrain: “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say: “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance. We human beings pride ourselves on our intelligence, and one of its hallmarks is that we can remember our previous thinking and reflect on it – on how it seemed, on why it was tempting in the first place and then about what went wrong.

I know of no evidence to suggest that any other species on the planet can actually think this thought. If they could, they would be almost as smart as we are. So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves) and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions.

Try to acquire the weird practice of savouring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities just so you can then recover from them.

In science, you make your mistakes in public. You show them off so that everybody can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else’s experience, and not just your own idiosyncratic path through the space of mistakes. (Physicist Wolfgang Pauli famously expressed his contempt for the work of a colleague as “not even wrong”. A clear falsehood shared with critics is better than vague mush.)

This, by the way, is another reason why we humans are so much smarter than every other species. It is not so much that our brains are bigger or more powerful, or even that we have the knack of reflecting on our own past errors, but that we share the benefits our individual brains have won by their individual histories of trial and error.

I am amazed at how many really smart people don’t understand that you can make big mistakes in public and emerge none the worse for it. I know distinguished researchers who will go to preposterous lengths to avoid having to acknowledge that they were wrong about something. Actually, people love it when somebody admits to making a mistake. All kinds of people love pointing out mistakes.

Generous-spirited people appreciate your giving them the opportunity to help, and acknowledging it when they succeed in helping you; mean-spirited people enjoy showing you up. Let them! Either way we all win.

2. RESPECT YOUR OPPONENT

Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticising the views of an opponent? If there are obvious contradictions in the opponent’s case, then you should point them out, forcefully. If there are somewhat hidden contradictions, you should carefully expose them to view – and then dump on them. But the search for hidden contradictions often crosses the line into nitpicking, sea-lawyering and outright parody. The thrill of the chase and the conviction that your opponent has to be harbouring a confusion somewhere encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy target to attack.

But such easy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody’s time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters. The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1. Attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said). Following Rapoport’s rules is always, for me, something of a struggle…

3. THE “SURELY” KLAXON

When you’re reading or skimming argumentative essays, especially by philosophers, here is a quick trick that may save you much time and effort, especially in this age of simple searching by computer: look for “surely” in the document and check each occurrence. Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument.

Why? Because it marks the very edge of what the author is actually sure about and hopes readers will also be sure about. (If the author were really sure all the readers would agree, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.) Being at the edge, the author has had to make a judgment call about whether or not to attempt to demonstrate the point at issue, or provide evidence for it, and – because life is short – has decided in favour of bald assertion, with the presumably well-grounded anticipation of agreement. Just the sort of place to find an ill-examined “truism” that isn’t true!

4. ANSWER RHETORICAL QUESTIONS . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 10:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Constructive approach to wing-nuts (of both Left and Right)

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Wing-nuts are difficult to engage: if you lay out a case, using available evidence and careful argument, you may be met with something like a recent comment made by Dave on this blog:

You are a worthless piece of socialist shit. Have a nice day

This doesn’t exactly respond to the substance of the post, but I fear many are only capable of this level discourse: their education (if any) had little effect on their minds (or their manners, for that matter). This kind of handicap is often revealed by the adjectives used: “socialist” is a favorite of wing-nuts of the Right, “fascist” of wing-nuts of the Left. Substantive arguments are ignored in favor of personal vituperation and a tantrum most often demonstrated by 2-year-old toddlers—and from the same cause: feeling terribly wronged but unable to explain why. And that turns out to be the key, as Cass Sunstein explains in this column:

There is no standard definition of the all-important term “wing nut,” so let’s provide one. A wing nut is someone who has a dogmatic commitment to an extreme political view (“wing”) that is false and at least a bit crazy (“nut”).

A wing nut might believe that George W. Bush is a fascist, that Barack Obama is a socialist, that big banks run the Department of the Treasury or that the U.S. intervened in Libya because of oil. [One minor caveat: Big banks do indeed run the Dept of Treasury, as the merest glance at the affiliations and actions of recent Secretaries of Treasury (under both GOP and Democratic Administrations) have clearly demonstrated. – LG]

When wing nuts encounter people with whom they disagree, they immediately impugn their opponents’ motivations. Whatever their religion, they are devout Manicheans, dividing their fellow citizens into the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Wing nuts have a lot of fellow travelers — people who don’t fit the definition, yet who are similarly dogmatic and whose views, though not really crazy, aren’t exactly evidence-based. You can be a wing nut on a particular issue without being a wing nut in general. Most human beings can hear the voice, at least on occasion, of their inner wing nut.

The good news is that wing nuts usually don’t matter. The bad news is that they influence people who do. Sadly, more information often fails to correct people’s misunderstandings. In fact, it can backfire and entrench them. Can anything be done?

Stunning Conclusion

For a positive answer, consider an intriguing study by Philip Fernbach, a University of Colorado business school professor, and his colleagues. Their central finding is that if you ask people to explain exactly why they think as they do, they discover how much they don’t know — and they become more humble and therefore more moderate.

The study came in four stages. First, people were asked to state their positions on a series of political issues, including a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, a national flat tax, merit-based pay for teachers and unilateral sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. They were asked to describe their position on a seven-point scale whose endpoints were “strongly in favor” and “strongly opposed.”

Second, people were asked to rate their degree of understanding of each issue on a seven-point scale. The third step was the crucial one; they were asked to “describe all the details you know about [for example, the impact of instituting a ‘cap and trade’ system for carbon emissions], going from the first step to the last, and providing the causal connection between the steps.” Fourth, people were asked to rerate their understanding on the seven-point scale and to restate their position on the relevant issue.

The results were stunning. . .

Continue reading. It’s important. Later in the article:

What produces an increase in humility, and hence moderation, is a request for an explanation of the causal mechanisms that underlie people’s beliefs.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 10:25 am

Posted in Education, Politics

How “Mission Accomplished” looks on the ground

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Juan Cole posts at Informed Comment:

Bombings killed at least 95 people on Monday in Iraq, with 10 car bombs going off in the capital of Baghdad alone. Two car bombs were detonated in the southern Shiite port city of Basra, and the mostly Sunni city of Samarra north of the capital was also attacked. Most of the violence seems to have been aimed at Shiites.

Associated Press reports:

The Sunni-Shiite violence is a legacy of the way George W. Bush and the Neoconservatives governed Iraq in 2003-2008. They deliberately installed the Shiites in power, in an exclusivist sort of way. I remember Neoconservative strategist Marc Gerecht Reuel talking about the goal of putting the Shiites in power. His colleague James Woolsey, a former CIA head, upbraided me at a conference for pointing out that some Iraqi Shiite groups are closely tied to the ayatollahs in Iran. I read somewhere that the Neoconservatives were convinced that unlike the Sunni Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, who sympathized with the Palestinians, the Shiite Iraqis as a functional minority would sympathize with Israel’s Jews. The Neocons were real cut-ups, with all kinds of fancy theories unconnected to reality.

The Americans played strong favorites for years. They avoided having a truth and reconciliation process. They castigated the Sunni Arabs, many of whom had had ties to the Baath Party (r. 1968-2003), as little short of Nazis, and encouraged the Shiites to fire thousands of them from government employment. At the same time the Americans closed down state factories and created massive unemployment. A ‘Debaathification Commission’ fired thousands of Sunni schoolteachers and brought in Shiite cronies instead.

Whereas in South Africa the truth and reconciliation commission sought truth over punishment, in Iraq the ascendant Shiites marginalized and victimized Sunnis with ties to the old Baath (or even just ties to Sunnis who had ties to . . .)

Those Sunnis who formed cells to engage in bombings and sniping to get the Americans back out, bequeathed a legacy of such cells, which remain active, now aimed at preventing the Shiite establishment that inherited Iraq from enjoying its ascendancy.

In all of Iraqi history from the Sumerians until 2003 there had never been a suicide bombing in that country. The technique was adopted to fight Bush’s occupation, having been pioneered by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

And now, having screwed up Iraq royally over years, Americans can’t be bothered to even report on events there in more than a sentence on their television news. . .

Continue reading. Those in the Bush Administration guilty for creating the conditions for these atrocities will never face any accountability for their actions.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 10:01 am

A fatally compromised regulator

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The last thing we need: a regulator who assists the regulated companies to avoid regulations . But that’s what we have, as David Dayen explains in The American Prospect:

As we trudge through the swamp of disappointment that defines Dodd-Frank implementation, the liberal commentariat has lately seized upon a new meme; Wall Street lobbyists are responsible for gutting Dodd-Frank behind closed doors. Big-pocketed firms deploy phalanxes of clever lawyers and influence peddlers that easily outpace reformers, ensuring that the regulations ultimately written are sufficiently de-fanged to allow the financial industry to conduct their business with few, if any, restrictions. The lobbyists, and mostly the lobbyists alone, bear responsibility.

Witness the most recent rollback of Dodd-Frank, a compromise on derivatives regulations by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The New York Times’ Ben Protess makes the culprit clear in his Page 1 report: “Under pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, federal regulators have agreed to soften a rule intended to rein in the banking industry’s domination of a risky market.” (Emphasis mine).

But this gets things backwards. Concessions aren’t made without a regulator willing to sit across the table from Mr. Wall Street Lobbyist and agree to their suggestions. And indeed, in the case of the derivatives regulations, one Democratic commissioner on the CFTC, Mark Wetjen, basically forced through the weaker rules by himself. The importance of actually naming the source of the problem is even more magnified here, because Wetjen is in line to replace Chairman Gary Gensler and run the CFTC. With 63 percent of Dodd-Frank rules still unwritten by regulators, a bank-friendly chairman overseeing derivatives would surely erode at an already diluted law. Reformers may have arguments for treading lightly rather than singling out specific bad actors, but I don’t see why the press facilitates it. The public really needs to know exactly who is responsible for these cracks in the regulatory foundation.

The regulations in question concern how to manage derivatives—the bets on bets that accelerated the financial crisis when the housing bubble collapsed. While the derivatives market previously resembled the Wild West, Dodd-Frank’s Section 716 sought to increase transparency by running derivatives through a central clearinghouse called a “swap execution facility” (SEF), with trade information available to all market participants after the fact. CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler also envisioned making all bids for derivatives contracts public before the trade. But those dreaded “Wall Street lobbyists”—actually, the two Republicans on the five-member commission and Democrat Mark Wetjen—forced a compromise system called “Request for Quotes,” or RFQ.

Under RFQ, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 9:57 am

Posted in Business, Government

Suspicious behavior calling for massive response: Flying east from California

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The US is closing down as a free society at an amazing rate. James Fallows has given three recent examples of how pilots of small aircraft are treated as potential terrorists despite having done nothing wrong: authoritarian agencies simply like to exercise their power over citizens—and there is no accountability, so it will get worse. Read Fallows’s post today, which begins:

Over the weekend I related the story of Gabriel Silverstein, a businessman and pilot who for no apparent reason was subjected to a two-hour detention and invasive search by Homeland Security officials as he traveled across the country in his small plane. The picture above is not from that episode; it’s an official DHS photo of its emergency-response agents being trained.
Below and after the jump are two additional stories of the same sort. The first is a long account from Larry Gaines, a small-plane pilot from California who had a similar episode last year. The story is long and detailed, and will be riveting for those in the aviation world. The summary for general readers is this.
  • A private pilot set out from an airport in the Sierra foothills of California, headed to Oklahoma;
  • He made the trip “VFR” — under visual flight rules, choosing his own path and knowing that he did not need to check in with air-traffic controllers as long as he stayed out of certain kinds of airspace (around big airports, in military zones, or subject to other restrictions).
  • He eventually landed at a tiny little airport in rural Oklahoma, where a friend met him and took him home for dinner.
  • The pilot realized that he had dropped his eyeglass case at the airport and went back to retrieve it.
  • At which point all hell broke loose, as he describes in detail. In short, local, county, and federal enforcement agents were there to inspect him and his plane — and when he asked why, they said that his “suspicious” profile was “flight west to east, from California.”
Again to put this in perspective for people outside the airplane world, a person who was doing absolutely nothing illegal and was embarked on a perfectly normal trip from place to place, became the object of an extensive and costly manhunt — on grounds of general “suspicion.” As he says at the end of his account (taken from an email to a friend):
The whole episode lasted about 2 hours.  While the officers who questioned me were not overtly or personally threatening, the situation was intimidating and threatening.  I was never told details of the “profile”, so I don’t know how to prevent this from happening again, aside from talking to federal employees at all times while flying.  I am concerned that DEA and DHS now have files on me.  This distresses me GREATLY.  I am equally concerned that my plane’s tail number is now suspicious in the eyes of law enforcement….
[He adds this caveat in a follow up note:] Although my adrenaline gets going when I think about this whole mess, and I can read the US Constitution, I have ENORMOUS respect for the rule of law and for the men and women who put their asses in harm’s way to help assure my safety.  That includes local, state, & federal law enforcement agents, as well as our military.  The people who should answer for this crap are the cowardly bureaucrats who sent all those men, vehicles, airplanes, dogs, and guns out there – not the men dispatched to the scene.

His full account after the jump. After that is the second case, from Clay Phillips, a retired Navy officer who had a similar experience.

To say it again: I am not contending that the aviation world is being inordinately picked-upon. Overall it is a privileged part of society — and demographically it skews toward older white males who are politically conservative, have money, and often have military experience. Ie, these are people who are not generally the object of police profiling for terrorist or other criminal tendencies. So if the security state is leaning heavily on them, you can extrapolate to other groups. The stories begin below.
____

Here is the first story. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 9:54 am

Bad photo, great shave

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SOTD 21 May 2013

I noticed that my camera’s battery had very little charge, and I suspect that’s the source of the dim image.

The WSP Stubby brush did a great job. And I have to say that Wet Shaving Products makes exceptionally good shaving brushes. I have bought three, and this morning ordered a fourth: a Baroness.  This is a brush maker to watch.

I got a fine lather from Kell’s Original Hemp+Aloe Blend Almond shaving soap, and the almond fragrance was strong and pleasing. Three passes with my Eclipse Red Ring holding a Personna Lab Blue blade left my beard BBS. A splash of Klar Seifen Klassik and I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2013 at 9:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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