Later On

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

Archive for October 5th, 2013

A Top Mormon Leader Acknowledges the Church ‘Made Mistakes’

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A very interesting development, brought about in part (as the story sort of suggests) by the ready access to information and other points of view that the Internet offers.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Religion

Interesting insight into how the news game is played

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We don’t see reports like this one very often, because of course the media does not print reports that reveal the constructed mechanisms they use to infuse the news with conflict, because conflict is what sells. Without conflict, news is boring. So, naturally enough, reporters/editors/papers/programs/networks in effect are business competitors in the news market, and thus are competing for audience share. Audiences want to see conflict, so they start competing to see who can present the  dramatic conflicts (or cliffhangers: there obviously are several different audience-pleasing templates into which a story can be sorted; romance, there’s another; tragic deaht; etc.). An obvious (and somewhat extreme) example of constant conflict all the time is Fox News. But the Sunday talk shows do it, too. When I happen to see one, I don’t recognize it because it’s ludicrous: today there’s no pretense of sharing ideas or seeking to understand and figure out the real disagreement or whatever—there’s really no listening at all. Instead, you have the presenters/guests talking over each other, interrupting each other, shouting slogans, ignoring questions: totall conflict. But back in the day, that sort of behavior would have been inconceivable—“uncivilized” would probably be the term used, or “discourteous” or the like. These were harsher criticisms than they sound, because making a serious judgment about a person, in terms of how s/he measures against understood standards of behavior and in keeping with respect and common decency. Perhaps the apotheosis of where the evolution of this meme has gone, consider Fox News: all conflict, all the time. It’s the 24/7 conflict channel. But when you look around, you see all the media exploit (and encourage) conflict to some degree. “Senator? How do you respond to Sen. X’s statement that… ” and the most provocative version of the statement comes out to get a solid counter-quote and get the conflict rolling. Then the two will be invited to competing Sunday talk shows, and be encouraged through questions to make new advances in the conflict. Conflict sells, and businesses are competing.

The result, of course, is that the extremes grow: people are pushed to extremes by the constant diet of conflict. The Eldest was telling me this, but I wasn’t getting it. I guess it just needed time to gestate.

Once you see the role journalism plays… well, you‘ve seen the man behind the curtain. Like seeing how the vase is two faces in profile: once you see both ways of looking at the image, you then can look at it either way. The same with news: you can see the content and accept it as presented, or you can look at it with an eye out for manufactured conflict. You start to see that the important slant is not toward liberal or conservative; it’s the slant toward conflict. That‘s the slant they play to grab audiences, and then the audiences then become accustomed (and addicted) to a certain level of conflict, and then want more.

And by God, this time they’ve got it. They’ve (in effect) worked toward this for years, egging them on: “Let’s you and him fight.” And now we have a good chance the US will default on its debt. What a story! People will be glued to their TV sets. But perhaps a bit more conflict than we really wanted.

Well, perhaps journalism is not totally responsible for the upcoming debt default, but it certainly greased the skids. Which is the point of the linked article, which I’ve more or less summarized above—that’s what the article looks like filtered through my mind and sort of getting mixed in with the (fascinating) book I’m reading, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constituitonal System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. Indeed, what I wrote above is the point of the early part of the book, which describes exactly how it worked: the role of journalism in creating the first shutdown threat in 2011 is exactly what they describe.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 8:03 pm

Solar energy charges ahead

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Interesting post from Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

The recent UN report on climate change points out that the world does not have much time to switch to renewables if it is to avoid catastrophes stemming from global warming. Climate change is being driven by human beings burning coal, gas and petroleum, and we need to stop doing that ASAP. The most plausible path to green energy is solar panels, which are rapidly falling in price and rising in efficiency. My guess is that no one will bother with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas in only a few years because solar panels will be much cheaper. Propagandists will try to convince you that solar is not important (because it is only recently growing by leaps and bounds and so is still a small part of the world’s energy mix). But that would be like complaining in April of 2010 that there weren’t many iPad tablets in consumers’ hand compared to laptop computers. The iPad was only introduced at the beginning of that month. Over three years later the world is flooded with them. Solar panels will be far more popular than iPads over time.

The sheer scale of the building out of solar capacity in various parts of the world now is mind-boggling. Here are ten items that give a sense of that scale:

1. Worldwide in 2013, it is expected that 33 gigawatts of wind power will be added But as much as 38 gigawatts of solar could be added, so that solar is beginning to outstrip wind. Since there is far more energy available from the sun than there is wind energy, this surge of solar is good news for renewables. The world uses roughly 15,000 gigawatts of energy, so we need to vastly expand the number and rate of solar installations, but their present growth is eye-popping compared to just a few years ago.

2. The price of solar panels in the US fell by 60% from January 2011 until June of 2013. Some observers suggest that we are seeing a Moore’s law for solar panels, by analogy to the principle in computer processing that data density doubles every 18 months. The efficiency of the panels has begun doubling every 2.5 years, and the cost is likewise falling rapidly.

3. India is building the largest solar farm in the world in the desert of Rajasthan, with a capacity of 4 gigawatts. It will double India’s current solar power generation (though other big solar projects are planned by state governments). It will also sell electricity at a cheaper rate than other solar installations in that country. The enormous solar complex will be four times larger than the 10 biggest such American installations. India is expected to add 2.8 gigawatts of solar power in 2014 alone.

4. Some 70% of solar power in India is now sited in Gujarat state in the country’s northwest. It has almost 1 gigawatt in solar power, filling some 4 percent of its electricity needs, and has big plans for the expansion of solar power.

5. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 10:26 am

Mathematics and its objects

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Math has always fascinated me. It has the feeling of being outside ourselves, and yet clearly it’s a mental construct that (as it turns out) stands uneasily on its foundations, as Gödel (for one) established. But there are amazing things in it—the Omega numbers, for example. (More information through the external links at the bottom of the linked article.)

One odd thing is how statements that seem perfectly clear contain logical fallacies: The set of all sets that do not contain themselves as elements, for example, seems perfectly clear, and indeed sets that do not contain themselves as elements are common: the set {1, 2, 3} contains the first three positive integers, but it does not contain that set as an element. So sets of this sort are common, and thus one can think of the set of all sets of that sort—that don’t contain themselves as elements. Call it “Bogus.”

The question, then, is this: Does Bogus contain itself. If not, then yes; if yes, then not. Weird. The concept that seemed so clear turns out to make no sense at all: it embodies a logical contradiction. (Charles Hartshorne observed that the same problem arises in sloppy attribution to God of various characteristics. Indeed, one of his books is title Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes—as he showed, the property “omnipotent,” like “the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves as elements,” contains a contradiction within itself.

And yet… Clarence Wyle wrote a nice sonnet on the oddity of something in our heads turning up constantly in the world:


Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
In my novitiate, as young men called
To holy orders must abjure the world.
“If …, then,” this only I assert;
And my successes are but pretty chains
Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask
If what I postulate be justified
Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl
In two dimensions. And such triumphs stem
In no small measure from the power this game,
Played with the thrice attenuated shades
Of things, has over their originals.
How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 9:59 am

Posted in Math

Reading good literature may aid in understanding others

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Interesting finding reported by Bruce Bower in Science News:

Think of it as the bookworm’s bonus: People who read first-rate fiction become more socially literate, at least briefly, a new study suggests.

Researchers randomly assigned nearly 700 volunteers to read excerpts of “literary” novels by recent National Book Award finalists and other celebrated authors, to read parts of fiction best sellers or popular nonfiction books, or to not read anything. Those who read literary works then scored highest on several tests of the ability to decipher others’ motives and emotions, say David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

One test asked volunteers to describe the thoughts or feelings of one or two individuals shown surrounded by various items in a series of images, based on written and visual clues. In another test, participants tried to match emotion words to facial expressions shown for two seconds on a computer screen.

By prompting readers to ponder characters’ motives and emotions, literary fiction recruits mind-reading skills used in daily encounters, Kidd and Castano propose October 3 in Science. The researchers don’t know whether regularly reading literary fiction yields lasting mind-reading upgrades.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

BBS with my other bakelite slant

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SOTD 5 Oct 2013 is sort of a featured vendor today: that the Vintage Blades private label silvertip badger brush and shaving soap. “Private label” is a bit of a misnomer: neither product carries a label, but that’s where they’re from, and they’re both quite good. An immediate good lather from the shaving soap (light lavender fragrance, I’d say), and then three smooth passes of the Bakelite slant (the Merkur rather than the Eros) hold a Personna Lab Blue blade. A good splash of Annik Goutal and I’m set for the day.

It’s a big day, too. A friend’s daughter is having una fiesta quinceañria today, and The Wife and I are attending. It’s my first time at one, and I’m looking forward to it. ,

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2013 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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