Later On

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

Archive for March 18th, 2014

Good look at a disruptive technology in action

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The goal is to find a way to stabilize things equitably. That will take some experimentation to see what works, what has unintended consequences, and so on. Here’s a good description of what Seattle’s trying.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 7:14 pm

A Ref Wouldn’t Let This Girl Play in Her Hijab — Here’s How Her Team Responded

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They follow in the footsteps of another use of the tactic, by the Danes in WWII. When the Nazi occupiers instituted the rule that every Jew must wear a yellow Star of David on his/her sleeve, all the Danish people turned out that day wearing the emblem. While required of Jews, it was certainly not forbidden to others, and the Danish nation marched through the loophole, led by the king. And Denmark was to be the model protectorate, showing how benign Nazi rule was. That made the Danish Resistance particularly awkward.

A wonderful response, in any event.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Going too far

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Read it. And of course every click you make is logged. It does suggest that the purpose of life is to consume goods, though.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 6:53 pm

A wonderful vindication of a scientific theory

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For an explanation of the comments and the story behind the video, see this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Life goes on: Rootworms evolve that are unaffected by Bt corn

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Brandon Keim reports at Wired:

One of agricultural biotechnology’s great success stories may become a cautionary tale of how short-sighted mismanagement can squander the benefits of genetic modification.

After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.

Until Bt corn was genetically altered to be poisonous to the pests, rootworms used to cause billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops. Named for the pesticidal toxin-producing Bacillus thuringiensis gene it contains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop. The vulnerability of this corn could be disastrous for farmers and the environment.

“Unless management practices change, it’s only going to get worse,” said Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist and co-author of a March 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study describing rootworm resistance. “There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used.”

First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.

By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.

Key to effective management, said the scientists, were refuges set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool.

But the scientists’ own recommendations — an advisory panel convened in 2002 by the EPA suggested that a full 50 percent of each corn farmer’s fields be devoted to these non-Bt refuges — were resisted by seed companies and eventually the EPA itself, which set voluntary refuge guidelines at between 5 and 20 percent. Many farmers didn’t even follow those recommendations. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that a great amount of corn is grown across the Bible Belt, where people often reject evolution in favor of Intelligent Design, with God taking the role of species-maker. What are those people going to do with this new variety of Bt-resistant of rootworm? So far as I can see, they can view the evidence from one of two perspectives: evolution naturally has occurred, with the Bt resistant mutation having significant survival advantages, etc. Or, it is equally consistent with God stepping in to make rootworms Bt-resistant, presumably in furtherance of a divine plan. Either interpretation fits the observations.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 3:23 pm

A true violation of religious liberty, and no one seems to care

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The same people who think that a greeting of “Happy holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” is a perfect example of how the religious are persecuted in this country seem not to care about actual infringements of religious liberty. I imagine that it’s the reason these same people hate the ACLU: they don’t want to support outcasts and marginalized people even when they are in the right.

Matthew Bruenig writes in Salon:

A federal judge in Missouri dealt a huge blow to religious liberty last week when he upheld a law forbidding individuals from picketing within 100 yards of a funeral. Passed nearly a decade ago, the law is clearly targeted to prevent members of the Westboro Baptist Church from practicing their religion, a religion that they claim commands them to provide witness at funerals.

This effort to destroy the religious liberty of the Westboro Baptist Church comes on the heels of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s recent decision to (according to some) destroy the religious liberty of business owners by vetoing a law that would endorse their ability to discriminate against gay people. Conservatives cried oceans of tears at the prospect of enforcing economic anti-discrimination against bigot bakers, citing their abstract commitment to content-neutral religious liberty. Yet, here we are presented with exactly the same situation, and conservatives are strangely quiet.

Their quiet is particularly odd because the Missouri law targeting the WBC is a much greater infringement on religious liberty than economic anti-discrimination laws are.

In the case of economic anti-discrimination, the law neither forbids individuals from doing things required by their religious beliefs nor forces individuals to do things that are prohibited by their religious beliefs. Individuals with religious objections to operating discrimination-free businesses are free not to operate a business. Nobody forces them to do so. Insofar as religions don’t require individuals to open businesses, anti-discrimination regulations that dissuade them from doing so do not keep them from adhering to their religion either.

In the case of the funeral rules though, the law is forbidding the WBC from doing things required by their religious beliefs. From their voluminous TV interviews, it is clear that their deeply held religious beliefs command them to witness at funerals in the manner that they do. It is an article of their faith that they must spread the truth of God’s condemnation of America’s embrace of homosexuality and worship of the military at funerals, especially those of dead American soldiers whose deaths they regard as a function of God’s punishment of America. But now Missouri law forbids them from doing so.

So the funeral anti-picketing law actually forbids people from doing things that are specifically required by their religious beliefs while economic anti-discrimination law does not. The anti-picketing law generates a world where the WBC must necessarily violate the commandments of their religion while the anti-discrimination law does not. If you seriously believed in the principle of content-neutral religious liberty, the WBC case would be far more troubling and elicit far more outrage. Yet somehow it doesn’t.

The reason why it doesn’t is not mysterious. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

What Would Plato Tweet?

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Interesting NY Times column by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein:

It began when a writer friend asked me what my Klout score was. We were sitting at the sushi bar of a Japanese restaurant, the master chef assembling edible origami of torched fish and foam. My husband and I used to patronize this neighborhood place quite a lot, until a restaurant critic ruined it for us by his unrestrained rave, so that now you have to make reservations months in advance. But my friend had magically procured us two seats just like that, and when I asked him for the secret of his influence he responded by asking me about my Klout score.

I didn’t know what a Klout score was, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have one. And yes, under his raised-eyebrow questioning, it was revealed that since I didn’t use Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media by which a website called Klout calculates your online influence, my score was probably low to nonexistent.

On either side of us, diners were pointing their cellphones at their plates, taking pictures to be posted on their Facebook pages or Instagram accounts. I knew that’s what they were doing. People have taken to putting themselves out there in all kinds of ways, producing — in words, pictures, videos — the shared stories of their lives as they are transpiring. They disseminate their thoughts and deeds, large and small (sometimes very small), in what can seem like a perpetual plea for attention. I wasn’t that out of touch that I didn’t know about the large cultural changes that had overtaken our society while my attention was directed elsewhere.The elsewhere was ancient Greece. For the past few years I’d been obsessed with trying to figure out what lay behind the spectacular achievements that had occurred there. In a mere couple of centuries, Greek speakers went from anomie and illiteracy, lacking even an alphabet, to Aeschylus and Aristotle. They invented not only the discipline of philosophy, but also science, mathematics, the study of history (as opposed to mere chronicles) and that special form of government they called democracy — literally rule of the people (though it goes without saying that “the people” didn’t include women and slaves). They also produced timeless art, architecture, poetry and drama. What lay behind the explosive ambition and achievement? I’d always planned eventually to catch up on the changes that were going on all around me — once I’d gotten the ancient Greeks out of my system.

Only now did it occur to me that I might be able to arrive at some contemporary perspective precisely because I hadn’t gotten the Greeks out of my system. Parallels between their extraordinary time and our extraordinary time were suddenly making themselves felt.

For starters, the Klout on which my friend prided himself struck me as markedly similar to what the Greeks had called kleos. The word comes from the old Homeric word for “I hear,” and it meant a kind of auditory renown. Vulgarly speaking, it was fame. But it also could mean the glorious deed that merited the fame, as well as the poem that sang of the deed and so produced the fame. The medium, the message, and the impact: all merged into one shining concept.

Kleos lay very near the core of the Greek value system. Their value system was at least partly motivated, as perhaps all value systems are partly motivated, by the human need to feel as if our lives matter. A little perspective, which the Greeks certainly had, reveals what brief and feeble things our lives are. As the old Jewish joke has it, the food here is terrible — and such small portions! What can we do to give our lives a moreness that will help withstand the eons of time that will soon cover us over, blotting out the fact that we ever existed at all? Really, why did we bother to show up for our existence in the first place? The Greek speakers were as obsessed with this question as we are.

And like so many of us now, they approached this question secularly. Despite their culture’s being saturated with religious rituals, they didn’t turn to their notoriously unreliable immortals for assurance that they mattered. They didn’t really want immortal attention. Something terrible usually happened when they attracted a divine eye. That’s what all those rituals were trying toprevent. Rather, what they wanted was the attention of other mortals. All that we can do to enlarge our lives, they concluded, is to strive to make of them things worth the telling, the stuff of stories that will make an impact on other mortal minds, so that, being replicated there, our lives will take on moreness. The more outstanding you were, the more mental replication of you there would be, and the more replication, the more you mattered.

Not everybody back then was approaching this question of mattering in mortal terms. Contemporaneous with the Greeks, and right across the Mediterranean from them, was a still obscure tribe that called themselves the Ivrim, the Hebrews, apparently from their word for “over,” since they were over on the other side of the Jordan. And over there they worked out their notion of a covenantal relationship with one of their tribal gods whom they eventually elevated to the position of the one and only God, the Master of the Universe, providing the foundation for both the physical world without and the moral world within. From his position of remotest transcendence, this god nevertheless maintains a rapt interest in human concerns, harboring many intentions directed at us, his creations, who embody nothing less than his reasons for going to the trouble of creating the world ex nihilo. He takes us (almost) as seriously as we take us. Having your life replicated in his all-seeing, all-judging mind, terrifying as the thought might be, would certainly confer a significant quantity of moreness.

And then there was a third approach to the problem of mattering, which also emerged in ancient Greece. It, too, was secular, approaching the problem in strictly mortal terms. I’m speaking about Greek philosophy, which was Greek enough to buy into thekleos-like assumption that none of us are born into mattering but rather have to achieve it (“the unexamined life is not worth living”) and that the achievement does indeed demand outsize ambition and effort, requiring you to make of yourself something extraordinary. But Greek philosophy also represented a departure from its own culture. Mattering wasn’t acquired by gatheringattention of any kind, mortal or immortal. Acquiring mattering was something people had to do for themselves, cultivating such virtuous qualities of character as justice and wisdom. They had to put their own souls in order. This demands hard work, since simply to understand the nature of justice and wisdom, which is the first order of business, taxes our limits, not to speak of then acting on our conclusions. And the effort may not win us any kleos. Socrates got himself a cupful of hemlock. He drank it calmly, unperturbed by his low ratings. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life

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