Later On

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

Archive for May 26th, 2014

One idea about Don Quijote being the first novel

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I often write and think about the part of our human identity is the flesh-and-blood animal and its various systems, and part is the stored accumulation of patterns based on human-created culture: the part of the human that works with memes and, to some extent, is one. For example, finding a cultural difference to be an enormous barrier to love and marriage, for example: every part of that is culture-dependent and a cultural construct. Indeed, the plots of many stories must change in translating it from one culture to another.

And in mulling over Don Quijote, as one does, it struck me that Cervantes was the first author to write specifically about these culturally based personae as separable from the flesh and blood self. For example, the novel is replete with examples of discussion of the level of the roles—Don Quijote insanely pretending to be insane: the very pretense proves the insanity, since he is mimicking a hero’s behavior from a published fiction: one of the romances of chivalry that drove him mad. (Don Quijote is a book about books.)

Not that Cervantes knew memes explicitly, but he clearly understood the separate natures of the physical object on the one hand and its cultural meaning on the other. Thus Don Juan sees a common brass barber’s basin as the Helmet of Mambrino—and in so doing, Don Quijote peels off the cultural meme of the Helmet of Mambrino, which has a cultural meaning distinct from the physical object—as does the Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond is not just a large diamond, it is also the cultural layer: the backstory (which is part of our culture and obviously consists of memes, since it is repeated). And, of course the Helmet of Mabrino, like the unicorn, exists only at the cultural level, which means there’s no problem in attaching it to that particular physical object. It’s not like they’re going to run into a real Helmet of Mambrino: it’s from a work of fiction. There is no real one—until Don Quijote made one.

This play with the cultural levels and means—and even, in the Second Part, encountering people who had read the first part and thus knew about him and his madness: celebrity stuff, definitely a cultural construct.

I think writing about the cultural vs. physical layers of human reality quite clearly and consciously was a first. Human reality is a reality that includes (say) unicorns—as cultural constructs. Unicorns obviously exist in the culture at large: I write the word, you picture the animal and know that it has a cultural existence (encountered cultural creations such as stories, songs, statuettes, videos, etc.) but no physical existence. Though unicorns are common in culture, they’re non-existent in the physical world. What’s strange is that there are similar cultural creations that are attached to a physical object, either generally (all cows, for example) or specifically (the Hope Diamond, for example), and that the human part of us is one such creation, one that is constantly modified—but then I suppose that’s true for all cultural creations.

And I think Cervantes saw that and wrote about it in Don Quijote.

UPDATE: The physical world can affect the cultural world, of course: sacred groves and other ritually significant spots: Lourdes, to use a modern example. And obviously the cultural world can affect the physical world: one immediately thinks of Stonehenge and St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Notre Dame, but any building serves equally well to demonstrate the physical effect of a cultural cause. Indeed, it’s not only the external world that’s changed, but our bodies as well: the string player’s calluses, the hippocampus of taxi drivers: as the drivers learn more routes, their brain changes (because its structures are shaped by patterns: thus we learn skills). Of course, the driver is remembering something of the physical world (routes). I wonder whether one living strictly in the cultural world would be physically changed.  Certainly Don Quijote lived in the fictional novels of chivalry, and he went mad. I assume one must maintain a closer connection to the physical world rather than relying too heavily on the cultural world.

UPDATE: The ideas about meme and culture are discussed in greater detail in The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment, by Kate Distin (Cambridge University Press). It seem to me that our human identity as a participant in human culture is simply an ever-changing collection of memes. We pick them up with modifications (from transmission errors and social noise) and we are, in terms of human culture, the patterns of those memes we’ve acquired. Our selves, like any forest, is in a constant state of change, things dying away, new things coming forth, and shaped by interactions with others, either in person or mediated by languages, things, environments we create, and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2014 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Why the proprietor shut down Lavabit

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Ladar Levison writes in The Guardian:

My legal saga started last summer with a knock at the door, behind which stood two federal agents ready to to serve me with a court order requiring the installation of surveillance equipment on my company’s network.

My company, Lavabit, provided email services to 410,000 people – including Edward Snowden, according to news reports – and thrived by offering features specifically designed to protect the privacy and security of its customers. I had no choice but to consent to the installation of their device, which would hand the US government access to all of the messages – to and from all of my customers – as they travelled between their email accounts other providers on the Internet.

But that wasn’t enough. The federal agents then claimed that their court order required me to surrender my company’s private encryption keys, and I balked. What they said they needed were customer passwords – which were sent securely – so that they could access the plain-text versions of messages from customers using my company’s encrypted storage feature. (The government would later claim they only made this demand because of my “noncompliance”.)

Bothered by what the agents were saying, I informed them that I would first need to read the order they had just delivered – and then consult with an attorney. The feds seemed surprised by my hesitation.

What ensued was a flurry of legal proceedings that would last 38 days, ending not only my startup but also destroying, bit by bit, the very principle upon which I founded it – that we all have a right to personal privacy.

In the first two weeks, I was served legal papers a total of seven times and was in contact with the FBI every other day. (This was the period a prosecutor would later characterize as my “period of silence”.) It took a week for me to identify an attorney who could adequately represent me, given the complex technological and legal issues involved – and we were in contact for less than a day when agents served me with a summons ordering me to appear in a Virginia courtroom, over 1,000 miles from my home. Two days later, I was served the first subpoena for the encryption keys.

With such short notice, my first attorney was unable to appear alongside me in court. Because the whole case was under seal, I couldn’t even admit to anyone who wasn’t an attorney that I needed a lawyer, let alone why. In the days before my appearance, I would spend hours repeating the facts of the case to a dozen attorneys, as I sought someone else that was qualified to represent me. I also discovered that as a third party in a federal criminal indictment, I had no right to counsel. After all, only my property was in jeopardy – not my liberty. Finally, I was forced to choose between appearing alone or facing a bench warrant for my arrest.

In Virginia, the government replaced its encryption key subpoena with a search warrant and a new court date. I retained a small, local law firm before I went back to my home state, which was then forced to assemble a legal strategy and file briefs in just a few short days. The court barred them from consulting outside experts about either the statutes or the technology involved in the case. The court didn’t even deliver transcripts of my first appearance to my own lawyers for two months, and forced them to proceed without access to the information they needed.

Then, a federal judge entered an order of contempt against me – without even so much as a hearing.

But the judge created a loophole: without a hearing, I was never given the opportunity to object, let alone make any any substantive defense, to the contempt change. Without any objection (because I wasn’t allowed a hearing), the appellate court waived consideration of the substantive questions my case raised – and upheld the contempt charge, on the grounds that I hadn’t disputed it in court. Since the US supreme court traditionally declines to review decided on wholly procedural grounds, I will be permanently denied justice.

In the meantime, I had a hard decision to make. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2014 at 6:09 pm

Reverse Robin-Hoodism

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Paul Krugman has an excellent column today:

, , , European economies, France in particular, get very bad press in America. Our political discourse is dominated by reverse Robin-Hoodism — the belief that economic success depends on being nice to the rich, who won’t create jobs if they are heavily taxed, and nasty to ordinary workers, who won’t accept jobs unless they have no alternative. And according to this ideology, Europe — with its high taxes and generous welfare states — does everything wrong. So Europe’s economic system must be collapsing, and a lot of reporting simply states the postulated collapse as a fact.

The reality, however, is very different. Yes, Southern Europe is experiencing an economic crisis thanks to that money muddle. But Northern European nations, France included, have done far better than most Americans realize. In particular, here’s a startling, little-known fact: French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts.

It wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1990s Europe really did have big problems with job creation; the phenomenon even received a catchy name, “Eurosclerosis.” And it seemed obvious what the problem was: Europe’s social safety net had, as Representative Paul Ryan likes to warn, become a “hammock” that undermined initiative and encouraged dependency.

But then a funny thing happened: Europe started doing much better, while America started doing much worse. France’s prime-age employment rate overtook America’s early in the Bush administration; at this point the gap in employment rates is bigger than it was in the late 1990s, this time in France’s favor. Other European nations with big welfare states, like Sweden and the Netherlands, do even better.

Now, young French citizens are still a lot less likely to have jobs than their American counterparts — but a large part of that difference reflects the fact that France provides much more aid to students, so that they don’t have to work their way through school. Is that a bad thing? Also, the French take more vacations and retire earlier than we do, and you can argue that the incentives for early retirement in particular are too generous. But on the core issue of providing jobs for people who really should be working, at this point old Europe is beating us hands down despite social benefits and regulations that, according to free-market ideologues, should be hugely job-destroying.

Oh, and for those who believe that out-of-work Americans, coddled by government benefits, just aren’t trying to find jobs, we’ve just performed a cruel experiment using the worst victims of our job crisis as subjects. At the end of last year Congress refused to renew extended jobless benefits, cutting off millions of unemployed Americans. Did the long-term unemployed who were thereby placed in dire straits start finding jobs more rapidly than before? No — not at all. Somehow, it seems, the only thing we achieved by making the unemployed more desperate was deepening their desperation.

I’m sure that many people will simply refuse to believe what I’m saying about European strengths. After all, ever since the euro crisis broke out there has been a relentless campaign by American conservatives (and quite a few Europeans too) to portray it as a story of collapsing welfare states, brought low by misguided concerns about social justice. And they keep saying that even though some of the strongest economies in Europe, like Germany, have welfare states whose generosity exceeds the wildest dreams of U.S. liberals. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2014 at 8:45 am

Fine shave with Axwell razor

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SOTD 26 May 2014

A very good shave. I had much better luck loading the brush from the Cold River Soap Works small tub by using my Wee Scot, which had plenty of room to maneuver. I contacted the proprietor and told him of the problem, and he’s now going to package the soap in a tub of larger diameter: 3.625″. That should make things easier.

The Axwell razor worked quite well, and once again expectations proved false: the handle feels perfectly comfortable in use, despite my expectations. Never rely on expectations.

The Gillette Super Thin blade was only so-so, but I got a fine shave in three passes. I do think I’ll try a better brand of blade (for me) next time.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck and Memorial Day begins. My baby back ribs are already out on the counter, still wrapped with the salt, sugar, oregano, and cumin rub on it. They sit for 2-3 hours to get to room temperature since they are roasted at 200ºF (for four hours or so). I posted the recipe in an earlier post.

And, BTW, down another pound today. I think that once the body starts burning fat, it doesn’t draw the line at fat you’ve just eaten, but digs into the store of accumulated fat. (I ate a cheese omelet yesterday and then didn’t feel hungry until dinner: swordfish steak on top of a green salad. I ate a total of 959 calories and never felt the least big hungry. It turns out the source of the calories is important.

And I promised almightywhacko that I would show a close-up of the Axwell razor disassembled:

Axwell razor

I recall a friend who was a single mom with a young boy talking to him about names. She told him, “I gave you your name Jason, but when you are older you can pick whatever name you like.”

“I already know what I want for my name.”

“What’s that?”

“Orion Jetmouse.”

“Well, let’s wait until you’re older.”

I’m convinced that he grew up and used the username “Orion Jetmouse”. Certainly it works as well as many of the usernames we see.  🙂

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2014 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

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