Later On

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

Archive for July 16th, 2014

Don’t think about global warming! Bury your head in the 250-foot crater that popped down in Siberia

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The story here, with a video. No Lizard People as yet.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Global warming

Ayn Rand’s twist on the theme

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This occurred to me because I am watching a couple of movies with the same overall story arc: The Karate Kid and Homefront, both on Netflix streaming. Both use the story of a protagonist being forced to act against a bully, and though the bully is bigger, stronger, faster (think: Goliath), the smaller, smarter, more gifted protagonist (the David), after a Black Moment, comes back and roundly (and righteously) defeats him. The “underdog defeats bully to achieve justice” theme.

Ayn Rand’s twist is to tell the story from the bully’s point of view, seeing the bully’s actions as good and being forced by the other side, and having the bully win. She clearly admires the powerful and scorns the powerless (because she sees their lack of power as totally their own fault: failure to strive, failure to be Independent, etc.), and she has the powerful fight (and defeat) the powerless. In her view the bully (the one with the greater power) is right to pick on the powerless, and it’s wonderful when he wins.

Obviously there are many themes, but Rand used a twist on a familiar existing theme.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Books

Male objectification

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I was thinking of the male movie stars generally regarded as masculine and attractive in a fit, tough, man kind of way: Joel McCrae, for example, or Gary Cooper, or Randolph Scott. When they had to play some no-shirt scene, sometimes involving fisticuffs, it bears little resemblance to the current version: today the fisticuffs are martial arts production pieces, and the chiseled body we view has been shaped by weeks if not months of training and day-to-day diet control with a professional nutritionist and professional trainers. Movies are big bucks, and as little is left to chance as possible—plus there is the meme-evolution/competition factor: each new blockbuster must set a new mark, and one strand of the resulting evolution is how the hero’s physique became increasingly developed and ripped—to the point where the normal guy starts to feel that something’s going wrong here: reality is being distorted, in effect, so that the internalized cultural image a man carries and secretly measures himself against is such a god-like warrior that makes his own physique seem somewhat lacking. I bet feminism has some useful reading on this sort of thing, when cultural values/memes undermine and weaken the power of certain groups. And, of course, if you can make a person feel that there’s something wrong with him (or her), you can make a lot of money selling potions and equipment and supplements and training courses that promise to fix what’s wrong. “Power abs in 10 days!” You start to see that sort of thing—very much along the lines of “Lose 25 lbs in 7 days with …!”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Even Just the Presence of a Smartphone Lowers the Quality of In-Person Conversations

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Just as you suspected.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Spy agencies like GCHQ manipulate polls, fake comments, and in general pollute the cybersphere

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They do not simply eavesdrop, they also interact, and the purpose of their interactions is to mislead, manipulate, and control. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, “amplif[y]” sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be “extremist.” The capabilities, detailed in documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even include an old standby for pre-adolescent prank callers everywhere: A way to connect two unsuspecting phone users together in a call.

The tools were created by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG’s use of “fake victim blog posts,” “false flag operations,” “honey traps” and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.

But as the U.K. Parliament today debates a fast-tracked bill to provide the government with greater surveillance powers, one which Prime Minister David Cameron has justified as an “emergency” to “help keep us safe,” a newly released top-secret GCHQ document called “JTRIG Tools and Techniques” provides a comprehensive, birds-eye view of just how underhanded and invasive this unit’s operations are. The document—available in full here—is designed to notify other GCHQ units of JTRIG’s “weaponised capability” when it comes to the dark internet arts, and serves as a sort of hacker’s buffet for wreaking online havoc.

The “tools” have been assigned boastful code names. They include invasive methods for online surveillance, as well as some of the very techniques that the U.S. and U.K. have harshly prosecuted young online activists for employing, including “distributed denial of service” attacks and “call bombing.” But they also describe previously unknown tactics for manipulating and distorting online political discourse and disseminating state propaganda, as well as the apparent ability to actively monitor Skype users in real-time—raising further questions about the extent of Microsoft’s cooperation with spy agencies or potential vulnerabilities in its Skype’s encryption. Here’s a list of how JTRIG describes its capabilities: . . .

Continue reading. Very interesting stuff at the link. And it does seem clear that the government targets not just potential terrorists but pretty much anyone active in opposing things the government wants to do: dissenters, in a word. We’re moving toward “democracies” of total control and surveillance by government agencies that pretty much run themselves and answer to no one.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:55 am

I ♥ Senator Warren

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Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade how Senator Warren asked some very pertinent questions of Fed Chair Yellen—and got totally unsatisfactory answers.

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivered her Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Senate Banking Committee. Yellen deftly maneuvered questions on slack in the job market, asset bubbles on Wall Street, and assorted digs at the explosion of the Fed’s balance sheet to over $4 trillion as a result of quantitative easing.

When it finally came to the turn of the last Senator on the docket to quiz Yellen, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Fed Chair gave her a big, warm smile at the beginning of the questioning, likely figuring she was about to steal home and get big kudos for her performance back at the Fed.

Things didn’t go as planned.

Senator Warren has apparently been looking at the bare bones 35-pages released to the public for the various “living wills” or wind-down plans if a systemically important (too-big-to-fail) bank gets into trouble again and compared these to the cryptic, unintelligible tomes of paper that constitute the real wind-down plans behind the Fed’s equally opaque draperies.
Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014

Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014

Warren opened her questioning of Yellen by reminding the Fed Chair that Section 165 of the financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank mandated that large financial institutions submit plans to the Federal Reserve and the FDIC explaining how they could be “rapidly” liquidated without bringing down the economy – as occurred in 2008.

To drive home her point, Warren compared the situation of Lehman Brothers at the time of its collapse in 2008 to the Wall Street behemoth, JPMorgan today. Lehman, said Warren, had $639 billion in assets and 209 subsidiaries when it failed and it took three years to unwind the bank. Today, said Warren, JPMorgan has $2.5 trillion in assets and a staggering 3,391 subsidiaries.

Warren pointedly asked Yellen if these big Wall Street banks had ever given the Fed wind-down plans that were “credible.”

Yellen proceeded to bury herself pretty deeply in her answer. She said it was her “understanding” that there is a “process.” (Surely the Fed Chair should be completely on top of this critical piece of the Fed’s supervisory role of the largest bank holding companies in the country and have more than just an “understanding.”) Yellen went on to say that the wind-down plans are “complex” and some plans encompass “tens of thousands of pages.”

Yellen added: “I think what was intended is this interpretation you’re talking about, whether they’re credible, in other words, do they facilitate an orderly resolution, and I think we need to give these firms feedback.”

“Feedback” to banks which have exponentially increased in size since the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and have consistently demonstrated illegal cartel and consumer rip-off behavior was clearly not the answer Warren had in mind.

Warren responded: . . .

Continue reading. You’ll learn how another Obama appointee, Stanley Fischer, basically said that the Fed has no intention of complying with the law. Fischer, a creature of Citigroup (at the link: a story about Citigroup’s shady if not criminal operation—and it probably is criminal, but DoJ and the SEC are not really good against the wealthy), is apparently pledged to protect his former employer and the source of his wealth.

Obama has done a poor job with his choices to regulate Wall Streeet, though better than the abysmal job done by George W. Bush.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:38 am

The SEC continues to cater to Wall Street

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Mary Jo White, Obama’s choice to run the SEC, is turning out to be much as one feared: subservient to the demands of Wall Street. Read this article by Jesse Eisinger in ProPublica. It begins:

When a financial titan like Laurence D. Fink lobbies Washington, the natural instinct is to make sure the citizenry pats itself down to check that everyone still has their wallets, watches and belts.

Mr. Fink has been making the case that gargantuan asset managers — coincidentally, like the firm he heads, BlackRock — should not be given the dreaded label of Systemically Important Financial Institution. Being a S.I.F.I. means that you are capable of transmitting all manner of systemic financial diseases to trading partners and customers and need an extra measure of regulation.

Such Washington spectacles are made all the worse when the head regulator of Mr. Fink’s firm echoes industry talking points. Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, BlackRock’s main regulator, has been on a genuflecting tour to reassure asset managers that they have a sympathetic ear in the nation’s capital. The S.E.C. has been jostling for turf over this question. Recently, Ms. White disagreed with the Treasury Department, telling the industry that it isn’t “overreacting” to the process.

But just because Mr. Fink is talking his book and Ms. White is acting the sycophant doesn’t mean they are wrong. Large asset managers shouldn’t be designated S.I.F.I.s.

Regulators have clear tasks left unfinished from the financial crisis. Where they have made progress, it’s been inadequate. This needs to be the relentless focus. Asset managers don’t top the list.

O.K., some context is in order. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:24 am

Very cool military fighter built with off-the-shelf technology

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The F-16 was another fighter that did not try to push the envelope but rather be a “big-bang-for-the-buck” fighter (more or less the opposite of the F-35, which is still struggling). The Scorpion looks as though it could be an enormous success.

The idea of a “good-enough” fighter that is (relatively) inexpensive is that a nation can put a lot more in the air. For the same money, a nation can have three times as many Scorpions than F-35s—and they are cheaper to operate and maintain as well.

For more on the ideas behind the F-16 (and, apparently the Scorpion), see this article on the Lightweight Fighter Program and John Boyd’s theory (based on his experience) that informed it.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:32 am

Posted in Military

Hunting American Spooks: Germany Prepares Further Spying Clampdown

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Der Spiegel has a lengthy two-part article on Germany’s efforts to expel American spies. Here’s the first part, which has the same title as this post. The second part is titled “A Palpable Sense of Insecurity.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:28 am

A drug that restores neuroplasticity, so one can learn as readily as does a child

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Very interesting article by Cody Delistraty in Pacific Standard. From the article:

Gervain, the principle researcher behind a study entitled “Valproate Reopens Critical-Period Learning of Absolute Pitch,” found that, with low doses of Valproate—a drug typically used to combat bipolar disorder and epilepsy—the brain’s neuroplasticity could be expanded, thereby reopening the “critical periods” of learning, which lets the subject learn as if she were a child.

For the study, Gervain and her research team created a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled test, during which 24 adult men received either a placebo or a small, safe dose of Valproate. After 15 days, all participants watched instructional videos on how to identify the six musical pitch classes in the 12-tone Western musical system. They were then asked to identify the pitch of 18 discreet piano notes. In order to assure accuracy, two weeks later, after the drug had worn off, the opposite treatment was given to each participant (those who initially received Valproate then received a placebo; those who initially received a placebo received Valproate), and they were again asked to identify the pitch classes.

In both tests, those who took the Valproate scored “much higher” in pitch identification accuracy, the implication being that it is possible to learn a complex skill like pitch identification—something usually obtained only in childhood—simply by taking a pill.

The article elsewhere comments on the learning of languages, and notes:

“The brain’s ability to absorb increases as we know more languages,” Loraine Obler, a professor of linguistics at the City University of New York, told the New York Times. “Having a second language at a young age helps you learn a third, even if they’re unrelated.” In fact, even hearing the sounds from different languages at a young age has been proven to be useful in the acquisition of foreign languages later in life.

Note how learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third. This has been tested repeatedly, using Esperanto as the second language (because it’s easily learned) and then teaching the actual target language (German, for example), whose learning is facilitated by having learned Esperanto. (People with a year of Esperanto and two years of German know more German and speak it more fluently than those who simply studied three years of German.) This phenomenon is discussed at length in this Wikipedia article. Given the ease of learning or teaching Esperanto, I’m surprised this approach is not more often used.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:02 am

When newspapers become outlets for military-industrial propaganda

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The reports on Israel’s Iron Dome defense system read like press releases—which, indeed, they are, for all practical purposes. And like most press releases, the truth is not to be found in them.

James Fallows has some excellent examples of the propaganda articles, and also some pushback from actual experts, who point out that the system doesn’t work all that well.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 8:43 am

Eight-year impact of a LCHF diet

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Very interesting report on what the blood panel looks like, year by year, for someone who has followed a LCHF diet for 8 years. From the link (where you can also find a chart showing the results from the blood panels):

The wild rumors about how dangerous LCHF is long term, don’t get validated in my blood work. After eight years on LCHF they are excellent, just as when I started. There simply aren’t any big changes during these years.

Many things are typical and the trends are also confirmed in studies on low-carb diets:

  • Low triglycerides (good)
  • Excellent HDL cholesterol levels
  • Nice ApoB/AI ratio
  • A low fasting blood sugar and a low HbA1c (good)
  • Low, but normal, insulin levels, measured as C-peptide (probably excellent)
  • A normal weight and a normal waist circumference
  • A low and good blood pressure

To summarize, all problems associated with the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes usually improve on LCHF. Obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high insulin levels and dangerously disturbed cholesterol numbers (high triglycerides and low HDL).

My test results also show that the inflammatory level in the body – as measured CRP – is non-detectible on all test occasions.

With these results in mind the fantasy talk about long-term risks with LCHF doesn’t seem to be valid, at least not in my case. Perhaps you’ll have to put up with me for about 50 more years.

I’ve kept my weight at a normal weight level effortlessly and without any calorie counting during these years. I’ve gone up and down a few pounds within the normal range.

During my experiment with a strict LCHF diet and ketone measuring, I lost 12 lbs/5 kg. They came back when I returned to liberal LCHF, but disappeared again when I added 16:8.

My experience is that the latter is clearly the easier alternative. At least if you’re like me, and not that sensitive to carbohydrates. So I will continue with liberal LCHF with the addition of 16:8 on weekdays.

“16:8” is a new term for me. It means that each day you fast for 16 hours and eat only during an 8-hour period. In practical terms, it boils down to skipping breakfast. I have been doing that off and on, and I think I’ll try it more seriously. (Another number pair I just learned: 5:2, which refers to eating normally for five days and then two days eating only 1/4 the normal amount of calories—that is, on two days, a typical woman will eat 500 calories each day and a typical man 600.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 7:58 am

A no-shave day

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Saving up the stubble for a Stealth and 37C shave on Monday. The idea is to test efficiency on a more substantial beard.

Also, I’ve ordered an Above The Tie stainless razor set, the bar-guard version. I look forward to trying that soon.

I’m writing a section on mild-aggressive razors. Since the two seem dissonant, normally men will drop one from their description of razors in this category. For example, the mild-aggressive Feather AS-D1/2 is generally thought of and described as “mild” because of the gentle, comfortable feel, but this overlooks its amazing ease and efficiency at removing stubble (“aggressiveness”), particularly when used with a Feather blade (which seems to be what it’s designed for).

Similarly, the mild-aggressive slants are thought of and described as “aggressive” because of how efficiently and easily they cut through stubble, but this overlooks how gentle and comfortable (“mild”) a slant feels as it shaves.

I’m told that the ATT H-2 is another razor in the mild-aggressive category, so I’m looking forward to trying it.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 7:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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