Later On

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

Archive for July 25th, 2014

Why it’s hard to change someone’s political outlook: It’s baked in

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Extremely interesting post by Kevin Drum. It’s interesting to me because it illustrates how the underlying biology can play a role in the success/failure of certain memes: memes that resonate with one outlook shrivel in other. So to some extent, there’s a competition among memes.

UPDATE: It was late when I wrote that: there’s always competition among memes. What I meant was that the competition among memes leads to competition among the meme hosts (humans): conservatives and progressives compete via memes, but those memes are selected to some extent by the underlying biology.

The post at the link is also interesting in providing an explanation for why most civilians who carry firearms are conservatives.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Politics, Science

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

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It’s almost as if there’s a trans-governmental coalition of intelligence/security services, linking arms to leverage their intelligence (and control)—a new governmental emerging from within the existing government. I look forward to the outcome of the CIA transgressions.

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussein write at The Intercept:

The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.

But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.

In general, U.S. support for the Saudi regime is long-standing. One secret 2007 NSA memo lists Saudi Arabia as one of four countries where . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 7:06 pm

CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

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Man, the gloves are off. The CIA feels powerful enough that it can reveal that it’s reading confidential Congressional email, which is illegal on any number of counts, beginning with: the CIA is not to mount operations in the US. But that’s obviously long gone, and the CIA is not only operating within the US but also spying on their overseers. In no way is that appropriate. Or legal. But the CIA at this point doesn’t care, which speaks volumes. And Obama faces now a choice: own it (the CIA is part of the Executive Branch, which he presumably heads), or repudiate it. Big decision that will let us know which way things are going.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 6:35 pm

Best calendar apps for the iPhone

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For you iPhone fans.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Forgotten knowledge: Rapid-fire archery edition

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Book of Bad Arguments

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A very nice illustrated on-line book. Read using the arrow keys. Well worth a review. Many of the bad arguments will be quite familiar…

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 11:57 am

Posted in Books, Education

US Border Patrol seems still a work in progress

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Gil Kerlikowske has his work cut out for him, as this news report from Marcus McIntosh makes clear:

A central Iowa Boy Scout troop just returned from a three-week trip they will likely never forget.

About 10 days into the trip, an innocent action by one of the nearly two dozen Scouts at the Canadian border into Alaska set off a chain of events that lead to a U.S. border official pointing a gun at a scout’s head.

Boy Scout Troop 111 Leader Jim Fox spelled out what happened to him and the Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111 as four van-loads of Scouts and adult volunteers tried to drive from Canada into Alaska.

Fox said one of the Scouts took a picture of a border official, which spurred agents to detain everyone in that van and search them and their belongings.

“The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison,” Fox said.

Fox said he was told it is a federal offense to take a picture of a federal agent.

Not wanting things to escalate, Fox said he did not complain.

Another of the Scouts was taking luggage from the top of a van to be searched when something startling happened.

“He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head,” Fox explained.

Fox said that had them all in fear.

Ultimately no one was hurt or arrested, and after about four hours they were allowed to continue their trip into Alaska. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 11:47 am

A tale of two experiments: Tax adjustments in Kansas and California

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Kansas cut taxes drastically. The reasons offered are probably not the real reason (the real reason to allow the wealthy to keep more of their wealth), but the claim was that cutting taxes would boost their economy. And California raised taxes (and went all-in on Obamacare, which Kansas has fended off as best it can: no Medicare expansion, for example). Paul Krugman notes:

The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? . . .

Continue reading.

Experiments work best, of course, if you actually learn from them. The GOP seems unable to do the “learning” thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

An incredible win-win-win

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Veronika Scott is the 24-year-old CEO and founder of Detroit-based nonprofit, The Empowerment Plan, which employs and trains homeless women to become full-time seamstresses who make a coat that turns into a sleeping bag at night and a bag during the day. Funded by donations from foundations, companies, and individuals, The Empowerment Plan is headquartered at Ponyride and has been featured by the New York Times, NPR, The Discovery Channel, The Today Show, and more.

By all means read the interview at the link. This is a person who knows how to put aside your preconceptions and to develop her approach from what she learned by observing and listening—and also looking for ways to improve her entire approach. A wonderful article.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:12 am

Wired to fail?

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I was reading this very interesting New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert, and you may also find it of interest. She raises some interesting points.

Agriculture was invented several times, and it seems likely that it was born of necessity, notoriously the very mother of invention. The reason it was a pressing matter is that the large animals that had served as prey were getting scarce on the ground. See this interesting brief article for a modern example of overhunting (and overfishing). Similarly, when humans entered the Western Hemisphere, quite a few animals (the mastodon, for example) went extinct. Human hunting, particularly after the invention of projectile weapons, was highly effective, and prey became harder to find.

So we got agriculture, and with it (as described in the article) a litany of ills: diabetes, tooth rot, and infectious diseases, among others. Kolbert writes:

According to a study of human remains from China and Japan, the height of the average person declined by more than three inches during the millennia in which rice cultivation intensified. According to another study, of bones from Mesoamerica, women’s heights dropped by three inches and men’s by two inches as farming spread. A recent survey of more than twenty studies on this subject, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, found that the adoption of agriculture “was observed to decrease stature in populations from across the entire globe,” including in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America.

Early farmers were not just shorter than hunter-gatherers; they were also more sickly. They had worse teeth—one analysis from the Near East suggests that the incidence of cavities jumped sixfold as people started relying on grain—and they suffered from increased rates of anemia and infectious disease. Many now familiar infections—measles, for instance—require high population densities to persist; thus, it wasn’t until people established towns and cities that such “crowd epidemic diseases” could flourish. And, by living in close proximity to their equally crowded farm animals, early agriculturalists helped to bring into being a whole set of diseases that jumped from livestock to people.

“The adoption of agriculture,” Diamond notes in his most recent book, “The World Until Yesterday,” provided “ideal conditions for the rapid transmission of microbes.” According to Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard and the author of “The Story of the Human Body,” “farming ushered in an era of epidemics, including tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, plague, smallpox and influenza.”

So that was a bad development (in terms of health, though not human culture: denser populations create a better environment for memes to arise and evolve rapidly. Kolbert points out, “Anatomically modern humans have, after all, been around for about two hundred thousand years. The genus Homo goes back another two million years or so. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad.”

And yet humans cannot really eat as hunter-gatherers. First, our food animals and food crops are substantially different from their wild ancestors that were food for hunter-gatherers—to the point that modern corn/maize cannot grow without cultivation. Second, the human population, already far too large to survive with intensive agriculture globally, continues to grow rapidly, putting ever more strain on natural resources. Kolbert notes:

The last time most of humanity followed, by necessity, a paleo diet, there were maybe five million people on the planet. Yet already they were having a big impact; it’s been theorized that one of the impetuses for the development of agriculture was that large, easy-to-kill prey were becoming harder to find. As grain-growing spread, it produced what’s been called the “first population explosion.” Farmers can wean their children at a much younger age than hunter-gatherers can—they have foods like porridge to feed them—and thus can produce new ones more quickly. As a result, the sicklier agriculturists were able to outbreed the more robust hunter-gatherers. More farmers then needed even more land, which further reduced the resources available to foragers.

Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

Gary Taubes, in his excellent book Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It, notes:

Carbohydrate-restricted diets typically (if not, perhaps, ideally) replace the carbohydrates in the diet with large or at least larger portions of animal products—beginning with eggs for breakfast and moving to meat, fish, or fowl for lunch and dinner. The implications of that are proper to debate. Isn’t our dependence on animal products already bad for the environment, and won’t it just get worse? Isn’t livestock production a major contributor to global warming, water shortages, and pollution? When thinking about a healthy diet, shouldn’t we think about what’s good for the planet as well as what’s good for us? Do we have a right to kill animals for our food or put them to work for us in producing it? Isn’t the only morally and ethically defensible lifestyle a vegetarian one or even a vegan one?

These are all important questions that need to be addressed, as individuals and as a society. But they have no place in the scientific and medical discussion of why we get fat. And that’s what I am setting out to explore here—just as Hilde Bruch did more than seventy years ago. Why are we fat? Why are our children fat? What can we do about it?

So we seem to face a dilemma: the best diet for humans grows increasingly unsustainable. But even worse, humanity seems to be increasingly unsustainable. Our affect on the environment has been devastating (even apart from the Big Kahuna, global warming), and we despoil our natural resources faster than they can be replaced—not that we are devoting much effort to replacing them.

I think the human race is simply not wired for long-term success (in evolutionary terms). It looks increasingly as though human civilization is going to be short-lived blip—perhaps 20,000 years at the outside, more likely 15,000 (of which 10,000 are already used up).

Probably I’m wrong, but the overall long-term trends look quite bearish.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:02 am

BBS with ATT, again—this time with the M baseplate

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SOTD 25 July 2014

A wonderful shave. The M baseplate is indeed mild, but works like a charm with a sharp blade—I used a SuperMax Titanium.

But first the prep. My Rooney Style 1 Size 1 Super Silvertip did a very good job. Dapper Dragon is, I’ve discovered, one of the several soaps that really do much better with palm lathering, so palm lathering is what I did, and the lather was quite good.

The M baseplate is very nice, and I do like the ATT spiraled handle: no tendency to twist, and a nice compact feel. On the whole, the R baseplate turns out to match my preferences best, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with the M baseplate. And the razor itself is extremely well made.

Three passes to a BBS result, and then a good splash of Bulgarian Rose from Saint Charles Shave. The weekend looms just over the horizon.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 8:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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