Later On

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

Archive for November 20th, 2014

How soon before a UDAR orchestra

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 6:27 pm

Philosophy through conversation

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Interesting essay in Aeon by Nigel Warburton:

In 1913 the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein fled the interruptions and distractions of Cambridge to live as a hermit in Norway. No one knew him there, and he could focus on his work on logic in isolation. It worked. He lodged for a while with the postmaster in Skjolden, a remote village 200 miles north of the city of Bergen, and later had a hut built overlooking the fjord. Alone, he wrestled with the ideas that would metamorphose into his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). Anyone who tried to pass the time of day with him got short shrift. ‘Go away! It’ll take me two weeks to get back to the point where I was before you interrupted me,’ he is supposed to have shouted at one local who made the mistake of greeting him as he stood pondering what could not be said. From Wittgenstein’s perspective, the year he spent in Norway was the source of much of his philosophical creativity, some of the most intense thinking this markedly intense philosopher achieved in his lifetime. While there, he did little more than think, walk, whistle, and suffer from depression.

Wittgenstein ensconced in his Norwegian ‘hut’ (really, a two-storey wooden house with a balcony) is for many the model of a philosopher at work. Here the solitary genius sought out isolation that mirrored the rigours of his own austere philosophy. No distractions. No human company. Just a laser-like mind thinking about first principles, as he stood surveying the fjord or strode through the snow. Wittgenstein had precedents. The sixth-century Boethius wrote his Consolation of Philosophy in a Roman prison cell, his mind focused by his imminent execution; Niccolò Machiavelli produced The Prince (1532) in exile on a quiet farm outside Florence; René Descartes wrote his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) curled up next to a fire. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was happiest living in the middle of a forest, away from civilisation, and so on. Philosophy in its highest forms seems intently solitary and often damaged by the presence of others.

Yet this stereotype of the genius at work in complete isolation is misleading, even for Wittgenstein, Boethius, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Rousseau. Philosophy is an inherently social activity that thrives on the collision of viewpoints and rarely emerges from unchallenged interior monologue. A closer examination of Wittgenstein’s year in a Norwegian wood reveals his correspondence with the Cambridge philosophers Bertrand Russell and G E Moore. He even persuaded Moore to travel to Norway — an arduous train and boat trip in those days — and stay for a fortnight. The point of Moore’s visit was to discuss Wittgenstein’s new ideas about logic. In fact, ‘discussion’ turned out to mean that Wittgenstein (who was still technically an undergraduate) spoke, and Moore (who was far more eminent at the time) listened and took notes.

Yet Moore’s presence was somehow necessary for the birth of these ideas: Wittgenstein needed an audience, and an intelligent listener who could criticise and help him focus his thought, even if those criticisms weren’t uttered. And he wasn’t the only one who needed an audience. Boethius in his cell imagined his visitor: Philosophy personified as a tall woman wearing a dress with the letters Pi to Theta on it. She berates him for deserting her and the stoicism she preached. Boethius’s own book was a response to her challenge.

Machiavelli, meanwhile, was indeed exiled, cut off from the intrigues of court life, a city dweller forced into a bucolic existence against his will. But in a letter to his friend Francesco Vettori of 10 December 1513, he described how he spent his evenings: he would retire to his study and conjure up the great ancient thinkers and hold imaginary conversations with them about how best to govern. These imaginary conversations were the raw material for The Prince. Descartes might have locked himself away to write, and avoided distractions by doing most of his work lying in bed, but when he came to publish hisMeditations it was with a number of critical comments from other philosophers, including Thomas Hobbes, together with his responses to their criticisms. Likewise, Rousseau loved solitude, but he included dialogues within his writing, and even wrote the bizarre book Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques (1776) in which he presented two versions of himself debating with each other.

Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance.

Socrates started the conversation about philosophical conversation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:50 am

Posted in Education

It seems as though in the Mexican state of Guerrero you can’t throw a rock without it landing on a mass grave

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Greg Grandin reports in The Nation:

They have found many mass graves. Just not the mass grave they have been looking for. The forty-three student activists were disappeared on September 26, after being attacked by police in the town of Iguala, in the Mexican state of Guerrero. A week later, I set up an alert for “fosa clandestina”—Spanish for clandestine grave—on Google News. Here’s what has come back:

On October 4, the state prosecutor of Guerrero announced that twenty-eight bodies were found in five clandestine mass graves. None of them were the missing forty-three.

On October 9, three more graves. None of them contained the missing forty-three. The use of the passive tense on the part of government officials and in news reports is endemic. Graves were discovered. Massacres were committed. But in this case, a grassroots community organization, the Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero, searched for and found the burial sites.

By October 16, the number of known clandestine graves in the state of Guerrero had risen to nineteen. Still none of them held the forty-three.

On October 24, the Unión de Pueblos announced that it had found six more clandestine graves in a neighborhood called Monte Hored. Five were filled with human remains: “hair…blood stained clothing,” including “high school uniforms.”

The sixth was empty. It was “new and seemed ready for use,” said a spokesperson for the Unión. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

How Curiosity, Luck, and the Flip of a Switch Saved the Moon Program

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Interesting recent history, by Alex Pasternack at Motherboard. Very suspenseful. And this one switch was the key:

SCE to Aux

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:22 am

Posted in Technology

DE safety razors recognized in the NY Times

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It’s taken a long time for the mainstream media to wake up to what’s happening in the world of traditional wetshaving. But the continuing (and apparently even accelerating) growth has finally caught their eye.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:20 am

Posted in NY Times, Shaving

Wall Street sees how much money is in pension funds, decides to siphon off as much as they can

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Murtaza Hussain reports at The Intercept:

Coverage of the midterm elections has, understandably, focused on the shift in political power from Democrats toward Republicans. But behind the scenes, another major story has been playing out. Wall Street spent upwards of $300M to influence the election results. And a key part of its agenda has been a plan to move more and more of the $3 trillion dollars in unguarded government pension funds into privately managed, high-fee investments — a shift that may well constitute the biggest financial story of our generation that you’ve never heard of.

Illinois, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all recently elected governors who were previously executives and directors at firms which managed investments on behalf of state pension funds. These firms are now, consequently, in position to obtain even more of these public funds. This alone represents a huge payoff on that $300M investment made by the financial industry, and is likely to result in more pension money going into investments which offer great benefits for Wall Street but do little for the broader economy.

But Wall Street’s agenda goes beyond any one election cycle. It has been fighting to turn public pensions into private profits for quite some time, steering retirement nest eggs into investments that are complex, charge hefty fees, and that generate big profits for management firms. And it has been succeeding. Of the $3 trillion in public assets currently in pension funds throughout the country, almost a quarter of that has already found its way into so-called “alternative investments” like hedge funds, private equity and real estate. That translates to roughly $660 billion of public money now under private management, invested in assets that are often arcane and opaque but that offer high management and placement fees to Wall Street financiers.

Our recent financial crisis demonstrated just how risky and potentially destructive these types of assets can be — so the question becomes, why is so much money going into them?

David Sirota has been one of the few journalists to cover this story in depth, and to expose the widespread political corruption that’s gone along with it. “It’s one of the biggest economic stories in the world because the amounts of money are so huge” says Sirota. “It is happening in every state and every city in the country.”

In 2011 the Wall Street Journal reported that the Blackstone Group — one of the largest private equity firms in the world, with an investment pool of $111 billion dollars — saw “about $37 of every $100” of its funds come from investments from state and local pension plans. That’s a huge sum, and it’s therefore unsurprising that Blackstone lobbies state governments to help steer more pension money its way. . .

Continue reading.

Stopping this would require a functional Congress that wants to protect citizens. Thus it will be hard to stop.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:17 am

The Historical Drivers of Modern Day Developments in Iraq (Juan Cole Interview)

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Another good explanatory piece, this time on Iraq, via an interview with Juan Cole:

Bassam Haddad, a prominent Syria specialist at George Mason University, interviewed me this fall for the new web radio program Status Hour , on the Middle East. Do check out the range of important interviews already up at the site.

My own audio interview is here. For those who like to read, I am mirroring below the transcript kindly made by Zachary Cuyler at Status Hour. . .

Bassam Haddad (BH): Good afternoon. We have with us here Professor Juan Cole, who has been able to give us some time during his lecture tour—which seems to be consistent and constant. We would like to ask Professor Cole about a few things that are happening now in the media and in the region, starting with the question that is on everyone’s mind, and that is: What is happening in the region right now, in terms of the basic drivers—what would you consider are some of the basic drivers that are producing the outcomes we are all watching on television and listening to on the radio, and so on?

Juan Cole (JC): The post-war governments of the Middle East tended to be Arab nationalist governments. They were deeply influenced by the Soviet model, even though they were not communist regimes, but they called themselves socialist. There were enormous state sectors, public sectors. You know, it was not to the extent of the East[ern] bloc. A place like Hungary probably was ninety-five percent state-owned, the economy. Egypt was probably half, Syria more. In comparison, Nehru’s socialist India was never more than twenty-five percent of the economy, [the] public sector.

So these were socialist states, and their premise was that the colonial powers and often indigenous rulers in cahoots with the colonial powers had produced extremely unequal societies, and had produced societies that were not characterized by healthy social statistics. They were largely rural, villages, they were largely illiterate, the countries lacked infrastructure, they lacked very much in the way of factory production. They were still, for the most part, agricultural and dependent on primary commodities. And these post-war, anti-colonial, anti-imperial states attempted to bring their populations forward. They established mixed school systems, they established high schools, universities, and they really did succeed in making most of the population, at least of the younger generation, at least literate.

And then they did state-led industrialization: they committed resources to making sure that there were factories producing things, substituting those locally-made commodities for international imports.

And then the 1990s came, and the Soviet model collapsed, and Soviet patronage disappeared, and enormous pressure was applied by Washington, London, and Paris on the states of the Middle East to privatize their economies and reduce the size of their public sectors. And in the process of privatizing, new billionaires were created, so it was a little bit like the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs in Russia. And neoliberal policies where market mechanisms were instituted, started to substitute for some of the public sector enterprises. But, as we know from Eastern Europe, there are right and wrong ways to privatize, and in the Middle East the state elites engaged in insider trading, they used their advantages to create crony billionaire classes, and because the state elites were not representative. Typically, they were what is called in the Middle East a shillah, or a clique. The inequalities that grew through the 1990s and 2000s excluded often the majority of people living in the country, and those inequalities—regional, ethnic, sectarian, and so forth—they hurt people, they hurt the ability of young people to get jobs, their futures seemed blocked. So you had a lot of regional protest, a lot of labor protest, and what seemed as though they were sectarian protests. But I am arguing that sectarianism was really invoked as a way of objecting to the concentration of wealth in a few hands of a particular social group.

BH: Thank you. Surely, this is not what you would hear in mainstream circles, whether media or academia, sometimes, regarding these political economy factors that are drivers. How do you think someone might respond to this and say, no, this is strictly a cultural issue and what you’re saying is some [. . . sentence ends]. They might even say some Marxist, leftist jargon from a time gone by.

JC: If it is cultural, the culture hasn’t changed that much, so why were these ethnic and sectarian conflicts not big in the 1950s and 1960s? If you go back and read the US State Department cables about a place like Iraq, Shi’i Islam almost doesn’t appear. And concerns about instability owing the Sunni-Shi’i conflict is almost completely absent from those cables of the 1960s and 1970s. The big concern is the strength of the communist movement, the ways in which there were conflicts between poor peasants and big landowners. Now, it may be that sometimes the poor peasants were Shi’a and the big landowners were Sunnis, but that was not ethnicity that they were fighting about, it was the distribution of land and wealth. We saw in Iraq in the 1950s enormous numbers of landless laborers had grown up and maybe 2-3,000 families owned the lion’s share of the good land in Iraq. So the big conflicts were over political economy and I think that has continued.

But whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, it was unusual for those conflicts to be reworked into sectarian or other kinds of primordial identity conflicts, over time this became a fruitful tactic for entrepreneurial politicians. Once you have two groups that are fighting over distribution of material goods—for jobs and resources—it becomes an advantage for politicians if they can mobilize one of the groups against the other on identity grounds.

I think the reason that political economy is not taken into account is that you have to know something fairly serious about economics to understand it, you have to know something serious about the history of these societies in the last fifty years. And, frankly, a lot of our journalists are not trained either in economics or history, or certainly of this region.

And so what is easiest is to fasten upon surface characteristics, though we have the trope of the age-old hatreds. They did this in the Balkans when the Croats and the Bosnians started fighting with each other in the 1990s and the journalists in the United States often attributed it to age-old ethnic hatreds. But the fact is that there is very little difference among the languages. Serbo-Croatian is basically a single language and the big difference among them was religion—the Croats were Catholic and the Bosnians [Muslim] and the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox but almost nobody practices religion so that cannot possibly have been very important. And, in fact, if you look at the history of that region, there was some trouble in the mid-19th century, but for the last hundred years or so, there really had not been much in the way of ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. So there is a tendency to essentialize, to see primordial identities as somehow eternal, unchanging, and then as productive of constant conflict, whereas none of those things is true. So I think there is a lack of attention to history, to the fluidity of identity over time. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 8:53 am

Posted in Iraq War

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

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FBI Director James Comey seems to have a shaky grasp of the Constitutional protections that US citizens supposedly enjoy. Kyle Chayka reports at Pacific Standard:

FBI Director James Comey certainly wants you to think that he’s not going to be able to get inside of your iPhone 6. Lately, Comey has been the source of a slew of off-the-cuff comments about how the FBI is “going dark”: “Those charged with protecting our people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need,” he said in a recent speech at the Brookings Institution. “We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so.”

Comey’s consternation stems from Apple and Google’s decisions to manufacture their smartphones and operating systems with encryption baked in by default. “In the past, conducting electronic surveillance was more straightforward,” Comey said during the speech. Such encryption would damage the organization’s access to the real-time data of its suspects, or such is the line that Comey is pushing. “Some believe that the FBI has these phenomenal capabilities to access any information at any time…. It is simply not the case in real life,” he said.

Privacy experts agree that Comey’s comments are not only misleading, but outright false. Installing encryption on individual devices is a fundamental political right that the FBI seems to be ignoring, despite the fact that laws banning this encryption have already failed to pass. Comey’s comments are a repetition of an old narrative. His recommendation of mandating the installation of a backdoor into encryption for government access would be damaging to users, businesses, and national security alike, critics argue.

“The fundamental misunderstanding is that the Fourth Amendment gives the government an affirmative right to information, which is it doesn’t,” says Liza Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. The amendment “provides an affirmative right to people, not the government.” In other words, Comey seems to think that the FBI has a legal right to blank-check access to unencrypted information from our personal devices. But there is “absolutely nothing wrong or illegal about a person encrypting their information or Apple offering encryption as a default,” Goitein adds.

Comey is also misrepresenting the extent to which encryption from Google and Apple changes how information is protected. Privacy, after all, has always been a third-party option for devices. “Strong encryption services and products are already out there,” says Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “You can buy a black phone, a Silent Circle phone, or use PGP to encrypt your data.” What the FBI is speaking out against is the spread of encryption technology to a wider audience that may have not been aware of it before. “What Apple and Google have done is make strong encryption available to the average user, not just those who are security conscious—that’s hugely valuable,” Geiger adds.

Not only would mandating an encryption backdoor damage personal privacy, it could have much wider consequences. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 8:40 am

Tuesday’s shave and today’s

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I am embarrassed that I forgot to post Tuesday’s shave, which was quite good:

SOTD 18 Nov 2014

The shave above was done on Tusday. Sweet Gale has a wonderful fragrance, exactly like a Rusty Nail cocktail. And I got a fine lather, using the Rooney Victorian brush shown.

The razor is the Utopia Care, which sells for $11 on Amazon: a great bargain for a pretty good razor—and since it’s a three-piece design, the handle (plated brass, good heft) can be used with other heads. (I’ve been recommending this handle for the iKon Shavecraft #102 slant head: it’s a good match in terms of weight and balance, and you can’t beat the price. Solid stainless handles of that design are somewhat crisper, but cost twice as much.) The blade was a Personna Lab Blue.

Very smooth and pleasant finish, and a little D.R. Harris After Shaving Milk finished the shave.

Today’s shave:

SOTD 20 Nov 2014

The brush is by New Forest, a UK maker of artisanal brushes of traditional design. It’s a very nice little brush, with a feel somewhat like a Simpson Chubby, though the knot is more dome-shaped.

Catie’s Bubbles is one of the soaps that fill their containers, but I’ve learned that about 80% of shavers prefer soaps that fill only half the container. I’m surprised by the strong preference—and certainly many fine soaps are sold in full containers (e.g., Al’s, Catie’s Bubbles, D.R. Harris, Dr. Selby’s 3x Concentrated, Geo. F. Trumper, La Père Lucien, Martin de Candres, Strop Shoppe, TOBS, Truefitt & Hill, Wickham’s).

Still, as has been pointed out to me, soapmakers do spend a fair amount of time thinking about the best presentation and the actual use—and also face the challenge of finding decently made containers of the right size and shape. So the choice to use a container and fill it but half-way is a deliberate one. The idea, I’m told is that the higher walls around the soap prevent the water from spilling away.

The problem is, that for most soaps one wants the excess water to spill away, and by holding the container on its side over the sink, the spillage isn’t messy: excess water and loose, sloppy lather just drops away.

But I’m still exploring this, and since this morning I picked a soap sold in full containers, I observed what it is I now do. I realized that now I no longer use a truly dripping-wet brush, so in fact I don’t have a lot of excess water. In fact, I seem to have gradually learned (unconsciously) about how much water is needed, and although I help the Catie’s Bubbles on its side, there was nothing to spill away: I had the right amount of water in the brush (I had unconsciously given it a small shake), and as I loaded the brush, the lathered soap went directly into the brush. No excess on the side, no need to rinse anything.

I did note that as I worked up the lather on my beard, I did add one driblet of water to the brush and worked that in, but nothing more. OTOH, Catie’s Bubbles is a very high quality soap, easy to lather, and this particular soap is not very thirsty. (I don’t wish to imply that thirsty soaps are of any less quality: indeed, some thirsty soaps are absolute first rate: they simply require me to add a driblet or two of water as I load the brush—and perhaps that’s where the high walls are useful: by using a wetter brush and keeping the water on the soap until it’s all worked into the lather.

More experimentation is required, but it was interesting to note how my brush wetting/loading process has somewhat shifted without my realizing. I’ll be paying attention to that for a while.

In the meantime, some soaps that are not thirsty also have high-walled containers: e.g., Maggard’s, Seifenglatt, Mickey Lee Soapworks. Those could readily be sold in full containers (if containers of the right size and shape can be found), since they do not require extra water.

Somewhat asked about the Apollo Mikron, so I posted a link to photos on my site, and I was embarrassed to see how much the razor needed cleaning. So yesterday I got out my ultrasonic cleaner and cleaned up the Mikron shown above along with a couple of other razors. The ultrasonic cleaner does a good job.

The Mikron left a BBS result in three pleasant passes, using a SuperMax Platinum blade. A small dab of D.R. Harris After Shaving Milk, and the day begiins.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 8:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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