Later On

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

Archive for November 23rd, 2014

Very interesting post on how major national policy can be decided by the whim of one person

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Kevin Drum’s right: there’s something wrong with this picture.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Congress, Government

Br’er Rabbit is Harlequin

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UPDATE: The Wife thought this post was excessively cryptic. I was reading about the character Harlequin in he Italian Commedia dell’arte, which was introduced in the 1580’s and is still around—indeed, I was looking up the term in Wikipedia because I am reading The Traveler, a dystopian scifi novel by John Twelve Hawks (and so far a very good one) which has a group called “Harlequins.”

And when I read the Wikipedia description, I immediately was reminded of Br’er Rabbit, since I’ve been reading some of those old tales.

But it is a common archetype, discussed and described by Joseph Campbell, C.J. Jung, and many students of folklore: The character of the Trickster. But the sudden connection of Harlequin’s description and the character of Br’er Rabbit suddenly leaped out at me. See also Zanni.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Books

The NSA at work—though the author never says that

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But it seems perfectly obvious. (The only other viable candidate is China, formerly Red China, and since the thing isn’t targeted at the US as well, that’s not likely.) Dante d’Orazio writes at The Verge:

Security researchers have discovered one of the most advanced pieces of malware ever created — and it’s been in use since at least 2008. Symantec researchers published their findings today on a new Trojan they’re calling “Regin.”

The researchers say the tool is “a complex piece of malware whose structure displays a degree of technical competence rarely seen.” It’s been cleverly designed to spy on computer systems around the world while leaving hardly a trace behind. The software’s “authors have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks,” reports Symantec, by using multiple layers of complex encryption to mask spying activities. Even when Symantec’s researchers did discover the presence of malware on clients’ machines, they had to decrypt an entire sample package of files just to get some idea of what the tool was up to.

The espionage tool has been found primarily on systems in Russia and Saudi Arabia, though it’s presence has been detected in smaller numbers in Mexico, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Belgium, Austria, and Pakistan. Over half of all confirmed cases were on machines in Russia and Saudi Arabia. . .

Continue reading. I suppose governments are going to have to assume that privacy’s gone.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 2:11 pm

Posted in NSA

Gravy tip from The Eldest

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The best way to thicken a gravy is to make a roux—some flour and some fat (usually butter, but could be bacon grease, duck fat, or whatever), cooked together until the flour is cooked, then the liquid (meat juices, whatever) is added and stirred. The cooked roux thickens it up immediately and without lumps. (The flour’s been cooked in the fat so it doesn’t try to form balls of paste.)

What The Eldest does is to start by putting the flour on a plate in the microwave: blast 10 seconds, stir, and repeat until the flour’s a nice toasty brown. Then make the roux with that. You get the nice flavor without having to stir the roux for a long time as it cooks.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Hasidic schools fight educational standards

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I’m surprised at the level of animosity against subjects that seem religiously neutral to me: mathematics, for example, and basic scientist like chemistry. Read Jennifer Miller’s description in the NY Times of what strikes me as a crippling education:

Naftuli Moster was a senior at the College of Staten Island when he first heard the word “molecule.” Perplexed, he looked around the classroom. Nobody else seemed confused. Yet again, because of gaps in his early education, Mr. Moster was ignorant of a basic concept that everybody else knew.

“I felt embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. “Every single time I didn’t know something, I thought, ‘I’m too crippled to make it through.’ ”

Mr. Moster had grown up one of 17 children in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where most Hasidic men marry young and, right after finishing yeshiva, or high school, either immediately enter the work force or dedicate themselves to Talmudic studies. But if Mr. Moster’s educational ambitions were unusual among his peers, his limited grasp of English was not.

There are 250 Jewish private schools in New York City, and though some schools, like Ramaz on the Upper East Side, have intensive secular curriculums, many do not. Nearly one-third of all students in Jewish schools are “English language learners,” according to the city’s Department of Education. Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language, and both parents and educators report that many boys’ schools do not teach the A B C’s until children are 7 or 8 years old. Boys in elementary and middle school study religious subjects from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. followed by approximately 90 minutes of English and math. At 13, when boys formally enter yeshiva, most stop receiving any English instruction. . .

Continue reading.

A senior in college, educated in the US—indeed, in New York City—and never heard the word “molecule.”

I do not like to cast aspersions, but it seems very much as if the emphasis is only keeping the young as ignorant as possible—cf. Christian fundamentalists home-schooling their children, the Taliban, and others of the ilk.

The problem, as I see it, is that education—particularly in the liberal arts—really does make free men and free women from children: it liberates them (thus: liberal arts) because it exercises and trains important analytical skills that are anathema to any authoritarian organization: liberal education emphasizes thinking for yourself, seeking real-world evidence before making judgment, respecting all equally (rather than respect upwards, contempt downwards, which seems typical of hierarchical and authoritarian structures—probably because one must please those above (who are more powerful) but doesn’t have to worry about those below (powerless compared to oneself). In effect, the liberal arts teach one not only that s/he should question authority, but provides the skills to present the best questions possible. Authority hates that, as do authoritarians. In fact, it is frightening: people no longer know their place, the social order is upset, and probably a certain wave of … not exactly regret or apology, but of realization how one’s actions might have appeared to others who were not oneself.

So when you find wholesale rejection of the liberal arts—as is happening in the US—then that is happening for a reason, and it’s useful to consider what those reasons might be. Exactly who doesn’t want the public having and exercising critical thinking skills?

UPDATE: Well, Texas for one.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 10:17 am

Posted in Education

Learning SAYC

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SAYC = Standard American Yellow Card system of conventions for bidding contract bridge. Time was when you knew your partner and developed variations of standard systems (I mainly used Goren: that’s how old I am), but now with on-line play and (I imagine) at tournaments, you may never have met your partner previously, so it’s important to have a standard set of conventions so you can communicate effectively during the bidding system. Acol is another system widely used in Britain, named after the Acol Bridge Club, where it originated.

I’m trying to learn SAYC after some disastrous miscommunications between my (computer) partner and me. In Goren, for example, an opening bid of 2♠ would be forcing to game. In SAYC, 2♠ is a weak opening bid, showing just a handful of points.

It will take some study, but I’m enjoying FunBridge and I am determined to improve.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2014 at 10:08 am

Posted in Bridge

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