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

Archive for November 29th, 2014

Knowledge is dangerous to some worldviews

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But still—one sort of expects it from the Taliban, but in Arizona?

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Education, Religion, Science

Comment on The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks

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Interesting paragraph—among a great many interesting paragraphs: The Traveler is a terrific novel—I just read on page 155:

Gabriel bought several newspapers and read every article. There was no mention of  the shooting at the clothing factory. He knew that newspapers and television announcers reported on a certain level of reality. What was happening to him was on another level, like a parallel universe. All around him, different societies were growing larger or being destroyed, forming new traditions or breaking the rules while citizens pretended that the faces shown on television were the only important stories.

Shortly afterwards the novel discusses the Total Information Awareness program that was proposed by the Bush Administration and rejected by Congress, but that (as Edward Snowden has revealed) was developed anyway, using a variety of other names, a system that is operational today and provides much more complete surveillance than is described in the novel.

The quoted is pretty much a description of our own reality, though I do think we are better at identifying and describing the struggle. It seems obvious to me that the struggle is simply memetic evolution in action. “Societies” are groups built of and around shared memes. Memes, as Richard Dawkins pointed out when he defined the term, evolve from the same algorithm that leads to any Darwinian evolution: entities are able to reproduce with similar offspring—similar but not the same—and all entities are competing for limited resources. Thus natural selection ensues and we have evolution. Memes can have “offspring”: the imitative behavior that transmits/receives the meme—with minor changes and an occasional mutation. And memes compete for cognitive space (“mindshare”), which is limited, and the result is precisely Darwinian evolution. Memes naturally formed the equivalent of multicellular animals: clusters of mutually supporting memes that, like the eucalyptus tree, also have a protection layer to block invasions of meme that threaten it. A couple of examples: Red states and Blue states. Another: Pro-life and Pro-choice. Each of those is a cluster of memes, and both are successful at repelling the other meme.

We can see one very large meme in action now: destroying the norms-based rules that have guided Congress (that began with Newt Gingrich, and people like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz continue and extend the campaign) and the Judiciary (which is now overtly politically partisan) and the Executive (Iraq War; torture regime). Deliberately breaking the norms, while not being actually illegal, the new meme (or, more accurately, this new incarnation of an ancient meme) can demolish an entire memetic structure that would restrict its growth. This meme includes a mindset that judges actions by the goal achieved, not by the means used. (Example: The GOP in Congress deliberately choked US economic growth—harming the country—in an effort to ensure that Obama will serve only one term: not caring about means, focused solely on the goal

This current memetic struggle seems to be today’s version of an ancient struggle—it’s as if complex memes early bifurcated into something analogous to the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria or some such, two very different paths. Having taken divergent paths on some fundamental issues regarding how societies should work, the two approaches have been struggling, each against the other, ever since. Cain and Abel. Satan and God. Self-organizing chaos vs. imposed order.

It’s a fundamental difference—and through history we see that the forces of authoritarian order do often win, unfortunately. The more relaxed and less organized “live and let live” idea of a society, of finding compromise through cooperation, finds it difficult to resist authoritarian control. The struggle plays out like a virus invading a living organism, in a way, wiggling through the defenses and uses the systems of the organism to destroy it. The memes that lead to the national-security state seem to be predators. The authoritarian meme-cluster undermines the  “live and let live” approach and demands allegiance.

Thus I predict that the Senate’s effort to release their report on the US torture program will fail. Note that the report simply states what actually happened—actual recent history, information that is important to our nation and that the people have every right to know, this being their government. But of course, that’s the very essence of the struggle now underway: whose government is it, actually?

The resolution of the standoff on the Senate report—Obama stoutly resisting, either at the behest of the national-security state or because he’s of their number—will be a significant indicator of how it’s going and who has the power. The national-security state is a very large meme—large both in being a very large cluster of interlocking submemes that protect it and help propagate it, and also large in being extensive: with many minds giving it large mindshare. This meme judges actions purely by results, the means being of little or no consequence: winners win. Period. Another instance of the same meme: corporate entities (meme-clusters), judging actions solely by profits, again with little concern about the memes (thus pollution, GM ignition switch, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan).

That particular meme, call it what you will, does work to produce a few winners and many losers—that’s how it works, that’s how it’s structured—it’s part of the essence of the meme—and quite often the losers lose in a very bad way indeed, if you reflect on history. Take Chile, for example, and the things that happened in the aftermath of our national-security state quite deliberating overthrowing a democratically elected government in order to install a right-wing dictator. (This was because the national-security state feared communism, just as the national-security state now fears terrorism: the national-security state is drive by its fears.)

The deliberate destruction of Chile’s democratic government to install a right-wing dictatorship exemplifies the nature of the struggle and reveals the mind of the national-security state: it’s a state that does things like that to get “results.” One weakness of that meme-cluster is that its approach often ensures that the actual results are all too often a total and unmitigated disaster for the US and for the latest victim of the national-security state.

Take a look at the entire Iraq War for an example: an unprovoked invasion based on a completely fabricated story, and then a great many no-bid cost-plus contracts were given to the Vice President’s former company, and HBR and Halliburton and others took home hundreds of billions of dollars, which of course was of great personal benefit to the Vice President. This was when the government wanted to “outsource” and “privatize” operations—e.g., give HBR and Halliburton blank checks on the US Treasury so the military could focus on its “core mission” and we could “save money,” which turned out to mean “spend money by the literal truckload.” (Remember the skids of $100 bills sent to Iraq? And the billions that somehow got misplaced?—that seems pretty overt robbery.) The war was even combined with tax cuts, so the US plunged—dived—into enormous debt—and while all that was going on, Wall Street found its own way to guzzle billions from the public treasury. And we’ve seen that story.

It’s pretty clear that quite a furious meme war is raging right now, and the direction it’s going will be very important for us. It seems quite possible that it will go in a bad direction.

But if it does go bad, at least our police forces are rapidly being militarized to exercise crowd control and the first test killings seem to be underway, the police shooting various people to death for what seems to be no reason: will people accept it? is it going too far? So far, we seem to accept it as a new reality, and the police for the most part go unpunished.

UPDATE: I was wondering where the national-security state got its strength, when I realized that for a meme, strength comes from mindshare: the more mindshare the meme has—both in the mindshare of individual humans, as well as overall mindshare in the population—the stronger it is, the more protected, and so on.

So for the meme of winner-take-all, judge only by results and ignore the means, and so on, for that meme to be strong, a lot more people than the winners must embrace it. The winners are, in that meme, few, so if the meme is strong, a lot of non-winners share it. Sort of odd: if they simply didn’t share the meme, it would simply collapse: not enough copies ultimately left to reproduce.

When you think about it, ISIS is a variant: judging by results regardless of means, etc. And the ISIS use of photos and videos seems derived directly from the US military:  US troops working at Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere) took many photos of themselves gleefully abusing and torturing prisoners, threatening them with dogs, and so on. We saw some of the photos and Obama promised to release the lot so we could see what our military was up to, but Obama quite often promises things and then fails to deliver. In this case, it seems likely that the national-security state simply did not allow him to release more of the photos.

But what was released was quite disturbing and apparently people in those parts paid attention. Many of those swept up into Abu Ghraib had done nothing wrong, as we know: they were simply captured and imprisoned to be tortured and interrogated (much like a junior-varsity Guantánamo, which also had quite a few prisoners who were innocent of nothing).

I think we should view the ISIS videos in the context of how the US military has treated prisoners.

Similarly, the next step after confrontations like the stand-off in Ferguson MO, between protesters and  militarized police forces, is for the police to fire upon the protesters, a step already taken in Israel, where police fired upon a group of protesters, leaving one Dutch journalist critically wounded.

Of course, in the US we have also had a militarized response to a protest in May of 1970: in the Kent State shootings, the Ohio National Guard fired on protesters, killing four and wounding nine, one of whom suffered paralysis. That should show us that it is quite possible for US authorities to respond to protests by shooting down protesters—in that case, it was college students protesting the illegal military campaign in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 2:13 pm

The arguments for reining in Google

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Interesting article at The Verge by Vlad Savov:

What the European Parliament is proposing sounds like Ayn Rand’s worst nightmare. Let’s take Google, one of the best and most cohesive set of web services we have, and fragment it into smaller businesses. Let’s introduce friction and bureaucracy between the various parts so that lesser companies with worse products can have a chance to compete. It feels like a classic case of over-regulation — penalizing a successful company for the crime of being better than everyone else — however its fundamental premise is not wrong: Google is too powerful.

There’s no denying that Google has merited its current dominance in web search. The service that has grown into a verb is used all around the globe because it’s reliably accurate, up to date, and comprehensive. Google supplements the basic results from its search algorithms with advertising — its primary source of income — and links to its own related web services like Maps, News, and YouTube. For the vast majority of users, this cross-promotion of Google products is helpful: it expands the format of search results beyond a mere index of web links and does it with arguably the best services in each category (Google+ ignominiously excepted). Seen in isolation, Google’s efforts to keep users locked inside its ecosystem are scarcely objectionable, but their success has created undesirable market distortions that EU regulators are trying to correct.

The primary point of contention between Europe and Google is the latter’s status as an internet gatekeeper. Google underplays this, but the company commands roughly 90 percent of all web searches in Europe, making it the starting point for almost everyone’s online queries. This works fine so long as Google can be trusted to maintain high quality and unbiased results, but what happens when the company’s “do no evil” mantra slips? Are we really getting the best the web can offer if Google is demoting competitor sites and promoting its own? It just so happens that right now the best on the web and the best from Google usually coincide, but the situation sours when the two diverge.

Adding Kelkoo and Shopzilla shopping searches where relevant — as Google hasproposed in previous negotiations — might not improve on Google’s own results, but it gives the user visibility on what alternatives exist. This is a direct means for disciplining Google to stay competitive: a failure to find and provide the best prices cannot be masked by the comparative anonymity of specialized search engines. Any regulatory action would start from this basic premise of ensuring equal opportunity to be seen for both Google and its rivals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 10:47 am

Israel approach to protesters: Like Ferguson, only in Israel they go ahead and fire on protestors

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Israel takes a hard-line approach to civil protests, shooting protestors down in the street. When other countries have done that, the US has reacted strongly, but Israel is our friend, so it’s okay for them to do it, apparently. From Informed Comment:

An Italian was critically injured along with 11 Palestinians on Friday afternoon after Israeli forces opened live fire on a protest march in the village of Kafr Qaddum west of Nablus.

Palestinian Minister of Health Jawad Awwad told Ma’an that Italian solidarity activist Patrick Corsi, 30, was injured after Israeli forces fired several bullets at him in the stomach and chest.

The minister said that Corsi was in “critical” condition as a result of the shooting, which took place during a protest march against the Israeli occupation.

Awwad said that “shooting live fire at the upper part of the bodies of protesters is directly targeting them and is a deliberate attempt at murder.”

“Israel does not differentiate between foreign solidarity activists, Palestinians, or even journalists,” he added. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 10:25 am

Posted in Media, Mideast Conflict

Beware of Cheap Data: Loads of low-quality data support low-quality conclusions

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Dewey defeats Truman

Michael Byrne reports at Motherboard:

Beware of easy data. The massive, cheap datasets assured by social media pipelines like Twitter are likely offering dangerous distortions of the real world.

This is the conclusion anyway of a pair of computer scientists, Juergen Pfeffer and Derek Ruths, based at McGill University and Carnegie Mellon University, as ​described in the current issue of Science. With thousands of papers based on social media data now being published each year—compared to handfuls just five years ago—the situation might even be viewed as quite dire. Imagine astronomers, newly armed with telescopes, trying to chart the movements and development of galaxies without understanding the influence of black holes, a hidden gravitational influence—or hidden bias.

Bias is the key term as we attempt to extract meaningful observations from the non-stop social media avalanche of conversations, pronouncements, locations, images, categories, and on and on. In the face of these sheer volumes, it’s easy to delude oneself into thinking that those volumes are capable of delivering the random (or otherwise specified) sample needed to conduct good research.

Ruths and Juergen liken our present state of social media-based inquiry to the early days of telephone polling. Infamously, the Chicago Tribune trusted its new sampling methods—circa 1948—enough to publish the post-presidential election headline “Dewey Defeats Truman,” only to learn shortly thereafter that Truman had actually won in a landslide and that its polling methods had oversampled Dewey supporters enormously.

“Not everything that can be labeled as ‘Big Data’ is automatically great,” Juergen notes in a statement. “People want to say something about what’s happening in the world and social media is a quick way to tap into that. You get the behavior of millions of people—for free.”

As Pfeffer and Ruths explain, social science researchers often underestimate the degree to which different social media platforms are favored by certain segments of the population. Instagram, for example, is slanted toward 20-something African-Americans, Latinos, women, and urban dwellers, while Pinterest is big with women in households with incomes greater than $100,000.

Making the situation worse is that social media feeds are usually . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 10:22 am

Perfect smoothness once more: the Shavecraft #102

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SOTD 29 Nov 2014

Extremely good shave today. I got a good lather with the Omega 20102, starting with a drying brush and adding small amounts of water as I loaded the brush. The gap between soap and brim in this tin of Barrister & Mann Dickens is not large—about 3/8″—and it did help in loading the brush. The lather was, however, somewhat diminished by the third pass, though I still had enough. I want to try this soap with a badger brush and see whether I get a more durable lather.

The Shavecraft #102 with a Personna Lab Blue blade of several uses did a really fine job, easy, smooth, and comfortable. I deliberately picked the #102 to follow yesterday’s shave with the Stealth to compare again the two slants. So far as I can see, it’s a toss-up: they are both in the top tier. I think the #102 would work even for a novice DE shaver, and I hope one will give it a go and report back.

Three passes, BBS, no nicks, and I’ve not had a razor burn for years. A good splash of TOBS Sandalwood aftershave, and today I cook a tri tip roast sous vide. Time recommendations are all over the place. I’m going for 3-4 hours.

UPDATE: A new post at Wicked_Edge comparing the Stealth and the #102.

 

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2014 at 10:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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