Later On

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

Archive for January 1st, 2015

An interesting review of The Interview

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Very interesting. And in terms of memes, it’s pretty clear that the meme cluster we call North Korea has evolved a very interesting way to sustain itself: it separates itself from the general global meme-exchange that constitutes all types of cultural intercourse—e.g., trade. So that keeps the meme from being diluted from the outside; and then internally it protects itself through rigorous enforcing adherence to the meme cluster itself, with constant vigilance against any internal memes that might emerge to challenge it—i.e., the meme analogue of antibodies against viral infection, which is exactly what it is, on the meme level.

North Korea is an example of how rapidly memes evolve. Once a meme cluster is somewhat separated, evolution will drive divergence from the group, and with memes that divergence occurs much more rapidly than the evolution of lifeforms (where we see the same sort of divergence in lifeform populations that become separated—by continental drift, by being carried to an island, in an inaccessible valley, or the like. With memes, you can thus find exotic specialization similar to what you see in some bizarre lifeforms: the birds-of-paradise is a standard example, though extreme specialization occurs widely. For some, the specialization is so extreme that a small change in the environment will drive the over-specialized species/meme to extinction. But in the meantime, that particular specialized adaption is in effect exploiting that particular meme-ecological niche. (I would assume, just as with lifeforms tend to evolve to exploit all ecological niches, memes will evolve to exploit every meme-equivalent niche in the memesphere.)

That seems to be the advantage of looking at things from the meme’s view: using the evolutionary history of lifeforms to suggest what we might look for among memes. And it seems a valid way to view it. For example, however awful the North Korea meme-cluster may be for the people (meme-hosts) living there, it is very good for the meme-cluster itself: the meme-cluster has evolved combinations of memes (meme DNA, in effect) that make the meme-cluster almost invulnerable to any sort of infection from other memes. Memes, like genes, are selfish. (Richard Dawkins defined the idea of memes in his book The Selfish Gene.) They were to perpetuate themselves, not their hosts, though obviously memes that harm the survivability of the host don’t tend to last over time.

The risk (for memes and for genes) is in becoming too specialized in their adaptation: the bird-of-paradise extreme. Some meme-cluster had to try the North Korean possibility (it’s a meme niche that had to be exploited), but I think that meme is rare because it’s so delicate: even a small change in the overall cultural environment—e.g., the sort of threat offered by The Interview—could threaten its survival (as a meme).

Because the evolution of meme (like that of lifeforms) is on-going and never stops, constantly responding to natural selection, naturally enough memes outside North Korea evolve to break through the barriers the North Korea meme has erected. Given sufficient time, the process of evolution—minor variations and natural selection—can solve almost any such problem, and memetic evolution requires much less time than evolution of lifeforms. So when you look for analogous situations between lifeforms and memes—which seem to abound—you have to adjust the timescale: you use something like a log chart, to make the time intervals approximately match, based on speed of evolution rather than calendar time.

Later: one interesting analogy presented itself to me, though it’s probably obvious: duck penises and marriage rituals. Duck penises have evolved complex shapes, and the vaginal equivalent is similarly complex, all with an eye to protecting the genes from unchosen matings. In effect, the structures restrict the genetic range of the offspring to protect the (selfish) genes that are transmitted.

Similarly, marriage rituals are those often quite complex meme clusters that serve to protect and preserve the overall cultural meme-cluster: the more cultures diverge, the more the marriage rituals diverge, and the more difficult it is to have a cross-cultural marriage. This is not so true for some societies as it is for others: the marriage ritual in the US is fairly simple, but even in the US the selection of the ritual strongly favors in-culture marriages rather than extra-cultural marriages. (Obviously conquest—wars between cultures—don’t follow this rule, but within a culture the marriage ritual is often protected and defined by family, tradition, and the overall culture, and crossing cultural lines is, in a sense, resisted by the memes of the differing marriage rituals.)

So the duck’s sexual apparatus evolved to protect the genes from outside disruption, and a culture’s marriage rituals evolved to protect the social memes by ensuring that memes from outside the culture are less likely to marry into the culture, so the children of the marriage—the new meme hosts—grow up shaped by the memes of that culture. (This article has some relevance, and it shows both meme conflicts and meme defensive measures on a variety of levels.)

I would imagine that every meme cluster has some defensive mechanisms to protect itself, along with mechanisms to help propagation.

Later still: The Wife points out that the marriage-meme conflicts described in the article are not so severe in some cultures—e.g., in the US, where marriage-ritual memes have lost substantial strength. OTOH, even in the US it is generally easier for two Catholics or two Muslims to get married than for a Catholic and a Muslim, particularly with families involved. The extra cost (of effort, emotional energy, and so on) serves as enough of a barrier to protect each of the meme clusters somewhat by keeping “outsiders” (those with other memes guiding them) away. It’s not a perfect protection, but it does help preserve the meme to a degree.

Of course memes are not immortal: they change and some wither and die. It’s a tough world for both memes and genes.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 9:55 pm

A moving tribute to Mario Cuomo, who died today aged 82

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Ken Auletta writes in the New Yorker:

The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates scouting report on Mario Cuomo in his first year in the minor leagues described him as “potentially the best prospect on the club.” The author noted that the young player “needs instruction” but “could go all the way.”

Cuomo did not go all the way in baseball (he couldn’t hit a curveball). Nor did he go all the way in politics. He chose not to run for President in 1992 because his ambition was superseded by his distaste for the grovelling, the fundraising, the selling, the motels. He did, however, “go all the way” as a public man.

Mario Cuomo had a combination of skills rarely seen in public life. Unlike most pols, he had an active interior life. He spent hours reflecting on events and writing in his diary, not to tout his greatness but to formulate his own thinking. His bookcases were crammed with books he had read and annotated—works by Aristotle, Dante, Marcus Aurelius, and the Jesuit theologian Teilhard de Chardin. His ego was in check and, unlike such able contemporaries as Ed Koch and Hugh Carey, he did not treat others in a room as his audience. He had the rare ability to listen, and he could see four sides of an issue. In the early seventies, these talents allowed him to successfully mediate the seemingly unbridgeable Forest Hills housing divide—low-income public housing was moving into an upper-middle-class neighborhood—and in the process develop a citywide identity.

He was incapable of faking conviction and thus ran a terrible campaign for mayor against Ed Koch, in 1977. His heart was not in the race. On the eve of the mayoral runoff between Cuomo and Koch, I wrote a column that appeared on page 3 of the New York Daily News about how, for me, the real conflict in the campaign was not the one between Koch and Cuomo but the one between “Mario Cuomo the man and the reality of his candidacy.” I also noted that, for me, the campaign was about “falling out of love with Mario Cuomo.” Over the years, he told me more than once how that column wounded him. But he never lashed out or personalized it. He had an ability to laugh at himself. I remember him telling me, “I ran a ridiculous campaign, but you’re still an ass!”

When he was elected governor in 1982, I spent five months in Albany reporting a two-part New Yorker Profile of Cuomo. We conducted more than a few interviews around the dining-room table at the mansion. One night, he served a bottle of white wine wrapped in a linen cloth. When I asked about the wine, he responded like a pitchman for his state: “This is New York State’s finest.” I didn’t believe him and unfolded the linen. He watched with a twinkle in his eye as I held up the naked bottle of Corvo from Italy. His gubernatorial staff consisted of heavyweights like the press secretary Tim Russert, but the media narrative was that Cuomo was handicapped by an insular claque led by his son Andrew and his former law-school classmate Fabian Palomino. Yet what I witnessed in the five months I spent profiling Cuomo for this magazine was that Andrew and Palomino, who each called him Mario, confronted him with unpleasant truths that most of his staff often tried to duck.

The time he spent with his books and wrestling with his diary helped lead him to thoughtful, principled positions. He opposed the death penalty and vetoed a bill that would have introduced it in the state. Then he took the time to publicly expound on his position, which was an unpopular one in New York at a moment when crime was rampant. It became a major reason he was defeated for a fourth term as governor. He defied his Catholicism by explaining that while he was personally opposed to abortion he defended a woman’s right to choose. Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor contemplated excommunicating him from the Church.

But my most vivid, and maybe most consequential memory of Mario Cuomo was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 8:07 pm

Something to watch out for with Amazon Fire TV Stick

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Amazon hides the lower-priced options. Example from just now: Jason Statham stars in Redemption, and I saw in browsing on-line that the price (to “watch now while in movie theaters”) is $3.99. I like Mr. Statham’s movies generally, so I look it up using my Fire TV Stick… there it is! But the price here is $4.99 to watch. It’s HD, but I really don’t need HD for this movie, but the $3.99 price is not shown.

On closer inspection, I see 5 choice boxes that I can highlight. From left to right:

Rent HD $4.99
Buy HD $14.99
Add to Watchlist
Watch Trailer, and (last but not least)
More Ways to Watch

When you click that last one, you see:

Rent:  HD $4.99     SD $3.99

So the cheaper option was accidentally hidden from plain view, requiring a full read of the options and another click.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Legos for girls

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Whatever happened to George Tenet?

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George Tenet was the director of the CIA who arranged to have terrorist suspects (some of whom, as we now know from the CIA’s own documentation quoted in the Senate torture report, were totally innocent of wrong-doing) tortured in order to elicit false confessions that tied Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda so that George W. Bush could justify his invasion of Iraq. (Also useful was the fictitious nuclear arms program that Saddam Hussein was undertaking—Bush exposed a covert CIA agent as payback to punish her husband, a former Ambassador, for pointing out that the yellow-cake shipments of uranium ore were also fictitious).

Tenet was quite eager and enthusiastic to push the US into a war on false pretenses (a CIA specialty), and was rewarded by George W. Bush with a Medal of Freedom. In The Intercept Ken Silverstein reports on Tenet today:

Oceanfront views, 24-hour doorman, heated pool, and perhaps best of all, a “private tunnel to the beach.” This $3 million Palm Beach, Florida penthouse could be yours, but unfortunately it isn’t because this prize has already been claimed by a former high-level U.S. official who helped pave the way for the over decade-long “war on terror,”which has been a near complete catastrophe.

Iraq is aflame, the Islamic State is on the rampage, the situation in Afghanistan worsens by the day, and thousands of Americans—and many more Iraqis and Afghans—have died during the post-9/11 conflicts. Meanwhile, the combined cost of the “war on terror” comes to an estimated $1.6 trillion.

But if the American people got screwed on the deal, a lot of former senior government officials who played important roles in this debacle have done quite well for themselves. It’s New Year’s Eve and I need to write a final sendoff to 2014, so I thought I’d take a look at the fortunes (literally) of some of these figures: Former CIA director George Tenet and former FBI director Louis Freeh (I’ll cover former Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge in a New Year’s post).

Consider Tenet. As head of the CIA, he missed multiple signs of a major Al Qadea attack directed against the United States, called the case against Saddam building Weapons of Mass Destruction a “slam dunk,” and approved the Bush administration’s torturing of terror suspects.

In any fair world Tenet would be tried for criminal incompetence. Instead, he got the Presidential Medal of Freedom and after resigning in 2004 (at which point his agency salary was south of $200,000), he received a $4 million advance to write a memoir. In it, he confessed to “a black, black time” a few months after 9/11 when he was sitting at home in his favorite Adirondack chair thinking about the tragedy that killed 3,000 Americans on his watch and asked, “Why me?”

Tenet has received millions more in his current role as managing director of a privately held New York investment bank and as a board director and advisor to intelligence and military contractors. Meanwhile, he collects fat speaking fees to talk about “current global threats to U.S. security and what the future holds for the U.S., our allies and interests around the globe.” (Top Secret: Here’s where he gets his best intelligence.)

Not bad for the son of Greek immigrants who before entering government service in 1982 (as legislative director to then-Senator H. John Heinz III) worked at the American Hellenic Institute and the Solar Energy Industries Association. When he headed the CIA, Tenet lived in a ranch house in Potomac, Maryland, which he bought in 1986 for $179,000. He currently splits his time between New York and the affluent D.C. suburb of Bethesda, where he reportedly lives in a neighborhood “known for its tree-lined streets, vintage brick homes, and atmosphere oozing with understated luxury.”

Then there’s Louis Freeh, Tenet’s counterpart at the FBI during the run-up to 9/11. (He resigned a few months before the attacks.) The former FBI director was seriously injured in a car wreck this August, but told police he had no idea what happened because he’d been asleep at the wheel, which is a perfect metaphor for his FBI stewardship. (And let me sincerely say I wish Freeh a speedy recovery, but the metaphor is precise.) Like Tenet, Freeh failed to act on a mountain of evidence pointing towards 9/11, i.e. an April 2001 memo sent to him by his assistant director that cited “significant and urgent” intelligence of “serious operational planning” for terrorism attacks by Islamic radicals linked to Osama bin Laden. He also botched cases involving Richard Jewell, Wen Ho Lee, and Robert Hanssen.

Freeh resigned from the FBI two months before 9/11. When he worked there he was making an annual salary of $145,000 and lived “in a heavily mortgaged house in Great Falls, a Virginia suburb,” according to an old and admiring New Yorker profile. He and his wife now own at least four lavish estates worth many millions of dollars, including a residence in Wilmington, Delaware, a six-bedroom summerhouse worth more than $3 million in Vermont, and a beachfront penthouse at 100 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida, which was bought for $1.4 million and now has an estimated value of $3 million.

How’d that happen? . . .

Continue reading.

This sort of disconnect—along with the fact that no individual was punished in any way for blowing up the US economy by selling fraudulent investments—makes one sympathetic to Patrick L. Smith’s column on the decline of the US. From that column:

Back in the 1960s, the late and great Herbert Marcuse described ours as “a society without opposition.” In such a society, as he put it, we find “a paralysis of criticism,” which is the fault of a very unprincipled press. “Under these conditions,” he wrote, “our mass media have little difficulty in selling particular interests as those of all sensible men.”

The bit about how the mass media abandons its role of critical analysis and simply regurgitates whatever those in power want it to print brought to mind any number of things: how Bill Keller at the NY Times helped the White House conceal its illegal wiretaps, how the mass media accepted uncritically the lies from the Bush Administration that led to a tragic war that we could easily have avoided, and even this report by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept today:

The identity of the Sony hackers is still unknown. President Obama, in a December 19 press conference, announced: “We can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.” He then vowed: “We will respond. . . . We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

The U.S. Government’s campaign to blame North Korea actually began two days earlier, when The New York Timesas usualcorruptly granted anonymity to “senior administration officials” to disseminate their inflammatory claims with no accountability. These hidden “American officials” used the Paper of Record to announce that they “have concluded that North Korea was ‘centrally involved’ in the hacking of Sony Pictures computers.” With virtually no skepticism about the official accusation, reporters David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth deemed the incident a “cyberterrorism attack” and devoted the bulk of the article to examining the retaliatory actions the government could take against the North Koreans.

The same day, The Washington Post granted anonymity to officials in order to print this:

Other than noting in passing, deep down in the story, that North Korea denied responsibility, not a shred of skepticism was included byPost reporters Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima. Like the NYT, the Postdevoted most of its discussion to the “retaliation” available to the U.S.

The NYT and Post engaged in this stenography in the face of numerous security experts loudly noting how sparse and unconvincing was the available evidence against North Korea. Kim Zetter in Wired – literally moments before the NYT laundered the accusation via anonymous officials – proclaimed the evidence of North Korea’s involvement “flimsy.” About the U.S. government’s accusation in the NYT, she wisely wrote: “they have provided no evidence to support this and without knowing even what agency the officials belong to, it’s difficult to know what to make of the claim. And we should point out that intelligence agencies and government officials have jumped to hasty conclusions or misled the public in the past because it was politically expedient.”

Numerous cyber experts subsequently echoed the same sentiments. Bruce Schneier wrote: “I am deeply skeptical of the FBI’s announcement on Friday that North Korea was behind last month’s Sony hack. The agency’s evidence is tenuous, and I have a hard time believing it.” The day before Obama’s press conference, long-time expert Marc Rogers detailed his reasons for viewing the North Korea theory as “unlikely”; after Obama’s definitive accusation, he comprehensively reviewed the disclosed evidence and was even more assertive: “there is NOTHING here that directly implicates the North Koreans” (emphasis in original) and “the evidence is flimsy and speculative at best.”

Yet none of this expert skepticism made its way into countless media accounts of the Sony hack. Time and again, many journalists mindlessly regurgitated the U.S. Government’s accusation against North Korea without a shred of doubt, blindly assuming it to be true, and then discussing, oftendemanding, strong retaliation. Coverage of the episode was largely driven by the long-standing, central tenet of the establishment U.S. media: government assertions are to be treated as Truth. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 12:37 pm

Sous vide salmon

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I got a frozen fillet of sockeye salmon we will have later today. I think I’m going to cook it sous vide as described in this post, though (as they note), it’s really sans vide: you just use a plastic baggie since the vacuum action is too hard on the fish. Note the differences from different temperatures:

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 11:55 am

Posted in Food

Yes, I had my black-eyed peas

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I’m from Oklahoma, which is enough in the South that we all ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Here’s what I did this year:

1 smoked ham shank (more meat and less fat than smoked ham hocks)
1/4 c water

I put that in my 3.25-qt Staub cast-iron round cocotte and left it in a 200ºF oven overnight. I let it cool, and with my hands pulled all the meat off the bones and into small pieces. Then I added to the remaining fat and liquid in the skillet:

1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 c celery, chopped fine
[1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped – I forgot this, but would have added it]
4 cloves garlic, minced

I sautéed that until the onion was transparent and soft. Then I added:

22 oz (1 qt) fresh black-eyed peas (Safeway sells them fresh around New Year’s)
the meat from the shank
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
1 Tbsp Red Boat fish sauce
5 star anise in a bouquet garni bag
water to cover
good shaking of salt
multiple grindings black pepper

I brought that to a boil, reduced heat, covered it, and simmered for 30 minutes.

It made quite a tasty soup.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 11:52 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

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