Later On

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

Archive for November 9th, 2015

John Cassidy has some very good questions about the white-male death-rate statistics

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Just read it. Very good questions.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 4:49 pm

Kevin Drum asks a very good question: Why do the media ignore the iconic elephant in the room?

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

Steve Benen on the Rubio-Lee tax plan:

At first blush, it’s tempting to see Marco Rubio’s economic plan as a dog-bites-man story: Republican presidential campaign proposes massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, even while saying the opposite.

Benen goes on to manfully make the case that Rubio’s tax crankery actually doesdeserve extra special attention, but I’m not sure he does the job. Sure, Rubio’s deficit would be humongous, but so would everyone else’s. And Rubio has a helluva mountain to climb to take the top spot in the tax craziness derby. Let’s roll the tape:

  • The “sensible” candidate says his tax plan will boost growth to 4 percent a year. His advisors have basically admitted that this number was pulled out of thin air.
  • A second candidate, not to be outdone on the absurd growth front, says his plan will cause the economy to take off like a rocket, producing growth as high as 6 percent. How will he manage this? “I just will.”
  • Another candidate suggests we adopt a tax plan based on the Biblical practice of tithing.
  • Yet another candidate, apparently thinking that tithing isn’t quite crazy enough, proposes an even lower flat tax.

This is all fantasyland stuff. So why doesn’t the media hammer them more on it? . . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Media

Very slick design

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No moving parts, always a plus. Full story by Clinton Nguyen in Motherboard.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 4:00 pm

Strange currents at Yale

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It seems almost as though Yale has lowered its admissions standards. Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic (and it’s definitely worthwhile to read the whole thing):

Professor Nicholas Christakis lives at Yale, where he presides over one of its undergraduate colleges. His wife Erika, a lecturer in early childhood education, shares that duty. They reside among students and are responsible for shaping residential life. And before Halloween, some students complained to them that Yale administrators were offering heavy-handed advice on what Halloween costumes to avoid.Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience, and composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement.

For her trouble, a faction of students are now trying to get the couple removed from their residential positions, which is to say, censured and ousted from their home on campus. Hundreds of Yale students are attacking them, some with hateful insults, shouted epithets, and a campaign of public shaming. In doing so, they have shown an illiberal streak that flows from flaws in their well-intentioned ideology.

Those who purport to speak for marginalized students at elite colleges sometimes expose serious shortcomings in the way that their black, brown, or Asian classmates are treated, and would expose flaws in the way that religious students and ideological conservatives are treated too if they cared to speak up for those groups. I’ve known many Californians who found it hard to adjust to life in the Ivy League, where a faction of highly privileged kids acculturated at elite prep schools still set the tone of a decidedly East Coast culture. All else being equal, outsiders who also feel like racial or ethnic “others” typically walk the roughest road of all.That may well be true at Yale.

But none of that excuses the Yale activists who’ve bullied these particular faculty in recent days. They’re behaving more like Reddit parodies of “social-justice warriors” than coherent activists, and I suspect they will look back on their behavior with chagrin. The purpose of writing about their missteps now is not to condemn these students. Their young lives are tremendously impressive by any reasonable measure. They are unfortunate to live in an era in which the normal mistakes of youth are unusually visible. To keep the focus where it belongs I won’t be naming any of them here.

The focus belongs on the flawed ideas that they’ve absorbed.

Everyone invested in how the elites of tomorrow are being acculturated should understand, as best they can, how so many cognitively privileged, ordinarily kind, seemingly well-intentioned young people could lash out with such flagrant intolerance.

* * *

What happens at Yale does not stay there.

With world-altering research to support, graduates who assume positions of extraordinary power, and a $24.9 billion endowment to marshal for better or worse, Yale administrators face huge opportunity costs as they parcel out their days. Many hours must be spent looking after undergraduates, who experience problems as serious as clinical depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and sexual assault. Administrators also help others, who struggle with financial stress or being the first in their families to attend college.

It is therefore remarkable that no fewer than 13 administrators took scarce time to compose, circulate, and co-sign a letter advising adult students on how to dress for Halloween, a cause that misguided campus activists mistake for a social-justice priority.

“Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and why it increases so much each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers—but not more professors,” Benjamin Ginsberg observed in Washington Monthly back in 2011. “For many of these career managers, promoting teaching and research is less important than expanding their own administrative domains.” All over America, dispensing Halloween costume advice is now an annual ritual performed by college administrators.

Erika Christakis was questioning that practice when she composed her email, adding nuance to a conversation that some students were already having. Traditionally, she began, Halloween is both a day of subversion for young people and a time when adults exert their control over their behavior: from bygone, overblown fears about candy spiked with poison or razorblades to a more recent aversion to the sugar in candy.“This year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” she wrote. “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”

It’s hard to imagine a more deferential way to begin voicing her alternative view. And having shown her interlocutors that she respects them and shares their ends, she explained her misgivings about the means of telling college kids what to wear on Halloween:

I wanted to share my thoughts with you from a totally different angle, as an educator concerned with the developmental stages of childhood and young adulthood.

As a former preschool teacher… it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde ­haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.

I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.

Which is my point.

I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours.

When I was in college, a position of this sort taken by a faculty member would likely have been regarded as a show of respect for all students and their ability to think for themselves. She added, “even if we could agree on how to avoid offense,” there may be something lost if administrators try to stamp out all offense-giving behavior:

I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity ­ to exercise self­censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?

In her view, students would be better served if colleges showed more faith in their capacity to work things out themselves, which would help them to develop cognitive skills. “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are hallmarks of a free and open society,” she wrote. “But—again, speaking as a child development specialist—I think there might be something missing in our discourse about … free speech (including how we dress) on campus, and it is this: What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? In other words: Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”

That’s the measured, thoughtful pre-Halloween email that caused Yale students to demand that Nicholas and Erika Christakis resign their roles at Silliman college. That’s how Nicholas Christakis came to stand in an emotionally charged crowd of Silliman students, where he attempted to respond to the fallout from the email his wife sent.Watching footage of that meeting, a fundamental disagreement is revealed between professor and undergrads. Christakis believes that he has an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to either respond that he is persuaded or to articulate why he has a different view. Put another way, he believes that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue. But many of the students believe that his responsibility is to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They see anything short of a confession of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respects students by validating their subjective feelings.

Notice that the student position allows no room for civil disagreement.

Given this set of assumptions, perhaps it is no surprise that the students behave like bullies even as they see themselves as victims. This is most vividly illustrated in a video clip that begins with one student saying, “Walk away, he doesn’t deserved to be listened to.” . . .

Continue reading.

The video clip is amazing. The young woman rants loudly and offensively in a way that I think would shock her if it were directed at her, and is clearly unable to listen or respond constructively in any sort of dialogue. I don’t think she is emotionally (or intellectually) ready for college.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts

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An interesting finding reported in the Guardian by Harriet Sherwood:

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

Muslim children judged “interpersonal harm as more mean” than children from Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher punishment than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, the report said that religious parents were more likely than others to consider their children to be “more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 10:06 am

The explorer gene

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I have discussed at various times the settler and explorer personality types, which in animals are often called shy and bold respectively: a predilection on the part of the settler to avoid change and on the part of the explorer to see change. Part—and, I suspect, most—of this is genetic rather than training, and the following post from a couple of years ago on the blog psychologyblogaimee identifies one gene involved:

Many people dream of travelling the world, seeing places they’ve never been and experiencing different cultures. Phrases such as backpacking, gap year and globetrotting have become much a part of vocabulary, increasingly more-so since the availability and promise of cheap flights and overseas volunteer teaching placements. Humans are amongst the most curious and exploratory species that has ever lived upon earth. This drive to travel and breakthrough to unknown places can be described through genetics.

The root of all human existence is linked back to Africa: the first of our ancestors began to leave around 70,000 to 50,000 years ago (Armour et al 1996) No other species on the planet has travelled and spread across the world in the same way as humans: species usually stay in the area they have always been yet modern humans have visited and settled in every continent, country and corner of the world in just 50,000 years. Not quite so much of a long time, in earths long years of existence (Knoll, 2003).

Research into why humans like to travel and as a species have travelled so far has been focused on studying genes. A gene DRD4 is involved in dopamine levels in the brain, which is linked with motivation and behaviour (Lichter et al, 1993). A variation of this gene, DRD4-7R, is carried by an approximately 20% of the human population and is linked with restlessness and curiosity along with being a named association with ADHD (Schilling, Walsh & Yun, 2011). This restlessness can cause people to take bigger risks which includes exploring new or different places. A study by Chen (1999) found the DRD4-7r form of the gene more likely to occur in modern day societies where people migrated longer differences from where we first originated in Africa many thousands of years ago. Another more recent study also reported similar findings: those who lived in cultures whose ancestors migrated out of Africa the furthest and the fastest/earliest were more likely to have the DRD4-7r gene (Dobbs, 2012). These findings suggest that this gene could be the motivation behind the yearning to travel, to move and to see the world: as it possibly did with our ancient ancestors.

Another theory behind the motivation to travel is rooted in our childhood: as children, we learn through play and imagination. Compared to most animals, and to some of our closest ancient ancestors (Neanderthals etc) we spend more time as children protected by our mothers in which we can develop our imagination. The basics of imagination is to create hypothetical scenarios and worlds which could be what is behind our fuel to travel and what makes us so inquisitive. Questions such as ‘what’s further than that border?’and ‘what’s over the other side of the sea’ are just some of the questions which drove our species to explore around the world.

In conclusion, the motivations behind traveling can be explained through our genes (DRD4-7R) and also through our imagination which is fueled by play and childhood. . .

Continue reading.

The post includes a brief bibliography.

And see also this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 8:45 am

Posted in Science

Gene hacking

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Very interesting article in the New Yorker by Michael Specter on how neatly we can now work on genes:

At thirty-four, Feng Zhang is the youngest member of the core faculty at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. He is also among the most accomplished. In 1999, while still a high-school student, in Des Moines, Zhang found a structural protein capable of preventing retroviruses like H.I.V. from infecting human cells. The project earned him third place in the Intel Science Talent Search, and he applied the fifty thousand dollars in prize money toward tuition at Harvard, where he studied chemistry and physics. By the time he received his doctorate, from Stanford, in 2009, he had shifted gears, helping to create optogenetics, a powerful new discipline that enables scientists to use light to study the behavior of individual neurons.

Zhang decided to become a biological engineer, forging tools to repair the broken genes that are responsible for many of humanity’s most intractable afflictions. The following year, he returned to Harvard, as a member of the Society of Fellows, and became the first scientist to use a modular set of proteins, called TALEs, to control the genes of a mammal. “Imagine being able to manipulate a specific region of DNA . . . almost as easily as correcting a typo,” one molecular biologist wrote, referring toTALEs, which stands for transcription activator-like effectors. He concluded that although such an advance “will probably never happen,” the new technology was as close as scientists might get.

Having already helped assemble two critical constituents of the genetic toolbox used in thousands of labs throughout the world, Zhang was invited, at the age of twenty-nine, to create his own research team at the Broad. One day soon after his arrival, he attended a meeting during which one of his colleagues mentioned that he had encountered a curious region of DNA in some bacteria he had been studying. He referred to it as a CRISPR sequence.

“I had never heard that word,” Zhang told me recently as we sat in his office, which looks out across the Charles River and Beacon Hill. Zhang has a perfectly round face, its shape accentuated by rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and a bowl cut. “So I went to Google just to see what was there,” he said. Zhang read every paper he could; five years later, he still seemed surprised by what he found. CRISPR, he learned, was a strange cluster of DNA sequences that could recognize invading viruses, deploy a special enzyme to chop them into pieces, and use the viral shards that remained to form a rudimentary immune system. The sequences, identical strings of nucleotides that could be read the same way backward and forward, looked like Morse code, a series of dashes punctuated by an occasional dot. The system had an awkward name—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—but a memorable acronym.

CRISPR has two components. The first is essentially a cellular scalpel that cuts DNA. The other consists of RNA, the molecule most often used to transmit biological information throughout the genome. It serves as a guide, leading the scalpel on a search past thousands of genes until it finds and fixes itself to the precise string of nucleotides it needs to cut. It has been clear at least since Louis Pasteur did some of his earliest experiments into the germ theory of disease, in the nineteenth century, that the immune systems of humans and other vertebrates are capable of adapting to new threats. But few scientists had considered the possibility that single bacterial cells could defend themselves in the same way. The day after Zhang heard about CRISPR, he flew to Florida for a genetics conference. Rather than attend the meetings, however, he stayed in his hotel room and kept Googling. “I just sat there reading every paper on CRISPR I could find,” he said. “The more I read, the harder it was to contain my excitement.”

It didn’t take Zhang or other scientists long to realize that, if nature could turn these molecules into the genetic equivalent of a global positioning system, so could we. Researchers soon learned how to create synthetic versions of the RNA guides and program them to deliver their cargo to virtually any cell. Once the enzyme locks onto the matching DNA sequence, it can cut and paste nucleotides with the precision we have come to expect from the search-and-replace function of a word processor. “This was a finding of mind-boggling importance,” Zhang told me. “And it set off a cascade of experiments that have transformed genetic research.”

With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us.

Continue reading.

Regarding that last sentence, I cannot understand why the same technique would not work on plants as well, but the author is at some pains to say specifically that it works in animals, carefully avoiding making any claims about the technique as applied to plants.

UPDATE: Michael Specter responded to a tweet from me and says that it does indeed work with plants, which makes me wonder why he restricts his statement in the article to animals.

UPDATE More about CRISPR in this article in the NY Times Magazine, which is more informative.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 8:35 am

Posted in Science

Mystic Water Sensitive Skin with Semogue boar and white bakelite slant

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SOTD 9 Nov 2015

My Semogue brush is breaking in, very gradually. Of course, if I used it more frequently—if, for example, it was one of four brushes that I owned—the break-in by now would be well along.

Still, I got a very nice lather from Mystic Water Sensitive Skin, though I did have to reload for the final pass. The white bakelite slant, made by Merkur, did its usual awesome job: perfect smoothness with no nicks or burn.

A splash of 4711 and we face another week.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 8:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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