Later On

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

Archive for September 14th, 2016

“A hundred walked out of my lecture”

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Dr. Susan Blackmore describes the academic spirit nowadays, which lacks the spirit of inquiry:

I’m still shaken by yesterday’s lecture and its aftermath. Oxford in the 21st century was, I’d fondly assumed, the epitome of somewhere I could speak freely and fully, and expect people to listen and then argue and disagree if they wished to. Apparently not.

I was invited to give a lecture on memes by the “Oxford Royale Academy”, an institution that has nothing to do with the University of Oxford but hosts groups of several hundred 17-18 year-olds for two weeks of classes and, I guess, some kind of simulation of an ‘Oxford experience’. I was told they were of 45 nationalities and I assumed many different religions. So I prepared my lecture carefully. I tried it out the day before on my husband’s grandson, a bright mixed-race 16 year-old from Paris, and added pictures of the latest craze for ‘Fatkini posts’ and more videos, including my favourite Gangnam Style parody (Python style), but I wasn’t going to avoid the topic of religious memes – religions are an example, par excellence, of memeplexes that use wicked tricks to ensure their own survival. I simply made sure that my slides included many religions and didn’t single one out.

Looking back I should have seen trouble coming early on. I began with a pile of stuffed animals on the desk that I use to illustrate natural selection. Many laughed at my ‘dangerous predator’ eating them but at the word ‘evolution’ a young man in the second row began swaying side to side and vigorously shaking his head. I persevered, trying to put over the idea that evolution is inevitable – if you have information that is copied with variation and selection then you must get (as Dan Dennett p50 puts it) ‘Design out of chaos without the aid of mind’. It is this inevitability that I find so delightful – the evolutionary algorithm just must produce design, and once you understand that you have no need to believe or not believe in evolution. You see how it works. So I persevered.

Introducing memes, I asked for volunteers to come up on the stage and invent a new meme. This same young man, called Moritz, was up in a flash, followed by four others. I asked him, at the word ‘go’, to make some simple movements and sounds. ‘One, two, three, Go,’ I said, and he waved one hand around in a circle, chanting ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word ….’. The others then imitated him and that was fun. Three obediently began reciting from the Bible but the fourth threw both arms in the air and declared ‘There’s a big old man in the sky’ and raised a huge laugh and cheer from (some of) the audience. This seemed an opportunity not to be missed so I asked the whole audience, at the word ‘go’, to imitate either of these two new memes, whereupon a great cry burst out of, ‘In the beg…’, ‘There’s an old man …’. Great, I said, we’ve now got two memes, you have just seen meme creation and selection at work.

Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.

The cartoon was worse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 6:47 pm

Alcohol Industry Bankrolls Fight Against Legal Pot

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The vested interest is obvious, so I expect to hear a lot of motivated reasoning and see a lot of incomplete or outright false statistics. Maybe some forged leaked documents, as described in the previous post.

Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

The fight against legalized pot is being heavily bankrolled by alcohol and pharmaceutical companies, terrified that they might lose market share.

On the heels of a filing last week that revealed that a synthetic cannabis company is financing the opposition to legal marijuana in Arizona comes a new disclosure this week that a beer industry group made one of the largest donations to an organization set up to defeat legalization in Massachusetts.

The Beer Distributors PAC, an affiliate that represents 16 beer-distribution companies in Massachusetts, gave $25,000 to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, tying it for third place among the largest contributors to the anti-pot organization.

William A. Kelley, the president of the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, did not respond to a request for comment, but his organization’s decision to oppose legalization is hardly unique in the alcohol industry.

In Arizona, one of the five states with marijuana legalization ballot measures this November, the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association donated$10,000 to a group opposing legalization. In 2010, the last time California considered marijuana legalization, another alcoholic beverage distribution group provided financing to a law enforcement-backed campaign to defeat legalization.

The alcohol industry is nowhere near unified over pot policy, however, with several craft brewing firm welcoming laws that relax restrictions over pot.

Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal that heavyweight alcohol companies have disclosed to investors that pot could pose a challenge to their bottom line. . .

Continue reading.

Marijuana is harmless and legalizing reduces use of an addictive, health-destroying drug that can kill with a single overdose (as various undergraduate hazings gone wrong demonstrate every year). That sounds good for the public, to me, though (obviously) bad news for the merchants of death. The change is to the public’s benefit, but the alcohol industry cares not a whit for public benefit: it’s all very nice that people will be better off, but our profits will take a hit! That is simply not to be tolerated, whatever other benefits accrue.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 1:29 pm

“How Long Until Hackers Start Faking Leaked Documents?”

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I would bet they already have, since the article’s went up yesterday. Bruce Schneier writes in the Atlantic:

In the past few years, the devastating effects of hackers breaking into an organization’s network, stealing confidential data, and publishing everything have been made clear. It happened to the Democratic National Committee, toSony, to the National Security Agency, to the cyber-arms weapons manufacturerHacking Team, to the online adultery site Ashley Madison, and to the Panamanian tax-evasion law firm Mossack Fonseca.

This style of attack is known as organizational doxing. The hackers, in some cases individuals and in others nation-states, are out to make political points by revealing proprietary, secret, and sometimes incriminating information. And the documents they leak do that, airing the organizations’ embarrassments for everyone to see.

In all of these instances, the documents were real: the email conversations, still-secret product details, strategy documents, salary information, and everything else. But what if hackers were to alter documents before releasing them? This is the next step in organizational doxing—and the effects can be much worse.

It’s one thing to have all of your dirty laundry aired in public for everyone to see. It’s another thing entirely for someone to throw in a few choice items that aren’t real.

Recently, Russia has started using forged documents as part of broader disinformation campaigns, particularly in relation to Sweden’s entering of a military partnership with NATO, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.Forging thousands—or more—documents is difficult to pull off, but slipping a single forgery in an actual cache is much easier. The attack could be something subtle. Maybe a country that anonymously publishes another country’s diplomatic cables wants to influence yet a third country, so adds some particularly egregious conversations about that third country. Or the next hacker who steals and publishes email from climate change researchers invents a bunch of over-the-top messages to make his political point even stronger. Or it could be personal: someone dumping email from thousands of users making changes in those by a friend, relative, or lover.

Imagine trying to explain to the press, eager to publish the worst of the details in the documents, that everything is accurate except this particular email. Or that particular memo. That the salary document is correct except that one entry. Or that the secret customer list posted up on WikiLeaks is correct except that there’s one inaccurate addition. It would be impossible. Who would believe you? No one. And you couldn’t prove it.

It has long been easy to forge documents on the internet. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 1:20 pm

“Police like me are taught to fear Americans instead of protect them. And people will die because of it.”

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Louis Hayes, a police officer, writes in Quartz:

On Aug. 18, a 29-year-old man named Daniel K. Harris was shot and killed by a North Carolina state trooper near Charlotte. Harris, who was unarmed, was also deaf.

The shooting, which is currently under investigation, is the kind of case that often sparks protests across the nation. Yet the public response has been relatively muted. Could it be that in the wake of the tragedies in Baton Rouge and Dallas this summer—ambushes in which a total of eight police officers were murdered—journalists and activists are beginning to look at policing differently? Despite a wealth of statistics showing that attacks on police have been steadily decreasing for decades, maybe police are right to be so scared all the time.

There are valid concerns about police safety. But the facts show that there is no national war on cops. That’s hard for me to say—mostly because I’m a cop.

A report commissioned in July by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that firearms-related homicides of police officers are up as compared to the same period last year. According to the FBI, of the 41 police officers feloniously murdered in 2015, seven were killed in ambushes or unprovoked attacks. In the first half of 2016, with already 14 already tallied, ambush murders have also spiked as compared to last year.

And yet these numbers don’t tell the full story. In fact, police officers are safer today then they have ever been. And while ambushes like the ones in Texas and in Louisiana contribute to a large percentage of total police deaths this year, they remain rare. Police officer deaths overall have been declining since the mid-1970s. When it comes to the most dangerous jobs in America, law enforcers barely ever crack the Top Ten.

Yet everywhere I turn, someone is telling me that I’m being targeted for my uniform, that an attack on my brothers and sisters in blue is an attack on the close to half a million full-time sworn police officers in the US.

After being inundated with the message that anyone, anywhere, and at any time might ambush me (and that these sorts of attacks are on the rise), is it any surprise that I or other police officers might be fearful on the job?

Fear is an emotion. It’s primal and instinctual. It doesn’t have to be logical or rational. And throughout their careers, police are exposed to all kinds of worse-case scenarios.

American police training is a complex venture. In a time-compressed format, the police training takes Joe Citizen and turns him into Joe Cop. His trainers debrief incidents when officers are injured or killed. Joe watches countless dash-cam videos of police officers being murdered in front of their patrol cars. He learns to be skeptical of everyone. Joe participates in scenario drills in which old ladies and young kids ambush him. He is taught to expect the worst possible outcome—and take precautions in order to prevent becoming another statistic himself.

He will also be trained to shoot to kill, instead of to wound or incapacitate. “Even if an officer shoots [someone] with a lethal firearm, it may not stop a person,” David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told ABC News recently. “When there is a threat to life right now, or serious bodily injury, deadly force is the appropriate response.”

The idea of a “war on cops” confirms this mindset. Emotional imagery and war stories are more compelling than statistics. Joe Cop becomes even more afraid. He is afraid of people who keep their hands in their pockets; he is wary of people who get too close or videotape him or want to shake hands. Everyone is a potential assailant.

When one adds race and unconscious prejudices into the mix, the issues become even more complex. Implicit bias affects both civilians and law enforcement professionals—although civilians are presumably not as emboldened to act upon it in potentially lethal ways. As noted by New York University psychologist David Amodio in 2010: “Recent research in social neuroscience has revealed that prejudiced reactions are linked to rapidly activated structures in the brain—parts of the brain associated with fear and disgust, likely developed long ago in our evolutionary history.”

The good news is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 11:31 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Some law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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The full list is here in the Washington Post. These caught my eye:

  • But it’s not just DNA. Police agencies across the country are also tracking, collecting and storing data about movement, social media activity, acquaintances, habits and associations — also of people who have never been accused of a crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 11:05 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Parker 92R TTO razor goes to auction

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Parker side

In excellent condition, this Parker 92R is listed now on eBay.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 10:27 am

Posted in Shaving

Great shave with the Fatip Testina Gentile and Tcheon Fung Sing

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SOTD 2016-09-14

An all-Italian shave today. My Omega 21762 made a very fine lather from Tcheon Fung Sing Tobacco Verde shaving soap. The soap loaded easily—no need to add water during loading—and then I use palm lathering to build the lather, working in a fair amount of water, little by little, as I brushed my palm. The Omega 21762 is a very soft brush and feels quite gentle on the face, but it makes lather just fine.

I was disappointed in my last Fatip razor—too harsh—but a commenter suggester that I give the Fatip Testina Gentile a try, saying it was much more comfortable. He was right: this razor is much more to my taste, and I easily got a trouble-free BBS result. The razor is made of brass, and in this version chrome plated. (Other finishes are available.) A totally satisfactory little razor.

A good splash of Floïd, and the day looks brighter.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2016 at 8:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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