Later On

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

Archive for June 1st, 2017

“Tropic Thunder” has aged well

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Of course, I’m a sucker for a movie movie, and Tropic Thunder on Netflix now is an excellent comedy of the genre, with lots of references and allusions. Quite a cast, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Impromptu dinner using a link of hot Italian sausage and some other stuff

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The sausage I get is 5 links per pound, so one link is 0.2 lbs. This is regular pork sausage.

1 piece thick bacon cut into chunks

I rendered that in my small sauté pan (8″, I think), then added the 0.2 lbs hot Italian sausage cut into chunks. After it browned and the bacon was also browned, I added

1 large shallot minced
5 garlic cloves minced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
8-10 Kalamata olives, halved
1 tsp salt
About 1.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper

I cooked that for a while, then added

1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced
1 lemon diced and quick “preserved” a la Mark Bittman*
dash of Worcestershire

Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Very tasty.

Quick “preserved” lemons

Wash 1 lemon, cut off and discard ends, then dice the rest: cut into slabs and cut those into squares.

Put cut-up lemon in a small bowl, add:

3/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp sugar

Stir and let sit 20 minutes. (I mince the garlic at this time so it also can sit for a while.)

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

President Trump treats other nations the way he treats his staff

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That’s because he has no idea of leadership—he’s not a leader and wouldn’t recognize one. Leaders elicit (and depend on) cooperation from those they lead—by having people cooperate under the leader’s direction and vision, the efforts of many combine and synergize. But Trump doesn’t lead: he bullies and undercuts his subordinates and contradicts what they say and sets them at each other, all the while making them constantly demonstrate their loyalty to him (because he’s frightened to have anyone around who is not totally loyal to him—he lives in fear).

And Trump sees the US as himself, only bigger and with more detail, so he will treat the world the same way he treats his staff. And if you look at what he’s done and how he’s acting, it’s obvious. Russia now the favored one, and he’s punishing Germany. But then he’ll undercut Russia and praise Germany. Or whatever. Same game, larger scale.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 5:57 pm

Oregon is the White Supremacist state

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I generally think of Idaho as a state with an active white supremacist movement, but clearly I was wrong. Keegan Stephan informs us about Oregon:

Last week, a white supremacist allegedly stabbed two men to death and severely wounded another who tried to intervene as he hurled racial slurs at a black woman and a Muslim woman. Yet one of the most shocking aspects of the incident was where it occurred: Portland, Ore. Many Americans consider the city to be a progressive utopia, to the point of televised parody. The truth is far more complicated.

I went to high school outside Portland, and I encountered more overt white supremacy there than anywhere else. Progressive politics and discrimination are not mutually exclusive. Many classmates who would have described themselves as progressive expressed white supremacist ideals, often in violent terms. Without diversity, overt racism often goes unchecked. And where it goes unchecked, it persists.

While Portland is indeed progressive on many political issues, it is still the whitest large city in America — and that’s by design. Before becoming a state in 1859, Oregon passed laws that prohibited slavery but also required all African Americans to leave the territory. It simply wanted no black people. It went so far as to make the “crime” of being black punishable by floggings until the “perpetrator” left. Thus, when Oregon joined the union, it joined not as a free state or a slave state, but as a no-blacks state, the only state to do so.

Even as the rest of the country began to extend rights to African Americans after the Civil War, Oregon held fast to its racist origins. When the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, giving black men the right to vote, Oregon was one of only a few states not to sign on, and refused do so until 1959. While the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, granting citizenship and equal protection of the law to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” Oregon did not ratify it until 1973.

The state left on the books anti-miscegenation and other laws that clearly violated the equal protection clause well into the 20th century. Until 2002 , the Oregon constitution even insisted that “no free Negro, or mulatto . . . shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate.”

Technically, these laws were unconstitutional despite Oregon’s refusal to ratify the 14th Amendment, and anyone prosecuted under them should have been able to successfully overturn their conviction. Yet their existence still served to intimidate; the weight of the state’s criminal-justice system stood behind them, as Portland proved just as willing to enforce Jim Crow-style segregation as the Deep South, even banning black people from public swimming pools into the 1960s. The possibility of successfully challenging the application of these racist laws in federal court, even for those with the means to do so, offered little comfort.

I was lucky enough to live across the street from Judge Belton Hamilton, the first black federal administrative law judge in the state. (A black justice still has not been appointed to Oregon’s highest state court.) One of the kindest and most generous men I’ve ever met, Hamilton told me that he never felt safe living in the state under these laws. He told me that he had to draft legislation in order to legally marry his wife (a Japanese American woman) and to buy his house in our small suburb. But although Hamilton may have helped to rewrite the laws, he never successfully changed the hearts of all our neighbors. I remember his house being vandalized regularly growing up. I remember helping him pick toilet paper out of his trees and scrub swastikas off of his stone walkway — in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As tragic as last week’s murders were, they should shock no one. In a state that sought to exclude black people entirely, and that openly discriminated as long as the Jim Crow South, no one should be surprised that violent, white-supremacist ideologies still flourish. In the 1920s, Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership per capita of any state; in the 1980s, white nationalists chose Portland as a place to establish themselves in the Northwest; in 1988, a skinhead, egged on by two others, beat Nigerian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw to death with a bat; in 2016, a white supremacist was charged with a hate crime after mowing down a black teenager named Larnell Bruce with his SUV; just two months before this latest attack, ProPublica and BuzzFeed found that Oregon has recently had more documented hate crimes than any other state. A white nationalist rally is still slated to take place just two weeks after this latest double slaying. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

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A Theory of Reality as More Than the Sum of Its Parts

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Emergence fascinates me, since the emergent phenomenon can seem totally different from—almost unrelated to—that from which it emerges (e.g., life from atoms). Natalie Wolchover writes in Quanta:

In his 1890 opus, The Principles of Psychology, William James invoked Romeo and Juliet to illustrate what makes conscious beings so different from the particles that make them up.

“Romeo wants Juliet as the filings want the magnet; and if no obstacles intervene he moves towards her by as straight a line as they,” James wrote. “But Romeo and Juliet, if a wall be built between them, do not remain idiotically pressing their faces against its opposite sides like the magnet and the filings. … Romeo soon finds a circuitous way, by scaling the wall or otherwise, of touching Juliet’s lips directly.”

Erik Hoel, a 29-year-old theoretical neuroscientist and writer, quoted the passage in a recent essay in which he laid out his new mathematical explanation of how consciousness and agency arise. The existence of agents — beings with intentions and goal-oriented behavior — has long seemed profoundly at odds with the reductionist assumption that all behavior arises from mechanistic interactions between particles. Agency doesn’t exist among the atoms, and so reductionism suggests agents don’t exist at all: that Romeo’s desires and psychological states are not the real causes of his actions, but merely approximate the unknowably complicated causes and effects between the atoms in his brain and surroundings.

Hoel’s theory, called “causal emergence,” roundly rejects this reductionist assumption.

“Causal emergence is a way of claiming that your agent description is really real,” said Hoel, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University who first proposed the idea with Larissa Albantakis and Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If you just say something like, ‘Oh, my atoms made me do it’ — well, that might not be true. And it might be provably not true.”

Using the mathematical language of information theory, Hoel and his collaborators claim to show that new causes — things that produce effects — can emerge at macroscopic scales. They say coarse-grained macroscopic states of a physical system (such as the psychological state of a brain) can have more causal power over the system’s future than a more detailed, fine-grained description of the system possibly could. Macroscopic states, such as desires or beliefs, “are not just shorthand for the real causes,” explained Simon DeDeo, an information theorist and cognitive scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute who is not involved in the work, “but it’s actually a description of the real causes, and a more fine-grained description would actually miss those causes.”

“To me, that seems like the right way to talk about it,” DeDeo said, “because we do want to attribute causal properties to higher-order events [and] things like mental states.”

Hoel and collaborators have been developing the mathematics behind their idea since 2013. In a May paper in the journal Entropy, Hoel placed causal emergence on a firmer theoretical footing by showing that macro scales gain causal power in exactly the same way, mathematically, that error-correcting codes increase the amount of information that can be sent over information channels. Just as codes reduce noise (and thus uncertainty) in transmitted data — Claude Shannon’s 1948 insight that formed the bedrock of information theory — Hoel claims that macro states also reduce noise and uncertainty in a system’s causal structure, strengthening causal relationships and making the system’s behavior more deterministic.

“I think it’s very significant,” George Ellis, a South African cosmologist who has also written about top-down causation in nature, said of Hoel’s new paper. Ellis thinks causal emergence could account for many emergent phenomena such as superconductivityand topological phases of matter. Collective systems like bird flocks and superorganisms — and even simple structures like crystals and waves — might also exhibit causal emergence, researchers said.

The work on causal emergence is not yet widely known among physicists, who for centuries have taken a reductionist view of nature and largely avoided further philosophical thinking on the matter. But at the interfaces between physics, biology, information theory and philosophy, where puzzles crop up, the new ideas have generated excitement. Their ultimate usefulness in explaining the world and its mysteries — including consciousness, other kinds of emergence, and the relationships between the micro and macro levels of reality — will come down to whether Hoel has nailed the notoriously tricky notion of causation: Namely, what’s a cause? “If you brought 20 practicing scientists into a room and asked what causation was, they would all disagree,” DeDeo said. “We get mixed up about it.”

A Theory of Cause

In a fatal drunk driving accident, what’s the cause of death? Doctors name a ruptured organ, while a psychologist blames impaired decision-making abilities and a sociologist points to permissive attitudes toward alcohol. Biologists, chemists and physicists, in turn, see ever more elemental causes. “Famously, Aristotle had a half-dozen notions of causes,” DeDeo said. “We as scientists have rejected all of them except things being in literal contact, touching and pushing.”

The true causes, to a physicist, are the fundamental forces acting between particles; all effects ripple out from there. Indeed, these forces, when they can be isolated, appear perfectly deterministic and reliable — physicists can predict with high precision the outcomes of particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, for instance. In this view, causes and effects become hard to predict from first principles only when there are too many variables to track.

Furthermore, philosophers have argued that causal power existing at two scales at once would be twice what the world needs; to avoid double-counting, the “exclusion argument” says all causal power must originate at the micro level. But it’s almost always easier to discuss causes and effects in terms of macroscopic entities. When we look for the cause of a fatal car crash, or Romeo’s decision to start climbing, “it doesn’t seem right to go all the way down to microscopic scales of neurons firing,” DeDeo said. “That’s where Erik [Hoel] is jumping in. It’s a bit of a bold thing to do to talk about the mathematics of causation.”

Friendly and large-limbed, Hoel grew up reading books at Jabberwocky, his family’s bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He studied creative writing as an undergraduate and planned to become a writer. (He still writes fiction and has started a novel.) But he was also drawn to the question of consciousness — what it is, and why and how we have it — because he saw it as an immature scientific subject that allowed for creativity. For graduate school, he went to Madison, Wisconsin, to work with Tononi — the only person at the time, in Hoel’s view, who had a truly scientific theory of consciousness.

Tononi conceives of consciousness as information: bits that are encoded not in the states of individual neurons, but in the complex networking of neurons, which link together in the brain into larger and larger ensembles. Tononi argues that this special “integrated information” corresponds to the unified, integrated state that we experience as subjective awareness. Integrated information theory has gained prominence in the last few years, even as debates have ensued about whether it is an accurate and sufficient proxy for consciousness. But when Hoel first got to Madison in 2010, he became Tononi’s first collaborator on the theory.

Tononi tasked Hoel with exploring the general mathematical relationship between scales and information. The scientists later focused on how the amount of integrated information in a neural network changes as you move up the hierarchy of spatiotemporal scales, looking at links between larger and larger groups of neurons. They hoped to figure out which ensemble size might be associated with maximum integrated information — and thus, possibly, with conscious thoughts and decisions. Hoel taught himself information theory and plunged into the philosophical debates around consciousness, reductionism and causation.

Hoel soon saw that understanding how consciousness emerges at macro scales would require a way of quantifying the causal power of brain states. He realized, he said, that “the best measure of causation is in bits.” He also read the works of the computer scientist and philosopher Judea Pearl, who developed a logical language for studying causal relationships in the 1990s called causal calculus. With Albantakis and Tononi, Hoel devised a measure of causal power called “effective information,” which indicates how effectively a particular state influences the future state of a system. (Effective information can be used to help calculate integrated information, but it is simpler and more general and, as a measure of causal power, does not rely on Tononi’s other ideas about consciousness.)

The researchers showed that in simple models of neural networks, the amount of effective information increases as you coarse-grain over the neurons in the network — that is, treat groups of them as single units. The possible states of these interlinked units form a causal structure, where transitions between states can be mathematically modeled using so-called Markov chains. At a certain macroscopic scale, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Math, Memes, Science

Kansas City Builds Tiny Village For Homeless Veterans With 50 Tiny Houses So They Could Live There For Free

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This post has quite a few photos.

Rick Montgomery also has a good report from March 30 (two months ago) in the Kansas City Star, including some video. That article begins:

With their hot idea — tiny houses for homeless veterans — hitting a cold stretch, the ex-service members leading a Kansas City community project are storming the next hill.

Thursday marks the grand opening of a “Veterans Outreach Center” adjacent to a swath of undeveloped land at Troost Avenue and 89th Street. That property is where a battalion of determined men and women have mapped out a tiny-house neighborhood that last year drew global media interest.

This latest bit of news caught some in Kansas City by surprise. Veterans Outreach Center? When did that come along?

Oh, just within the last couple of months.

Organizers of the upstart Veterans Community Project admit to moving forward with ideas that haven’t been thoroughly vetted. But compared with the densely regulated cluster of conventional agencies striving to put needy veterans into homes, these tiny-house visionaries prefer to operate this way.

Continue reading.

I think it’s particularly good that the tiny homes are placed close to each other, in a community arrangement, and are located near support services.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 1:30 pm

“On the Mood Among My Former Colleagues at the FBI”

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The author:

Nora Ellingsen is a second year student at Harvard Law School. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years working for the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. She graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Psychology and Political Science.

She writes at Lawfare:

On May 9, immediately after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CBS that the administration fired Comey, at least in part, because “rank-and-file” FBI employees had lost confidence in the Director—a claim that Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe later disputed when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee a few days later.

I know a little something about rank and file FBI employees, having been one myself. I worked at the FBI for five years as an analyst in counterterrorism investigations before going to law school, and I still have a lot of friends and former colleagues there.

So Benjamin Wittes asked if I would write a short piece on morale at the Bureau following the firing. For the record, given what follows, let me stress that he didn’t ask for a puff piece about Comey. He asked what I could glean about the disparity between the White House’s account of the matter and McCabe’s. What is the mood like, he asked? And is there anything to be said for Huckabee Sanders’ claim? [or was Huckabee Sanders simply lying to the American public? – LG]

I was hesitant to post on the subject. I am no longer an employee of the FBI, and even if I were, I would have concerns about presuming to speak on behalf of the more than 35,000 employees. I wasn’t sure I could write a fact-based post that would be able to capture or do justice to the mood of a massive and diverse organization. I’m not a pollster, after all.

But here’s the thing: opinion on the subject within the Bureau is not, as far as I can glean anyway, diverse at all. I spoke about my concerns with a friend and former coworker, explaining that I was worried that if I were to write on the subject, the post would devolve into a weepy love letter to Director Comey. My friend’s response went a long way towards summing up what, I believe, is actually the overwhelmingly consistent reaction of FBI employees to the firing of the director: “But how could the post be anything except a weepy love letter?”

Because the basic truth is that while Comey was a controversial figure in the larger political system and among Justice Department officials, he was not a controversial figure at the FBI at all. Nearly everyone loved him. In any other piece, I would caveat this statement as obvious hyperbole and oversimplification of the situation, but the degree of consensus on this point as I have talked to people has been incredible. In the most literal sense of the word, it’s almost hard to believe.

My former coworkers who agreed to help me with this post represent a variety of career paths within the FBI. With very few exceptions, all of them are “rank-and-file” employees. They come from diverse backgrounds and, in their personal lives, represent almost the entirety of the ideological spectrum. If you were to invite them all to a dinner party and bring up politics, I can’t guarantee that everyone would make it out alive. There are also a lot of them. I don’t want to go into specifics because people have legitimate fears of retaliation for speaking out right now. But consider this post as reflecting input from as many as 20 individuals.

All of the people I talked to described having the same reaction when they heard that the director had been fired: complete shock, followed by deep sadness.

Several employees spoke of Director Comey as a kind of father figure, and equated his leaving the organization with the death of a family member. They described him as a leader who acted on a daily basis with the utmost integrity. He pushed his employees to realize their own potential and leadership capabilities. By all accounts, he was working to turn, very slowly, a massive bureaucratic ship and change the organizational culture of the Bureau—and had the full support, if not always the agreement, of those who worked for him.

Comey’s decision-making process earned him enormous respect both at FBI Headquarters and in the 56 field offices around the country. He was transparent in his thinking, and he continuously engaged employees “as shareholders” as he weighed different options. Feedback and participation were encouraged, and Director Comey was methodical, almost academic, in his approach to problems. But when a final decision had to be made, there was no doubt that the Director was the one who made it.

This is not to say FBI employees always agreed with all of Comey’s decisions. But in talking with my former coworkers, I heard the same sentence over and over again, in completely independent conversations: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

The Trump administration’s continual lying to the American public can serve as one of several grounds for impeachment. The president and his or her administration works for the American public, and if that president and administration cannot be trusted, it must be replaced. Americans deserve an administration that can be trusted.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 1:06 pm

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