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Archive for September 15th, 2017

Hillary Clinton used ‘alternate nostril breathing’ after her loss. Here’s why you should, too.

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Kim Weeks writes in the Washington Post:

Hillary Clinton revealed this week she turned to an esoteric breathing technique popular among yogis to heal from her devastating election loss.

She has spoken in the past about using meditation and yoga for calm and balance, but during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night to promote her new campaign memoir she explained and demonstrated alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana in Sanskrit. She said the practice is “very relaxing” and urged Cooper to try it.

By bringing this kind of breath work into the mainstream, Clinton has introduced the world to a practice that has both proven mental and physical health benefits.

Yoga in general, and yoga breathing practices such nadi shodhana, calm the mind and the body. In nadi shodhana, the process of literally alternating breathing between the right and left nostril also helps balance the right and left brain, the right and left lungs, and the right and left sides of the body. Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to slow down a rapid heart rate and to lower blood pressure. It can clear toxins and respiratory systems — shodhana translates to purification and nadi to channels, so the intent of the practice is to cleanse different systems of the mind and body.

Research has also shown that this type of breathing exercise can significantly increase the effectiveness of the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest-and-digest” system that automatically kicks in when we relax or sleep to help restore our body’s equilibrium. But in our hectic, daily lives, when our bodies are in a perpetual state of fight or flight, this calmer part of ourselves is harder to activate.

It’s particularly challenging to access during times of extreme stress, which is why Clinton told Cooper he probably wouldn’t be able to do it in the middle of covering a hurricane. But for everyday stresses, taking the time to breath this way is calming and grounding.

The demands of daily life act on the body the same way, whether you’re running for political office or running late to pick up your toddler at day care. In almost all cases, the body doesn’t register the difference. It just knows that it is stressed, deprived of its need to disengage from activity and be still. So instead we look to power, money, career, relationships and thousands of other things outside ourselves in hopes they will bring us contentment and calm. But life doesn’t work that way. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Here’s how to try it yourself

1. Take a seat. Sit cross-legged on the floor or use a chair.

2. Curl your right forefinger and middle finger into your palm. You’re getting these two out of the way. Your thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger will be sticking out. You will use your thumb and ring finger to do alternate-nostril breathing.

3. Put your thumb on the right nostril where the nose bone meets cartilage. Put your ring finger on the left nostril in the same place. Rest them there lightly.

4. Breathe normally, but do not breathe through the mouth. Keep it closed. Take a long, slow, deep inhalation through both nostrils. Before exhaling (don’t really pause, just go with it), push in/depress the right nostril to close it off completely. Exhale fully through the left nostril only.

5. Keep the right nostril closed off. Inhale through the left nostril. Before exhaling again (again, no pausing, just keep going), press the left nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb from the right.

6. Exhale through the right nostril only, and then inhale through the right nostril only.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’re ready to finish (for maximum benefits do at least 10 rounds). The finishing breath will be an exhale through the left nostril.

8. Take a long, slow breath in through both nostrils, and then exhale through both nostrils.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 7:40 pm

To Settle Infinity Dispute, a New Law of Logic

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Very interesting report in Quanta by Natalie Wolchover, and it gets more interesting as it goes along (since some of the early things are later explained):

In the course of exploring their universe, mathematicians have occasionally stumbled across holes: statements that can be neither proved nor refuted with the nine axioms, collectively called “ZFC,” that serve as the fundamental laws of mathematics. Most mathematicians simply ignore the holes, which lie in abstract realms with few practical or scientific ramifications. But for the stewards of math’s logical underpinnings, their presence raises concerns about the foundations of the entire enterprise.

“How can I stay in any field and continue to prove theorems if the fundamental notions I’m using are problematic?” asks Peter Koellner, a professor of philosophy at Harvard University who specializes in mathematical logic.

Chief among the holes is the continuum hypothesis, a 140-year-old statement about the possible sizes of infinity. As incomprehensible as it may seem, endlessness comes in many measures: For example, there are more points on the number line, collectively called the “continuum,” than there are counting numbers. Beyond the continuum lie larger infinities still — an interminable progression of evermore enormous, yet all endless, entities. The continuum hypothesis asserts that there is no infinity between the smallest kind — the set of counting numbers — and what it asserts is the second-smallest — the continuum. It “must be either true or false,” the mathematical logician Kurt Gödel wrote in 1947, “and its undecidability from the axioms as known today can only mean that these axioms do not contain a complete description of reality.”

The decades-long quest for a more complete axiomatic system, one that could settle the infinity question and plug many of the other holes in mathematics at the same time, has arrived at a crossroads. During a recent meeting at Harvard organized by Koellner, scholars largely agreed upon two main contenders for additions to ZFC: forcing axioms and the inner-model axiom “V=ultimate L.”

“If forcing axioms are right, then the continuum hypothesis is false,” Koellner said. “And if the inner-model axiom is right, then the continuum hypothesis is true. You go through a whole list of issues in other fields, and the forcing axioms will answer those questions one way, and ultimate L will answer them a different way.”

According to the researchers, choosing between the candidates boils down to a question about the purpose of logical axioms and the nature of mathematics itself. Are axioms supposed to be the grains of truth that yield the most pristine mathematical universe? In that case, V=ultimate L may be most promising. Or is the point to find the most fruitful seeds of mathematical discovery, a criterion that seems to favor forcing axioms? “The two sides have a somewhat divergent view of what the goal is,” said Justin Moore, a mathematics professor at Cornell University.

Axiomatic systems like ZFC provide rules governing collections of objects called “sets,” which serve as the building blocks of the mathematical universe. Just as ZFC now arbitrates mathematical truth, adding an extra axiom to the rule book would help shape the future of the field — particularly its take on infinity. But unlike most of the ZFC axioms, the new ones “are not self-evident, or at least not self-evident at this stage of our knowledge, so we have a much more difficult task,” said Stevo Todorcevic, a mathematician at the University of Toronto and the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

Proponents of V=ultimate L say that establishing an absence of infinities between the integers and the continuum promises to bring order to the chaos of infinite sets, of which there are, unfathomably, an infinite variety. But the axiom may have minimal consequences for traditional branches of mathematics.

“Set theory is in the business of understanding infinity,” said Hugh Woodin, who is a mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley; the architect of V=ultimate L; and one of the most prominent living set theorists. The familiar numbers relevant to most mathematics, Woodin argues, “are an insignificant piece of the universe of sets.”

Meanwhile, forcing axioms, which deem the continuum hypothesis false by adding a new size of infinity, would also extend the frontiers of mathematics in other directions. They are workhorses that regular mathematicians “can actually go out and use in the field, so to speak,” Moore said. “To me, this is ultimately what foundations [of mathematics] should be doing.”

New advances in the study of V=ultimate L and newfound uses of forcing axioms, especially one called “Martin’s maximum” after the mathematician Donald Martin, have energized the debate about which axiom to adopt. And there’s a third point of view that disagrees with the debate’s very premise. According to some theorists, there are myriad mathematical universes, some in which the continuum hypothesis is true and others in which it is false — but all equally worth exploring. Meanwhile, “there are some skeptics,” Koellner said, “people who for philosophical reasons think set theory and the higher infinite doesn’t even make any sense.”

Infinite Paradoxes

Infinity has ruffled feathers in mathematics almost since the field’s beginning. The controversy arises not from the notion of potential infinity —the number line’s promise of continuing forever — but from the concept of infinity as an actual, complete, manipulable object.

“What truly infinite objects exist in the real world?” asks Stephen Simpson, a mathematician and logician at Pennsylvania State University. Taking a view originally espoused by Aristotle, Simpson argues that actual infinity doesn’t really exist and so it should not so readily be assumed to exist in the mathematical universe. He leads an effort to wean mathematics off actual infinity, by showing that the vast majority of theorems can be proved using only the notion of potential infinity. “But potential infinity is almost forgotten now,” Simpson said. “In the ZFC set theory mindset, people tend not to even remember that distinction. They just think infinity means actual infinity and that’s all there is to it.”

Infinity was boxed and sold to the mathematical community in the late 19th century by the German mathematician Georg Cantor. Cantor invented a branch of mathematics dealing with sets — collections of elements that ranged from empty (the equivalent of the number zero) to infinite. His “set theory” was such a useful language for describing mathematical objects that within decades, it became the field’s lingua franca. A nine-item list of rules called Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice, or ZFC, was established and widely adopted by the 1920s. Translated into plain English, one of the axioms says two sets are equal if they contain the same elements. Another simply asserts that infinite sets exist.

Assuming actual infinity leads to unsettling consequences. Cantor proved, for instance, that the infinite set of even numbers {2,4,6,…} could be put in a “one-to-one correspondence” with all counting numbers {1,2,3,…}, indicating that there are just as many evens as there are odds-and-evens.

More shocking was his proving in 1873 that the continuum of real numbers (such as 0.00001, 2.568023489, pi and so on) is “uncountable”: Real numbers do not correspond in a one-to-one fashion with the counting numbers because for any numbered list of them, it is always possible to come up with a real number that isn’t on the list. The infinite sets of real numbers and counting numbers have different sizes, or in Cantor’s parlance, different “cardinal numbers.” In fact, he found that there are not two but an infinite sequence of ever-larger cardinals, each new infinity consisting of the power set, or set of all subsets, of the infinite set before it.

Some mathematicians despised this mess of infinities. One of Cantor’s colleagues called them a “grave disease”; another called him a “corruptor of youth.” But by the logic of set theory, it was true.

Cantor wondered about the two smallest cardinals. “It’s in some sense the most fundamental question you can ask,” Woodin said. “Is there an infinity in between, or is the infinity of the real numbers the first infinity past the infinity of the counting numbers?”

All the obvious candidates for a mid-size infinity fail. Rational numbers (ratios of integers such as ½) are countable and thus have the same cardinality as the counting numbers. And there are just as many real numbers in any slice of the continuum (such as between 0 and 1) as there are in the whole set. Cantor guessed that there was no infinity in between countable sets and the continuum. But he couldn’t prove this “continuum hypothesis” using the axioms of set theory. Nor could anyone else.

Then, in 1931, Gödel, who had recently finished his doctorate at the University of Vienna, made an astounding discovery. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Math

Protests erupt in St. Louis after former police officer acquitted on murder charge

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From the report by Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery in the Washington Post:

. . . Prosecutors charged Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer, with murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. According to the probable cause statement, Stockley was caught saying he was “going to kill this motherf‑‑‑er, don’t you know it” and was heard telling another officer to drive into Smith’s slowing car.

The court document, submitted by the St. Louis circuit attorney, said Stockley then approached Smith’s window and fired five times into the car, hitting Smith “with each shot” and killing him. In addition, prosecutors say, there was a gun found in Smith’s car, but it was later determined to only have DNA from Stockley.

Judge Timothy Wilson, the circuit judge who heard the case in a bench trial, acquitted Stockley on the murder charge as well as a charge of armed criminal action in a 30-page order released Friday morning. . .

The judge’s comments, reported later in the story, explain how he arrived at his verdict of “Not Guilty.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 7:14 pm

Fascinating story of competition among flavored-toothpick cartels in grade school

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Just read it. It seems pretty clear that the whole thing was a control issue. Schools do tend to be authoritarian, one of their drawbacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 4:25 pm

Chelsea Manning Has a Lot to Teach. Harvard Doesn’t Agree.

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I think Harvard was wrong to kill the invitation. I also don’t think Manning was a traitor or committed treason. There was no other country or power involved and the deed was not done to help a foe. It was simply a US citizen revealing to the US public what the US military is actually doing. It certainly violated laws regarding the handling of classified material, but it’s a great stretch to call it “treason.” Moreover, the anger at Manning seems driven in part that the materials released showed the US committing war crimes, and authoritarian organizations get very nasty when their misdeeds are revealed.

At any rate, Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, has an interesting op-ed in the NY Times:

On Wednesday, Harvard’s Kennedy School announced that Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, would be a visiting fellow this fall. The reaction was swift: A day later, Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A. and also a visiting fellow at the school, resigned from his own fellowship in protest. His resignation was quickly followed by the current director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, canceling a speech scheduled at the school. In a statement, Mr. Pompeo unilaterally declared Ms. Manning a “traitor.”

On Friday morning, the school folded, disinviting Ms. Manning in a cowardly act that does immense disservice to its students and the public debate around government secrecy.

It’s remarkable that one of the country’s premier educational institutions would bow to C.I.A. pressure and reject a person who has arguably done more to contribute to the public’s understanding of world diplomacy than anyone else in modern times. In early 2010, Ms. Manning leaked a trove of hundreds of thousands of State Department and Defense Department documents, an archive that opened an unparalleled window into American foreign policy. Its documents have been referenced by major news organizations so many times that it’s impossible to count them.

The important revelations in the Manning documents — originally leaked to WikiLeaks and published in conjunction with The New York Times and other newspapers — are also too numerous to name, but they include the fact that the United States had killed far more people in Iraq than the government had admitted publicly, that United States soldiers turned a blind eye to torture by Iraqi soldiers and that the United States covered up the killing of civilians by American soldiers. . .

Continue reading.

I do understand why conservatives are so upset: conservatives value “loyalty” above all virtues, so anything that smacks of disloyalty really repels them—one reason they are unsupportive of whistleblowers and why cops (who tend to be quite conservative) don’t like those who report cries committed by cops: loyal to the oath, disloyal to the group, and the latter is more important.

Liberals, OTOH, rate fairness and care as their highest virtues, with loyalty ranked much lower. See this article and this interesting chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 3:57 pm

The criminalization of poverty, continued

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Radley Balko has examined several times the strenuous efforts by some politicians to make being poor a crime. In the Washington Post today, he writes:

From the Marshall Project, here’s a stark illustration of how traffic fines can be particularly pernicious and debilitating for poor people:

To visit someone in a Michigan state prison, you have to fill out an application and send it to the Department of Corrections with a self-addressed envelope. A couple of months after I mailed mine in, they sent me a sheet of paper saying that I was not approved to see either of my two sons, Harvey and Antwan, who are incarcerated.

You can’t see your child, they told me, because you have outstanding debt.

I have never committed a crime. The only thing on my record is tickets: parking tickets, license plate registration tickets, one for not having proof of insurance, and a couple of others—all of which are more than four years old. I don’t have any moving violations, like speeding.

But I do owe $1,485.

I’m 64 and have lived in Detroit my whole life. I was a receptionist at the city social services department, and an attendance lady at the high school, and helped wash patients at a hospice care facility. I also worked at a poultry shop once. I’ve worked for a long time.

Read the whole thing here. At the very least, let’s hope the publicity helps get this woman’s record cleared so she can visit her sons. But the larger problem remains. Yes, you should follow the law. You shouldn’t park illegally. But as we’ve explained here before, it’s more complicated than that. When cities and states become as reliant on the debt that people like Joyce Davis owe as people like Joyce Davis are reliant on that same money, you have a system where local governments need people such as Joyce Davis to park illegally, to speed and to accumulate fines. That is a terribly unhealthy relationship between the government and the governed.

In the end, debt to the state shouldn’t ever preclude someone from working, commuting or maintaining bonds to family. When it gets in the way of basic life needs and functions, it becomes a crippling weight that traps people in a cycle of despair.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 11:49 am

Why Hillary Clinton’s Book Is Actually Worth Reading

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James Fallows has a very interesting column on Hillary Clinton and her book. It begins:

Most books by politicians are bad. They’re bad because they are cautious, or pious, or boring, or some even-worse combination of all three.

They’re cautious because over the years politicians learn they have more to lose than gain by taking “interesting” or edgy stands. (Something I learned when working as a campaign and White House speechwriter: In “normal” writing, your goal is to make your meaning as clear as possible, ideally in a memorable way. For a politician, the goal is to make the meaning just clear enough that most people will still agree with you. Clearer than that, and you’re in trouble.)

They’re pious because in one way or another the “revealing” stories about the authors are really campaign ads—for future elections by politicians with a big race still ahead of them, or for history’s esteem by senior figures looking back. Thus  politicians’ biographies fall into the general categories of humble-brag (most of them) or braggy-brag (Trump’s).

And they’re boring because they’re necessarily often about policy. That’s hard enough to make interesting in the hands of very skillful writers, from Rachel Carson and Jane Jacobs to John Hersey and Michael Lewis. If politicians turning out books on “Our Schools: A New Blueprint!” were comparably skilled as writers, they’d be making their livings without having to bother with PACs and polls.

Of course there are exceptions. Some autobiographical books manage to be interesting because they’re written early enough not to be swathed in campaign caution (Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father), or come from a quirky-enough sensibility to avoid normal constraints (Jimmy Carter’s Why Not the Best?), or are from performers talented enough to work subversively within the constraints (Al Franken’s Giant of the Senate, which is the kind of book Will Rogers might have written if he had made it into the Senate). And of course some all-out manifestos with an edge can shape the evolution of politics. Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative didn’t get him into the White House, but it competed with the works of Ayn Rand on many conservatives’ bookshelves and lastingly shaped a movement.

I don’t know whether Hillary Clinton’s previous books were good or bad. I didn’t read them, because I assumed they were normal politician-books. But What Happened is not a standard work in this oeuvre. It’s interesting; it’s worth reading; and it sets out questions that the press, in particular, has not done enough to face.

* * *

On the overall interesting-ness of the book, I refer you to Megan Garber’s extensive analysis of the different personas Hillary Clinton has presented through her now very-long public career, and the much less-guarded one that comes through in What Happened. By the previously mentioned depressing standards of most political books, this one isn’t cautious (because the author  convincingly claims she’s not running for anything any more), it’s not (very) pious (because she favors an acid-humor tone), and most of it is not boring (because most of it is not directly about policy).

As an example of why it’s interesting, consider the opening scene, about how Clinton dealt with the inauguration ceremony in which she might have expected to be sworn in herself, but instead sat there watching Donald Trump take the oath. She’d wondered whether she had to show up at all, and talked with former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, each of whom had called her right after the news of her loss sank in: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 10:09 am

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