Later On

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

Archive for January 2nd, 2019

Sen. Robert Menendez tears a new one in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 9:06 pm

The Path to Give California 12 Senators, and Vermont Just One

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This hits at a pet peeve. Eric W. Orts, Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, writes in the Atlantic:

In 1995, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared, “Sometime in the next century the United States is going to have to address the question of apportionment in the Senate.” Perhaps that time has come. Today the voting power of a citizen in Wyoming, the smallest state in terms of population, is about 67 times that of a citizen in the largest state of California, and the disparities among the states are only increasing. The situation is untenable.

Pundits, professors, and policy makers have advanced various solutions. Burt Neuborne of NYU has argued in The Wall Street Journal that the best way forward is to break up large states into smaller ones. Akhil Amar of Yale Law School has suggested a national referendum to reform the Senate. The retired congressman John Dingell asserted here in The Atlantic that the Senate should simply be abolished.

There’s a better, more elegant, constitutional way out. Let’s allocate one seat to each state automatically to preserve federalism, but apportion the rest based on population. Here’s how.

Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.

Using 2017 census estimates as a proxy for the official one coming in 2020, the Rule of One Hundred yields the following outcome: 26 states get only one senator (having about 1/100 of the population or less), 12 states stay at two, eight states gain one or two, and the four biggest states gain more than two: California gets 12 total, Texas gets nine, and Florida and New York get six each. This apportionment shows how out of whack the current Senate has become.

In the new allocation, the total number of senators would be 110. The total is more than 100 because 10 of the smallest states have much less than 0.5/100 of the U.S. population but are still entitled to one senator each.

The obvious reply is, “This is impossible! The Constitution plainly says that each state gets two senators. There’s even a provision in the Constitution that says this rule cannot be amended.” Indeed, Article V, in describing the amendment process, stipulates that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

This seems like a showstopper, and some scholars say it’s “unthinkable” that the one-state, two-senators rule can ever be changed. But, look, when conservative lawyers first argued that the Affordable Care Act violated the Commerce Clause, that seemed unthinkable, too. Our Constitution is more malleable than many imagine.

First, consider that Article V applies only to amendments. Congress would adopt the Rule of One Hundred scheme as a statute; let’s call it the Senate Reform Act. Because it’s legislation rather than an amendment, Article V would—arguably—not apply.

Second, the states, through the various voting-rights amendments—the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth—have already given their “consent” by directing Congress to adopt legislation to protect equal voting rights, and this delegated power explicitly applies to “the United States” as well as the states. The Senate Reform Act would simply shift seats according to population. No state or its citizens would lose the franchise.

Note that even states that did not ratify the voting-rights amendments have, functionally, consented to them, and thus also to the constitutional logic supporting a Senate Reform Act. As Justice Clarence Thomas explained in 1995, “The people of each State obviously did trust their fate to the people of the several States when they consented to the Constitution; not only did they empower the governmental institutions of the United States, but they also agreed to be bound by constitutional amendments that they themselves refused to ratify.”

Remember, too, that  . . .

Continue reading.

I wonder how much Wharton likes it now that their name is so linked with Donald J. Trump?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 8:32 pm

The Philosopher Redefining Equality

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This is pretty exciting. Nathan Heller writes in the New Yorker:

American stories trace the sweep of history, but their details are definingly particular. In the summer of 1979, Elizabeth Anderson, then a rising junior at Swarthmore College, got a job as a bookkeeper at a bank in Harvard Square. Every morning, she and the other bookkeepers would process a large stack of bounced checks. Businesses usually had two accounts, one for payroll and the other for costs and supplies. When companies were short of funds, Anderson noticed, they would always bounce their payroll checks. It made a cynical kind of sense: a worker who was owed money wouldn’t go anywhere, or could be replaced, while an unpaid supplier would stop supplying. Still, Anderson found it disturbing that businesses would write employees phony checks, burdening them with bounce fees. It appeared to happen all the time.

Midway through summer, the bank changed its office plan. When Anderson had started, the bookkeepers worked in rows of desks. Coördination was easy—a check that fell under someone else’s purview could be handed down the line—and there was conversation throughout the day. Then cubicles were added. That transformation interrupted the workflow, the conversational flow, and most other things about the bookkeepers’ days. Their capacities as workers were affected, yet the change had come down from on high.

These problems nagged at Anderson that summer and beyond. She had arrived at college as a libertarian who wanted to study economics. In the spirit of liberal-arts exploration, though, she enrolled in an introductory philosophy course whose reading list included Karl Marx’s 1844 manuscripts concerning worker alienation. Anderson thought that Marx’s economic arguments about the declining rate of profit and the labor theory of value fell apart under scrutiny. But she was stirred by his observational writings about the experience of work. Her summer at the bank drove home the fact that systemic behavior inside the workplace was part of the socioeconomic fabric, too: it mattered whether you were the person who got a clear check or a bounced check, whether a hierarchy made it easier or harder for you to excel and advance. Yet economists had no way of factoring those influences into their thinking. As far as they were concerned, a job was a contract—an exchange of labor for money—and if you were unhappy you left. The nature of the workplace, where most people spent half their lives, was a black box.

Anderson grew intellectually restless. Other ideas that were presented as cornerstones of economics, such as rational-choice theory, didn’t match the range of human behaviors that she was seeing in the wild. She liked how philosophy approached big problems that cut across various fields, but she was most excited by methods that she encountered in the history and the philosophy of science. Like philosophers, scientists chased Truth, but their theories were understood to be provisional—tools for resolving problems as they appeared, models valuable only to the extent that they explained and predicted what showed in experiments. A Newtonian model of motion had worked beautifully for a long time, but then people noticed bits of unaccountable data, and relativity emerged as a stronger theory. Couldn’t disciplines like philosophy work that way, too?

The bank experience showed how you could be oppressed by hierarchy, working in an environment where you were neither free nor equal. But this implied that freedom and equality were bound together in some way beyond the basic state of being unenslaved, which was an unorthodox notion. Much social thought is rooted in the idea of a conflict between the two. If individuals exercise freedoms, conservatives like to say, some inequalities will naturally result. Those on the left basically agree—and thus allow constraints on personal freedom in order to reduce inequality. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin called the opposition between equality and freedom an “intrinsic, irremovable element in human life.” It is our fate as a society, he believed, to haggle toward a balance between them.

In this respect, it might seem odd that, through history, equality and freedom have arrived together as ideals. What if they weren’t opposed, Anderson wondered, but, like the sugar-phosphate chains in DNA, interlaced in a structure that we might not yet understand? What if the way most of us think about the relation between equality and freedom—the very basis for the polarized, intractable political division of this moment—is wrong?

At fifty-nine, Anderson is the chair of the University of Michigan’s department of philosophy and a champion of the view that equality and freedom are mutually dependent, enmeshed in changing conditions through time. Working at the intersection of moral and political philosophy, social science, and economics, she has become a leading theorist of democracy and social justice. She has built a case, elaborated across decades, that equality is the basis for a free society. Her work, drawing on real-world problems and information, has helped to redefine the way contemporary philosophy is done, leading what might be called the Michigan school of thought. Because she brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality, Anderson may be the philosopher best suited to this awkward moment in American life. She builds a democratic frame for a society in which people come from different places and are predisposed to disagree.

One recent autumn morning, Anderson flew from Ann Arbor, where she lives, to Columbus, to deliver a lecture at Ohio State University. With a bit of time before her talk, she sat in a high-backed chair and spoke with undergraduates about her work. “Almost everyone wants to be respected and esteemed by others, so how can you make that compatible with a society of equals?” she asked. The students, looking a touch wary, listened intently and stared. . .

Continue reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 5:45 pm

Emergence exemplified

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You’d never anticipate the patterns shown in these photos, no matter how very closely and intensively you studied an individual starling. It’s not in an individual starling, it emerges from the larger entity. Emergence is where it’s at—talk about a physical analogue of a meme: once emergence … um, emerged, it proved to be a great generalization tool, so you constantly see examples of emergence—cf. The Emergence of Everything.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 5:18 pm

The manufacture of ball-bearings: a silent but fascinating documentary

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Silent, that is, if you’re wise enough to mute it. The music is canned and distracting. The music director should be fired on the spot.

This is an instance of my (again) discovering how very ignorant I am of so many things I take for granted and on which I ultimately depend.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 5:11 pm

Ancient Turing Pattern Builds Feathers, Hair — and Now, Shark Skin

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This strikes me as a physical analogue of a meme, and one with many variations (a highly successful meme that could spawn such a generalizable idea: just like the cocktail series in the preceding post’s comments.

Jonathan Lambert writes in Quanta:

In 1952, well before developmental biologists spoke in terms of Hoxgenes and transcription factors, or even understood DNA’s structure, Alan Turing had an idea. The famed mathematician who hastened the end of World War II by cracking the Enigma code turned his mind to the natural world and devised an elegant mathematical model of pattern formation. His theory outlined how endless varieties of stripes, spots and scales could emerge from the interaction of two simple, hypothetical chemical agents, or “morphogens.”

Decades passed before biologists seriously considered that this mathematical theory could in fact explain myriad biological patterns. The development of mammalian hair, the feathers of birds and even those ridges on the roof of your mouth all stem from Turing-like mechanisms.

Now, denticles, the toothlike protrusions that cover the skin of sharks, can be added to the list. Researchers from the University of Florida recently discovered that shark denticles are laid down by a Turing-like mechanism directed by the same genes responsible for feather pattern formation. According to Gareth Fraser, the researcher who led the study, the work suggests that the developing embryos of diverse backboned species set down patterns of features in their outer layers of tissue in the same way — a patterning mechanism “that likely evolved with the first vertebrates and has changed very little since.”

“The beauty of this work is that it shows that there might be a very strong conservation of this mechanism for forming anything from shark denticles to bird feathers,” said Alexander Schier, a Harvard developmental biologist who was not involved in the study. This study bolsters a growing theme in developmental biology, that “nature tends to invent something once, and then plays variations on that theme,” Schier said.

Turing’s model, called a reaction-diffusion mechanism, is beautifully simple. It requires only two interacting agents, an activator and an inhibitor, that diffuse through tissue like ink dropped in water. The activator initiates some process, like the formation of a spot, and promotes the production of itself. The inhibitor halts both actions. Critically, the inhibitor spreads through tissue more quickly than the activator does. This faster diffusion of the inhibitor prevents pockets of activation from spilling over. Depending on exactly when and where the activator and inhibitor are released, the pockets of activation will arrange themselves as regularly spaced dots, stripes or other patterns. . .

Continue reading. And do click the link. The photos are remarkable.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Evolution, Math, Memes, Science

Tuna chili

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Finally simmering is a BIG batch of chili. Supermarket had slabs of albacore tuna (frozen), BOGO, so I got two and decided the best way to use it up was to make a batch of chili. Since The Wife is away, in addition to the usual green and red bell peppers, I used a couple of poblanos and several Serranos. I would also have used some canned Hatch green chilis (low heat), but they’re not available up here. (I buy canned whole Hatch chilis and chop them since their canned diced chilis tend to melt.) I chopped two large onions, one white, one yellow, along with a handful of garlic cloves chopped small. For more umami I included 4-5 anchovy fillets chopped small (and they break up when sautéed anyway). I wanted it to be rich-tasting, so I used 1/4c extra-virgin olive oil (a real one). That’s 16 points, but this makes at least 5 qts. I do 1-cup servings, so that 20 servings. I laugh at your 16 points: less than 1 point per serving, but call it 1 point. Nothing else in the recipe is any points.

Then: Salt and pepper, a good amount of Mexican oregano, smoked paprika, ground ancho chili, ground chipotle chili, lots of ground cumin, and dried thyme.

I sautéed that for a while, along with the tuna cut into chunks and one chicken breast likewise.

Then I added a large can of black beans (drained and rinsed), 2 cans diced tomatoes, 6 tomatillos chopped, 1 can tomato paste, a like amount of red wine, a square of unsweetened chocolate, 2 packets Starbucks instant coffee, the juice of 2 lemons, and 1-2 tablespoons each of liquid smoke, Maggi, and Worcestershire sauce. I also threw in a stick of cinnamon bark that I got as lagniappe with an order of peppercorns and hickory smoked salt from Silk Road Spice Merchants.

This is dinner lunch dinner again lunch again, etc., until gone.

UPDATE: Someone said that they feared the chili would taste fishy. It does not, not in the slightest. The anchovies just contribute to umami, and you cannot taste them directly; you just detect a deeper flavor. (Similarly, I use a couple of anchovy fillets when I make mayo, and there is no fish/anchovy taste: just more umami.)

And albacore tuna has a very light flavor, which the chili totally overwhelms. Except for the different in mouthfeel, you can’t tell whether you’re eating albacore tuna in the chili or chicken breast.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2019 at 3:11 pm

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