Later On

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

Archive for October 15th, 2019

God as meme

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God is real, in the sense that chess, jazz, and the German language are real. All are evolved (and evolving) entities of human culture that emerge from the natural process of cultural evolution. By “human culture” I mean all the things that one person can learn from another or teach to another: games, music, language, religion, dance, etiquette, fashion, and so on. I call it a “natural” process because cultural follows the algorithm that Darwin first described for lifeforms but which works with any replicator.

  1. There is reproduction with variation. In lifeforms, offspring resemble their parents but not exactly. In things taught in human culture — Richard Dawkins named them “memes” — the student copies what the teacher taught, but not exactly.
  2. There is occasional mutation. In lifeforms, a gene is miscopied or changes; in memes, a new idea occurs to someone (e.g., a new song or poem or theorem or story or food dish or dance step) and when it is taught to another it becomes a meme — and a mutation. Just as with lifeforms, the meme mutation may be successful (passed along to many others) or it may fail (no one is interested and it doesn’t get passed along—e.g., the many failed song lyrics).
  3. There is natural selection. In lifeforms, some thrive in their current environment and reproduce well, while others struggle and fail. In memes, some prove popular, many choosing to learn them and pass them along in teaching, while others don’t get much play.

In every culture evolution shapes the language, music, games, religion, and God(s), and because cultural evolution is so rapid — millions of times faster than the evolution of lifeforms — that we can trace the evolution of chess (H.J.R. Murray wrote a history of chess that showed how it evolved), of jazz (how it came up the river from New Orleans and continued to evolve for decades), of language, of religion, and of God(s) (see, for example, The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright).

So God is real but (like chess, jazz, and the German language) resides within human understanding—in the minds of humans—and thus does not have the same reality as that mountain over there. Without human knowledge and learning/teaching, chess, jazz, German, and God(s) have no existence, but the mountain does. God/chess/jazz/German must be learned from others: they are memes, and they exist only in human understanding, not in the real world.

With chess, for example, there are real-world carved pieces of wood and a real-world painted board, but those are nothing more than mnemonic devices. They are not chess and indeed advanced players, with a good understanding of the game, can readily play without the pieces and board. If you gave the physical chess pieces and board to a person who does not know chess, s/he would not then know chess or be able to play it. The game itself exists only in the understanding of those to whom it’s been taught. The chess-ignorant person would not have a game; they would have only a collection of little wooden objects and a flat board. The game exists only in the understanding of those who know it.

Similarly, if you don’t know and understand jazz (or, more generally, Western music), you hear only sounds, not music. Music (not sounds) is taught and is something that inhabits the teacher’s mind and is taught to the student. Sound is a physical phenomenon, but music is a meme. You must learn — be taught — about (say) an octave.

A German book would be for a person who has not been taught about books and German nothing more than a collection of thin leaves of dried wood pulp with black marks. The book is “German” only for those who have been taught the German language and how to read it. A German book as a cultural entity is not the object but the understanding of the object, and that understanding is imparted by teaching: the reproduction of the relevant memes.

And God also is an entity that exists in human understanding and that must thus be taught. The entities of understanding—memes—are all the things that one person teaches to another or learns from another, and they do not exist other than in human understanding and knowledge. A wonderful speech in German delivered to someone who has not been taught German exists only as a sequence of odd vocalizations: it is sounds and nothing more.

UPDATE: sends me an email each day containing some passages I have highlighted in the books I’ve read on my Kindle. This mornings email included this passage I had highlighted months ago:

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees, and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations, and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees, and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.

I have read Sapiens (a fascinating book) and obviously have absorbed many of the ideas presented. And the same email also included this passage:

Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie

Once our brains evolved to the point where we could receive, store, modify, and communicate ideas, there suddenly appeared a new environment that had the two characteristics needed for evolution: copying and innovating. Our brains, which arose out of increasing usefulness in the process of keeping DNA hosts (that’s us) alive and breeding, suddenly were thrust into the spotlight of evolution.The brand-new innovation of the human mind was not just another arena for evolution besides the cell, it was a far better arena, simply because evolution takes place far more quickly. The biological forces that evolved our brains to the point where we had minds were now outdone a million times over by the new memetic forces evolving our thoughts, our society, and our culture. Evolution of the meme was assured.


Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Memes, Religion

The bliss of ferment and change

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William Wordsworth in The Prelude:

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven.

Wordsworth refers to the early days of the French Revolution, when change and hope filled the air and on every hand things were full of promise. It went off the rails soon enough, but for a while the intensity of social evolution was breathtaking.

This sort of rapid growth and change hits various aspects of human culture from time to time, stirring by quiet, interactive communication and exchange of ideas and the availability of resources to support such change. In earlier times such communications had to be through geographical proximity—for example, theater in the time of Shakespeare, with appreciative and knowledgeable audiences and a variety of acting troupes and playwrights.

Examples abound: American jazz in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s; shaving soaps and double-edge razors now and over the past decade (with geographical proximity no longer required thanks to the internet); the current emergence of manufacturers of modern cast-iron skillets (much smaller, but equally innovative and intense); the distillery scene in BC today; American popular song from 1900-1950, as documented by Alec Wilder and in various collections of the Great American Songbook.


Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

Marc Benioff: We Need a New Capitalism

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Benioff, the chairman and co-C.E.O. of Salesforce, writes in the NY Times:

Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me.

Over the past 20 years, the company that I co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me a very wealthy person. I have been fortunate to live a life beyond the wildest imaginations of my great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s.

Yet, as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.

Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty. On a personal level, the success that I’ve achieved has allowed me to embrace philanthropy and invest in improving local public schools and reducing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, advancing children’s health care and protecting our oceans.

But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change. In the United States, income inequality has reached its highest level in at least 50 years, with the top 0.1 percent — people like me — owning roughly 20 percent of the wealth while many Americans cannot afford to pay for a $400 emergency. It’s no wonder that support for capitalism has dropped, especially among young people.

To my fellow business leaders and billionaires, I say that we can no longer wash our hands of our responsibility for what people do with our products. Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

What might a new capitalism look like?

First, business leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return. This requires that they focus not only on their shareholders, but also on all of their stakeholders — their employees, customers, communities and the planet. Fortunately, nearly 200 executives with the Business Roundtable recently committed their companies, including Salesforce, to this approach, saying that the “purpose of a corporation” includes “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.” As a next step, the government could formalize this commitment, perhaps with the Security and Exchange Commission requiring public companies to publicly disclose their key stakeholders and show how they are impacting those stakeholders.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Some business leaders objected to the landmark declaration. The Council of Institutional Investors argued that “it is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of defining and addressing societal objectives.” When asked whether companies should serve all stakeholders and whether capitalism should be updated, Vice President Mike Pence warned against “leftist policies.”

But suggesting that companies must choose between doing well and doing good is a false choice. Successful businesses can and must do both. In fact, with political dysfunction in Washington, D.C., Americans overwhelmingly say C.E.O.s should take the lead on economic and social challenges, and employees, investors and customers increasingly seek out companies that share their values.

When government is unable or unwilling to act, business should not wait. Our experience at Salesforce shows that profit and purpose go hand in hand and that business can be the greatest platform for change.

Legislation to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act have stalled in Congress for years, and today women still only make about 80 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by men. But congressional inaction does not absolve companies from their responsibility. Since learning that we were paying women less than men for equal work at Salesforce, we have spent $10.3 million to ensure equal pay; today we conduct annual audits to ensure that pay remains equal. Just about every company, I suspect, has a pay gap — and every company can close it now.

For many businesses, giving back to their communities is an afterthought — something they only do after they’ve turned a profit. But by integrating philanthropy into our company culture from the beginning — giving 1 percent of our equity, time and technology — Salesforce has donated nearly $300 million to worthy causes, including local public schools and addressing homelessness. To me, the boys and girls in local schools and homeless families on the streets of our city are our stakeholders, too. Entrepreneurs looking to develop great products and develop their communities can join the 9,000 companies in the Pledge 1% movement and commit to donating 1 percent of their equity, time and product, starting on their first day of business.

Nationally, despite massive breaches of consumer information, lawmakers in Washington seem unable to pass a national privacy law. California and other states are moving ahead with their own laws, forcing consumers and companies to navigate a patchwork of different regulations. Rather than instinctively opposing new regulations, tech leaders should support a strong, comprehensive national privacy law — perhaps modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation — and recognize that protecting privacy and upholding trust is ultimately good for business.

Globally, few nations are meeting their targets to fight climate change, the current United States presidential administration remains determined to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and global emissions continue to rise. As governments fiddle, there are steps that business can take now, while there’s still time, to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Every company can do something, whether reducing emissions in their operations and across their sector, striving for net-zero emissions like Salesforce, moving toward renewable energies or aligning their operations and supply chains with emissions reduction targets.

Skeptical business leaders who say that having a purpose beyond profit hurts the bottom line should look at the facts. Research shows that companies that embrace a broader mission — and, importantly, integrate that purpose into their corporate culture — outperform their peers, grow faster, and deliver higher profits. Salesforce is living proof that new capitalism can thrive and everyone can benefit. We don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, since becoming a public company in 2004, Salesforce has delivered a 3,500 percent return to our shareholders. Values create value.

Of course, C.E.O. activism and corporate philanthropy alone will never be enough to meet the immense scale of today’s challenges. It could take $23 billion a year to address racial inequalities in our public schools. College graduates are drowning in $1.6 trillion of student debt. It will cost billions to retrain American workers for the digital jobs of the future. Trillions of dollars of investments will be needed to avert the worst effects of climate change. All this, when our budget deficit has already surpassed $1 trillion.

How, exactly, is our country going to pay for all this?

That is why a new capitalism must also include a tax system that generates the resources we need and includes higher taxes on the wealthiest among us. Local efforts — like the tax I supported last year on San Francisco’s largest companies to address our city’s urgent homelessness crisis — will help. Nationally, increasing taxes on high-income individuals like myself would help generate the trillions of dollars that we desperately need to improve education and health care and fight climate change.

The culture of corporate America needs to change, and it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to do it. Every C.E.O. and every company must  . . .

Continue reading.


Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 5:37 pm

Ad hoc meals

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My day-to-day meals follow a pattern. I cook up a batch of vegetables, a batch of beans, and a batch of intact whole grain, and then for the typical meal I put into a bowl some of the vegetables, some of the beans, and some of the grain and top with with a dressing or homemade hot sauce or the like. I might stir in a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes as well.

Currently the beans are the black-bean-and-green-lentil tempeh I made, the grain is cooked emmer, and the vegetables were what I had on hand, following a now-familiar pattern:

6 cloves garlic, minced and set aside to rest

Right now we have red Russian garlic, which is wonderful stuff and easy to peel. It’s grown locally and is available only in October and November and then it’s gone for another year.

1″ fresh turmeric, minced
2 bunches large scallions with leaves, chopped (almost used a large leek)
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped with core and seeds
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium parsnip, diced
10-12 oz domestic white mushrooms, chopped
12 mini-San Marzano tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste from a tube

I put the No. 12 Field company skillet into the oven and turned it on to 350ºF and when the oven reached temperature I left the skillet for 5 minutes. (The skillet was hating as I did the chopping.) Then I removed the skillet, put it on a hot burner, put the handle glove on the handle, and added:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

I put in all the vegetables listed above (including the garlic) and sautéed them a while, then added:

1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried spearmint
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons horseradish

I stirred that in, sautéed a moment longer, then added:

1 bunch kale chopped, stems minced
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

I cooked that until the kale seemed done and carrots and parsnips were tender. Than I stirred in:

2 tablespoons ground flax seed
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

I cooked a minute more and then poured over:

2 lemons, peels cut off, cut into slabs and seeds removed, blended

I used an immersion blender and its beaker for the lemons.

That made a lot, so I get quite a few meals from it.

Obviously, you can vary as it you want. For example, use summer squash or a winter squash like delicata or carnival (since the peel is edible), eggplant, zucchini, cabbage or frozen spinach instead of kale, parsley, steamed diced beets, other peppers (Anaheim, poblano, banana, Hungarian, serrano) instead of or in addition to the peppers above, and so on.

Having cooked food in the fridge makes putting together a meal a snap, and I do think this is quite healthful fare.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 1:39 pm

Go on and use MSG

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Daniel Holzman has some tips in Taste on using monosodium glutamate (MSG):

In 1968, a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine erroneously linked MSG—short for monosodium glutamate—to headaches and musculature pain. The article spawned a 50-year xenophobic attack on the safety of MSG and catalyzed a public health scare coined “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” Years after its scientific exoneration, the court of public opinion is still deliberating the ingredient’s place in a home kitchen—and there’s still little information on how to actually, properly, cook with MSG. This needed to change.

For years and years as a professional cook, and as a passionate home cook too, I have been a big proponent of cooking with MSG; it enhances and intensifies flavors and helps activate your taste buds so you can better taste your food. It’s that simple. If it’s added haphazardly, however, it can intensify mistakes and overwhelm the palate. Add a few too many pinches of allspice to your autumn root vegetable roast, and MSG could turn your mildly unpleasant misstep into a pumpkin-spice Hindenburg. This is why knowing how, and how much, MSG to use in various cooking techniques is imperative.

But first, buying MSG can be really confusing. There are numerous brands available, and brands call the stuff many different things: Badia brand’s offering is labeled simply “MSG,” while Accent brand’s product is labeled “Flavor Enhancer With 60% Less Sodium Than Salt.” A quick glance at the ingredients panel reveals that both products are exactly the same: pure monosodium glutamate.

My favorite brand is a Japanese one, Ajinomoto, the company that discovered MSG in 1908. I honestly like Ajinomoto for no other reason than that the packaging is extremely cool, making it a slightly easier sell to my more obstinate friends with preconceived anti-MSG prejudices. But most of the other brands work well too. Just make sure to read the label to know what you are getting.

When placed on the tongue by itself, MSG tastes like a mild salt without any unique quality. This is because MSG doesn’t have any distinct flavor, so it doesn’t change the taste of food; rather, it adds a round and rich mouthfeel designated “umami,” or the fifth taste.

Because it doesn’t hold a specific flavor, save saltiness, the easiest way to incorporate the seasoning (and make sure you’re using the proper amount) is to create a blend: make a 10:1 mix of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt to MSG, or roughly one tablespoon of MSG for every 2/3 cup of salt, and then season as you regularly would throughout your cooking process. Adding more MSG than the 10-to-1 ratio will overwhelm your taste buds, and your food will develop a distracting and lingering mouthfeel.

Different cooking methods require different applications of the MSG-salt blend, but it works extraordinarily well with meat and fish in the form of marinades and dry rubs. Seasoning in advance gives the salt time to penetrate the cell structure and migrate throughout the meat. (You can learn more about marinating meat in my previous article.)

For salads, pure MSG is best added directly to the dressing, giving it a chance to dissolve and distribute evenly throughout. For dry and fried foods like  . . .

Continue reading.

And he offers two recipes:

Pork, Tomatillo, and Charred Green Chile Stew

Ceviche With a Secret

See also this earlier post on MSG.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 12:05 pm

A British family on vacation accidentally drove into the U.S. They’ve spent days detained with their 3-month-old baby.

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Allyson Chiu reports in the Washington Post:

The Connors family didn’t plan to be on the unmarked road.

Originally from the U.K., the two couples and their three young children were driving near the U.S.-Canada border on Oct. 3 during a visit to Vancouver when an animal ventured into the road, forcing them to make an unexpected detour. But before the Connors could get very far, flashing lights from a police car appeared in their rearview mirror. The officer that pulled them over was American — they had accidentally crossed the border.

The vacationing family says this was the moment their trip turned into “the scariest experience of our lives,” according to a complaint filed on Friday to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of being allowed to return to Canada or the U.K., Eileen Connors alleges that her entire family, including her 3-month-old son, ended up detained at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa., where they have spent more than a week living in “frigid” and “filthy” conditions. As of late Monday, Bridget Cambria, the Connors’s lawyer, told The Washington Post that the British family was still at the center waiting to be deported.

“We will never forget, we will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” Connors wrote in a sworn statement, later adding, “We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to. … It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not be reached for comment late Monday. Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed in a statement to the BBC that the family is being held at the Leesport facility, but disputed their claims of mistreatment. The center, the statement said, “provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process.”

“Reports of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false,” officials said.

Connors, however, alleges that the mistreatment began shortly after her family was stopped by the American officer.

Even before the tourists could explain why they were on the road, Connors, 24, wrote that her 30-year-old husband David and his cousin, who was driving at the time, were arrested.

“You crossed an international border,” said the officer, who allegedly did not read the men their rights and ignored the family’s pleas that they had unknowingly crossed into the U.S. and never intended to enter the country during their trip, despite having the proper visas. The complaint did not specify exactly where the incident took place.

The family asked if they could “simply turn around” and were denied, Connors wrote.

Connors and her baby were separated from her husband and placed in “a very cold cell” at an undisclosed Border Patrol station in Washington state, the statement said. Cambria, a lawyer with Aldea – The People’s Justice Center in Pennsylvania, told The Post that the frigid detention cells have a nickname: “Hieleras,” or “iceboxes.”

The Connors were issued “metal-like, thin emergency blankets” to keep warm, according to the complaint. David Connors was also given a styrofoam cup with noodle soup to eat, but he described the meager meal as “not even apt for animals,” the statement said.

Then, all they could do was wait, Eileen Connors wrote.

“The officers left us in the cell the entire day, with no information, no call to our family back home, no idea when we would be free to leave,” Connors wrote.

When it came time to sleep, Connors said she refused to allow her son to “lie on the disgusting floor” next to her, at one point even trying to balance the infant on top of her body.

“We are so sickened by all of this,” she wrote. “The idea and memory of our little baby having to sleep on a dirty floor of a cell will haunt us forever.”

In the morning, immigration officers told the Connors that they could be released if they provided contact information for any family member living the U.S. who could sponsor them, the statement said. Luckily, a relative with U.S. citizenship agreed to help.

“We were ready for all of this to end,” Connors wrote.

But hours later, the Connors were informed that they wouldn’t be leaving. There was “a change in plans,” and soon after, they were loaded into a van in what “felt like an abduction or kidnapping,” according to the statement.

David Connors was dropped off at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, while Eileen Connors and her baby were taken to a Red Roof Inn in Seattle to spend the night.

They were reunited the next morning at a promising location: the Seattle airport.

“I thought, finally we’re going home and felt relieved, even though the officers would not tell me where we were going or why,” Eileen Connors wrote.

But, her relief was short-lived.

When the Connors got off their flight, they were in Pennsylvania. Their final destination was the Berks Family Residential Center, a facility advocates have decried as “baby jail,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The arrival of the Connors and their infant son on Oct. 5 marked “the first time in a long time that we’ve had a child under the age of 1 in this facility,” Cambria told The Post. The other couple, who had been traveling with the Connors, and their 2-year-old twins were also transported to Berks, Cambria said.

“I don’t believe that it’s suitable for children that young because newborns probably shouldn’t be around a hundred other kids all of whom are coming from different parts of the world,” she said, adding, “There were a lot silly decisions made along the way. In this instance, when you’re talking about a 3-month-old, those silly decisions can be really dangerous.”

From the moment she and her family were placed in the “iceboxes” in Washington state, Connors wrote that she worried about her son, who has not yet completed his immunizations, falling ill. Those concerns were only heightened once they were at the Berks center.

Connors alleged that she had to bathe her son on a couch inside an office using a washcloth and soap because he was too small for the showers. The baby bathtub she had been provided was “filthy dirty and had broken bits,” she wrote. Her son was also left without clothing, blankets or bibs for several hours because the center’s staff took the items to be washed, the statement said.

“The blankets and sheets in our room have a disgusting smell, like a dead dog,” Connors wrote. “I cannot use them to wrap up my baby for fear they haven’t been washed properly and my baby will become sick.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 7:27 am

Valobra’s excellent shave stick and the Game Changer

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The Valobra shave stick is one of the best. It’s triple-milled, so has a very long life, and the fragrance is extremely nice, as is the lather. It’s great for travel, and you can use an appropriately sized plastic prescription pill bottle to carry it protected. I forgot about my plan to use a Rooney brush this morning—that’ll happen tomorrow—and the RazoRock synthetic made a unbeatable lather quite easily.

Three passes with the Game Changer .62-P left my face totally smooth and undamaged, and a splash of Floïd finished the job with a warm fragrance and a cool feel (from the touch of menthol).

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2019 at 6:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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