Later On

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

Archive for June 12th, 2021

The importance of history

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.

To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.

This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.

When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”

Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.

The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.

The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.

Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.

Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.

So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world?. . .

Continue reading; inks and sources and sources are at the end of the article.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:13 pm

A Random Walk through the English Language

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Andrei Andreyevich Markov, the atheist (left) and Pavel Alekseevich Nekrasov, the believer (right). Credit: Alamy

Jorden Ellenberg writes in the Scientific American:

Here’s a game Claude Shannon, the founder of information theory, invented in 1948. He was trying to model the English language as a random process. Go to your bookshelf, pick up a random book, open it and point to a random spot on the page, and mark the first two letters you see. Say they’re I and N. Write down those two letters on your page.

Now, take another random book off the shelf and look through it until you find the letters I and N in succession. Whatever the character following “IN” is—say, for instance, it’s a space—that’s the next letter of your book. And now you take down yet another book and look for an N followed by a space, and once you find one, mark down what character comes next. Repeat until you have a paragraph

“IN NO IST LAT WHEY CRATICT FROURE BIRS GROCID

PONDENOME OF DEMONSTURES OF THE REPTAGIN IS

REGOACTIONA OF CRE”

That isn’t English, but it kind of looks like English.

Shannon was interested in the “entropy” of the English language, a measure, in his new framework, of how much information a string of English text contains. The Shannon game is a Markov chain; that is, it’s a random process where the next step you take depends only on the current state of the process. Once you’re at LA, the “IN NO IST” doesn’t matter; the chance that the next letter is, say, a B is the probability that a randomly chosen instance of “LA” in your library is followed by a B.

And as the name suggests, the method wasn’t original to him; it was almost a half-century older, and it came from, of all things, a vicious mathematical/theological beef in late-czarist Russian math.

There’s almost nothing I think of as more inherently intellectually sterile than verbal warfare between true religious believers and movement atheists. And yet, this one time at least, it led to a major mathematical advance, whose echoes have been bouncing around ever since. One main player, in Moscow, was Pavel Alekseevich Nekrasov, who had originally trained as an Orthodox theologian before turning to mathematics. His opposite number, in St. Petersburg, was his contemporary Andrei Andreyevich Markov, an atheist and a bitter enemy of the church. He wrote a lot of angry letters to the newspapers on social matters and was widely known as Neistovyj Andrei, “Andrei the Furious.”

The details are a bit much to go into here, but the gist is this: Nekrasov thought he had found a mathematical proof of free will, ratifying the beliefs of the church. To Markov, this was mystical nonsense. Worse, it was mystical nonsense wearing mathematical clothes. He invented the Markov chain as an example of random behavior that could be generated purely mechanically, but which displayed the same features Nekrasov thought guaranteed free will.

A simple example of a Markov chain: a spider walking on a triangle with corners labeled 1, 2, 3. At each tick of the clock, the spider moves from its present perch to one of the other two corners it’s connected to, chosen at random. So, the spider’s path would be a string of numbers.

1, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1 …

Markov started with abstract examples like this, but later (perhaps inspiring Shannon?) applied this idea to strings of text, among them Alexander Pushkin’s poem Eugene Onegin. Markov thought of the poem, for the sake of math, as a string of consonants and vowels, which he laboriously cataloged by hand. Letters after consonants are 66.3 percent vowels and 33.7 percent consonants, while letters following vowels are only 12.8 percent vowels and 87.2 percent consonants.

So, you can produce “fake Pushkin” just as Shannon produced fake English; if the current letter is a vowel, the next letter is a vowel with probability 12.8 percent, and if the current letter is a consonant, the next one is a vowel with probability 66.3 percent. The results are not going to be very poetic; but, Markov discovered, they can be distinguished from the Markovized output of other Russian writers. Something of their style is captured by the chain.

Nowadays, the Markov chain is a fundamental tool for exploring spaces of conceptual entities much more general than poems. It’s how election reformers identify which legislative maps are brutally gerrymandered, and it’s how Google figures out which Web sites are most important (the key is a Markov chain where at each step you’re at a certain Web site, and the next step is to follow a random link from that site). What a neural net like GPT-3 learns—what allows it to produce uncanny imitation of human-written text—is a gigantic Markov chain that counsels it how to pick the next word after a sequence of 500, instead of the next letter after a sequence of two. All you need is a rule that tells you what probabilities govern the next step in the chain, given what the last step was.

You can train your Markov chain on your home library, or on Eugene Onegin, or on the huge textual corpus to which GPT-3 has access; you can train it on anything, and the chain will imitate that thing! You can train it on baby names from 1971, and get: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Math

5 condiments easily made

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I’m definitely go to make the fermented mustard and the oregano oil, and maybe others, too. (I make my own mayonnaise when I want mayo, and at the link is also a good recipe (not mine) for homemade ketchup, better than store-bought.)

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 6:35 pm

Another walk and the black-bean-and-black-rice tempeh moves to Phase 2

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Another walk, with some photos shown above. And the tempeh mold seems to have taken hold after 18 1/2 hours, so I turned the incubator down to 77ºF (25ºC). Some of the light color is moisture, but some is the fungus — and in any event, that much moisture indicates that it’s working.

The walk was longer, so I did it in two sessions, with an intermission rest between.

Click any photo for slide show; right-click photo in slide show to open in a new tab, and click to magnify.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Non-animal diet

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This season’s must-have Hermès bag is made from fungus

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Alice Fisher writes in the Guardian:

It’s fair to say that Hermès knows handbags. The luxury fashion house’s Birkin and Kelly bags are among the most expensive ever sold; demand outstrips supply by so much that you can’t even join a waiting list. Acquiring one is a matter of luck and contacts. So when Hermès announced this season’s handbag would be made from plant leather, it marked a new era in designer accessories.

The autumn/winter 2021 Hermès Victoria (prices start from about £3,500 for its previous leather version) will be made from Sylvania, a leather grown from fungus, before being crafted in France into a perfect Hermès handbag.

Mushrooms, pineapples, grapes, cactus and apples are just some of the plants on the receiving end of billions of dollars of research and development funding to create leather and plastic replacements. Many of the first generation of vegan alternatives used plastic – which also has devastating environmental consequences and can take hundreds of years to decompose. The new materials are made using biotechnology.

The growth of plant leather is driven by the fashion industry’s efforts to improve sustainability, though it’s also used in the car and furniture industries. Fashion creates a high level of pollution – from overproduction of clothing and synthetic fibres, and also from animal leather production.

“Cattle ranching is already the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon,” says Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism organisation. “We urgently need to fix our relationship with fashion to halt unsustainable agricultural practices. We need to look towards circular economy alternatives, including the use of agricultural residues to create bio-leathers.”

Although conventional leather makes use of animal byproducts, production also involves toxic chemicals.

“Even in fully modernised tanneries it’s nearly impossible to reclaim pollutants generated by the tanning process,” says Adrián López Velarde, co-founder of Desserto, a Mexican company that makes cactus leather. “As a rule of thumb, tanning one tonne of hide results in 20-80 cubic metres of polluted waste water, not to mention the offal effluence from preparation, and pesticides to stop mould growth during transportation.”

There’s also been an attitude shift among consumers. Customer concern about supply chains and methods of production was growing before the pandemic, but has accelerated in the past 18 months.

“There’s a huge drive for transparency,” says Carmen Hijosa, founder of Ananas Anam, a company that makes pineapple leather. “It’s especially important to young people, but we’re all becoming more empathic, we understand that we have to respect nature and be kind to each other.”

This change in priorities is the motivation for many of the companies developing bio-leathers. The people behind these new materials come from diverse backgrounds – fashion and art, science and business – and they bring fresh perspective to the world of textiles.

Dan Widmaier, chief executive of the biotextile company Bolt Threads, says: “This is personal for me. Bolt is based in northern California. I, and our employees, have been massively impacted by climate change and fires. The truth is, the challenges are so great right now, that the demand for innovative solutions far outstrips the supply.”

Bio-leathers are made either from agricultural byproducts or specially grown crops. Mycelium, the root structure of fungus, has become a favourite in the luxury industry.

Hermès worked with the Californian company MycoWorks to make Sylvania, which uses a technology called Fine Mycelium. This produces a strong cellular material that can be processed to become a luxury leather. “It’s more than a new material – it’s a manufacturing breakthrough that gives designers new levels of customisation and creative control,” says MycoWorks co-founder Sophia Wang. “Our materials are essentially made to order and there’s complete transparency into what is being made and how. We control each sheet’s size, strength, flexibility, thickness. This customisation creates a range of design possibilities, minimises waste and ensures consistent quality.”

Because these companies have been formed with sustainability in their DNA, good agricultural practice is front and centre. Desserto’s organic cactus plantations in Zacatecas, Mexico, use 164,650% less water compared with animal leather and 190% compared with polyurethane.

Bolt Threads developed and produces Mylo, a mycelium leather used by designers including Stella McCartney. Widmaier is proud of his product and says: “Mylo’s processing and finishing chemistries are evaluated and selected using green chemistry principles and are free of substances such as chromium and DMFa, two of the most noxious chemicals used in animal and synthetic leather respectively.”

For advocates of the circular economy, bio-leathers using byproducts are of particular interest. Piñatex, leather, made by UK-based Ananas Anam from pineapple leaves, is one of the best established. Hijosa, the company’s founder, had been a consultant for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 1:39 pm

Holding diet constant, increasing exercise — look at what happens to fasting blood glucose

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Starting last Sunday I resumed my Nordic walking. My fasting blood glucose, as I mentioned in an earlier post, held steady (in the “pre-diabetic” range) for three days, and then dropped into the normal range (a fasting BG reading of 5.5 mmol/L (99 mg/dL) or less). In fact, the past 3 days my readings have been 5.4, 5.3, and 5.2 (in mmol/L — in mg/dL, that’s 97, 95, and 94).

Obviously, my fasting blood glucose cannot continue dropping (or I’m in serious trouble), nor will the number of steps per day monotonically increase. For one thing, I don’t walk on Sundays as a rule (last Sunday was an exception), and once I get to 8000 I’ll level out since I see no need to go beyond that. (The 10,000 step guideline was a marketing ploy by Japanese pedometer manufacturers.)

But even in this short sample, I’m impressed by the impact that exercise (Nordic walking) has made. It certainly wasn’t due to diet, since I held my (whole-food plant-only) diet steady — and indeed, I’ve kept my fasting blood glucose readings relatively low (though still in the “pre-diabetic” range) simply by diet. But to get to the next level — readings in the “normal” range — exercise is clearly required.

I’ll go one more day to complete the week. It was a good experiment.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:41 am

Honeysuckle morning and a Stealth shave

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Honeysuckle seemed a good choice today, and the Wee Scot did a fine job with the version by Mike’s Natural. The Stealth is an amazingly good razor, and I wish Italian Barber would bring it back into production. After three passes, my face was smooth and ready for Phoenix Artisan’s Honeysuckle aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:06 am

Posted in Shaving

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