Later On

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Archive for October 20th, 2022

A student asked her cosmology professor the meaning of life. Here was his response.

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  • Brian Thomas Swimme is a professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness (PCC) Department at CIIS in San Francisco, CA.
  • In this excerpt of his book Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe, Swimme recounts a time one of his students asked him about the meaning of life.

From Big Think:

I had just finished my lecture on Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The mathematical equations for one of his basic ideas, the so-called invariance of the space-time interval, filled the blackboards. I still had twenty minutes to spare. Perhaps I had galloped through the details too fast. I tended to overprepare for this course since it was loaded with some of the best students on campus, including Oona Fitzgerald who had scored a perfect 1600 on her SATs.

We were on the fourth floor of Thompson Hall, which had earned the nickname “the Boeing complex” because of the close relationship the corporation had established with the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Over the years, a significant number of professors and students had worked there. The Seattle-based company had funded part of Thompson Hall’s construction when the demand to maintain the university’s English Gothic architecture had led to extraordinary cost overruns.

I could have ended the class right there. My quota of chalk had already been transformed into the mathematical equations I had written out. I dropped the three leftover stubs into the wire-mesh holder at the corner of the blackboard and opened the class for questions. Oona Fitzgerald raised her hand, her round, freckled face beaming. “What’s the meaning of life?” she asked. This evoked some tentative laughter, and she smiled as if she might be joking. But after glancing around, she faced me again and waited. It would have been simple enough to avoid her question with a light remark, but I wanted to honor her sincerity. The bit of courage I needed came when I remembered Dr. Barker’s response to the same question I myself had asked a few years earlier in my quantum mechanics course. His irritated reply—“Science doesn’t deal with meaning”—left me feeling foolish. As if no real scientist would ask such a question. Only an amateurish pretender. Years later, and his words were still with me.

As I leaned back on my desk and reflected on Oona’s question, the strangest feeling arose. The students could see I had taken the question to heart. The mood in the room shifted. A tingling grew inside me. It was as if, unknown to me, I had been waiting for this, and yet I felt like a criminal faced with a forbidden act, something that should be avoided but that was too alluring to ignore.

I told the students what I thought was an important truth, that almost none of us knew our true identity. Just as amazing, we forgot that we did not know our true identity. This strange situation came from the tiny worlds in which we lived. We thought of ourselves as Americans or Chinese, as Republicans or Democrats, as believers or atheists. Each of those identities might be true, but each is secondary truth. There is a deeper truth. We are universe. The universe made us. In a most primordial way, we are cosmological beings.

Then I said it.

“To take this in, you need to ride inside the mathematical symbols.”

I did not know what I meant by saying you need to ride inside the mathematical symbols. I just said it.

“Begin with the primal light discovered in 1964 by Penzias and Wilson. This light, this cosmic microwave background radiation, arrives here from all directions. We know that each of these photons comes from a place near the origin of the cosmos, so if we trace these particles of light backward we are led to the birthplace of the universe. Which means, since this light comes from all directions, that we have discovered our origin in a colossal sphere of light. This colossal sphere, fourteen billion light-years away from us in every direction, is the origin of our universe. And thus the origin of each of us.”

I held out my arms as if clutching a gigantic ball.

“We can speculate about  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 9:01 pm

This drone uses elytra, a beetle-inspired set of wings, to self-right itself

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The video appears in an article by Michelle Hampson in IEEE Spectrum that begins:

When life knocks you down, you’ve got to get back up. Ladybugs take this advice seriously in the most literal sense. If caught on their backs, the insects are able to use their tough exterior wings, called elytra (of late made famous in the game Minecraft), to self-right themselves in just a fraction of a second.

Inspired by this approach, researchers have created self-righting drones with artificial elytra. Simulations and experiments show that the artificial elytra can not only help salvage fixed-wing drones from compromising positions, but also improve the aerodynamics of the vehicles during flight. The results are described in a study published July 9 in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

Charalampos Vourtsis is a doctoral assistant at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland who co-created the new design. He notes that beetles, including ladybugs, have existed for tens of millions of years. “Over that time, they have developed several survival mechanisms that we found to be a source of inspiration for applications in modern robotics,” he says.

His team was particularly intrigued by beetles’ elytra, which for ladybugs are their famous black-spotted, red exterior wing. Underneath the elytra is the hind wing, the semi-transparent appendage that’s actually used for flight.

When stuck on their backs, ladybugs use their elytra to stabilize themselves, and then thrust their legs or hind wings in order to pitch over and self-right. Vourtsis’ team designed . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

As an added bonus, the elytra were found to add non-negligible lift during flight, which offsets their weight.  

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Technology

Some progress in government programs

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.3 billion program to give debt relief to struggling farmers with qualifying USDA farm loans. Already, more than 13,000 farm borrowers have received about $800 million in assistance with the goal of creating long-term stability to keep them in the profession while also transforming USDA loan servicing. The program, which has access to $3.1 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, will ultimately help about 36,000 borrowers. The average amount of relief for direct loan borrowers was $52,000, while for those with guaranteed loans the average was about $172,000.

“Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

Republicans who have complained about debt relief for college loan borrowers did not respond to questions from David Pitt of the Associated Press about whether they support help for farm loan borrowers.

The Department of Justice announced today that the Antitrust Division is enforcing our antitrust laws, and that seven directors of corporate boards recently resigned when the DOJ expressed concern that they were violating the prohibition on directors and officers serving simultaneously on the boards of competitors. Congress outlawed this practice under Section 8 of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter explained, because it “further concentrates power and creates the opportunity to exchange competitively sensitive information and facilitate coordination—all to the detriment of the economy and the American public.”

“Companies, officers, and board members should expect that enforcement of Section 8 will continue to be a priority for the Antitrust Division,” the DOJ said in a statement, and it urged anyone with information about other interlocking directorates “or any other potential violations of the antitrust laws” to contact the DOJ.

Help for farmers and enforcement of antitrust legislation—including permitting those in danger of running afoul of the law to resign before launching legal action—feels much like the reforms of the Progressive Era, when leaders like Theodore Roosevelt tried to claw back a government that worked for industrialists.

That use of the government to restore a level playing field stands in contrast to the news coming from the Republicans. Big news came today from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter for the Central District of California, who has been overseeing the fight between Trump lawyer John Eastman and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Eastman was the author of the memo outlining a plan for stealing the 2020 election. The January 6th committee subpoenaed Eastman’s emails, but Eastman tried to shield a number of them, arguing that they fell under attorney-client privilege.

After reviewing the emails, Carter ruled some of them must be made public because of the “crime-fraud exception,” meaning that they are not privileged because they appear to reveal a crime. Four documents show how the Trump team’s primary goal in filing lawsuits was not to obtain relief, but rather “to delay or otherwise disrupt the January 6 vote.” Those documents, then, further the crime of obstruction.

Crucially, one of the documents concerns . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 12:21 pm

The Conservative Stalwart Challenging the Far-Right Legal Theory That Could Subvert American Democracy

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In the New Yorker, Jane Mayer writes of an effort to preserve democracy in the US. Her article (no paywall) begins:

A powerful new litigant has joined one of the most momentous cases slated to be heard by the Supreme Court this term. The respondents in the case of Moore v. Harper filed a brief today that included a surprising new signatory: J. Michael Luttig, who has been known for years as perhaps the most conservative Republican judge in the country. Now, though, he has joined a coalition of veteran lawyers and nonpartisan government-watchdog groups who are fighting against a far-right Republican election-law challenge—one so radical that critics say it has the potential to end American democracy as we know it.

The former judge is a surprising co-counsel to Neal Katyal, the well-known Supreme Court litigator. Katyal is a counsel of record in the case for several respondents, including Common Cause and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, that are opposing the far-right groups. The case is scheduled to be heard by the Court on December 7th. Luttig told me that he signed on as Katyal’s co-counsel because he regards Moore v. Harper as “without question the most significant case in the history of our nation for American democracy.” Putting it more colloquially, he said, “Legally, it’s the whole ballgame.”

Having such a well-known conservative former jurist argue against the election-law challenge may carry some weight with the conservative super-majority on the Court, several of whom have ties to Luttig that stretch back decades. Justice Clarence Thomas, for instance, was personally shepherded through his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings by Luttig in 1991. At the time, Luttig served as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel in George H. W. Bush’s Justice Department. After Thomas was confirmed, Luttig himself was sworn in to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit at the age of thirty-seven; he became, at that moment, the youngest federal appellate judge in the country.

Luttig’s ties to Chief Justice John Roberts also go back years. The two worked closely together in the Reagan Administration as young lawyers, both under the tutelage of then White House counsel Fred Fielding, and again together as lawyers in the George H. W. Bush Department of Justice. Later, in 2005, George W. Bush considered them simultaneously for a seat on the Supreme Court, which ultimately went to Roberts. The following month, Bush again considered Luttig for a Supreme Court seat but chose Samuel Alito. After establishing a reputation as a hard-right standard-bearer in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia on the appeals court, Luttig became the general counsel of Boeing; in 2020, he retired.

The evolution of Luttig’s political role since then has been remarkable. While some might assume that he has abandoned his conservative views, his position is more of a reflection of the radical changes that have overtaken the Republican Party. A judge who once represented the far-right pole in jurisprudence now looks like a throwback to an earlier age of G.O.P. probity and restraint. Ordinarily, Luttig told me, he wouldn’t get involved in a case like this. But Moore v. Harper, he explained, is the natural outgrowth of the extraordinary behind-the-scenes role he played in the final Götterdämmerung days of the Trump Presidency.

On the evening of January 4, 2021, Luttig was asked to weigh in as an emergency outside legal expert to Vice-President Mike Pence, whom Trump was pressuring not to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. Luttig emphatically advised the Pence team that the Vice-President had no choice. The Constitution clearly stated that the Vice-President’s only role was ceremonial. Luttig stressed that Pence had to certify the 2020 Electoral College vote, in defiance of Trump’s attempted coup. But, in the early morning of January 5th, as the pressure from Trump continued to rise, Pence’s advisers contacted Luttig. They told him, while he was holed up in his vacation home in Colorado, that he needed to share with the American public his view that, under the Constitution, Pence had to certify Biden’s Electoral College win.

A retired sixty-six-year-old lawyer stuck in Colorado at the time, Luttig recalled telling Pence’s lawyer, “I don’t even have a job right now. I’m unemployed. . . . I don’t have a fax machine.” Eventually, Luttig decided he would tweet, but he told me he had no idea how to do so. He called his son, who works in tech, but he was too busy to explain, so he sent him Twitter’s online instructions. Luttig’s tweet, when it finally posted, was published on the Times Web site, and later quoted by Pence in his letter to Congress on January 6th, leading to the historic standoff between the President and Vice-President. Luttig’s role was crucial because of his unique standing. The lawyer who had improperly advised Trump that Pence had the legal power to delay, and perhaps overturn, the election, was one of Luttig’s own former law clerks: John Eastman. Eastman’s rogue legal theory was based, in part, on a fringe-right reading of the Constitution called the independent-state-legislature theory. Its proponents, including Eastman, claimed that state legislatures had the authority to reject the results of the 2020 election that were certified by other state officials and the courts. It wasn’t lost on those involved at the time that the majority of state legislatures were dominated by Trump’s Republican Party.

“The independent-state-legislature theory was the centerpiece of the former President’s effort to overturn the 2020 election,” Luttig told me. “In advising Vice-President Pence on January 6th, I concluded that there was no such doctrine of constitutional interpretation.” Luttig added,  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 10:08 am

No fan of Liz Truss

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Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 9:52 am

Mumtaz and Hermès

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“Mumtaz and Hermès” sounds a little like a vaudeville duo from the first decade of the 20th century, but they are the software of today’s shave.

Grooming Dept Mumtaz uses the Kairos (tallow) formula. On looking at the soap’s page, I see that the tub in my photo is standing on its head. This indicates the versatility of the soap — not only does it have a great fragrance (“Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Orange, Jasmine, Rose, Incense, Vanilla, Opoponax, Civet, Tonka Bean, Cedarwood, Iris, Patchouli, Vetiver, Leather, Musk, and Sandalwood”), it also makes a great lather (helped this morning by the Yaqi Target Shot knot). 

And the Yaqi double-open-comb head easily produced a perfect result. That head always seems strangely efficient, given how comfortable it is. It glides smoothly across one’s face, causing no trouble at all, so that the total absence of any trace of stubble at the end comes as somewhat of a surprise. That sort of ruthless efficiency is normally associated with some rough edges, not such smooth sophistication.

The shave ends with a small dab of Hermès Eau d’orange verte, a thick cream that quickly is absorbed, leaving one’s face very smooth.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Baker Street Blend: “Lapsang Souchong, smooth Keemun, rich Ceylon, Gunpowder, and floral Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 9:02 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

A healthy diet by itself doesn’t seem to reduce dementia risk

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Megan Brooks reports in Medscape of a study that showed that a healthy diet by itself did not result in a lowered risk of dementia. The report suggested that it may be that reducing the risk of dementia may require a combination of healthy practices that include a healthy diet and also regular exercise, vascular risk control, avoiding cigarette smoking, minimizing or eliminating the consumption of alcohol, and so on).

One oddity in phrasing. The report says:

The authors of an accompanying editorial note that diet as a “singular factor may not have a strong enough effect on cognition, but is more likely to be considered as one factor embedded with various others, the sum of which may influence the course of cognitive function (diet, regular exercise, vascular risk factor control, avoiding cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, etc).

“Diet should not be forgotten and it still matters” but should be regarded as “one part of a multidomain intervention with respect to cognitive performance,” write Nils Peters, MD, with University of Basel, Switzerland, and Benedetta Nacmias, PhD, with University of Florence, Italy.

The way it is phrased — “avoiding cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation” — it sounds as though the recommendation is to drink alcohol, though in moderation. That is, they recommend that, if you don’t drink, you should start.

But alcohol is a linear risk factor, like cigarette smoking: it’s best (that is, healthiest) not to do it at all, and the more you do, the more unhealthy it is. The authors recommend “avoiding cigarette smoking,” not “smoking cigarettes in moderation.” The same rule would apply to alcohol: avoiding it is best, and if alcohol is consumed, the less the better (from the point of view of health).

CDC’s guidance on alcohol consumption is much clearer (and more detailed) and states that the ideal is not to drink at all, with risk rising directly with amount consumed:

  • Alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short- and long-term health risks, including motor vehicle crashes, violence, sexual risk behaviors, high blood pressure, and various cancers (e.g., breast cancer).1
  • The risk of these harms increases with the amount of alcohol you drink. For some conditions, like some cancers, the risk increases even at very low levels of alcohol consumption (less than 1 drink).2,3
  • To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.4 The Guidelines also do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason and that if adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.4
  • Two in three adult drinkers report drinking above moderate levels at least once a month.5

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 7:07 am

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