Archive for November, 2014

November 30, 2014


Lu Yu

Caffeinated drink

Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical found in various seeds, leaves, nuts, and berries. It serves a dual function in plants: as a toxin against unwanted pests, and as an enticement to pollinators, who are stimulated by it. Common sources of caffeine include coffee seeds (beans), tea leaves, kola nuts, yerba mate leaves, and guarana berries. It is extracted from the plant by steeping in water, a process called infusion. Chemically caffeine is an alkaloid, a non-acidic, nitrogen containing compound. A number of alkaloids are produced by flowering plants (e.g. cocaine from coca, nicotine from tobacco, morphine from poppies) to reduce or avoid being eaten by herbivores.

Specifically, caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid, an organic (carbon-based) compound from which many stimulants are derived. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. Part of the reason caffeine is classified by the FDA as ‘generally recognized as safe’ is that toxic doses, over 10 grams per day for an adult, are much higher than the typically used doses of under 500 milligrams.

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November 29, 2014

Coffee Culture

global coffee

turkish coffee

Coffee culture describes a social atmosphere or series of associated social behaviors that depends heavily upon coffee, particularly as a social lubricant. The term also refers to the diffusion and adoption of coffee as a widely consumed stimulant by a culture. In the late 20th century, particularly in the Western world and urbanized centers on the globe, espresso has been an increasingly dominant form. Individuals that participate in cafe culture are sometimes referred to as ‘cafe au laiters’ and ‘espressonites.’

In many urban centers on the world, it is not unusual to see several espresso shops and stands within walking distance of each other or on opposite corners of the same intersection, typically with customers overflowing into parking lots. Thus, the term coffee culture is also used frequently in popular and business media to describe the deep impact of the market penetration of coffee-serving establishments.

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November 27, 2014

Paradox of Tolerance

Intolerance by Riber Hansson

The tolerance paradox arises from a problem that a tolerant person might be antagonistic toward intolerance, hence intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be by definition intolerant of intolerance. American political philosopher Michael Walzer asks ‘Should we tolerate the intolerant?’ He notes that most minority religious groups who are the beneficiaries of tolerance are themselves intolerant, at least in some respects. In a tolerant regime, such people may learn to tolerate, or at least to behave ‘as if they possessed this virtue.’ Philosopher Karl Popper asserted, in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1,’ that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance.

However, philosopher John Rawls concludes in ‘A Theory of Justice’ that a just society must tolerate the intolerant, for otherwise, the society would then itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. But, Rawls also insists, like Popper, that society has a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance: ‘While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.’

November 26, 2014

Aquiline Nose

The Invention of the Jewish Nose

native american mascot

An aquiline [ak-wuh-lahynnose (also called a Roman nose or hook nose) is a human nose with a prominent bridge, giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent. The term is derived from the Latin word ‘aquilinus’ (‘eagle-like’) an allusion to the curved beak of an eagle. While some have ascribed the aquiline nose to specific ethnic, racial, or geographic groups, and in some cases associated it with other supposed non-physical characteristics (i.e. intelligence, status, personality, etc.), no scientific studies or evidence support any such linkage. As with many phenotypical expressions (i.e. ‘widow’s peak’, eye color, earwax type) it is found in many geographically diverse populations.

The aquiline nose was deemed a distinctive feature of some Native American tribes, members of which often took their names after their own characteristic physical attributes (i.e. The Hook Nose, or Chief Henry Roman Nose). In the depiction of Native Americans, for instance, an aquiline nose is one of the standard traits of the ‘noble warrior’ type. It is so important as a cultural marker, political scientist Renee Ann Cramer argued in ‘Cash, Color, and Colonialism’ (2005), that tribes without such characteristics have found it difficult to receive ‘federal recognition’ from the US government, resulting in failure to win benefits including tax-exempt status, reclamation rights, and (perhaps most significantly) the right to administer and profit from casinos.

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November 25, 2014

Origin Myth

just so stories

An origin myth is a myth that purports to describe the origin of some feature of the natural or social world. One type of origin myth is the cosmogonic myth, which describes the creation of the world. However, many cultures have stories set after the cosmogonic myth, which describe the origin of natural phenomena and human institutions within a preexisting universe. In Western classical scholarship, the terms ‘etiological myth’ and ‘aition’ (Ancient Greek: ’cause’) are sometimes used for a myth that explains an origin, particularly how an object or custom came into existence.

Every origin myth is a tale of creation describing how some new reality came into existence. In many cases, origin myths also justify the established order by explaining that it was established by sacred forces. The distinction between cosmogonic myths and origin myths is not clear-cut. A myth about the origin of some part of the world necessarily presupposes the existence of the world—which, for many cultures, presupposes a cosmogonic myth. In this sense, one can think of origin myths as building upon and extending their cultures’ cosmogonic myths. In fact, in traditional cultures, the recitation of an origin myth is often prefaced with the recitation of the cosmogonic myth.

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November 24, 2014

Executive Order

trump card


Most new laws in the US are made by Congress, however the Constitution also grants the President some legislative authority in the form of executive orders for the purpose of empowering officers and agencies of the Executive branch and managing operations within the federal government itself. Congress can also explicitly delegate to the President discretionary powers (delegated legislation) for a particular law. Like both legislative statutes and regulations promulgated by government agencies, executive orders are subject to judicial review, and may be struck down if deemed by the courts to be unsupported by statute or the Constitution.

Major policy initiatives usually require approval by the legislative branch, but executive orders have significant influence over the internal affairs of government, deciding how and to what degree laws will be enforced, dealing with emergencies, waging war, and in general fine-tuning policy choices in the implementation of broad statutes.

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November 23, 2014

Skin in the Game


To have ‘skin in the game’ is to have incurred monetary risk by being invested in achieving a goal. In the phrase, ‘skin’ is a synecdoche (a part that represents the whole) for the person involved, and ‘game’ is the metaphor for the actions on whatever field of play is at reference. The aphorism is common in finance, gambling, and politics. The origin of the phrase is unknown. It has been attributed to Warren Buffett since in Buffett’s first fund he raised $105,000 from 11 doctors, himself placing a token sum of $100.00 as his ‘skin in the game’ (though New York Times columnist William Safire dispelled the Buffett origin). Another possible explanation is that the phrase is derived from William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’; in which a money lender demands a pound of actual flesh from a borrower should they default.

The term is used to ask or convey a principals undefined but significant equity stake in an investment vehicle where outside investors are solicited to invest. The theory is that principal’s equity contribution is directly related to the stability of the investment and confidence that management has in the venture and is also (falsely) strongly correlated to the expected yield of the investment. Research has shown that there tends to be a negative correlation between excess ‘skin’ and negative returns. The main issues is the principal–agent problem whereby transparency and fiduciary obligations are disregarded by principals who have capital or excess capital (skin) tied into an entity. Many banks and other financial institutions bar employees from having any ‘skin’ where client capital is managed, principally to address the issue of commingled funds. Hedge funds, private equity, Trusts, and Mutual funds are legally limited to a minority investment positions.

November 21, 2014

Christic Institute

brought to light

The Christic [kris-tikInstitute was a public interest law firm founded in 1980 by Daniel Sheehan, his wife, Sara Nelson and their partner, William J. Davis, a Jesuit priest, after the successful conclusion of their work on the Silkwood case. Karen Silkwood was an American chemical technician and labor union activist known for raising concerns about worker safety in a nuclear facility. She is most famous for her mysterious death, which was the subject of a victorious lawsuit against the chemical company Kerr-McGee.

Based on the ecumenical teachings of French philosopher and Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and on the lessons they learned from their experience in the Silkwood fight, the Christic Institute combined investigation, litigation, education and organizing into a unique model for social reform in the United States. Christic represented victims of the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island; they prosecuted KKK members for killing civil rights demonstrators in the Greensboro Massacre, and they defended Catholic workers providing sanctuary to Salvadoran refugees (American Sanctuary Movement).

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November 20, 2014

Alan Moore

alan moore by Frank Quitely

Alan Moore (b. 1953) is an English writer primarily known for his work in comic books including ‘Watchmen,’ ‘V for Vendetta,’ and ‘From Hell.’ Frequently described as the best graphic novel writer in history (though he prefers the term ‘comic’ to ‘graphic novel’), he has been called ‘one of the most important British writers of the last fifty years.’ He has occasionally used such pseudonyms as Curt Vile, Jill de Ray, and Translucia Baboon.

Moore is an occultist, ceremonial magician, and anarchist, and features such themes in his fiction, as well as performing avant-garde spoken word occult ‘workings’ with ‘The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels,’ some of which have been released on CD. Despite his own personal objections, his books have provided the basis for a number of Hollywood films. He has stated that much of his work is designed to be ‘unfilmable’ to expose difference in the two mediums.

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November 17, 2014


ironic by Lindsay Mound

Irony is when something happens that is opposite from what is expected. In literature, it is sometimes used for comedic effect, but it is also used in tragedies. There are many types of irony, such as ‘dramatic irony’ (when the audience knows something is going to happen on stage that the characters on stage do not), ‘Socratic irony’ (when a teacher feigns ignorance to his students), ‘cosmic irony’ (when something that everyone thinks will happen actually happens very differently — as opposed to ‘situational irony’ that only affects a small group or individual), ‘verbal irony’ (an absence of expression and intention or the use of sarcasm), and ‘ironic fate’ (misfortune as the result of fate or chance).

The word ‘irony’ comes from Ancient Greek (‘eironeia’: ‘dissimulation, feigned ignorance’), in specific terms it is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of the situation that led to it. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used to underscore the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes (understatement used to emphasize a point by denying the opposite) can highlight one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

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November 14, 2014

Curse of Knowledge


curse of knowledge by Igor Kopelnitsky

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. It is related to public policy engineer Baruch Fischhoff’s work on the hindsight bias (the knew-it-all-along effect). In economics the bias is studied to understand why the assumption that better informed agents can accurately anticipate the judgments of lesser informed agents is not inherently true, as well as to support the finding that sales agents who are better informed about their products may, in fact, be at a disadvantage against other, less-informed agents. It is believed that better informed agents fail to ignore the privileged knowledge that they possess, thus ‘cursed’ and unable to sell their products at a value that more naïve agents would deem acceptable.

In one experiment, one group of subjects ‘tapped’ a well-known song on a table while another listened and tried to identify the song. Some ‘tappers’ described a rich sensory experience in their minds as they tapped out the melody. Tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify the specific tune; in reality only 2.5% of listeners could. Related to this finding is the phenomenon experienced by players of charades: The actor may find it frustratingly hard to believe that his or her teammates keep failing to guess the secret phrase, known only to the actor, conveyed by pantomime.

November 13, 2014

Christopher Nolan



Christopher Nolan (b. 1970) is a British-American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He created several of the most successful films of the early 21st century, and his eight films have grossed over $3.5 billion worldwide. Having made his directorial debut with ‘Following’ (1998), he gained considerable attention for his second feature, ‘Memento’ (2000). The acclaim of these independent films afforded Nolan the opportunity to make the big-budget thriller ‘Insomnia’ (2002), and the more offbeat production ‘The Prestige’ (2006); which were well-received critically and commercially. He found popular success with ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy (2005–2012), ‘Inception’ (2010), and ‘Interstellar’ (2014). He runs the London-based production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.

His films are rooted in philosophical and sociological concepts, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. Experimentation with metafictive elements, temporal shifts, elliptical cutting, solipsistic perspectives, nonlinear storytelling and the analogous relationship between the visual language and narrative elements, permeate his entire body of work.

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