Later On

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

Archive for January 19th, 2010


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Barry Eisler has a good post:

The Democrats are so pathetic.

Their latest plea is that if Martha Coakley doesn’t win in Massachusetts today, they’ll lose their critical 60-seat Senate block and with it, health care reform.

It’s bullshit. If the Democrats wanted to pass health care reform, or anything else, they could do it today. Any time they wanted, with a simple majority vote, they could end the filibuster rule that enables Republicans to block legislation.

This is so simple, it’s useful to break it down the way a child might approach it.

Democratic Senator: Sorry, little girl, we can’t pass health care reform without 60 votes.

Child: In school they taught us there only 100 Senators. So don’t you need only 50 votes?

Dem: Yes, but there’s a Senate rule that allows the minority party to do something called a "filibuster," and when they do, the majority party needs 60 votes to overcome it. Filibusters used to be rare, but now the Republicans do one for every bill we try to pass. Those meanies.

Child: Well, where did the rule come from?

Dem: The Senate passed it.

Child: By a majority vote? I mean, 50 Senators?

Dem: Yes.

Child: Then don’t you need only 50 Senators to repeal it?

Dem: Huh?

Child: I mean, if you think Republicans are meanies who aren’t being fair about the rule, why don’t you just change the rule?

Dem: That would make the Republicans really mad!

Child: So you’re afraid of them?

Dem: Of course not!

Child: Then why don’t you change the rule?


Child: I was afraid of bullies, too. But then I stood up to one and he backed down. You should try it.

The only thing my hypothetical child might be missing — and only because she’s so innocent — is that the Democrats might actually like the filibuster they’re always complaining about. Here’s a link that nicely lays out how the filibuster works and why the Democrats are motivated to keep it: essentially, because they can use it to excuse their failure to fulfill their promises to their constituents while simultaneously invoking mean Republican abuse of the rule in their fundraising efforts.

So are the Democrats cowards or cynics? I’m not sure. Sometimes, watching them, I see a study in learned helplessness — they’ve let themselves be beaten down so many times they just want to cringe in the corner and give up. Other times, I see the Stockholm syndrome — they want to lick the hands of the people who are punching them. Or maybe they do indeed know exactly what they’re doing — their "inability" to cope with those obstreperous Republicans is great for fundraising. Regardless, listening to them whine about how they can’t pass legislation because they don’t have 60 votes is like listening to a guy who says he can’t work because he’s wearing handcuffs — handcuffs he’s put on himself, and to which he’s holding the key.

Ironically, undergirding the cynicism and cowardice is stupidity. I doubt the average voter knows that much about the details of health care reform or any other proposed legislation or platform. Most people don’t choose a product because they really know the product’s features; instead, they make an emotional decision based on the product’s brand. At this point, the Republican brand is "bully." Not good, you might think, because most people hate bullies. But the Democratic brand is "coward." And looking out at a scary, uncertain world, a lot of people would rather be led by a bully than by a coward. Until the Democrats grasp this obvious, fundamental point, their fortunes will continue to come down to the results of single special elections, their turns in the White House to interludes between bouts of Republican incompetence so profound that desperate voters will temporarily grasp at any alternative. You can call this state of affairs a lot of things, but "prescription for getting things done" will never be one of them.

Between one party that’s "corrupt and inept," and the other that’s "batshit insane," what can be done? Digby has the best and most level-headed plan I’ve come across. Read it on Hullabaloo here.

P.S. Yesterday Scott Horton blew gigantic holes in the government’s attempt to cover up torture and murder at Guantanamo. Overseas papers are all over the story, but the American mainstream media won’t touch it. Make a difference — post, tweet, or forward Scott’s article and do what you can to make America a nation under the rule of law.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

What your children will learn in school, thanks to Texas

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Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:

For months, the Texas State Board of Education has been hearing from “experts” about the direction of the state’s social studies curriculum and textbook standards. The advice to the 15-member board —which is composed of 10 Republicans — has included more references to Christianity, fewer mentions of civil rights leaders, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

On Thursday and Friday last week, the State Board of Education took up these recommendations in a lengthy, heated debate. Some highlights of what the Republican-leaning board ended up deciding, and the debates that went on:

— On a 7-6 vote, the board decided to add “causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America,the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association” to the curriculum.

– The Republican majority voted against requiring Texas textbooks and teachers to cover the Democratic late senator Edward Kennedy, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and leading Hispanic civil rights groups such as LULAC and MALDEF. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Thurgood Marshall, the country’s first African-American Supreme Court justice, will be taught.

– Republican Don McLeroy lost a battle to “remove hip-hop and insert country music in its place from a proposed set of examples of cultural movements.” Republican Patricia Hardy said that while she disliked hip hop music, pretending it wasn’t around was “crazy.” “These people are multimillionaires, and believe me, there are not enough black people to buy that,” she said. “There are white people buying this. It has had a profound effect.” Country music was added as a separate measure.

– “McLeroy was successful with another of his noteworthy amendments: to include documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his contention that the U.S. government was infiltrated with Communists in the 1950s.”

– “Republican board member Cynthia Dunbar unsuccessfully tried to strike the names of Scopes monkey trial attorney Clarence Darrow and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey from the standards. Asked by another member about her opposition to Garvey, Dunbar explained, according to the Texas Tribune: “My concern is that he was born in Jamaica and was deported.”

– The board “included a requirement for students in U.S. history classes to differentiate between legal and illegal immigration.”

Unable to reach to reach complete agreement last week, the board unanimously decided to “suspend debate on the standards until March, when they will take up other social studies subjects such as government and geography.” A final decision won’t be reached until May. McLeroy, who has been the driving force of some of the most conservative amendments, said that he plans on proposing more controversial standards, such as an evaluation of the U.S. civil rights movement and the “increased participation of minorities in the political process and unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes,” in addition to the “adversarial approach taken by many civil rights groups.”

This debate is important not only because it will dictate how the state’s 4.7 million schoolchildren are taught social studies, but also because Texas “is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks.” Publishers are often “reluctant to produce different versions of the same material,” and therefore create books in line with Texas’ standards. “Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list,” one industry executive told the Washington Monthly.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman has more on the importance of textbook writers.

UPDATE: The editorial staff of the Waco Tribune writes, "The board’s decision to postpone final decisions till March is good, if only to allow board members, special-interest groups and Texans to re-examine what’s happening to our society. It’s gradually morphing into a republic where students learn what’s either politically correct or what’s on someone else’s political agenda. Little of it truly improves students."

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 1:32 pm

Some anger at the loony progressive left

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Veritas 78 at Daily Kos:

Several weeks ago, Jane threw in her lot with Grover Norquist to defeat the healthcare bill.

But apparently, she didn’t mean it. Because now, her website FireDogLake wants Martha Coakley in the Senate so that Coakley’s 60th vote will allow the bill to pass—a bill that Jane detested.

Maybe that bill wasn’t so bad after all, Jane? Perhaps you were manipulating your readers and the rest of the blogosphere with your "Look At Me" histrionics? Because you can’t be for the bill now when you teamed up with Grover Norquist just a few weeks ago to defeat it. The election of Scott Brown will accomplish the EXACT same thing that your unholy union with Grover was meant to accomplish.

I actually know Grover, Jane. Tip: he’s out to promote himself even more than you are. But you went there with him, and now you want us all to think you were just kidding.

So which is it, Jane? We should do everything we can to defeat this bill, including teaming up with Greasy Grover? Or we should do everything we can to elect Saint Martha, because we need to protect Obama and any semblance of our plan?

I’m not fooled. You jerked us all around, and proved that you will say Anything. So now, what you say means Nothing.

I’ll hold my nose and vote for Coakley tomorrow, but not because you urged me to, Jane. I’ll vote for her only because she’s not as bad as Scott Brown. Perfect is the enemy of Good, Jane. Learn that sometime.

And I’ll never take FDL seriously again. Good luck, Jane, and get ready for a long, steaming dump of blame, of which you can savor every dripping lump.

Whenever you find yourself making common cause with Grover Norquist and the extreme Right, it’s a good time to check your priorities and your reasoning. Jane didn’t do that. Instead, she threw a little hissy fit and no doubt will now try to make that go away by never mentioning it.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 1:25 pm

The foreign press and "Camp No"

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Much of the US press, in service to the government and/or the Right, will try to minimize this as much as possible. But Andrew Sullivan points out:

As usual, the foreign press cover the new and powerful evidence that the Bush administration was using torture methods so severe they killed prisoners in Gitmo as late as 2006 – and then covered it up with claims of a triple-simultaneous-suicide. Here’s the Guardian. And the Telegraph. And the Independent. Here’s the Irish Times. And the Canadian Press. But the US papers?

Nary a mention. Fox News? You have to be kidding. NYT? A buried AP feed. The right-wing blogosphere that is fanning the flames for a torture state? Crickets … In fact, National Review is in full swing with articles by the torture-celebrating Marc Thiessen and a video interview with the war criminal, John Yoo, citing George Washington, perhaps one of the most ferocious opponents of torture in American history, to defend his crimes. The premise of both Thiessen and Yoo is that what was authorized was not torture, and that Gitmo is the best of the best facilities for the worst of the worst prisoners. But the possible deaths-by-torture in Gitmo – which explode their lies and spin – do not rate even a mention.

If you want to know how America became a torturing country, look up Dick Cheney in Wikipedia. Then go look at a great deal (but not all) of the MSM.

It’s a very, very bad thing when the government becomes a criminal enterprise. And when government employees can commit crimes with impunity (revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative, obtaining records illegally, torturing prisoners, killing prisoners), it’s a start.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 1:22 pm

Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit, Toasted Almonds, and Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette

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This Deborah Madison recipe sounds delicious. The ingredients:

3 Tbs. raisins (preferably a mix of dark and golden)
2 Tbs. dried apricots, thinly sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well
Kosher salt
1 large lemon
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 medium scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 to 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped toasted almonds
Freshly ground black pepper

I’m making my shopping list right now.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Intuition in a chess genius

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Interesting post at The Frontal Cortex by Jonah Lehrer:

Time Magazine has an interesting profile of Magnus Carlsen, the youngest chess player to achieve a number one world ranking:

Genius can appear anywhere, but the origins of Carlsen’s talent are particularly mysterious. He hails from Norway — a "small, poxy chess nation with almost no history of success," as the English grand master Nigel Short sniffily describes it — and unlike many chess prodigies who are full-time players by age 12, Carlsen stayed in school until last year. His father Henrik, a soft-spoken engineer, says he has spent more time urging his young son to complete his schoolwork than to play chess. Even now, Henrik will interrupt Carlsen’s chess studies to drag him out for a family hike or museum trip. "I still have to pinch my arm," Henrik says. "This certainly is not what we had in mind for Magnus."

Even pro chess players — a population inured to demonstrations of extraordinary intellect — have been electrified by Carlsen’s rise. A grand master at 13 (the third youngest in history) and a conqueror of top players at 15, he is often referred to as the Mozart of chess for the seeming ease of his mastery. In September, he announced a coaching contract with Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest player of all time, who quit chess in 2005 to pursue a political career in Russia. "Before he is done," Kasparov says, "Carlsen will have changed our ancient game considerably."

One of the fascinating elements of Carlsen’s talent is that he’s learned the game by playing computer chess, matching his wits against advanced algorithms. The end result is a prodigy who’s amassed an unprecedented amount of deliberate practice at an early age, as he’s able to play multiple games on the same machine at the same time. Computers, in other words, have accelerated the pace of his chess education.

The article then discusses Carlsen’s semi-mystical chess "intuition," which allows the youngster to "feel for where to place the pieces":

According to Kasparov, Carlsen has a knack for sensing the potential energy in each move, even if its ultimate effect is too far away for anyone — even a computer — to calculate. In the grand-master commentary room, where chess’s clerisy gather to analyze play, the experts did not even consider several of Carlsen’s moves during his game with Kramnik until they saw them and realized they were perfect. "It’s hard to explain," Carlsen says. "Sometimes a move just feels right."

At first glance, there is something surprising about a teenager weaned on chess software extolling the wonders of intuition. It’s as if we expect Carlsen to act like his software, to be as explicit in his strategic decisions as Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer. But that misses the real purpose of practice and the real genius of the human brain. When we practice properly – and this means engaging in deliberate practice – we aren’t just accumulating factual knowledge. Instead, we’re embedding our experience into our unconscious, so that even insanely complicated calculations – and Carlsen can regularly plan twenty chess moves in advance – become mostly automatic.

This is a truism of expertise. Although we tend to think of experts as being weighted down by information, their intelligence dependent on a vast set of facts, experts are actually profoundly intuitive. When experts evaluate a situation, they don’t systematically compare all the available options or consciously analyze the relevant information. Carlsen, for instance, doesn’t compute the probabilities of winning if he moves his rook to the left rather than the right. Instead, experts naturally depend on the emotions generated by their experience. Their prediction errors – all those mistakes they made in the past – have been translated into useful knowledge, which allows them to tap into a set of accurate feelings they can’t begin to explain. Neils Bohr said it best: an expert is "a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." From the perspective of the brain, Bohr was absolutely right.

And this is why we shouldn’t be surprised that a chess prodigy raised on chess computer programs would be even more intuitive than traditional grandmasters. The software allows him to play more chess, which allows him to make more mistakes, which allows him to accumulate experience at a prodigious pace.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 12:51 pm

Out for a walk

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There’s a lull between storms right now, so I nipped out and did the walk—another checkmark. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2010 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

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