Later On

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

Archive for August 15th, 2010

I MUST HAVE Turkish ice cream

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Via Boing Boing:

More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Video

Good news re: Tasers

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Gaius Publius at AmericaBlog:

Hard on the heels of this post, about the repeated tasering of an 86-year-old woman — on oxygen, in her bed — by ten police officers . . . (still letting that one sink in) . . . comes this timely report of a legal crack in lie that tasers don’t kill. From the Vancouver Sun (h/t Hue-man in the comments; my emphasis):

VANCOUVER — The company that makes Tasers has lost its legal bid to quash a high-profile report that found the weapons can kill.
The British Columbia Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge by Taser International to overturn results of the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

The company was trying to quash retired justice Thomas Braidwood’s findings that the weapons increase the risk of fatal heart failure.
Dziekanski, 40, died on Oct. 14, 2007, at Vancouver International Airport after being Tasered five times by four RCMP officers responding to a 911 call.

Dziekanski’s "crime"? He was immigrating to live his mother, and after a 20-hour flight was held up 11 hours at Vancouver International. He couldn’t contact his mother, who was waiting elsewhere, and after "a brief confrontation with the RCMP officers, he was repeatedly Tasered and died." The killing occurred in 2007. RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass apologized in 2010 to Mrs Kziekanski.

In case you didn’t know, the RCMP are the Mounties. Time to revise that sparkly-toothed image of them?

There’s so much more to say on this subject, and Digby says much of it all by herself. Here’s me:

    Tasers kill.
    Sadistic cops love using them.
    As long as taser death is kept low-key, the abuse will continue.

A pretty sweet setup for some people, but a deadly mix for others. Score one for the good guys.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Sex ed considered in the context of firearms

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Via Annie Laurie at Balloon Juice, this excellent column at Jezebel:

Seems to me that simple, clear communication works best, even with young kids. But judging from the turbulence caused by a sex ed curriculum under consideration by the School Board in Helena, MT, there are people who disagree.

According to Fox News, some local parents are in a tizzy about their kindergartners learning the actual words for their body parts, including those covered by their bathing suits.

When we as parents want to, and need to, communicate important information to our kids (or hear important information from them), why wouldn’t we use the right words?

Their objections to the curriculum go on from there, but it seems grounded in the same basic fear of information.

The data, as usual, supports a reasonable approach.

Teens who have accurate information, resources and support around their bodies and sexuality are better armed to make the daily decisions that affect their well-being both now and into the future. According to recent research, the average age for first-time sex for white Evangelical Protestants is 16, among the earliest average age for any group. They are also the least likely of any group of teens to use contraception, and the most likely to have been given abstinence-only sex ed, which I guess avoids using actual names for body parts until pretty late in the game.In "Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools," researchers David Wiley and Kelly Wilson of Texas State University took a comprehensive look at how sexuality is taught in Texas public schools. The short answer: It isn’t really. Kids are, however, being taught: A) sex will KILL YOU DEAD RIGHT NOW; B) only depressive, suicidal, loser slut bunnies ever have sex outside of marriage; and C) condoms kill more people than handguns.

Despite the fact that Texas ranks third in the rate of teen pregnancies and that its students are more sexually active and that they have more sex partners than the average U.S. student, sex ed here is nearly exclusively devoted to abstinence education, often with a religious bent. Information about contraception, disease prevention and STD testing is most often scarce or, worse, wildly inaccurate.

Like Texas, many of the same states that resist comprehensive sex ed are the same places that pride themselves on loose laws for gun ownership. Gun-rights advocates maintain that straight-forward education, not regulation and licensing, is the best way to keep kids safe.The National Rifle Association leads the way: they have a cool program called Eddie Eagle, aimed at exactly the same age group those parents are up in arms about learning about their own bodies. According to the site, the curriculum is designed to be used in schools. Anyone can use it—you don’t need to be an NRA member or certified to teach anything at all. The curriculum is even available in Spanish.

According to the NRA, it doesn’t aim to teach kids that guns are either "good or bad", but rather how to stay safe when you see one. "Like swimming pools, electrical outlets, matchbooks and household poison, they’re treated simply as a fact of everyday life. With firearms found in about half of all American households, it’s a stance that makes sense." . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 1:11 pm

19+ Challenging Free Online Puzzle Games You Have To Play

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It’s Sunday afternoon, right?

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life

Thomas Geoghegan: "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?"

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By Masaccio at Firedoglake:

Were You Born On the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get A Life

Thomas Geoghegan has written a book that captures the focus of the progressive movement: how does the Middle Class survive the predatory capitalism practiced in the United States and the United Kingdom? His answer is the German version of capitalism, where the interests of the workers are just as important as the voice of the capitalists.

He begins by pointing out all the ways people live better in the European Union. They don’t have to worry about the Big Five: retirement, health care, education, transportation and childcare. The government sees to all of these. Since it buys in bulk, it gets great prices, and people don’t have to spend their time worrying about any of those things. Just think how great your life would be if you didn’t have to think about where you send your kids to school, or health insurance, or how long your commute is. And think how much better off you would be in this miserable economy if you didn’t have to worry about the losses in your 401(k) plan (if you had one), and how you would pay for health care if you have to pay COBRA on the paltry unemployment benefits you get if you got fired.

But there is more. In Europe, cities are livable. There are parks, beautiful buildings, wonderful museums, ancient churches, free or cheap concerts, festivals, open-air markets, functional subways, buses and trains, and street-cleaners. Geoghegan references the lovely public spaces with his comment on the banks of violets he saw in Zurich. There is café life, which is a gracious way to live, indeed. In Paris, the cafés are filled with people of all ages, sitting out at all times of the year drinking coffee and talking to each other, not immersed in private thoughts in front of a laptop or staring blankly at the third football game of a Sunday.

They can live this way because they aren’t working themselves to death. They get real vacations, tons of days off which create lots of three and four day weekends, and their daily work hours typically aren’t as long as ours. Geoghegan casts himself as the archetypical US lawyer, working up to the moment he leaves on one of his trips to Berlin, and complaining because no one is around when he gets in; it’s Friday afternoon, and they are gone for the day.

How do they live so well, and we don’t? We are the ones with the great average Gross National Product per capita. It’s simple. They pay taxes, so they don’t have to pay for health insurance or retirement. They live in cities, so they don’t have to drive. They get great public education, so they don’t dump tens of thousands of dollars into private grade schools, high schools and colleges to give their kids a head start. The government provides childcare, so both parents can work or not as they see fit. With all that off their backs, they have time to live.

How can they afford this? Geoghegan explains that it is because they understand something we have lost, if we ever knew it: when people understand and participate in government, they can vote themselves a better deal:

It’s especially important in a social democracy that high school grads, as opposed to college grads, keep reading. For in this new global economy, high school grads, in Germany and elsewhere, still have one big competitive advantage over college grads: there are more of them.

If they can just read the papers and go out and vote, they can vote themselves a better deal—even if their skills are worth less.

P. 203. Geoghegan is most impressed by the German model because it teaches high school grads to participate in workers councils and unions, not just as recipients of top down instructions, but as active participants. In larger companies, the workers have a say in the day-to-day operation of the business through works councils with real power:

“Can a works council set the time when people go to work?” Yes. “What about when people leave?” Yes. (I remember a reporter who was on a works council: “We try to make sure they get home early enough to get to the theater.”) “What else can it do?” If there have to be pink slips, it can say who does or does not get one. It can set vacations. It can even set wages, but only if the wages are higher than the union sets.

P. 114. Workers are also members of unions that bargain for wages at the regional level. In companies with more than 2.000 employees, the board of directors has an equal number of outside directors and workers, a system called co-determination. With all this participation, workers have a direct stake in the business, and a real reason to pay attention to government and business. That means that everyone has a reason to continue their educations into their adult lives. It explains European TV: there are many talking head shows, and the discussions are rational. Newspapers are doing fine, at least compared to ours, and books sales are holding up. Geoghegan notices that you see people reading everywhere, books and thick newspapers, and in the homes of the people he visits he sees lots of books.

Geoghegan is worried about the future of the German model. For some time, the number of people covered by the system of unions, works councils and board participation has been falling. Like any system favorable to workers, if people don’t work to enforce it, the capitalists will destroy it. He sees hope in the younger generation who are joining unions in larger numbers.

And he believes that the German government is trying to push this model into other countries in the European Union. It should be an easy push, since Germany is a powerhouse exporter. It is tied with China with about $1.2 trillion in exports. Add France and the EU is far ahead of China. Furthermore, the EU exports home-grown high-end machines, not fake derivatives or consumer goods designed elsewhere. And German and French workers live the good life, unlike the sweatshop lives of the workers of China and the ever-harsher work lives of Americans.

The German model is a vision of a capitalism that works for everyone.

[To go to comments for this Book Salon please click on this link]

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 1:00 pm

Stealing children from their mothers

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It’s done in Mississippi, for example:

The Southern Poverty Law Center today filed a federal lawsuit against Mississippi authorities who took a newborn baby from a Mexican immigrant mother and placed the child with a white couple. The SPLC also has appealed an earlier gag order that prohibited the mother and her lawyers from speaking publicly about her family’s ordeal despite the mother’s request to waive confidentiality rules of the youth court.

The lawsuit charges that the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), two of its employees and an employee of Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Miss., violated the constitutional rights of Cirila Baltazar Cruz and her daughter by separating them based on false allegations that MDHS officials failed to properly investigate.

"Mississippi officials and hospital workers conspired to steal Cirila Baltazar Cruz’s baby by inventing false charges against her – allegations she couldn’t refute because she doesn’t speak the right language – and then told her she couldn’t talk about it," said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer. "This was an outrageous violation of her most fundamental rights, and we’re deeply concerned that other mothers in Mississippi might be subjected to the same treatment."

Two days after Baltazar Cruz gave birth to her daughter at Singing River Hospital in November 2008, the child was taken from her amid allegations provided by a hospital employee.  The employee spoke only Spanish to the mother, who speaks limited Spanish and virtually no English. (She speaks Chatino, an indigenous language in Mexico.) In addition, the officials would not allow Baltazar Cruz’s cousin to serve as an interpreter despite his offer to do so. Instead, the child was placed in the custody of two Gulf Coast lawyers who frequently practiced law before the youth court judge who approved the removal of the child.

Even after the allegations were found to be false, the MDHS employees named in the lawsuit perpetuated the separation, violating the mother’s due process and equal protection rights.

Two days after Cirila Baltazar Cruz gave birth to her daughter at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Miss. in November 2008, the child was taken from her.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar

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Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar

by Avvaiyar

A review by Akshay Ahuja

Moral instruction is one of poetry’s oldest functions, but it is often hard for modern poets to muster the confidence that earlier writers must have felt, both about their own wisdom and their position in society, to tell us how to live. So it can be startling to encounter an unknown work that speaks directly to us with this lost confidence. Here is a poem by the 12th century Tamil poet Avvaiyar, in Thomas H. Pruiksma’s beautiful translations of her short, aphoristic poems:

As long as they can, the wise help
Even those who do wrong.
Till the day they chop it down, a tree grants
People shade.

There is a sense of authority here usually found only in sacred texts. But unlike the other ancient Indian poets who have been translated into English — Kabir and Mirabai, for example — Avvaiyar’s work is not primarily devotional or mystical. These poems are plain and durable, suitable for everyday use. They deal with the basics: the body’s desires, dealing with adversity, how to spot a true friend.

A doctor who ends a tiger’s disease
Becomes his next meal.
Good done
To a man who lacks gratitude and sense
Is a pitcher cast upon rocks.
— pg. 33

Very little is known about the woman who wrote these untitled, numbered poems — even her name, Avvaiyar, is only a polite way of saying “older woman,” and there is even an earlier Tamil poet who is given the same honorific.

The stories that exist about her life are apparently unreliable. One can learn a few things from reading the poems: she was clearly devout, well-traveled, and intimately acquainted with the natural world. She was also proud of her role as a poet, and her rare hints of ill-temper come when discussing “Idiots / without learning,” on whom knowledge and art are wasted. An ignorant man who learns a great poem, she writes, is like a turkey who sees a forest peacock and “spreads his ugly wings / And struts.”

Her warnings, it seems, have not scared many people away. The introduction tells us that “everyone in Tamil Nadu who can read has read her poems.” Children grow up learning the alphabet through her acrostic poems, and then move on to the quatrains translated in this book. Many adults, the translator tells us, never forget them — not just because of early training, I suspect, but because they are worth remembering. Unlike ossified precepts in English like “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” they retain their power to reach us, and grow with thought.

Look at the two poems quoted above, for example. You’ll notice that they appear to be recommending exactly contradictory courses of action. Should you try to help apparently bad people or not? If the poet’s only intention is to instruct children, she is not doing her job in straightforward fashion. Read the poems again, though, and the dissonance becomes more complex. A tree does not have a choice in granting people shade. Is the poet implying that wisdom consists in cultivating this higher indifference, this refusal to discriminate between individual merits, even in the face of the axe? Also, a tiger is not necessarily “doing wrong” by eating a person, but simply following its nature — who, then, is responsible for what occurs, the doctor or the tiger?

These reflections grow fruitfully as you absorb more of the verses. Since similar images, often from the natural world, fill many of Avvaiyar’s poems — the broken clay pitcher appears again, as well as other animals dangerous to man — constellations of opposing concepts, all vividly rendered, begin to interact with each other in the reader’s mind. Eventually I saw that Avvaiyar was not merely confused, but that, like all great artists, she was giving us tools to think about how to resolve these apparent contradictions, or exist happily between them. This is the same sort of education that collections of folklore once gave to the communities that created them: simple moral tales that are never outgrown because they are finally as profound as a person’s desire to think about them.

The water that runs from the well to the rice
Also waters the wayside grass.
If on our old earth
There walk one upright man, for his sake
Everyone receives rain.
— p. 31

I do not know a single character of Tamil, so I cannot judge the accuracy of these translations. Pruiksma has, at least, a beautiful sense of where to break lines, and how to use a vocabulary that suits the era and culture of these poems — “upright,” for example, instead of “righteous,” which would have the wrong associations in English. And his lines have a purity and flow — the delicate assonance of “runs-rice-wayside,” in the poem above, that mirrors the movement of the water — which help place them quickly in the memory. Further, although this may seem like faint praise, Give, Eat, and Live is the only set of translations easily available in English. Since Avvaiyar strikes me as a poet of world stature, whose best verses merit a place beside the Tao Te Ching or the Dhammapada, Pruiksma deserves our thanks for giving her to us in any form at all.

The only possible complaint is that this is a slim collection which does not contain the totality of Avvaiyar’s work. If you subtract the facing Tamil pages, there are only about twenty pages of poetry. But Avvaiyar has already written a response to my petty concern:

Magnolias have large petals; honeysuckles, a sweet fragrance.
Don’t judge a man small by his body.
The sea is vast
Yet cannot clean hands. Beside it, the little spring
Yields sweet water.
— p. 31

Aksha Ahuja grew up in New Delhi and Maryland. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, and Ploughshares, among others. He lives in Boston and blogs occasionally at The Occasional Review.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Hume holds his ground on his deathbed

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Via Andrew Sullivan, this account by James Boswell on David Hume’s facing death:

. . . I had a strong curiosity to be satisfied if he persisted in disbelieving a future state even when he had death before his eyes. I was persuaded from what he now said, and from his manner of saying it, that he did persist. I asked him if it was not possible that there might be a future state. He answered it was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn; and he added that it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist for ever. That immortality, if it were at all, must be general; that a great proportion of the human race has hardly any intellectual qualities; that a great proportion dies in infancy before being possessed of reason; yet all these must be immortal; that a porter who gets drunk by ten o’clock with gin must be immortal; that the trash of every age must be preserved, and that new universes must be created to contain such infinite numbers. This appeared to me an unphilosophical objection, and I said, ‘Mr. Hume, you know spirit does not take up space’…

He had once said to me, on a forenoon while the sun was shining bright, that he did not wish to be immortal. This was a most wonderful thought. The reason he gave was that he was very well in this state of being, and that the chances were very much against his being so well in another state; and he would rather not be more than be worse. I answered that it was reasonable to hope he would be better; that there would be a progressive improvement. I tried him at this interview with that topic, saying that a future state was surely a pleasing idea. He said no, for that it was always seen through a gloomy medium; there was always a Phlegethon or a hell. ‘But,’ said I, ‘would it not be agreeable to have hopes of seeing our friends again?’ and I mentioned three men lately deceased, for whom I knew he had a high value: Ambassador Keith, Lord Alemoor, and Baron Mure. He owned it would be agreeable, but added that none of them entertained such a notion. I believe he said, such a foolish, or such an absurd, notion; for he was indecently and impolitely positive in incredulity. ‘…

Mr. Lauder, his surgeon, came in for a little, and Mr. Mure, the Baron’s son, for another small interval. He was, as far as I could judge, quite easy with both. He said he had no pain, but was wasting away. I left him with impressions which disturbed me for some time.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Daily life

More of the fancy-car weekend

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These are some of the odder entries: the "Concours d’LeMons."

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:55 am

Posted in Daily life

What seafood is safe to eat

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We’ve dumped enough heavy metals and other toxins into the ocean that some food is no longer safe to eat frequently. (This is human wisdom in action, BTW, which is why we’re doomed by global warming.) I found this handy guide (PDF to be printed and folded to pocket size) here.

I was interested because of this recipe—and, fortunately, I haven’t had calamari for a month.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:50 am

Global warming update poll

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It’s been a while, and the obvious effects of global warming are becoming more serious and more numerous—I’m talking about extreme weather events, not the on-going loss of phytoplankton, which really hasn’t hit yet (though down 40% from the 1950’s, it will have to drop more to catch people’s attention as sea life dies off).

A couple of things that might affect your answer:

A looming oxygen crisis and its impact on our oceans

In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming

UPDATE: More data that conservatives consider important in deciding whether global warming is real: Al Gore is still fat and he has a large house. (I don’t quite understand the relevance, but conservatives believe these facts are central to case against global warming.)

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:47 am

How to be alone

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I personally enjoy and am energized by solitude, but for others it’s uncomfortable to the point of being frightening. A friend passed along the link to this instructional video:

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Ensign continues to tread water successfully

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Steve Benen:

Major media outlets continue to give him a pass, but the ongoing FBI investigation into Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) took an interesting turn recently when the scandal-plagued Republican started begging for cash for his legal defense fund.

Ensign, at the center of a humiliating sex/corruption/ethics scandal, registered his legal defense fund as a tax-exempt 527 political organization, which itself was a bizarre move. But this week, the right-wing senator sent out his first appeal to help pay his legal bills, acknowledging his adultery, but denying corruption allegations that appear to be plainly true.

Nevada journalist Jon Ralston described the appeal as "galling," adding that by sending the letter, Ensign "showed that not only does he lack self-awareness, but he thinks most people who receive the letter are ignoramuses."

That mistake — this is just about sex! — did not lead to a "difficult legal battle." Ensign is in legal jeopardy not because he slept with his wife’s best friend and his best friend’s wife — that never sounds less grotesque, does it? — but because of how he tried to cover it up, pay off the couple through Mom and Dad and then try to hush up the cuckolded husband by importuning people he regulates to hire him.

The vast majority of people, I think, would forgive Ensign for weakness of the flesh — the social conservative base he pandered to, notwithstanding. But his manipulation of the lives of Cindy and Doug Hampton and his shameful attempt to play the victim now have outraged many who might have been forgiving.

As for "being accused of things I absolutely did not do," I ask: Really? Do tell. All we’ve heard is "no comment" for more than a year. What is there in the past that should induce us to believe him?

Also note, instead of taking responsibilities for his own outrageous behavior, Ensign blamed his legal difficulties on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which the far-right senator dismissed as a "liberal organization" going after him without cause.

CREW’s Melanie Sloan responded, "Senator Ensign had an extended affair with a campaign staffer, who happened to be married to his chief of staff Doug Hampton, fired them both, and had his parents pay them off without properly reporting it to the Federal Election Commission. He then conspired to help Mr. Hampton to set up a lobbying business to lobby his own office, in violation of federal law. So what exactly are the things that Senator Ensign is being accused of that he did not do?"

What a good question.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:34 am

Music does indeed make a difference

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I read something a day or two ago about how listening to music while exercising—particularly if the beat matches the rhythm of your movements—made a significant difference, so I got out my Cowon D-2, charged it up, ripped some new tunes (the complete Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker), and got on the Nordic Track ski machine. I’m pleased to report that my own experience is consistent with the finding: I did 10 minutes pretty easily and thought about doing 12 but came to my senses. I’ll move the poods around for a while, and perhaps tomorrow go for 12 minutes.

I have no choice but to exercise: I’m not going to lose more with diet control alone.

UPDATE: Here’s the report.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2010 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

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