Later On

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

Archive for April 5th, 2011

Braised Parsnips and Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Sauce

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Here’s an interesting sounding recipe that looks easy. Using ground nuts to thicken a sauce is an interesting idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 2:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Very interesting gloss on the lobbying game

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Fascinating column by Michael Kinsley, from which this paragraph:

As the Microsoft example suggests, the Washington culture of influence peddling is not entirely or even primarily the fault of the corporations that hire the lobbyists and pay the bills. It’s a vast protection racket, practiced by politicians and political operatives of both parties. Nice little software company you’ve got here. Too bad if we have to regulate it, or if big government programs force us to raise its taxes. Your archrival just wrote a big check to the Washington Bureaucrats Benevolent Society. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to do the same?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 10:49 am

Looking again at the Peloponnesian War

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Interesting:

Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins
by Ted Lendon

A review by James Carman

“The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable,” wrote Thucydides in his fifth-century BC chronicle of the Peloponnesian War. Most scholars have accepted his explanation for the causes of the three-decade struggle that reshaped the Greek world. Thucydides’ writings greatly influenced the thinking of 17th-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes about how and why great powers come into conflict. Together, writes University of Virginia historian J. E. Lendon, Thucydides and Hobbes are “the progenitors of the theoretical realism that abides in today’s universities and think tanks.”

But Lendon demurs. He argues that the first 10 years of the Peloponnesian War are best understood not as a struggle between two mighty opponents for survival, but as an often petty contest over time, “which consisted of esteem by others and others’ confirmation of one’s lofty impression of one’s own merits,” with the rest of the Greek world occupying the twin roles of audience and judge.

When the war began, in 431 BC, Sparta, both because of its heroic defense against the Persians at Thermopylae earlier in the century and its frequently demonstrated prowess in land battles, possessed the greater time, and had allied itself with other land-based powers such as Corinth. But Athens dominated the seas and had acquired its own empire of tribute-paying islands. The resulting wealth had enabled the Athenians to build the mighty Acropolis as well as an impregnable wall that protected their port of Piraeus, and they hungered to be seen as Sparta’s equal.

Although the surest way to win such respect was to defeat Sparta on the battlefield, Pericles and other Athenian leaders knew there was little hope of that. Instead, Athens employed a strategy that the playwright Aristophanes later described as “one pot, whacked, kicking back in anger at another pot.” When Spartan forces marched into their lands, the Athenians refused to fight, and the invading warriors could only destroy the crops that lay outside the city walls. Athens, meanwhile, sent its dreaded triremes around the Peloponnesian peninsula, raiding and destroying coastal villages and harrying far-off allies of Sparta to whom the Spartans could not provide promised defense. Though each side worried at various points that its adversary was angling for a destructive advantage, the war was never about extermination.

Lendon is a gifted storyteller and military historian. His Soldiers and Ghosts (2005) is a rewarding journey through classical warfare from the Trojan War to the Roman conquests, and the ancient battles he reenacts with his University of Virginia students are regular campus spectacles. In Song of Wrath, he deftly explains how battles could turn as much on misapprehensions and chance as on bravery and superior skill. This was especially true at Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC), where Sparta suffered its most ignoble defeat and — almost unthinkable! — surrendered rather than fight to the death. Lendon writes that “after that Sparta was merely playing for a draw,” which it achieved after besting the Athenians in several battles.

Although most histories of the Peloponnesian War encompass the intervening decade of uneasy peace that followed and Sparta’s eventual defeat of Athens at the great sea battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC, Lendon ends his history with the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC, when the Athenians were up. “The Athenians won both the war itself and, no less necessary in a war of symbols, the simultaneous war to define victory and defeat,” he writes. In his view, the Athenians’ subsequent doom — including their devastating loss of more than 40,000 men who were killed or taken prisoner in a risky expedition to Sicily in 415-413 BC — was brought on only when they “began to look around for some mighty deed they could perform that would raise their rank in the eyes of the Greeks.”

Athens was not, of course, the last power that would overreach and sow the seeds of its own destruction, which is one reason why the world still seeks to draw lessons from this long-ago struggle. But today, Lendon says, the Peloponnesian War’s most telling insights may be about “international actors whose aims and actions the contemporary West finds it hardest to understand and manage: the wrathful ones… who seek revenge for ancient slights.”

James Carman is managing editor of The Wilson Quarterly.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Books

Worcestershire sauce in progress

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Here’s what I’ve been blogging about:

That’s a one (US) quart jar, and will make about 2.5 cups of Worcestershire sauce. (The jar contains a lot of stuff that is filtered out: crushed ginger root, garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, chili de arbol peppers, cardamon seed, cloves, peppercorns, and so on.) I highly recommend making your own: it’s quite easy once you’ve gathered the ingredients, and of course tailoring it to your own taste is particularly appealing. Here’s the recipe.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Who cares if the defendent’s innocent?

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Not Scalia or Thomas, that’s for sure. Ed Brayton has an excellent post on this story in the LA Times by David Savage:

One innocent man, from Arizona, was sent back to prison for raping a child when the Supreme Court ruled he had no right to evidence that would later set him free.

Another innocent man, from Louisiana, was convicted of murder and came within weeks of being executed because prosecutors had hidden a blood test that later freed him.

The two men were linked at the Supreme Court last week by Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that criminal defendants have no right to “potentially useful evidence” that “might” show they were innocent.

Since the 1990s, the advent of DNA evidence has swept across the American criminal justice system and revealed that hundreds of convicted prisoners were innocent. Yet, throughout that time, the Supreme Court has shielded prosecutors from claims that they hid evidence that could have revealed the truth and has been reluctant to give prisoners a right to reopen old cases.

By a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the high court threw out a jury verdict won by John Thompson, the Louisiana man who had sued the New Orleans district attorney after he spent 14 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. In the past, the court has shielded individual prosecutors from being sued, even if they deliberately framed an innocent person. Last week’s decision protects a district attorney’s office from being sued for a series of errors that sent an innocent man to prison.

Advocates for the wrongly convicted denounced the decision. Prosecutors have “enormous power over all of our lives,” said Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, yet “no other profession is shielded from this complete lack of accountability.”

In Thompson’s case, at least four prosecutors knew of the blood test, eyewitness reports and other evidence that, once revealed, showed they had charged the wrong man.

“When this kind of conduct happens and it goes unpunished, it sends a devastating message throughout the system,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, a University of Maryland law professor. “It means more of these incidents will happen.”

Lawyers who represented the wrongly convicted also said they were shocked that Scalia would cite the 1988 case of Arizona vs. Larry Youngblood to bolster his opinion. More than a decade ago, after Scalia and the other justices sent Youngblood back to prison, new DNA tests revealed he was innocent.

Carol Wittels, the Tucson lawyer who fought to free Youngblood, said she found it “astounding” that the court would still cite the case as a precedent. “It was a horrible decision then, and I can’t believe they are still citing it, since so many people have been cleared with DNA evidence since then,” Wittels said in a telephone interview.

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered last week’s decision reversing the $14-million jury verdict for Thompson. Scalia wrote a separate opinion citing the Youngblood case, which came to the court in Scalia’s second year on the bench.

The case began when a young boy was abducted outside a church carnival and brutally raped. He said his assailant was a black man with a bad right eye. Youngblood was a black man from the Tucson area who had a bad left eye. The boy picked him from a photo lineup.

But in a crucial mistake, the police failed to refrigerate the boy’s clothing and several swabs. Though Youngblood protested his innocence, forensic testing in the early 1980s could not determine whether he was or was not the perpetrator.

After two trials, he was convicted, but a state appeals court ordered him freed because the police had “permitted the destruction of the evidence” he needed to prove he was not guilty.

But the Supreme Court ruled the police and prosecutors had no duty to “preserve potentially useful evidence” for a defendant. The vote was 6 to 3, with Scalia in the majority.

Youngblood was sent back to prison in 1993, served his full term until 1998, and was later arrested because he had failed to register as a sex offender.

In 2000, the Tucson Police Department agreed to conduct DNA tests that were more sophisticated than what had been available earlier. They pointed to the true perpetrator, Walter Cruise, a black man with a bad right eye who was then in a Texas prison serving time for two sex assaults against children. He pleaded guilty to the Arizona rape.

In last week’s opinion, Scalia cited the Youngblood case in arguing that prosecutors are not required to offer all the evidence that might free a defendant. “We have decided a case that appears to say just the opposite,” he wrote. “In Arizona v. Youngblood, we held that unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police,” the defendant does not have a right to obtain all “potentially useful evidence.” …

Continue reading.

And be sure to read Brayton’s post.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 9:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Spanish vocabulary

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I realized today that I find it difficult to remember words if I know nothing of their etymology—somehow, knowing something of a word’s life story makes it easier to remember. So I went to Amazon and a Spanish etymological dictionary is on its way to me.

I’ll also need to find a good dictionary of Spanish synonyms. Synonomy is concerned with the distinctions among a set of words with overlapping meanings, so that you can learn the nuances of meaning. In other words, a dictionary of synonyms is useful because it distinguishes among words that mean almost but not exactly the same thing. I’ve used my Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms a lot, and I highly recommend it to people who prize accuracy in discourse. (I note that it seems to be out of print: pick up a good used copy while you can. Great book just to browse in, with surprises on every page.)

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 9:32 am

Posted in Books, Education

Anki note

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I really like Anki, the flashcard management and scheduling application (Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, etc.—and it’s free!). I ran through flashcards daily over the break—you don’t want to skip a day, or the number of cards to review can get out of hand—and I noticed how some cards are becoming quite infrequent.

When you attempt a card, you can click one of buttons:

Again—Card will show up again in this session; you use this automatically for new words. The idea is to keep clicking “Again” until you get the card right, even if it ends up being the last card, so you get a new attempt immediately. By ending with a success, you are better able to remember the next time.

Hard—Card will show up soon. If you clicked “Again” and then get the card right, you click “Hard”. In that case the card shows up the very next day. But if on the next day you manage to get it right and click “Hard” again, it will probably show up in 2 days, then 3 days… The idea is that, even though it’s “Hard”, if you’re getting it right, the next encounter can be a little later.

Good—Card will show up, though not so soon as if you had clicked “Hard”.

Easy—Card will be scheduled to show up after a decent interval, depending on how you did on this encounter. For example, if this card is showing up after a week, and you click “Easy”, it will probably not show up again for two weeks. And if you click “Easy” again, the interval gets longer and longer. I noted this morning that I won’t see some cards again for 3 months. When I do see them again, if I miss and have to click “Again,” the interval drops sharply—to the next day possibly, and I have to keep getting it right in future sessions for the interval to become long. But even with a very long interval, I suspect I’ll remember those that are now easy: el día, el sol, el animal, el hombre, etc.

I make my cards with the front and back active, so that I see both the Spanish side and have to provide the English, and also the English side and have to provide the Spanish. So it acts like two cards, though I have to create only one card in the database: the program just shows me the card both ways.

And, of course, a given word might be easy one way (Spanish to English, for example) and difficult the other (English to Spanish), so the intervals for the two sides might diverge a lot. But the program handles all that for you.

Anyone who is tasked with learning stuff should investigate the Anki program. I will say that it is essential to watch the videos, and even then a certain amount of experimentation is needed to learn the program.

Cards can include hyperlinks, images, audio or video recordings, and so on. Fantastic program.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2011 at 9:26 am

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