Later On

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

Archive for April 18th, 2011

Evolution of words and the concepts they name

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This train of thought began when I described what seemed to be the traditional view of marriage: a “traditional marriage.”

I noted that “traditional marriage” doesn’t work as the standard description of a heterosexual marriage, because that can be taken to mean all sorts of things: submissive wife, dominant husband; husband works, wife stays at home; etc.

I got called pretty quickly on the described structure, which led to this chain of thought. As the above note makes clear, this is in the context of discussing gay marriage and whether the word “marriage” is appropriate for a gay union.

First, I want to note that I am the last person to endorse a relationship in which either partner is dominant—I’m an egalitarian sort of guy. I was trying to describe “traditional marriage”—the picture of the sort of ideal marriage of the Right (which I think is much more keen on this sort of thing than the Left). And in that picture, the husband is dominant and that is justified with many Biblical quotations. And indeed that view of marriage has the husband at work and the wife tending house.

Again, I don’t endorse such a model, but I think this is how most Americans today would describe a “traditional marriage.” And in fact that model is becoming rare—thus the energy evident when talking about the state of marriage. (It’s well known—and I’ve even blogged it—that the divorce rates are highest where the defense of “traditional marriage” is strongest: the Bible Belt. To me, that on the face of it indicates that “traditional marriage” really doesn’t work all that well, statistically speaking. And in fact the state with the lowest divorce rate was the first state to allow gay marriage: Massachusetts.)

The facts here seem to tell a story, and it’s a story about how “marriage”, as a word and a social institution, is evolving and changing. Like many social evolutions, the direction is toward greater inclusion.

In the Bible, for example, the precept to love one’s neighbor as oneself meant, at the time, a member of one’s own tribe. Others? Barbarians, in effect—they don’t count and indeed served as slaves (if not in Biblical times, certainly in our own recent national past).

As time passed, the meaning of the precept changed, grew, and evolved, becoming progressively more inclusive—i.e., the term “neighbor” became more and more extended—first to one’s countrymen, no doubt, and then to one’s race, and then to all people except the marginalized (depending on the situation: people of other races or the other sex, gays, lesbians, and others). The most idealistic extended “neighbor” to mean all humanity, without regard to sex, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, disability, and so on.

I would think that applying that precept today would mean, among other things, accepting that when two of our neighbors are adults in love who want to commit to a life together, it is appropriate to call that “marriage,” because (in my mind) that is what marriage has always been, even if in earlier times people did not allow it for everyone, but restricted participation to members of one group—e.g., members of the same race, opposite sex, etc.—a group of which, perhaps coincidentally, they happen to be a member and thus can participate.

I come down on the side of broadening the term “marriage” to be more inclusive. But undoubtedly there’s a transition period, during which some accept the new meaning and some not. The interesting thing is that we already know where it’s going: The trend is clearly toward acceptance, as is evident by looking at statistics by age group. So as the younger generations take their turn on stage, that is what “marriage” will mean. The war’s over, the outcome’s known. And this is completely consistent with the overall evolution of social institutions and rules over the centuries: becoming more and more inclusive.

But of course I’m a guy who insists that “data” is a plural, the singular of which is “datum,” and other such futile causes. (Esperanto?).

I believe I’ve based this analysis on actual facts and current knowledge. I am, of course, always willing to revisit and revise my position in the light of new information (a process I like to call “learning” 🙂 ).

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 8:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

Fair Game

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I’m watching Fair Game, and it’s gut-wrenching to watch the essentially factual recounting of what actually happened, in this country, little more than a decade ago.

But I suppose some bumps are to be expected as our form of government shifts from representative democracy to an oligarchic plutocracy. That process is well on its way—they’ve even put in two presidents in succession. (Any doubt that Obama is a promoter and protector of the new order should by now be put to rest, as the previous post indicates. And, of course, he has embraced with his protection the wrong-doers and wrong-doing of the previous administration.)

So: who exactly comprise this oligarchic plutocracy. The obvious way to identify them is to start with the curiously wealthy and curiously immune from accountability financial sector: they clearly raped the country and stole money from millions and basically ignored the law altogether—Bank of America, for example, has foreclosed on houses on which the mortgage was already paid off. And they won’t stop—why should they? They know that they are now immune.

Look at the fraud that led to the recent financial collapse. From the financial industry. Any repercussions? A week of bad press. Certainly no one went to jail. Why? Because these are part of the new order, members of the oligarchic plutocracy.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that all future presidents will be pawns of the oligarchic plutocratic power structure, just as Bush was and Obama is proving to be. Reason: no one can be president without their approval and support. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily pick the winner. They don’t have to: they pick the slate. Which particular one wins is not of much moment: all dance to the same piper, and the ultimate winner will be well aware of the source of his or her victory and, ultimately, of the power of the office.

As to the existence of this oligarchic plutocracy: again, look at who is profiting most from the current situation, whether laws are broken, and whether anyone is held accountable.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 7:37 pm

Obama becoming Bush

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Excellent and specific analysis of how Obama has been adopting Bush policies down the line. By Steven Thomma of McClatchy, it begins:

He ran as the anti-Bush.

Silver-tongued, not tongue-tied. A team player on the world stage, not a lone cowboy. A man who’d put a stop to reckless Bush policies at home and abroad. In short, Barack Obama represented Change.

Well, that was then. Now, on one major policy after another, President Barack Obama seems to be morphing into George W. Bush.

On the nation’s finances, the man who once ripped Bush as a failed leader for seeking to raise the nation’s debt ceiling now wants to do it himself.

On terrorism, he criticized Bush for sending suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and denying them access to U.S. civilian courts. Now he says he’ll do the same.

On taxes, he called the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy wrong, and lately began calling again to end them. But in December he signed a deal with Republicans to extend them for two years, and recently he called the entire tax cut package good for the country. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 5:48 pm

Bread in soups

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Very interesting article by Martha Rose Shulman in the NY Times, which includes a recipe for Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup. And also some interesting recipes, beyond the article:

The Majorcan Bread and Vegetable Soup is particularly interesting, and I plan to make it. I do not understand, though, why the first step is cooking a bunch of stuff in an “ovenproof casserole” when it never goes into the oven. Why not just use a pot? The soup is transferred from that initial vessel into a casserole that’s put into the oven—that’s where the ovenproof casserole would be useful.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

A mealy-mouthed, evasive Drug Czar

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Not very impressive, but who knows what political restraints have been placed on him to say nothing, just mouth platitudes. Weak. Steve Rolles writes at Transform:

I met the US Drug Tsar Gil Kerlikowske recently. It was at a reception at the US Ambassador’s residence in Vienna during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. This is an annual event, and a welcome opportunity for the NGOs attending the CND in an official capacity (Transform has ECOSOC special consultative status) to meet various US figures and ONDCP staff.

I asked how the potential tensions between state, federal and international law might play out if one of the US State ballot initiatives to legalise and regulate cannabis/marijuana was passed by voters. Kerlikowske’s answer was to list a number of arguments against legalisation – all familiar to those who followed the debate around Prop 19 in California last year.

I responded by saying that I understood the arguments for and against, but was specifically interested in what would happen in terms of the conflicts between state, federal and international law, given the the likelihood that one of the various proposed state ballot initiatives would pass in 2012 (the California initiative is set to rerun, as well as initiatives in Colorado, and other states). This time Kerlikowske pointed out that 56% of voters in California had been sufficiently concerned about Marijuana abuse and drug driving to oppose the 2011 prop 19 initiative.

So I essentially repeated the question; quite aside from the debate and public opinion, what is the Federal response or sequence of events, should such an initiative actually succeed? – noting that this was a reasonable question given how close the Californian vote had been and the likelihood, probable certainty that one of the other initiatives would succeed in the near future. This time Kerlikowske responded that he didn’t ‘deal in hypotheticals’  – a response familiar to Prop 19 debate watchers.

So, pointing out that those in policy-making naturally had to deal with hypotheticals as a matter of routine, I asked a slightly rephrased question; had the ONDCP done any scenario planning to explore this particular hypothetical, given its likely imminent move to non-hypothetical status. Kerlikowske replied that he ‘couldn’t comment’.

This was one of those unenlightening conversations that NGOs have with politically appointed civil servants on an almost daily basis – so largely expected. But a curious fact about the ONDCP director’s role, that puts these sorts of conversations into some perspective, is that his position on legalisation is specifically mandated:

According to Title VII Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998: H11225:

Responsibilities. –The Director– […]
(12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that–

  1. is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and
  2. has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;

Whatever Kerlikowske’s views, and whatever evidence he is presented with (as he is not allowed to let the ONDCP gather any) he is duty bound to proffer a blanket opposition to any form of move to legally regulated markets, for any reason.  There is something fundamentally obnoxious and anti-science about this wording, contained as it is in an Act of Congress, especially given the fact that Kerlikowske’s statements on legalisation are often superficially factual (as indeed is the risible DEA guide ‘Speaking Out Against Legalisation’). How balanced can we expect this analysis to be if all research on non-drug war options is forbidden and all comments subject to Congressional diktat?

More concerning were recent comments from Kerlikowske in an interview with Foriegn Policy in which legalisation cropped up again: . . .

Continue reading.

The nation’s drug policy is, dare I say it?, completely stupid, wrong-headed, expensive, ineffective, and not informed by any experience, research, or even common sense.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 2:55 pm

Braised Chicken with Kumquats and Green Olives

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This looks like a good recipe. The ingredients:

3 lbs. skin-on chicken legs
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced into ¼ inch half-rounds
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup kumquats
1 cup green olives
Salt and pepper

I love kumquats in cooking, and the combination with green olives sounds great. I think I’ll make this, but with MUCH less olive oil.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Artificial leaf: Intriguing technology

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From Wired UK by Mark Brown:

Speaking at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in California, MIT professor Daniel Nocera claims to have created an artificial leaf made from stable and inexpensive materials that mimics nature’s photosynthesis process.

The device is an advanced solar cell, no bigger than a typical playing card, which is left floating in a pool of water. Then, much like a natural leaf, it uses sunlight to split the water into its two core components, oxygen and hydrogen, which are stored in a fuel cell to be used when producing electricity.

Nocera’s leaf is stable — operating continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity in preliminary tests — and made of widely available, inexpensive materials — like  silicon, electronics and chemical catalysts. It’s also powerful, as much as 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf.

With a single gallon of water, Nocera says, the chip could produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country for an entire day. Provide every house on the planet with an artificial leaf and we could satisfy our 14-terrawatt need with just one gallon of water a day.

Those are impressive claims, but they’re also not just pie-in-the-sky, conceptual thoughts. Nocera has already signed a contract with a global megafirm to commercialize his groundbreaking idea. The mammoth Indian conglomerate, Tata Group has forged a deal with the MIT professor to build a small power plant, the size of a refrigerator, in about a year and a half.

This isn’t the first ever artificial leaf, of course. The concept of emulating nature’s energy-generating process has been around for decades and many scientists have tried to create leaves in that time. The first, built more than 10 years ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was efficient at faking photosynthesis but was made of rare and hugely expensive materials. It was also highly unstable, and had a lifespan of barely one day.

For now, Nocera is setting his sights on developing countries. “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said. “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 2:31 pm

Extremely good Pilates session today

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The Wife and I are getting along well enough that we can have fairly strenuous Pilates sessions without constant correction of form. Not to deceive: corrections are frequent, and generally address the same small set of problems. But we respond better and there are periods when we either don’t need correction or the instructor has decided to cut us a break.

Today was spent on the Reformer, but there are some Wunda Chair exercises I want to try. Take a look at these, for example:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Fitness, Pilates

Excellent line on the persecution of Christians in the US

with 13 comments

As anyone who reads about the religious right know, a seemingly large segment of American Christians constantly complain about how Christians are persecuted in the US—e.g., by people saying “Happy Holidays” in December instead of the formulation those persecuted prefer. And, of course, they see the separation of church and state as antithetical to their values, much as do the Taliban.

A comment on this post by Ed Brayton hit the nail on the head:

Christians are so persecuted.

I just hope I live to see the day when an openly Christian person can be elected to public office.

Posted by: anandine

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

We need to beef up the FDA

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The FDA seems to be too often missing in action. Kiera Butler at Mother Jones reports:

. . . Skin-lightening products aren’t well regulated in Jamaica, and some can contain dangerous ingredients like mercury. Many are made with hydroquinone, an organic compound that can cause ochronosis, a condition where skin becomes tough and, ironically, dark.

The health risks posed by hydroquinone are well known. In fact, it’s banned in Japan, the EU, and Australia. But here in the US, it’s still available over the counter, and it’s on the FDA’s list of “generally regarded as safe and effective” (GRASE) ingredients. Strange, considering that the FDA acknowledges that hydroquinone causes ochronosis and even that it’s a potential carcinogen. In light of these concerns, the agency proposed taking it off the GRASE list in 2006, but little has happened since then. (Sound familiar?) “In the interim,” says the FDA on its hydroquinone website, “we believe that hydroquinone should remain available as an OTC drug product.” Naturally, industry groups are downplaying the ingredient’s health threat with their usual zeal. For a list of cosmetics that contain hydroquinone, check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide here.

If hydroquinone weren’t bad enough, some skin lighteners contain . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 10:13 am

Unbelievably cool video

with 6 comments

Do not miss, if you possibly can. Thanks to The Wife for the pointer.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 10:07 am

Posted in Video

Tax Day fun facts—and myths

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From The Center for American Progress in an email:

Today is Tax Day, and the tax forms that have been piling up on desks (or Internet browsers, thanks to technology) across the country are due. Taxes are complicated, unpopular, and fund a variety of government programs.  Because of their unpopularity, and because taxpayers have naturally different opinions on the programs taxes fund, taxes have long been an easy issue for politicians, the wealthy, and corporate-funded front groups to  demagogue and spread falsehoods about. Because they are unpopular, they are a valuable political tool, and candidates have used “No New Taxes” pledges or accusations that an opponent wants to raise taxes to gain electoral advantages since the very beginnings of American politics. There are plenty of myths about taxes: who pays them, who doesn’t, who has raised them, who hasn’t, what your tax dollars fund, and what they don’t. Tax Day seems an appropriate time to address some of the misconceptions that have been continuously injected into the debate about taxes.

MYTH #1 — AMERICANS ARE UNHAPPY WITH THEM:   Over the past two years, the Tea (“Taxed Enough Already”) Party and other “grassroots” movements have helped spread the idea that Americans are unhappy with how much they have to pay in taxes each year. But recent polls have shown that the   majority of Americans actually think their annual tax payments are fair. An AP poll found that only 46 percent of Americans believe they pay too much in taxes, while a Fox News poll pegged that number even lower, at 43 percent. No one likes to pay taxes, but as these polls show, Americans understand that they are necessary.  Taxes pay for  the military, national parks, law enforcement agencies, infrastructure maintenance, repair and improvements, social programs and a host of other programs that go unnoticed in our daily lives. But despite the intense anti-tax rhetoric of the Tea Party and affiliated groups, these polls confirm that Americans understand why they pay taxes, and believe that they are paying their fair share when they do.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Revisiting the murder of Dr. George Tiller

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Very interesting interview of Stephen Singular by Teresa Cotsirilos in Salon. It begins:

It’s been almost two years since George Tiller, who was one of the country’s few providers of later-term abortions, was gunned down in his church in Wichita, Kan. His brutal murder was followed by a heated national debate over who and what was responsible for it. Tiller’s killer, Scott Roeder, was a diagnosed schizophrenic who appears to have acted alone. But anti-abortion activists and several prominent commentators — most notably Fox News host Bill O’Reilly — had spent years issuing heated attacks on Tiller for his work. Did their emotionally charged rhetoric — O’Reilly would ridicule the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” — create a climate conducive to Roeder’s action?

In his new book, The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle Over Abortion,” crime journalist Stephen Singular explores these issues — and concludes that Tiller’s murder can only be understood within the context of right-wing extremism that has  become increasingly mainstream. We caught up with him earlier this week:

You’ve been reporting on right-wing extremist activity since 1987, when you looked into the 1984 murder of talk radio host Alan Berg. How has it changed in the past 25 years?

You know, when I wrote about Alan Berg, I was writing about some very marginalized people. These were a bunch of white guys without jobs, and no money and no prospects and nothing going on; some had been to prison.

Now, [when we talk about the persecution of George Tiller,] we’re talking about the attorney general of the state of Kansas. Now we’re talking about some of the most successful figures in the American media — we’re talking about multimillionaires who get paid to demonize people on national television, who get paid millions and millions of dollars to tell people [that] Tiller[‘s] the Baby Killer, who get paid to deny all the complexities we’re talking about, it’s not just. It’s an entire society that’s said, “Hey, we’re going to reward this kind of behavior.”

And that filters down. It affects everything. It’s an emotional atmosphere, and it not only affects the general culture — think about the people who are at risk in that culture, emotionally, psychologically. [People] who are on edge, like [Dr. Tiller’s murderer] Scott Roeder, [who was] diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager. Or the man who killed Alan Berg, Bruce Pierce, [who was] clearly mentally unstable. This stuff filters down. And then when the blood hits the wall, and the bullets fly, everyone stands back and says, “Well we never intended that. We were just talking.”

You talk a lot about Bill O’Reilly, who demonized Dr. Tiller on his show. Do you consider commentators like O’Reilly to be responsible for the way someone like Roeder might perceive their statements?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 9:54 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Law, Medical

Sweet Gale & the Pils

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Very smooth shave today. I do love the fragrance of Sweet Gale, and the TOBS artificial badger produced a fine lather. Three smooth passes with the Pils—with its extremely hefty head driving the blade’s edge—and then a splash of Klar Seifen to finish. Dang! I meant to try Mantic59’s trick of applying the aftershave to my wet face, instead of drying my face first (as I normally do): habit overcomes intentions, a familiar story.

Today I suddenly thought that the silent auction shave kit should certainly include My Nik Is Sealed. I forget, because now I very seldom have any need for it. It’s now been added.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

Obama: Deceitful

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We had early evidence of Obama’s character when he solemnly vowed that he would vote against telecom immunity, and then subsequently voted in favor. And he has continued that pattern, explicitly promising how he would act and then, once he’s made the gains from the promise, breaking it.

Greenwald has a good column that looks at several examples of this sort of fraud. From the column:

No minimally honest or rational person can reconcile the President’s Friday signing statement with the vow he gave during that campaign event, nor can any such person reconcile his claimed war powers regarding Libya with the view he emphatically expressed during the campaign. And, of course, the list of similar departures from his own claimed views during the campaign is depressingly long: from railing against the evils of habeas corpus denial to fighting to deny habeas review to Bagram detainees; from vowing to protect whistleblowers to waging the most aggressive war in American history against them; from condemning the evils of writing bills via secret meetings with industry lobbyists to writing his health care bill using exactly that process; from insisting that Presidents have no power to detain or even eavesdrop on Americans without due process to asserting the power to assassinate Americans without due process, etc. etc. etc.

It would be one thing if these full-scale reversals were on ancillary issues. But these are fundamental. They’re about the powers of that office and the nature of our government. And Obama made these issues the centerpiece of his campaign.  These campaign statements are nothing less than vows made to voters about how he would exercise the power he was seeking if they voted for him.  To insist during the campaign that Presidents have no power to start wars without Congress or to ignore laws the President believes are unconstitutional — and then do exactly that once he’s been vested with that power — is a form of fraud. And, ironically, it’s exactly this behavior that breeds the cynicism that he has repeatedly identified as the central poison in our political culture.  Whatever one thinks about the policies in question on the merits, it should be impossible to defend or justify the radical inconsistency between what he pretended to believe and what he’s doing.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 8:01 am

Question regarding Spanish

with 17 comments

Among the first thing I do each morning is run through my Spanish flashcards. Anki feeds them to me in both directions: Spanish as the prompt and, separately, English as the prompt. (You can set up the deck to use only one side as the prompt or both sides—and the two sides get different review schedules if one direction is easier than the other.)

I enjoy this interlude because I know 80-90% of the cards immediately (most of them now are review), which makes me feel good. The rest are either new—fine, I’m happy to learn a new word—or difficult—fine, I do need to review those daily (and, of course, with that sort of review they are quickly learned and I don’t see them for a while).

I came across derecho/a this morning. It means both “right” (the direction) and “straight”. So if I’m driving and I come to an intersection, and I ask, “¿Izquierda?” (“Left?” — the word looks weird because it’s a Basque root: Spanish has a fair number of words from Basque and also from Arabic.), and I get the answer “¡Derecho!“, do I turn right? or go straight?

English, of course, has a similar ambiguity: driving at speed on a freeway, you suddenly see the road split. “Left?” you say, and the navigator responds, “Right!” Does that mean “correct” or “take the right-hand path”?

In fact, when I lived in Cleveland, a Christian quartet on tour missed their flight by exactly that mistake—and the plane subsequently crashed and killed everyone on board. The quartet saw that as God sending a message to them personally about how important their work was. Hard cheese for the others on that flight. They probably wish God had just sent a telegram or some such.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 7:41 am

Posted in Daily life

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