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

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