Later On

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

Archive for April 29th, 2011

A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man

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Fascinating article by Luke Mogelson in the NY Times Sunday Magazine  on miscreants in the military.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Military

Sad news: The dying of cursive handwriting

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I personally write chancery cursive, aka italic, and of course I believe that it’s highly readable—people generally view their handwriting as readable. But it appears that schools are throwing in the towel, and reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic now seems to have devolved to ‘rithmetic alone.

OTOH, it’s easier to frighten, manipulate, and trick an uneducated citizenry (take a look around), so perhaps limiting education to technical skills—and get rid of those damned liberal arts!—is make make an authoritarian government’s job easier. I mean the kind of government that will lock you in prison for years just to keep you out of the way, knowing that you have done nothing wrong.

I should point out that some schools are dropping the teaching of cursive because they want to prepare students for the 21st century and handwriting is not (in their view) a 21st century skill. But taking tests? Oh, that’s very important, so more and more of the school year is taken up with teaching to the test and then testing.

Look around and see what you think of the success of that approach. (Of course, the test companies think it’s great, and they say also that education is quite successful: look! the test scores are going up!

Thanks to TYD for the pointer.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Education, Writing

Christopher Hitchens’s letter to American atheists

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Via PZ Myers. Hitchens was to address the American Atheist convention, but could not because of voice problems. So he sent this letter:

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.


Christopher Hitchens

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

Some praise for Obama political tactic

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Ed Brayton points out how the release of the long-form birth certificate puts the GOP in a bind.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Democrats, GOP, Politics

US Congressman to file marijuana legalization bill

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About damn time.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Congress, Drug laws

Imprisoned for nothing

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I still am having trouble with the idea that US government has deliberately kept in prison, for years, men who have done nothing wrong—and the government knows that, but still will no release them.

Why? Colossal egos in the military, people who cannot admit they were wrong. But now they know they were wrong, so that’s not it. I guess it might better be stated “colossal egos in the military, people who will do anything rather than let it be known that they made a mistake.”

But that can’t be it. We have civilian control of the military, and our president who has the authority to release prisoners (“Scooter” Libby owes his freedom, after his conviction, to that fact). Obama, of course, will not act—but why?

I truly do not understand this. If I was one of those men, imprisoned for years and knowing that I did nothing wrong, I would probably go insane. Hell, I think I’d go insane if I were one of the people knowingly keeping innocents locked up. That is so evil that it’s hard to grasp.

Picture yourself, minding your own business, and suddenly you are captured by soldiers (who do not speak your language), roughed up, tortured, and imprisoned. What would you think?

UPDATE: Here’s an excellent column by William Pfaff on the topic. From his column:

. . .  Yet something still might usefully be said about this situation, obviously a phenomenon of totalitarian character, emulating, no doubt wittingly, the destruction of judicial constraint in the Nazi system by means of arbitrary imprisonment in concentration camps and by methods generalized in Gestapo and SS practice, and in Stalinist Russia by its secret police and forced labor camps. In the last, bizarrely enough, a system of known (or knowable) sentences existed in places – a system of cause and effect – which has never existed at Guantánamo, an absence apparently exploited deliberately as a means of terrorization and the psychological destruction of prisoners. Sentences did end for those who survived the Gulag.

Guantánamo has also been a factor in what it is not unreasonable to call the totalitarianization of American political culture, taking place through the effective prohibition (or demonization) of certain political stances, or the advocacy of certain political positions, deemed “unpatriotic” and therefore unacceptable in the political discourse of the nation – including, in some cases, in congressional discourse and debate.

This amounts to the development of an American version of Newspeak. You can speak of certain things only in politically antisepticised and inherently falsified language. In combination with the domination of electoral politics by paid political advertising, thereby disqualifying candidates lacking the funds of their rivals, and the Supreme Court’s rejection in 1976 of the argument that “an unconstitutional means test for election” to public office in the United States thereby exists, a plutocratic form of government has been legally ratified.

This was reinforced by . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:05 pm

Obama’s determined protection of torturers

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Now that the latest batch of documentation of the terrible abuses the US military dished out at Guantánamo, we should perhaps reflect again on how President Obama, in direct violation of the highest US laws, is protecting those who tortured the prisoners, many of which were guilty of nothing.

And even when the military knew that the men imprisoned were guilty of nothing, they still kept them imprisoned because…  because why? Because it would have been a lot of trouble to ship them back home? Because they’re just foreigners? Or have brown skin? Or what? I do not understand the government deliberately—and at some expense—keeping people imprisoned and abused for literally no reason at all. I think that any of us in that situation would be angry. And yet the country shrugs this off, and Obama is honored for his protection of torturers.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 11:54 am

Good haul from the grocery store

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Just back, and the thick purple asparagus is roasting in the oven as I blog. Fresh organic strawberries—extremely fresh (they grow them here)—were $2/lb, so I got a couple of pounds and right now I’m having a strawberry snack. And I got a goose egg (the kind that geese lay, not a bump on the head). It’s large, and I have no idea how long to boil it. Duck eggs take about 15 minutes, but I think I’ll scramble this guy.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 11:48 am

Posted in Food

Guantánamo doctors covered up torture

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Our government is still involved in extremely bad practices that it does not hesitate to condemn wholeheartedly when done by other nations but somehow manages to excuse (by keeping it as secret and possible and punishing those who reveal the secrets) its own transgressions. Spencer Ackerman has an important and excellent story for Wired on the military doctors who assisted in the coverup:

They explained away the bone fractures, didn’t ask what caused the lacerations, and called the hallucinations routine. Rather than blowing the whistle, medical professionals entrusted with the care of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay turned a blind eye when there were clear indications of abuse.

That’s according to a newly published report from two physicians with unprecedented access to the medical records of nine Gitmo detainees.

Writing in the online journal PLoS Medicine, Physicians for Human Rights senior medical adviser Vincent Iacopino and retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist now in private practice, found that medical personnel at Guantanamo concealed mental and physical ailments that signaled abusive treatment.

The report — which represents the first independent review of any Guantanamo detainee’s medical record — is the clearest evidence yet that members of the base’s medical staff were complicit in the torture regime there.

“Medics have an independent, professional responsibility to identify and report incidences of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture,” Xenakis tells Danger Room. “They had a responsibility to speak up.”

“Personality disorders” and “routine stressors of confinement” were catch-all explanations for psychological disturbances, according to the report. “Temporary psychotic symptoms and hallucinations did not prompt consideration of abusive treatment.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 10:22 am

Blenheim Bouquet and a great shave

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Extremely pleasant shave today. I brought out Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, which I’ve not used for a while: terrific lather with the Rooney 1,1, and then three smooth passes of the Merkur Hefty Classic (“HD”) holding a Swedish Gillette blade.

Reader Eddie from the land of Oz suggested (after I took today’s photos) that future photos be made with the soap or shaving cream lid removed, so the photo shows the product. Good idea. I’ll start with the next shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 9:11 am

Posted in Shaving

Reading the paper, building vocabulary

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I’m reading (during breakfast) Víve Hoy, a Spanish-language newspaper that seems to be part of the LA Times. With the new bookmarks (see previous post), it’s quite easy to double-click a word I don’t know and get an immediate definition—when I then use to create a new flashcard in my Anki deck titled “Random Spanish” to learn and begin reviewing.

(After I double-click the word, highlighting it, I copy the word and then paste it into the address bar of a blank tab, following “esen” (España – English). That takes me to the dictionary page for that word.)

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 7:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Terrific Firefox/Chrome add-on for foreign-language students

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Take a look: Link takes you to Firefox add-on page, and at the top is a link to the Chrome add-on page. Now I can type any of these into the address bar:

esen <some Spanish word> — goes to page defining the word in English

enes <some English word> — goes to page defining the word in English

conj <some Spanish verb> — goes to page showing complete conjugation

At the link are similar tools for French, Italian, Portuguese, and German. Not yet, unfortunately, Latin or Classical Greek. Or Esperanto.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 6:30 am

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