Later On

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

Archive for September 2nd, 2011

Today’s GOP in a nutshell

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From the LA Times:

On the morning of Jan. 8, a gunman fired a 9-millimeter Glock semiautomatic pistol into a crowd that had come to meet Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a supermarket in Tucson. He killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and gravely wounded Giffords.

Nearly nine months later, the Tucson-area Republican Party is planning to raise money by raffling off a Glock handgun, the Arizona Republic reported. That has enraged some in a city still emotionally scarred by the massacre.

Jeff Rogers, Pima County Democratic Party chairman, told the newspaper that the raffle showed “incredibly poor judgment.”

James Kelley, a member of the county GOP executive committee, called it “insensitive and stupid.”

“Are there any rational adults left in Tucson’s GOP?” blogged Republic columnist Linda Valdez. “Maybe. Get a magnifying glass.” . . .

Continue reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 3:54 pm

Posted in GOP

Pilates notes

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For those coming in late, I started Pilates last November. I recently took an enforced month off (sprained ankle) and for the past couple of weeks have been doing 3 sessions a week (one joint session with The Wife, two private sessions) at Lighthouse Pilates. “Pilates” classes are available inexpensively at the Monterey Sports Center, but they are classes of 20-30 and use none of the Pilates equipment.

While Joe Pilates said that everything can be done with mat exercises, he also spent considerable time, effort, and ingenuity in creating various apparatuses to isolate various muscle groups and/or enforce certain postures. As you can see at the link, LIghthouse Pilates is a fully equipped studio.

Moreover, form is everything, and the first few months I did my exercises the instructor would correct my form when that was needed. So I did my exercises accompanied by a more or less constant stream of corrections.

But lately that has changed, and more and more I’m starting to get it.

For one thing, as William James observed, we develop our habits and skills during fallow times—as he said, we learn to ice skate in the summer and to bicycle in the winter. After working hard to master a skill, taking a few weeks off and then resuming is highly enlightening. It’s as though the time off allows the movements and motions to be digested and integrated, so that when you return, things are better.

For another: Sometimes a chance remark will open a door, as it were, so through that small remark you enter into a vast new understanding. I blogged earlier that my instructor told me that, on ending an exercise, you do not simply relax and go loose: you instead maintain the control, muscle activation, and posture from the exercise. The point of the exercise is to teach you/your body something about how it should move and stand in daily life—that’s the point. The exercise is just a way to get there. So as you end the exercise, you enter the Real Deal: daily life. So use what you’ve just been exercising.

Man, those two things—the time off and the new understanding about the exercise (gained through the simple statement, “Don’t just relax when the exercise is over. Keep using it.”) have made a huge difference. Today I kept doing things right.

Not that I didn’t require correction. On the contrary, I still needed a lot of help. The big difference is that (a) I now understand the help, and (b) I can actually do some of the things the instructor tells me to do.

So: If you’re interested in Pilates, my advice is to find a highly qualified instructor with a well-equipped studio, take lessons at least twice a week, and better thrice a week for the first month or so, and after about 10 months, take four weeks off (spraining ankle is optional, and I advise against it) and then return to thrice a week for a while. And, from the outset, attempt to end each exercise with a continuing sense of control.

That’s my experience, at any rate. Amazing discipline. It’s not exactly fitness, but I don’t know what to call it. Pilates called it “Contrology.”

UPDATE: After writing the above, I continued to putter about the apartment, made dinner, and so on—always consciously trying to move and stand with posture and movement as learned on the equipment. I could really distinctly feel the difference when I was standing or moving correctly, in good alignment, with my spine stacked, arms hanging relaxed, shoulders relaxed instead of tense. (Like one huge category of people, I focus a lot on my upper body, keeping my shoulders tense, my chest raised, and so on—difficult to describe and difficult to feel until you feel an alternative through something like Pilates.)

So I sort of played with it, of course, slumping into my usual posture, then standing straight in good Pilates form. The differences in how it felt were, as I indicate, remarkable.

Later, sitting in my chair, I repeated a move from one of the exercises today: turning my head slowly from one side to the other without moving my shoulders: just turning my head on my spine.

I was able to do it, and I was observing how smooth the movement is. The idea is that the skull simply turns in its position atop the spin, with the neck turning but nothing else: no shoulder movement.

As I said, very smooth from side to side, so I added tilting it down and then back, then side to side, then sort of rolling it, visualizing still shoulders, skull moving at the top of the stacked spine.

And then I suddenly felt, in a strange, novel way, my skeletal structure: I could sort of feel (internally) the rigidity of the bones in there—skull, spine, clavicle, scapula, arms simply hanging at the sides. I was aware of the way I pulled, using muscle attachments, to move the framework.

I tell you, it was pretty weird. Once I had the feeling and could focus in on it, it became more distinct. I got up, stood, walked some—all while feeling this skeletal structure and how my muscles/ligaments would pull this way and that to keep the framework aligned and doing what I wanted.

I admit that it freaked me out a bit. A totally novel body sensation, a body awareness of a type I had not experienced. I called The Wife to report this in case someone should be keeping an eye on me, and I was reassured to learn that she had had the same experience from time to time while doing Feldenkrais exercises: as you pay attention to posture and movement, doing specific exercises and working toward good form, you naturally strengthen and increase your awareness of what you’re doing as you bring your consciousness to bear on what normally are actions taken unconsciously. Doing this frequently seems to sort of expand the range of consciousness, to include some body control options that previously were handled totally by the unconscious, with no conscious awareness.

People who are more involved with their bodies and have practiced control may well be familiar with these sensations, and doubtless their consciousness has long since expanded to allow more conscious control of movement—I’m thinking here of dancers, athletes, practitioners of things like yoga, Feldenkreis, and (apparently) Pilates. But I’m not one of those people—at least I haven’t been. I’m bookish. Marching band rather than football. In fact, no sports participation at all until college, where I did some fencing. But, let’s face it, St. John’s is a bookish college.

So all this is highly novel to me. People experienced in this sort of thing are doubtless amused by the newcomer’s delight in things that have become common to them: I’m like the city boy on his first trip to a farm. “My God!” I shout, “That bird! It’s enormous!” The farmers turn to look and see a chicken. But I do want to report my journey and discoveries.

I feel a little embarrassed at how long it took me to grasp that the exercises are supposed to be put into practice. Obviously, in my daily life, I don’t lie on my back on a little carriage held in place by springs and push it back and forth using my arms pulling straps through pulleys, or my legs pushing on a bar. But that position and apparaturs is just to allow me to pay attention to (and develop) muscles and ligaments moving my body in a particular posture. Though I won’t have carriage, spring, and straps as I go about my daily life, I certainly will be using muscles and ligaments to arrange my body in particular postures, and part of the point of Pilates is to learn to do these correctly—all of it: muscles, movement, and posture.

I suppose I was viewing the sessions like band practice: go in, do it, and then you’re through until the next session. (I wasn’t much for practicing at home, even then.) But in fact, I finally realize, that sessions are instructions and all non-session time is practice time. When I’m not in sessions, I should be paying attention, with instructor corrections in mind, to my posture, movement, and body. I’m finally starting to do that, apparently, just by the accumulation of awareness from the sessions. Now that I grasp I can do this on purpose, as it were, things should improve faster.

[Update: I had a little insight this morning: My previous exercise routines in search of fitness included many exercises that were NOT directly related to daily activity: I don’t occasionally find in my daily routine that it’s necessary to do jumping jacks, push-ups, burpees, or the like. But the Pilates exercises all involve movements and movement patterns that occur in daily life: standing, bending, squatting, leaning, and the like. – LG]

If this catches your interest, I highly recommend A Pilates Primer: The Millenium Edition, by Joseph Pilates and William Miller. It includes a complete set of mat exercises and also discusses awareness of the sort I’m gradually developing.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Democrats, Fitness, Pilates

Cephalopod intelligence

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Interesting article in The Scientist by Katherine Bagley:

Calling octopuses intelligent beings might seem like a stretch. After all, the eight-armed invertebrates count the everyday garden snail among their close evolutionary cousins. But octopuses are experts in camouflage, can deter predators with poisonous bites, engage in play, solve complex problems, and can squeeze themselves into tiny crevices when threatened. Such observations indicate that the octopus is without a doubt smarter than the average snail, but the nature of this intelligence remains unknown. Considering that our branches on the evolutionary tree are separated by more than half a billion years, can the intellect of an octopus bear any comparison to that of a human? City University of New York philosopherPeter Godfrey-Smith has begun a unique collaboration with a team of Australian marine scientists to examine this distinctly philosophical question using biological research.

Godfrey-Smith spends nearly every summer in his native Sydney. His love of diving in the city’s harbor bore scientific fruit when he captured a rare photograph of gloomy octopuses (Octopus tetricus) mating and published his observations of the event in a short paper with marine biologist Christine Huffard of Conservation International Indonesia (Moll Res, 30:81-86, 2010). Godfrey-Smith started teaching himself about octopus biology, focusing on their nervous systems and brains.

Most invertebrates have ladderlike nervous systems with knots of neurons connected by nerve fibers. Vertebrate nervous systems are instead dominated by one big clump of neurons—the brain. Octopuses, along with their cephalopod cousins squid and cuttlefish, seem to be an evolutionary in-between. Their nervous system retains some knot architecture—more than half of their 500 million neurons are distributed throughout their eight arms—but they also have a large central brain.

“It is fascinating to think about cephalopod cognition, since they are mollusks,” says Jean Boal, a biologist at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.“Their ancestors are clams and snails and slugs, which are not very bright. The environment has pushed them toward evolving cognition that looks and functions a lot like vertebrate cognition.”

Godfrey-Smith decided to connect this biological concept with his interest in the philosophy of mind, particularly in nonhumans. In 2010, he began a project with Alexandra Schnell, a graduate student at Macquarie University in Sydney, to conduct behavioral observation studies that address whether octopus intelligence differs from that of other species. Do octopuses learn differently? Does the decentralization of neurons mean cephalopods have multiple minds or competing consciousnesses?“When you watch an octopus, it does look like the arms engage in independent exploration, they feel around individually,” says Godfrey-Smith. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Science

The last thing on earth a democracy needs: A secret army

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We have one, and it’s growing fast. Dana Priest (who broke the story on the CIA’s illegal black prisons) and William Arkin report in the Washington Post:

The CIA’s armed drones and paramilitary forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of its foot soldiers [and hundreds upon hundreds of innocent bystanders, including women and children – LG]. But there is another mysterious organization that has killed even more of America’s enemies in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.CIA operatives have imprisoned and interrogated nearly 100 suspected terrorists in their former secret prisons around the world, but troops from this other secret organization have imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many, holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this secretive group of men (and a few women) has grown tenfold while sustaining a level of obscurity that not even the CIA managed. “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen,” a strapping Navy SEAL, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in describing his unit.

The SEALs are just part of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, known by the acronym JSOC, which has grown from a rarely used hostage rescue team into America’s secret army. When members of this elite force killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, JSOC leaders celebrated not just the success of the mission but also how few people knew their command, based in Fayetteville, N.C., even existed.This article, adapted from a chapter of the newly released “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State,” by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, chronicles JSOC’s spectacular rise, much of which has not been publicly disclosed before. Two presidents and three secretaries of defense routinely have asked JSOC to mount intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in countries with which the United States was not at war, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Syria.“The CIA doesn’t have the size or the authority to do some of the things we can do,” said one JSOC operator.

The president has also given JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list — and then to kill, rather than capture, them. Critics charge that this individual man-hunting mission amounts to assassination, a practice prohibited by U.S. law. JSOC’s list is not usually coordinated with the CIA, which maintains a similar, but shorter roster of names. . .

Continue reading. It’s amazing to watch a nation go down the toilet voluntarily.

Interesting that JSOC decides on its own whom to kill. Apparently, the military truly is in charge now.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 12:50 pm

Even the NY Times is fed up

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The compliant and sycophantic of major news papers, the newspaper most cooperative in heeding government requests to bury or delay stories, the newspaper most willing to report bogus information from the government with no attempt to rebut or criticize, the newspaper that … well:

Judy Miller
Weapons of Mass Destruction and fixed “evidence”
Warrantless wiretapping (discovered and then held for months until after the 2004 election so that Bush could be re-elected—and finally reported only because the reporter who worked on the story had moved to another paper and was going to report)

And on and on and on. Bill Keller really wrecked that paper.

And even that paper is finally protesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 11:48 am

Security, race, bigotry, and America’s direction

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James Fallows has a post that I hope you’ll read. It begins:

In three previous installments — firstsecond, and third — readers have discussed the implications of a recent case in which a Boston-area musician, Vance Gilbert, caused an airline crew to panic and abort the departure of a plane. Gilbert is black. How much difference did that make?

This is newly on my mind because, when starting on the first leg of a long overseas trip today, I had the most unpleasant encounter in years with TSA officialdom, at Dulles Airport. (I am now at LAX, waiting for the connecting flight.TSA Officer Z*** of Dulles, I will remember you!) This encounter was a reminder that regardless of race, getting crosswise of security-officialdom can lead to a lot of trouble. It was also a reminder that asking “Why?” or “What is the reason for that?” to a uniformed official of the wrong temperament can be the first step down a path that is difficult to retrace. (This is probably the place to say: earlier this week I had an encounter with the DC police, after a neighborhood incident, that impressed me in a strong and positive way with the judgment, tact, and training of the squad that responded. Officer L. Myers, I will remember and be grateful to you.)

More about that later. For now, commentary from some readers on the interactions between long-standing problems of race and more recent security-state thinking. These messages are long but if you read them I think you’ll see why I’m quoting them in full. The first is from a reader in Washington DC: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 11:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

The Wife approves of this coffee

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The Wife is a demon coffee drinker—when she goes into the locally-owned good little coffee shop in PG, they start making her 16-oz 4-shot latte as soon as she walks through the door—and she concurs that this stuff is really good. And they don’t have it in France, she adds.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Caffeine

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