Later On

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

Archive for September 26th, 2011

Roots of common Spanish verbs

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I’m reading about how to find the root of a verb in Spanish. The infinitive ends in -ar, -er, or -ir, and remove that to find the root.

Thus the root of estar is est-, the root of ser is s-, and the root of ir is -.

That can’t be right. This is the hard part of self study: no one to ask…

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Education, Spanish

Interesting info on the two hikers released by Iran

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I find this interesting:

Two American hikers imprisoned for more than two years by Iran on extremely dubious espionage charges and in highly oppressive conditions, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, were released last week and spoke yesterday in Manhattan about their ordeal.  Most establishment media accounts in the U.S. have predictably exploited the emotions of the drama as a means of bolstering the U.S.-is-Good/Iran-is-Evil narrative which they reflexively spout.  But far more revealing is what these media accounts exclude, beginning with the important, insightful and brave remarks from the released prisoners themselves (their full press conference was broadcast this morning on Democracy Now).

Fattal began by recounting the horrible conditions of the prison in which they were held, including being kept virtually all day in a tiny cell alone and hearing other prisoners being beaten; he explained that, of everything that was done to them, “solitary confinement was the worst experience of all of our lives.”  Bauer then noted that they were imprisoned due solely to what he called the “32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran,” and said: “the irony is that [we] oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.”  After complaining that the two court sessions they attended were “total shams” and that “we’d been held in almost total isolation – stripped of our rights and freedoms,” he explained:

In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay; they’d remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world; and conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.

We do not believe that such human rights violation on the part of our government justify what has been done to us: not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments – including the government of Iran – to act in kind.

[Indeed, as harrowing and unjust as their imprisonment was, Bauer and Fattal on some level are fortunate not to have ended up in the grips of the American War on Terror detention system, where detainees remain for many more years without even the pretense of due process — still — to say nothing of the torture regime to which hundreds (at least) were subjected.]

Fattal then expressed “great thanks to world leaders and individuals” who worked for their release, including Hugo Chavez, the governments of Turkey and Brazil, Sean Penn, Noam Chomsky, Mohammad Ali, Cindy Sheehan, Desmond Tutu, as well as Muslims from around the world and “elements within the Iranian government,” as well as U.S. officials.

Unsurprisingly, one searches in vain for the inclusion of these facts and remarks in American media accounts of their release and subsequent press conference.  Instead, typical is this ABC News story, which featured tearful and celebratory reactions from their family, detailed descriptions of their conditions and the pain and fear their family endured, and melodramatic narratives about how their “long, grueling imprisonment is over” after “781 days in Iran’s most notorious prison.”  This ABC News article on their press conference features many sentences about Iran’s oppressiveness — “Hikers Return to the U.S.: ‘We Were Held Hostage'”; “we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten” — with hardly any mention of the criticisms Fattal and Bauer voiced regarding U.S. policy that provided the excuse for their mistreatment and similar treatment which the U.S. doles out both in War on Terror prisons around the world and even domestic prisons at home.

Their story deserves the attention it is getting, and Iran deserves the criticism.  But the first duty of the American “watchdog media” should be . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Government, Iran, Law

When the government is starved…

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Grover Norquist famously said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

They’ve pretty much done that in Mexico, so we can see where Norquist is headed. Elisabeth Malkin reports in the NY Times:

ACAPULCO, Mexico — The message is delivered by a phone call to the office of one school, a sheaf of photocopied papers dropped off at another, a banner hung outside a third.

The demand is the same: teachers have until Oct. 1 to start handing over half of their pay. If they do not, they risk their lives.

Extortion is a booming industry in Mexico, with reported cases having almost tripled since 2004. To some analysts, it is an unintended consequence of the government’s strategy in the drug war: as the large cartels splinter, armies of street-level thugs schooled in threats and violence have brought their skills to new enterprises.

But the threat to teachers here in this tarnished tourist resort has taken the practice to a new level. Since the anonymous threats began last month, when students returned to classes after summer break, hundreds of schools have shut down.

“This isn’t about money, this is about life or death,” Alejandro Estrada, an elementary school teacher, said as he marched in protest with thousands of other teachers down Acapulco’s seafront boulevard last week. “If you don’t pay, you die.”

The word here, in the tough neighborhoods that tumble down the far side of the mountains lining the once-splendid bay, is that everybody is paying protection money: doctors, taxi drivers, local stores.

“They come every week, and you just pay because you never know,” whispered a flower seller in a market in Emiliano Zapata, a section of town where shuttered stores and padlocked schools testify to the fear.

“Everybody thinks he’s a hit man these days,” she added, refusing to give her name for fear that the people who collect less than $20 a week from her might find out that she had talked.

But unlike other groups, which appear to be suffering in silence, the teachers belong to a powerful union that can easily summon large numbers to protest. And over the past month, the strikes have spread to schools that have not received any threats, which shut in solidarity or in fear.

“We are all scared,” said a high school drawing teacher who would give her name only as Noemi. “We are targets because we have a salary that is a bit more stable than the rest.”

Nationwide, the surge in extortion was wrenched into painful focus last month after men suspected of working for the Zetas drug cartel set fire to a casino in the northern city of Monterrey, killing 52 people inside. State officials said the owners had balked when the Zetas raised the protection fee. While powerful criminal organizations like the Zetas have long made extortion their calling card, it has since taken on a life of its own. . .

Continue reading. Sounds to me like a weakened government has some serious drawbacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Duke Ellington: C-Jam Blues

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

The Epicure’s Guide to Shaving

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I realize now that the post title would also have been good for the book. I’m reading Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, thanks to The Eldest who sent me the book as a gift. (It arrived directly from Amazon, and when I opened it I was totally delighted—I thought I had just added it to my wish list, but I must have ordered it! I was so pleased with myself I jumped in and started reading, and when The Eldest called to see whether her gift had arrived, I kept telling her, “No, but I’m watching for it.” Finally she checked her Amazon account and saw that it had been delivered. I guess I had just added it to my wishlist rather than ordering it.)

Despite the little contretemps, I’m loving the book and how directly it applies to shaving (and much else). (Here’s a brief review from NPR.) Consider: Epicurus believed that the universe in which we live is fundamentally made of atoms: tiny indivisible particles that combine in various ways. The stars, the planets, trees, water, grass, animals, us: all made of atoms.

Initially the atoms were simply falling through space, but atoms from time to time swerve in an unpredictable fashion, thus bumping into their neighbors, forcing additional collisions, combining, and so on. After much time has passed, these random collisions and clumping have by now produced the universe in which we live—and the process continues.

Epicurus saw a world of continuous, on-going change. The constancy and universality of change as we look around us has caught the eye of many. Heraclitus commented that you cannot step into the same river twice: the water has moved, you have changed. Change is another way of referring to generation and corruption: coming into being and decaying away. Lucretius sees this continual process of old things dying and breaking down and new things emerging to last for a while and in their own turn mature, age, and fall away as an expression of Venus, goddess of procreation.

But to focus a bit on the dying away bit: Epicurus thought that we live a while in this world of change and then die—oblivion, never to return. Nothing. So it goes.

But while we’re here in this amazing world, we should enjoy our lives. This is what we get. This is our show, our day in the sun, and when it’s over—nothing. No encore, no memory, nothing.

Some interesting corollaries follow from such a view.

First, I would expect that Epicureans are seldom found among glory hounds: those like Achilles who go for a short glorious life. If this life is all we get, let’s take our time and enjoy it. Stretch it out, don’t cut it short. (Of course, as the Stoics observed, if life grows intolerable… well, one can always leave. And once you’re gone, nothing can matter to you because there’s no longer a you.)

Epicureans also would avoid excess in carnal pleasures, since even the meanest intellect can see that such excess generally results in short lives and physical pain and suffering, not to mention the mental torment from guilt, regrets, and the like. Epicurus would (and did) advocate a life of moderation and activity—but also daily enjoyment.

It seems logical, on the premise that this is our one experience of living, that we should strive to maximize our enjoyment of this life, and that would mean finding and appreciating daily pleasures: the small pleasures of daily life. You should find ways to enjoy what’s right at hand.

In particular, it would mean that any routine task that you do repeatedly should be recast as a source of enjoyment. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi discusses this mindset at length in his excellent book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (link is to inexpensive used copies). “Flow“, as Csíkszentmihályi defines it (and as discussed in Wikipedia at the link), is a state of mind that one would typically call happiness or joy. He gives an example of a guy who’s structured his life to maximize flow: a practicing Epicurean, in effect.

So the shaving connection: Shaving is an activity that many men are obliged to do daily. Therefore, shaving should be made an enjoyable activity, a source of daily pleasure. The alternative, enduring a daily chore from which one derives no pleasure, doesn’t really make sense, given the Epicurean picture of the universe: This is your single life, and at your death you will have exhausted your chances at life. So during your life, find small daily pleasures everywhere you can. Enjoy your life: as Lucretius would view it, your life is your gift from Venus. Make the most of it.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 9:54 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Shaving

The collapse of the American justice system

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The decline and fall of an empire is a painful and lengthy process and will work its way through several generations, but in the case of the US it is well advanced. One look at how Congress no longer functions makes it obvious that the legislative branch is in disarray. The executive branch is now hip deep in secret prisons, secret wars, constant surveillance of its citizens, secret hit lists of citizens, secret laws, and a breathtaking disregard of laws and human rights. And the justice system? There’s a book on that:  The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, by William Stuntz, from Harvard University Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Among the great untold stories of our time is this one: the last half of the twentieth century saw America’s criminal justice system unravel. Signs of the unraveling are everywhere. The nation’s record- shattering prison population has grown out of control. Still more so the African American portion of that prison population: for black males, a term in the nearest penitentiary has become an ordinary life experience, a horrifying truth that wasn’t true a mere generation ago. Ordinary life experiences are poor deterrents, one reason why massive levels of criminal punishment coexist with historically high levels of urban violence.

Outside the South, most cities’ murder rates are a multiple of the rates in those same cities sixty years ago — notwithstanding a large drop in violent crime in the 1990s. Within cities, crime is low in safe neighborhoods but remains a huge problem in dangerous ones, and those dangerous neighborhoods are disproportionately poor and black. Last but not least, we have built a justice system that strikes many of its targets as wildly unjust. The feeling has some evidentiary support: criminal litigation regularly makes awful mistakes, as the frequent DNA-based exonerations of convicted defendants illustrate. Evidently, the criminal justice system is doing none of its jobs well: producing justice, avoiding discrimination, protecting those who most need the law’s protection, keeping crime in check while maintaining reasonable limits on criminal punishment.

It was not always so. For much of American history — again, outside the South — criminal justice institutions punished sparingly, mostly avoided the worst forms of discrimination, controlled crime effectively, and, for the most part, treated those whom the system targets fairly. The justice system was always flawed, and injustices always happened. Nevertheless, one might fairly say that criminal justice worked. It doesn’t anymore.

There are three keys to the system’s dysfunction, each of which has deep historical roots but all of which took hold in the last sixty years. First, the rule of law collapsed. To a degree that had not been true in America’s past, official discretion rather than legal doctrine or juries’ judgments came to define criminal justice outcomes. Second, discrimination against both black suspects and black crime victims grew steadily worse — oddly, in an age of rising legal protection for civil rights. Today, black drug offenders are punished in great numbers, even as white drug offenders are usually ignored. (As is usually the case with respect to American crime statistics, Latinos fall in between, but generally closer to the white population than to the black one.) At the same time, blacks victimized by violent felonies regularly see violence go unpunished; the story is different in most white neighborhoods. The third trend is the least familiar: a kind of pendulum justice took hold in the twentieth century’s second half, as America’s justice system first saw a sharp decline in the prison population — in the midst of a record-setting crime wave — then saw that population rise steeply. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States had one of the most lenient justice systems in the world. By century’s end, that justice system was the harshest in the history of democratic government.

Take these three trends in turn. . .

Continue reading. It’s a long extract.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 8:58 am

Gods and superheroes

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Interesting review:

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human
by Grant Morrison

A review by Greg Baldino

Whether they be gods or angels, the idea of sentient beings beyond us mere mortals but recognizably similar has influenced human thought since the earliest days of tale-telling around the fire. In some tellings, they are of a state of grace from whence humans fell; in others they are a potential, something that might, by labor or virtue, be reached by all. In the 20th century, these tales were given new form with the advent, at the publishing of Superman’s first adventure in Action Comics #1, of the superhero. This sub-genre of a sub-genre, born of the highest mythologies and the lowest pulp denominators, rose up from a declasse and maligned artform to become the dominant mythology of the modern world, influencing philosophical discourses as much as box office receipts.

Grant Morrison is no stranger to these creatures. Long before he became one of the most acclaimed and popular comics writers of the last two decades, being trusted with the corporate treasures of Batman, Superman, and the X-Men, he was writing adventures of atypical ubermenschen, from suburban patriarch Animal Man, to outsider art vigilantes the Doom Patrol, to post-human popstar Zenith. With a somewhat holistic view of storytelling, Morrison is as well-versed in the writings of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola as he is in the secret origin of Spider-Man, and a full-length work by him on the superhero genre is a veritable literary occasion.

Following a chronological structure beginning with the Man of Steel’s debut in 1938, Morrison looks at superhero comics as both diagnosing and predicting the psychological flow of the modern western world. The shifting nature of Superman as an icon is explored, touching on the socialist revolutionary tendencies of the early stories which were revised to project a strict patriot visage come the outbreak of war. Wonder Woman, like so many super characters, is revealed to be born of her creator’s world view as well — William Moulton Marston, in addition to being the creator of the polygraph test, lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and their girlfriend, a sexuality beyond radical for the time and that greatly influenced many of those early Wonder Woman stories. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 8:41 am

Posted in Books

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