Later On

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

Archive for January 26th, 2013

Elections Have Consequences: It’s Time for the Obama Administration to Acknowledge That Marijuana Prohibition Doesn’t Work

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Paul Armentano at Huffington Post:

Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with pot prohibition and replacing it with regulation. The historic votes on Election Day in Colorado and Washington, where, for the first time ever, a majority of voters decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition, underscore this political reality. But is the Obama administration listening? It ought to be. In Washington legalizing marijuana got the same percentage of the vote as Obama did, and in Colorado cannabis got more votes than Obama — by a wide margin.

Americans are turning their backs on marijuana prohibition in record numbers for a variety of reasons. The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties and disproportionately affects communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn’t work.

Despite more than 70 years of federal pot prohibition, Americans’ consumption of and demand for cannabis is here to stay. Voters’ passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington acknowledges this reality. These measures seek to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises, and to impose new, common-sense regulations governing cannabis’ personal use by adults and licensing its production. Unlike the federal government, which continues to define cannabis as an illegal commodity that is as dangerous as heroin, most voters recognize that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults but restricts use among young people best reduces the risks associated with its use or abuse.

Yet to date, the president and the Attorney General have remained largely silent regarding whether they intend to respect the will of the voters and allow these nascent laws to move forward unimpeded by federal interference. Speaking with ABC’s Barbara Walters, Obama stated, “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal. … We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” But the federal government never has prioritized targeting and prosecuting minor marijuana offenders, a fact that largely renders Obama’s pledge meaningless.

The far bigger issue, which remains unaddressed by the administration, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 2:04 pm

Barley beef soup with mushrooms

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UPDATE: I found the measurements of some of the ingredients and have updated the recipe.

I made it and will be eating it soon. Recipe is just to give you the idea:

I got three good-sized pieces of beef shank (just under 2.5 lbs total), browned them in my large skillet, which they filled. Then I removed them from the skillet so I could sauté a little chopped onion, a few chopped mushrooms, some garlic, one Roma tomato I diced, added just a splash of red wine, a good teaspoon of horseradish. I returned the shanks to the skillet and pushed the veg around so the meat rested on the skillet bottom. I squeezed a lemon over all (a little more acid in addition to the tomato), covered it, and put it in a 200øF oven overnight. I think I probably cooked it a little too long: 6 to 8 hours would be better, but it was fine.

This morning I promptly ate the marrow (cook’s prerogative) and got out my 4-qt pot, looked at it and at the amount of beef, put it back, and got out the 7 qt pot.

I put 2 Tbsp of olive oil in that pot (organic EVOO from California, producer bottled), added 1.5 large Spanish onions, chopped, sprinkled them with a large pinch of salt and a pinch of thyme, and let them cook over medium-high heat while I chopped stuff. I would guess that they cooked for 15 minutes or so. I continued cooking until they were well on their way to caramelizing.

While they were cooking I prepared:

8-10 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 lb domestic white mushrooms, cut in largish pieces
2/3 lb  Shiitake mushrooms, ditto
2/3 lb  crimini mushrooms, ditto, with the small ones left whole
(I wanted oyster and Chanterelle mushrooms as well, but they were unavailable)
3/4 of one of those giant carrots, diced relatively small
2 stalks organic celery, chopped small

Once the onions were browned—and I did that prep while they cooked—I added the garlic and sautéed that for a moment, then added the mushrooms and continued cooking, stirring occasionally. The heat is still fairly high.

Once the mushrooms started giving up their liquid, I added the carrots and celery and the bowl of cooked beef and veg, after breaking the beef up with a spoon. I added water (I should have bought some beef stock) to almost fill the pot (about 2″ below the lip) and turned the heat up. I added:

1 cup pearled barley
zest and juice of 3 Meyer lemons

When the pot began to boil, I reduced it to a simmer, covered it, and simmered for 45 minutes. I will now add 1/2 cup Amontillado sherry and have a bowl of it.

UPDATE: I’ve corrected the seasoning: more salt and more pepper as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Beef, Daily life, Food, Recipes

A long and important piece on the “war on women”

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That attacks on women and on women’s rights are becoming ever more frequent and flagrant. TomDispatch.com has an excellent column by Rebecca Solnit, well worth reading, which is introduced by Erika Eichelberger:

The Republican “war on women” helped define 2012.  Its main offensives are well known, including the assertion that you can’t get pregnant from rape; the obstruction of the Violence Against Women Act because it would have given Native American courts more jurisdiction over domestic violence; the demonizing of a woman who dared to assert that all women, rich and poor, deserve access to contraception; and the 43 new state laws passed last year restricting access to abortion.

And in case you thought it ended with election 2012, in just the past few weeks yet more absurdly egregious, albeit less publicized, assaults on women have been piling up.

Toward the end of December, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a dentist who fired his assistant for being too attractive had acted legally. The dentist’s attorney hailed the decision, the first of its kind, as a victory for family values because the woman was axed in order to save his marriage, not because she was a woman. This is short-skirt-rape apologist territory. God forbid that the dentist bear responsibility for his inability to control himself.

As the new year broke, the House GOP took another stealthy swipe at women. The House and the Senate had come to an agreement on a bipartisan, Republican-sponsored bill that would have helped reduce the massive national backlog of “rape kits,” which contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults that can help identify perpetrators. On the very last day of the last Congress, however, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith, who had been trotting out various excuses to stall the bill for weeks, forced in amendments to kill it.

And early in January (yes, 2013!), a California court ruled that a woman who was raped was not in fact raped — because she was unmarried. A young woman went to sleep with her boyfriend and woke up being raped by someone else who, she initially thought, was her partner. The judges strictly interpreted California’s nineteenth century rape laws (based on 13th-century Saxon law), which say that it’s only a crime to trick someone into having sex if she believes it’s with her husband, not her boyfriend.

It’s this seemingly antiquated but all-too-twenty-first-century world into which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit plunges today, that extreme, remarkably fundamentalist land of Manistan whose violence, once put in one place, boggles the mind. Erika Eichelberger

A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a Year 
Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere) 
By Rebecca Solnit

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school– and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame UniversityAmherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:44 am

Good books on science

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The Scientist has some good capsule reviews of recent science books—for example, this one:

Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos
By Peter M. Hoffmann
Basic Books, November 2012

What distinguishes life from its nonliving ingredients? How could life arise from the lifeless? These questions have vexed philosophers and scientists for more than 2,500 years. Bio-besotted physicist Peter Hoffmann wrote Life’s Ratchet to get to the beating heart of the matter. After a lively, lucid grand tour of the controversy’s history—featuring prescient thinkers you’ve probably never heard of (Julien Offray de La Mettrie? D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson?)—Hoffman arrives at modern molecular biology and the technological breakthroughs, such as atomic force microscopy, that enable us to see the very atoms of a cell.

The secret of life, he says, is not some “vital force,” but the unique operations of the second law of thermodynamics at the nanoscale, where molecular machines from kinesins to DNA synthase, fueled by ATP, can harness the energy of the “molecular storm”—the random bombardment of water molecules at jet-plane speeds—to move and work. Hoffman convincingly demonstrates how such “motors” could have evolved from simpler self-assembling structures, but admits that how all these cellular components came to regulate one another so precisely is still a mystery. A masterwork of making the complex comprehensible, this book would make a smashing freshman biology textbook—and that’s a compliment.

Read them all.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Books, Science

The Best Reporting on What’s Wrong with Congress

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Excellent round-up by Theodoric Meyer at ProPublica:

Back in 2011, we rounded up some of the best stories about the 112th Congress, the least productive in decades. Since then, things seem to have gotten even worse. The 113th Congress is just three weeks old, and 82 percent of Americans already disapproveof it — the highest percentage for a new Congress since The New York Times and CBS News began asking the question two decades ago.

As Senate leaders claim to have reached a deal to reform the filibuster — a key source of congressional dysfunction this past term — we’ve rounded up the best new reporting on what’s wrong with Congress:

Let’s Talk, The New Yorker ($), January 2013

Ezra Klein details the history of the filibuster — from its origins in 1806 to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s filibuster of his own bill in December — and the current efforts to reform it. “No President in American history has seen his initiatives filibustered with anything even approaching the frequency with which the tactic has been used against Obama,” he writes. “If not for the filibuster, the Affordable Care Act would include a public option, the stimulus would have been hundreds of billions of dollars larger and a plan to cap and trade carbon emission would likely have passed the Senate.”

The Senate’s Long Slide to Gridlock, The New York Times, November 2012

Republican filibusters aren’t the only thing clogging up the Senate. Democrats have used a combative maneuver known as “filling the tree” more than 20 times in each of the last three sessions of Congress.

Call Time for Congress Shows How Fundraising Dominates Bleak Work Life, The Huffington Post, January 2013

Two Huffington Post reporters got their hands on a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee PowerPoint for freshmen representatives. It includes a “model daily schedule” that suggests devoting four hours a day to “call time” — i.e., time on the phone with donors — and another hour to “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers. That leaves only three to four hours a day “designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress — hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents.”

As Ezra Klein points out, all that fundraising leaves little time for things such as, say, having lunch with your colleagues. “We’re not here on Mondays,” Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, told Klein. “Tuesday is the party caucuses. Thursday’s the policy lunch and Friday you’re out of here. So that only leaves Wednesday. And what are people doing Wednesday? They’re out raising money. Everybody’s at a fundraiser. I mean, so there is no time any longer for these lunches that we used to have.”

Group from Congress Asks, Why Does America Hate Us? (Answer: See Congress), The New York Times, January 2013

A dozen members of Congress met in New York last week to discuss, among other things, why a recent poll rated them worse than cockroaches and colonoscopies. They’re members of a new bipartisan group called No Labels, which aims to address Congressional dysfunction. Many of them are newly elected and, upon arriving in Washington, “had the same reaction as their constituents to the workings of Congress: they were appalled.” “We are incentivized to do crazy things,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat.

Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals, The New York Times, April 2012

When Obama was a senator and a presidential candidate, he criticized President George W. Bush for sidestepping Congress. But in the final year of his first term, Obama, frustrated with Congress’s lack of action, exercised his executive power to do everything from raising fuel economy standards to halting deportations of illegal immigrants who came to the country as children. Republicans have accused him of abusing his power, especially with regard to his recent executive orders on gun violence.

Outgoing Congress Proves to Be Unproductive to the EndThe Washington Post, December 2012

How productive was Congress last year? “It’s been like watching paint dry,” said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican. The 112th Congress passed fewer bills than any Congress in decades — failing, among other things, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act or pass a much-needed farm bill.

14 Reasons Why This Is the Worst Congress Ever, The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, July 2012

The 112th Congress may not have passed many laws, but the House found time to vote to repeal the president’s health care law at least 33 times. They also managed to be the most polarized Congress since Reconstruction, according to one study, and gave up on passing budgets. To top it off, Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, blocked the nomination to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors of Peter Diamond, who had recently won a Nobel prize in economics. Diamond was never confirmed.

Deeply Riven Congress to Recess Again, Just for Politics, The Boston Globe, September 2012

Congress took a five-week break this summer, returned for eight days and recessed again. During that time, they managed to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government running until March 27. But Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who has since retired, wasn’t impressed. “I don’t consider that a great accomplishment,” he said. “That would be like getting points for breathing.”

The Empty Chamber, The New Yorker, August 2010

OK, we included George Packer’s piece about the Senate in our last roundup, too. But it’s still the best account of how the chamber works these days: “In general, when senators give speeches on the floor, their colleagues aren’t around, and the two or three who might be present aren’t listening. They’re joking with aides, or emailing Twitter ideas to their press secretaries, or getting their first look at a speech they’re about to give before the eight unmanned cameras that provide a live feed to C-SPAN2.”

With Olympia Snowe’s Retirement, the Center Crumbles, Politico, February 2012

The Senate lost three of its few remaining moderates when the 112th Congress ended this month: Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican; Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat; and Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina — not a moderate, but occasionally a maverick — blamed the Senate’s dysfunction for driving them out. “The sense is that the body has sort of lost its way, and ‘Do I want to spend six more years if I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel?’” Graham said. “I guess what Olympia’s telling us is that she doesn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

Five Obscure Tactics to Snarl Congress, The Boston Globe, June 2012

Think fixing the filibuster will fix the Senate? Creative senators could use other procedural moves — such as fleeing the Capitol to keep the Senate from achieving quorum or using a “layover rule” to delay the vote on a bill for three days while it’s published and considered — to continue to gum up the works.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:35 am

Posted in Congress

Message from Mexico: U.S. Is Polluting Water It May Someday Need to Drink

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Another version of eating the seed corn: burning the seed corn. Abrahm Lustgarten reports for ProPublica:

Mexico City plans to draw drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican effort challenges a key tenet of U.S. clean water policy: that water far underground can be intentionally polluted because it will never be used.

U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them.

As ProPublica has reported in an ongoing investigation about America’s management of its underground water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting.

But Mexico City’s plans to tap its newly discovered aquifer suggest that America is poisoning wells it might need in the future.

Indeed, by the standard often applied in the U.S., American regulators could have allowed companies to pump pollutants into the aquifer beneath Mexico City.

For example, in eastern Wyoming, an analysis showed that it would cost half a million dollars to construct a water well into deep, but high-quality aquifer reserves. That, plus an untested assumption that all the deep layers below it could only contain poor-quality water, led regulators to allow a uranium mine to inject more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste every day into the underground reservoirs.

But south of the border, worsening water shortages have forced authorities to look ever deeper for drinking water.

Today in Mexico City, the world’s third-largest metropolis, the depletion of shallow reservoirs is causing the ground to sink in, iconic buildings to teeter, and underground infrastructure to crumble. The discovery of the previously unmapped deep reservoir could mean that water won’t have to be rationed or piped into Mexico City from hundreds of miles away.

According to the Times report, Mexican authorities have already drilled an exploratory well into the aquifer and are working to determine the exact size of the reservoir. They are prepared to spend as much as $40 million to pump and treat the deeper water, which they say could supply some of Mexico City’s 20 million people for as long as a century.

Scientists point to what’s happening in Mexico City as a harbinger of a world in which people will pay more and dig deeper to tap reserves of the one natural resource human beings simply cannot survive without.

“Around the world people are increasingly doing things that 50 years ago nobody would have said they’d do,” said Mike Wireman, a hydrogeologist with the EPA who also works with the World Bank on global water supply issues.

Wireman points to new research in Europe finding water reservoirs several miles beneath the surface — far deeper than even the aquifer beneath Mexico City — and says U.S. policy has been slow to adapt to this new understanding.

“Depth in and of itself does not guarantee anything — it does not guarantee you won’t use it in the future, and it does not guarantee that that it is not” a source of drinking water, he said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:31 am

John Cusack

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:22 am

Has America become an authoritarian state?

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Henry Giroux writes at Truth-Out.org:

The debate in both Washington and the mainstream media over austerity measures, the alleged fiscal cliff and the looming debt crisis not only function to render anti-democratic pressures invisible, but also produce what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills once called “a politics of organized irresponsibility.”1 For Mills, authoritarian politics developed, in part, by making the operations of power invisible while weaving a network of lies and deceptions through what might be called a politics of disconnect. That is, a politics that focuses on isolated issues that serve to erase the broader relations and historical contexts that give them meaning. These isolated issues become flashpoints in a cultural and political discourse that hide not merely the operations of power, but also the resurgence of authoritarian ideologies, modes of governance, policies and social formations that put any viable notion of democracy at risk.2 Decontextualized ideas and issues, coupled with the overflow of information produced by the new electronic media, make it more difficult to create narratives that offer historical understanding, relational connections and developmental sequences. The fragmentation of ideas and the cascade of information reinforce new modes of depoliticization and authoritarianism. 3

At the same time, more important issues are buried in the fog of what might be called isolated and manufactured crises, that when given legitimacy, actually benefit the wealthy and hurt working- and middle-class individuals and families. Gerald Epstein rightly argues that the debate about the fiscal cliff is

a debacle on the part of the Obama administration and for progressives and for workers and for families. It’s a real disaster…. We shouldn’t be having to sit here talking about this; we should be talking about what are going to do about the employment cliff or the climate change cliff. But instead we’re talking about this fiscal cliff, which is a manufactured crisis.4

The fiscal cliff argument is manufactured both in that it is not a real crisis (except for its impact on poor and middle-class families), and it serves as a diversion from pressing issues ranging from mass unemployment and widespread poverty, to the housing crisis and the student debt bomb. Moreover, it undermines understanding how these various problems are interrelated ideologically and structurally as part of an assault by religious and market fundamentalists on all aspects of public life that address the common good.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

The expanded reach of politics in this discourse of distraction shrinks, and in doing so separates private troubles from public considerations, while undermining any broader understanding of the confluence of socio-economic-cultural interests and interrelated issues and problems that characterize a particular age. For instance, the debate on gun control says little about the deep-rooted culture of symbolic and structural violence that nourishes America’s infatuation with guns and its attraction to the spectacle of violence. Similarly, the mainstream debate over taxing the rich refuses to address this issue through a broader analysis of a society that is structurally wedded to producing massive inequities in income and wealth along with the considerable suffering and hardships produced by such social disparities.

In this denuded notion of politics, the connection between facts and wider theoretical frameworks and the connection between politics and power disappear just as the relationship between private troubles and larger social realities are covered over. Under such circumstances, politics is cleansed of its extremist elements and informed modes of dissent are not only marginalized but also actively suppressed, as was obvious in the FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street protesters and the police’s ruthless suppression of student dissenters on campuses across the country.

Blind Publics in an Authoritarian Age

What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it.5 The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Court upholds GOP chicanery

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Behold the decline of the US: an editorial today in the NY Times:

For most of President Obama’s first term, Republicans used legislative trickery to try to prevent the functioning of two federal agencies they hate, the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. First they would filibuster the president’s nominees to the agencies, knowing that neither agency could operate without board members or a director. Then they would create fake legislative sessions for the Senate during its recess, intended solely to prevent Mr. Obama from making recess appointments as an end run.

Astonishingly, a federal appeals court upheld this strategy on Friday. Mr. Obama had declared that Congress was not really open for business during its one-minute, lights-on-lights-off sessions intended only to thwart him, and he made recess appointments. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said his N.L.R.B. appointments were unconstitutional, buying the argument of Republicans that the Senate was really in session.

The court even broke with the presidential practice of 150 years by ruling that only vacancies arising during a narrow recess period qualify for recess appointments.

White House officials said the administration would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but if it is upheld, it will invalidate scores of decisions made by the labor board over the last year. Without lawfully appointed members, the board would lack a quorum and could take no action, unable to police union elections or ensure that companies treat unions properly. That is exactly the outcome hoped for by business interests and the right, furious that a board under Democratic control tends to rule in labor’s favor (after years of ruling for business during the Bush years).

The decision also threatens the work of the consumer bureau, which has been operating under a director, Richard Cordray, appointed during a recess after Republicans filibustered his nomination. A similar lawsuit is moving through the courts challenging his appointment.

The administration’s lawyers made a solid argument that a legislative session during which no business takes place, and when no nominations can be considered, is not a real session. The vast majority of senators, in fact, were out of town. Used in this way, the administration said, sham “pro forma” sessions prevented two executive-branch agencies from performing their lawful duties. Both agencies were created by majorities in Congress, but they were undermined by minorities.

The court’s opinion took no notice of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 9:37 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government, Law

Learning how to reason

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This is a revised and extended version of an earlier post. I keep mulling over the topic, and realized I had cut short the full story.

Practical knowledge consists of skills acquired only with practice. Certainly one must pay attention to the results of each effort, and judicious experimentation helps advance one’s knowledge/skill (for in practical knowledge, the two are much the same), but an essential component is practice/experience. Repeated efforts, as in learning to shoot a basket, pitch a ball, play a tune, or write a paragraph, is the sine qua non.

I went to a liberal arts college as an undergraduate. The goal of the “liberal arts” is to “free” (liberate) a person from the bonds and traps of current circumstances and provide a broader and more informed vision of human possibilities and the essentials of a good life—in a word, to free a person to participate in a free society. (The liberal arts are thus a primary target in an authoritarian or totalitarian society: the last thing such societies want is a citizenry that thinks for itself and asks probing questions and can readily spot fallacious reasoning. Cf. the dismantling of liberal arts programs in this country and the push to train people only on narrow commercial and technical skills: much more suited to the kind of government we are building with the corporate takeover and the dismantling of civil and human rights.)

This freedom is achieved not so much by theoretical as practical knowledge: learning through practice how to reason, how to choose, how to act, how to question, how to listen, how to read, how to write, and how to act: those are the liberal arts to be mastered. The liberated mind can then hew its own path.

Having a liberal arts curriculum meant, among other things, four years of study of mathematics and four years of laboratory science: essential liberal arts, and exercises in asking and answering particular sorts of questions.

As I reflected on this, I realized that, as Steve of Kareneio has pointed out to me, we all are prone to “motivated reasoning“: reasoning distorted by a determination (conscious or unconscious) to arrive at a certain result. It’s a natural weakness that one can see most plainly in children and certain politicians. Their focus is on achieving the goal (the result/outcome they desire) and little attention is paid to the process by which the goal is achieved—and processes that do not arrive at the goal they want are dismissed out of hand, rather than dealt with thoughtfully.

It’s a natural tendency, like being in the company of others and (say) chewing with your mouth open or scratching vigorously at an itch—or, for that matter, throwing a rock at something and missing. And just as we learn to modify those behaviors, we can also learn to detach ourselves from motivated reasoning and learn how to reason rightly. It’s a matter of practical knowledge.

I was reflecting on the freshman mathematics program at my college in which we read Euclid’s Elements: going through the definitions, axioms, postulates, and theorems, retracing the building of that magnificent logical edifice. The classes were small—ten to twelve students and one tutor. The tutor acted as a coach, not as a lecturer: the students were responsible for discussing the meanings of the definitions, axioms, and postulates, and the students individually demonstrated the theorems to the class, being corrected as needed by their classmates. The tutor’s main role was to ask questions, not answer them.

This morning I realized that we were learning correct reasoning, in contrast to motivated reasoning. Because the results were not something to which we had a pre-existing emotional attachment, we could reason without distortion, and quickly spot errors in reasoning in ourselves or (more often) in others, errors from which we could learn: developing habits of correct reasoning and a sensitivity to common errors.

That is, no one really has an emotional attachment to whether the squares on the sides of a right triangle are equal to the square on the hypotenuse, or not. We have no emotional investment in a particular outcome, so we can more easily focus on the reasoning process itself. In contrast, on the issue of the ownership of high-capacity magazines or a woman’s right to an abortion, attachment to a particular outcome is often strong and it’s harder to pay attention to the reasoning process. If the result of an analysis is not what one wants, the reasoning may be dismissed without examination; if the analysis produces the “right” result (in the eyes of the person witnessing the argument), the reasoning is accepted as sound without investigating it. Almost all the focus is on the outcome to be achieved, so little attention is paid to the arguments that achieve it. To reason well on that sort of topic requires experience with (i.e., practical knowledge of) the skills of sound reasoning and a developed sensitivity to errors in reasoning: i.e., it requires being educated in the liberal arts.

In the laboratory science courses, the same path was taken in a different context. Once again small classes read seminal works by scientists, ancient and modern, and retraced the development of the experimental method in different contexts (biology, mechanics, optics, and the like). We learned a different sort of “proof”, and a different way of posing questions and finding answers: by constructed experience and a reasoned analysis of observed outcomes. It is not mathematics, and the reasoning methods take new paths, but again much practice developed practical knowledge of how to pose questions in the world of experience (rather than the world of mathematical ideas) and how to structure experiments to provide answers to the questions. And again, the activity was “pure” in the sense that there was not (for us) any emotional attachment to particular outcomes, so we could more easily learn the right methods and know how to reach sound answers. (This was certainly not true in the original situations of course: cf. Galileo and the Catholic church, a notable example of motivated reasoning riding roughshod over correct analysis.)

After four years of such activity, most of us developed a sense of correct argument and, I believe, were less likely to fall into the trap of motivated reasoning than those who had not practiced so much. At the very least, we were better able to listen to criticisms of our reasoning and see errors when they were pointed out. And, I think, we developed a kind of loyalty to correct reasoning: we admired it, and we tried to achieve it.

UPDATE: Two relevant articles from Truth-Out.org:

Texas GOP Declares: “No More Teaching of ‘Critical Thinking Skills’ in Texas Public Schools”

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum

The systematic defunding of liberal arts programs is deliberate and a high priority for the Right Wing and corporations, for obvious reasons.

UPDATE 2: A classmate emailed me to point out that right reasoning often proceeds from premises to which we have a strong emotional attachment. Reasoning does not mean to put emotion and feelings aside: it means not to let those influence the path of reasoning. But premises are beyond reason, in a sense: they are the elemental values from which the reasoning proceeds. One certainly wants to check that the premises are consistent—indeed, there was much discussion of Euclid’s postulates and common notions on exactly that point—and, ideally, that they are independent—that is, one is not derived from another, for then it becomes a theorem (or conclusion) rather than a premise.

But given the premises, the reason should proceed without bending or breaking rules or hiding parts of the argument.

An example of motivated reasoning is the strong opposition the beef industry has to testing cattle for mad-cow disease—in particular, testing every animal slaughtered. The reason for the opposition is that the beef industry very much does not want instances of mad-cow disease found, but of course they cannot say this. So their reasoning becomes odd. For example, they protest that it would cost too much, when in fact it would increase the cost of a pound of beef by 10¢. (Indeed, Japan follows the procedure of testing all animals.) They try to say that it would (somehow) endanger public health. They will say anything to prevent such testing. They had to persuaded simply to test cows that keel over in line (“downers”).

Creekstone Farms, which exports to Japan, wanted to test all animals and built a testing operation inside its plant. It would pay all costs. The USDA, the agency responsible for the beef industry and firmly under beef industry control, did not allow it.

Creekstone Farms is known for its attempt to test all of its beef for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease”). At a cost of about half a million dollars, Creekstone built a testing lab, the first inside a U. S. meat packing plant, and hired the necessary personnel. In 2004, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls the sale of testing kits, refused to sell Creekstone enough to test all of its cows.

The USDA’s stated position was that allowing any meatpacking company to test every cow would undermine the agency’s official position that random testing was scientifically adequate to assure safety. The USDA also claims that testing does not ensure food safety because the disease is difficult to detect in younger animals. An alternative position is that the USDA’s objection is the result of pressure from larger meatpacking operations. The president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association told the Washington Post that “If testing is allowed at Creekstone, we think it would become the international standard and the domestic standard, too.” Creekstone Farms says tests cost about $20 per animal, increasing the cost of beef by about 10 cents per pound. The USDA currently tests about 1 percent of cattle slaughtered in the U.S.

Google “Creekstone Farms” for more information.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 9:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

BBS once more

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SOTD 26 Jan 2013

Another superb shave. I really have found my groove. It took a few years, but by golly experience does pay off.

The soap is an experimental soap from a redditor, and today I used the Thäter brush. I hadn’t used either of my Thäter brushes lately, and I had forgotten what a nice brush it is. Some badger brushes are fluffy and soft—I think of my G.B. Kent BK4, Rooney Style 2 Finest, Wet Shaving Product Monarch HMW, and any of the Omega silvertips. These generate lather quickly and easily and have enormous capacity. Others, like the Wet Shaving Products Monarch 2-band silvertip and Chubby 1 Super, are stiff and dense: efficient lather generators but somewhat less capacity and (to me) not so pleasant feeling on my face. Then there are those like the Thäter, which are in between: not fluffy soft, but firm soft, with ample capacity and a pleasant feel on my face. The difference between this and the fluffy crowd is (for me) one of style, not pleasure: they are both highly pleasurable, but each type having its own feel.

I got a very good lather from the experimental soap, but when I returned for the second pass, all the lather had faded. I thought about returning to the soap, but in my disappointment, I chose to reload with a different soap.

Three passes with the English red-tipped Super Speed holding a Swedish Gillette blade, and I could tell it was going to be a beautiful shave. As I applied La Toja aftershave, I was mightily pleased—with the shave and the aftershave.

Now for the weekend, or, as the French so foppishly put it, “le weekend.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2013 at 8:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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