Later On

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

Archive for April 2013

Some of a purchased government’s rough edges, to be smoothed down

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This sort of thing happens as you work out the details of just how command will be shifted. But interesting, none the less. I would say that in three years this will be done in such a way that no one will bat an eye: the same thing, just done without the rough edges. And then, of course, the envelope must be pushed further…

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 3:04 pm

Good point by Kevin Drum: Obama knows what he’s doing

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As Kevin Drum points out in this post, Obama is not an idiot: he is saying the only thing he can say. Read the post: good insight.

I think the GOP has decided just to run out the clock: block everything, destroy what they can (e.g., Obamacare’s implementation, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (don’t confirm, defund, etc.)), and wait for the next president. I suppose it’s a show of strength, that anything that is to be done requires bending to their will. It’s not a long-term strategy, but it sure seems to be working for now.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 1:57 pm

Q: Is it possible to hold Congress in any greater contempt?

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A: This article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Joshua Green:

On Friday, the Internet erupted in fury over Congress’s vote to reverse the automatic cuts that were causing air-traffic controllers to be furloughed, delaying hundreds of flights—see, for instance, Josh Barro at Bloomberg Viewor Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. Critics pointed out that it was appalling for Congress to undo the sequester cuts that inconvenienced travelers while leaving in place the cuts to such programs as Head Start and Meals on Wheels that affect tens of thousands of poor people, many of them children and seniors. The obvious conclusion is that Congress cares much more about the problems of rich air travelers (who are regular voters) and will act quickly to solve them.

This criticism is entirely valid and correct—but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The group that Congress is helping the most by lifting the FAA sequester isn’t business flyers. No, lawmakers are helping themselves. There is no more pampered class of air traveler than members of Congress.

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.) . . .

Continue reading to see the clip. At what point does contempt tip over into hatred? I guess we’ll find out.

It’s only fair to point out that some few stood against this.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Congress

Time Crystals and a theory of time

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Fascinating article in Wired Science by Natalie Wolchover:

In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.

“Most research in physics is continuations of things that have gone before,” said Wilczek, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This, he said, was “kind of outside the box.”

Wilczek’s idea met with a muted response from physicists. Here was a brilliant professor known for developing exotic theories that later entered the mainstream, including the existence of particles called axions and anyons, and discovering a property of nuclear forces known as asymptotic freedom (for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004). But perpetual motion, deemed impossible by the fundamental laws of physics, was hard to swallow. Did the work constitute a major breakthrough or faulty logic? Jakub Zakrzewski, a professor of physics and head of atomic optics at Jagiellonian University in Poland who wrote a perspective on the research that accompanied Wilczek’s publication, says: “I simply don’t know.”

Now, a technological advance has made it possible for physicists to test the idea. They plan to build a time crystal, not in the hope that this perpetuum mobile will generate an endless supply of energy (as inventors have striven in vain to do for more than a thousand years) but that it will yield a better theory of time itself.

A Crazy Concept

The idea came to Wilczek while he was preparing a class lecture in 2010. “I was thinking about the classification of crystals, and then it just occurred to me that it’s natural to think about space and time together,” he said. “So if you think about crystals in space, it’s very natural also to think about the classification of crystalline behavior in time.”

When matter crystallizes, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:24 am

Posted in Science

Congressman’s enthusiastic participation in corruption

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Justin Elliott reports:

In January, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, ascended to the powerful chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee. Six weeks later, campaign finance filings and interviews show, Hensarling was joined by representatives of the banking industry for a ski vacation fundraiser at a posh Park City, Utah, resort.

The congressman’s political action committee held the fundraiser at the St. Regis Deer Valley, the “Ritz-Carlton of ski resorts” known for its “white-glove service” and for its restaurant by superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

There’s no evidence the fundraiser broke any campaign finance rules. But a ski getaway with Hensarling, whose committee oversees both Wall Street and its regulators, is an invaluable opportunity for industry lobbyists.

Among those attending the weekend getaway was an official from the American Securitization Forum, a Wall Street industry group, a spokesman confirmed. It gave $2,500 in February to Hensarling’s political action committee, the Jobs, Economy, and Budget (JEB) Fund.

Len Wolfson, a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000 that month, posted a picture on Instagram from the weekend of the fundraiser of the funicular at the St. Regis. (It was labeled, “Putting the #fun in #funicular. #stregis #deervalley #utah.”) Wolfson did not respond to requests for comment. (UPDATE 1 p.m.Wolfson has now set his account to private.)

Visa, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000, also sent an official. A Visa spokesman told ProPublica that in attendance were not just finance companies, but also big retailers and others.Hensarling, a protégé of former Texas senator and famed deregulator Phil Gramm, has a mixed record regarding Wall Street. While he has been critical of “too big to fail” banks and voted against the 2008 bailout, Hensarling recently said he opposed downsizing big banks, according to Bloomberg. That stance matters now more than ever as a bipartisan duo in the Senate, David Vitter, R-La., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a bill last week seeking to constrain the too-big-to-fail institutions. While the bill is considered a longshot, it has provoked intenseopposition from the industry.

Meanwhile, Hensarling recently barred the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, citing a legal cloud over recess appointments made by President Obama. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:16 am

What the failure of gun legislation means

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David Graeber writes a guest post at Informed Comment:

The recent defeat of gun buyers’ background check legislation in the Senate—legislation backed by an almost unimaginable 90% of the American public—has been taken as a somber day in the history of American democracy. We’ve been having a lot of such somber days of late. In fact, one can well argue we’ve not only reached the point where not only does the will of the American people has almost no bearing on governance, but most of our opinion-makers see little reason why it should have.

No one can deny there is an increasing disparity between what the American public says it wants, and what the political class feel they should even have to talk about. At the height of the health reform debate in 2009, polls suggested that as many as two thirds of Americans would have preferred a Canadian style single-payer health plan, which could have been achieved fairly simply by expanding existing programs like Medicare. In Washington, and in the national media, it was not even seen as worthy of debate. On the other side, overwhelming majorities even of Republicans, let alone Democrats, make clear the last thing we should be talking about is cutting social security benefits, yet we have a President and political class that—despite the lack of any immediate crisis —seem almost obsessively determined to figure out an excuse to do so.

On one level we all know why this happens. Lobbyists for powerful moneyed interests control the terms of debate. Any proposal would be strongly opposed by, say, the Gun Lobby, or the Health Insurance Lobby, is simply not considered serious, no matter how much popular support it has. But what’s really startling is the indifference with which this situation is greeted by America’s talking classes, even those who represent themselves as (and in many cases at least, actually do sincerely see themselves to be) the guardians of America’s democratic traditions. Each new outrage is greeted with at best a minor flurry of concern, usually followed by some wistful complaints about the “dysfunctional culture” in Washington—complaints which, if they lead to anything, lead only to pleas for politicians to stop fighting and build a “pragmatic,” “centrist” consensus—that is, to effectively do away with any remaining difference between the two parties and eliminate popular input into politics entirely.

Even fundamental structural issues are shrugged away. Politicians and journalists who regularly hold out American democracy as a beacon to the world never seem to reflect on what the world is supposed to make of the fact that, say, 2/3 of the American public who don’t happen to live in swing states effectively have no say in who gets to be the President, or that we can have House elections, as we did in 2012, where a majority of voters can choose candidates from one party and watch the other party win the election anyway.

One can only conclude that for most of our official opinion-makers, the word “democracy” no longer has anything, really, to do with popular will. It refers to a structure of authority. “Democracy” for them means that elaborate architecture of checks and balances created by the Framers of the Constitution, the fact that elections, appointments, congressional votes and judicial and executive decisions take place according to established laws, bylaws, traditions, and procedures. It means following the rules laid down by the Founding Fathers and their later, duly authorized, interpreters. Hence in the event of a crisis, the press feels that it’s first loyalty is not to what the public wants, or even really to the facts, but above all, to maintaining public faith in the legitimacy of what they consider “democratic institutions.” This came out very clearly during the dispute over the Bush-Gore election of 2000. No one contested that Gore was the choice of the majority of American voters. It was not at all clear that Bush was the choice of the majority of Florida voters (and as it later turned out, he was not.) But after a Supreme Court decision in which a majority of justices barely disguised the fact that they were intervening to stop the ballot-counting on the basis of their own personal political preferences, the media instantly declared the issue over—many openly admitting that they felt pointing out that the Court had effectively engaged in a judicial coup would be irresponsible, since it would undermine popular faith in the integrity of “democratic institutions.”

II:

DEMOCRACY WAS NEVER A GIFT: WE TOOK IT

All nations, all societies, have their founding myths. Back in the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers tended to assume that nations were originally created by great lawgivers, men like Solon or Lycurgus, who created their constitutions, and thus, that the “spirit of the laws” shaped what kind of people their inhabitants were ultimately to become. John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were raised on such ideas. It seems unlikely that there’s anywhere this really happened. But here in the United States, they tried to put theory into practice; and so we still insist that “democracy” was something given us by great lawgivers, that we are “a nation of laws and not of men,” and that this institutional structure has been the basis of our democratic spirit, and our rights and freedoms, ever since.

But there’s a basic problem here. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Books, Congress, Government

A calendar of human history

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TomDispatch seems to deliver good stuff daily. Today’s post:

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: First, a confession. Whenever I read a new Eduardo Galeano book, I drive my wife crazy. I can’t help myself. I wander out every five minutes, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.” And then I read her some moving, dazzling passage, and disappear, only to reappear five minutes later, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.” The arrival of a new book by one of our great writers is always an event. This is publication day for his latest work, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. It follows Mirrors, his history of humanity in 366 well-chosen episodes.  You might think of his latest volume as a prayer book for our time: a page a day for 365 days focused on what’s most human and beautiful, as well as what’s most grasping and exploitative, on this small, crowded planet of ours. I would be urging all of you to celebrate the event and buy copies under any circumstances. (Confession: once, long ago in another life, I was Galeano’s U.S. editor and when his Memory of Fire trilogy burrowed into our North American landscape and refused to leave, it was among the best moments of my book publishing life.) Today, however, is a double celebration for me, because Galeano, the single most charismatic (and modest) man I’ve ever met, appears at TomDispatch for the first time. I’ve chosen six “days” from his new book, just a taste of the year’s worth of pleasures between its covers. What follows is a little introduction in imitation of his distinctive style. Tom]

As a teenager, you dreamed of being a writer and I imagine you dream of it still.  When young, you were a cartoonist and, ever since, you’ve noted the exaggeration in our world. You were the editor-in-chief of a newspaper and, with the skills you honed, you’ve never stopped editing our history — from our first myths to late last night. You were imprisoned and it left you with an understanding of how we’ve imprisoned this planet and its inhabitants. You went into exile and so grasp the way many in this uprooted world of ours never feel, or are allowed to feel, at home.

You’ve traveled this planet so widely that, as a friend of yours once told you, “If it’s true what they say about the road being made by walking, you must be the commissioner of public works.” And on those travels, you’ve discovered that boundaries between states (and states of mind) are not to be trusted, so as a writer you’ve never felt cowed by categories or hesitated to merge journalism, history, scholarship, and the thrilling feel of fiction, of recreating other worlds so intensely that we seem to inhabit them ourselves.

And none of this would have happened if your youthful dream — to be a soccer player — had come true. Instead, you’ve played “the beautiful game” on the page. You’ve even explained our unjust, unequal world by noting the only place where North and South meet on “an equal footing” — a soccer field at the mouth of the Amazon River that the Equator cuts right through, “so each team plays one half in the South and the other half in the North.”

You’re so well known in Latin America that, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met President Barack Obama, the only gift he chose to give him was a copy your early book Open Veins of Latin America, whose subtitle explains why it remains so relevant 42 years after its publication: “five centuries of the pillage of a continent.”

Your work has been translated into 28 languages, which is undoubtedly part of the reason you mourn the loss of words on this planet. You have a way of finding people. Your first English translator, Cedric Belfrage, was a former British journalist who covered the silent movies in Hollywood for the Beaverbrook press, helped found the left-wing National Guardian in the U.S., was deported in the McCarthy period, and ended up in Mexico. You seem to have known everyone who was anyone, for better and sometimes worse, over the last several thousand years, and many who could have been someone if their circumstances and the powers-that-be hadn’t made that impossible. You’ve taken us with you to visit Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as she first enters a convent in “New Spain,” studies “the things God created” that were forbidden to women, is set upon by the Inquisition, forced to renounce literature, and “chooses silence, or accepts it, and so America loses its best poet.”

You’ve been with Ben Franklin as he sends up a kite and discovers “that heavenly fires and thunders express not the wrath of God but electricity in the atmosphere,” while his sister Jane “resembling him in talent and strength of will,” has a child every two years and toils raising those that live, forgotten by history, but not by you. You’ve been with Joseph Stalin’s son Yakov, after his suicide attempt, when his father standing at his hospital bedside tells him, “You can’t even get that right.”

You somehow take our embattled world and tell its many stories in ways no one else can.  And perhaps because people sense the storyteller in you, they regularly — I’ve seen this myself — come up to you and spill their guts. So one more volume from you, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, a daily prayer book for our moment, is cause for elation.  We should celebrate you for stealing the fire of the gods, like the Cakchiquels, descended from the Mayas, who reputedly hid it “in their mountain caves,” or in your case, in your books which, from Open Veins to Children of the Days, burn ever bright. Tom

The Life and Death of Words, People, and Even Nature 
From Walking Libraries and a God Named “Word” to What Sherlock Holmes Never Said 
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]

Memory on Legs
(January 3)

On the third day of the year 47 BC, the most renowned library of antiquity burned to the ground.

After Roman legions invaded Egypt, during one of the battles waged by Julius Caesar against the brother of Cleopatra, fire devoured most of the thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.

A pair of millennia later, after American legions invaded Iraq, during George W. Bush’s crusade against an imaginary enemy, most of the thousands upon thousands of books in the Library of Baghdad were reduced to ashes.

Throughout the history of humanity, only one refuge kept books safe from war and conflagration: the walking library, an idea that occurred to the grand vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, at the end of the tenth century.

This prudent and tireless traveler kept his library with him. One hundred and seventeen thousand books aboard four hundred camels formed a caravan a mile long. The camels were also the catalogue: they were arranged according to the titles of the books they carried, a flock for each of the thirty-two letters of the Persian alphabet.

Civilizing Mother
(January 23)

In 1901, the day after Queen Victoria breathed her last, a solemn funeral ceremony began in London.

Organizing it was no easy task. A grand farewell was due the queen who gave her name to an epoch and set the standard for female abnegation by wearing black for forty years in memory of her dead husband.

Victoria, symbol of the British Empire, lady and mistress of the nineteenth century, imposed opium on China and virtue on her own country.

In the seat of her empire, works that taught good manners were required reading. Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, published in 1863, established some of the social commandments of the times: one must avoid, for example, the intolerable proximity of male and female authors on library shelves.

Books could only stand together if the authors were married, such as in the case of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The World Shrinks
(February 21)

Today is International Mother Language Day.

Every two weeks, a language dies.

The world is diminished when it loses its human sayings, just as when it loses its diversity of plants and beasts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Books

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