Later On

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

Archive for May 14th, 2013

Two movies, one plot

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I just watched Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (in the UK, The Ghost) with Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan (and the always wonderful Olivia Williams). I had just watched Pulp, with Michael Caine, and I was surprised to find that The Ghost Writer was the same movie, though without the comedy (except for a good line at the beginning by the writer’s agent). Strange: no mention is made in IMDB or Netflix that The Ghost Writer is a remake—but it is.

I enjoyed both movies. FWIW, Pulp is on Cockeyed Caravan’s list of underappreciated movies. Here’s their review, and at the right you’ll see their list, which begins:

UNDERRATED MOVIES

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Why less driving?

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This article has some interesting ideas about why Americans are driving less (and fewer are getting driver’s licenses).

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Daily life

No Benefit in Sharply Restricting Salt, Panel Finds

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Good news for many, no change for me: I generally use very little salt—I add no salt to most of my cooked dishes, for example—but OTOH never tried for the (completely unrealistic) 1500mg/day figure. I just tried to use little salt, and since I very seldom eat out or eat prepared foods, I get little salt.

Not that it makes any difference, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 12:28 pm

The Deepening Shame of Guantanamo

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Ray McGovern writes at ConsortiumNews.com:

There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.

One exception to the congressional cowardice is Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, who sponsored a highly instructive panel discussion on the prison at Guantanamo last Friday. Why simply a “briefing,” rather than a formal House hearing? Simple. Not one of the majority Republicans who currently chair committees in the House and have the power to call hearings wants Americans to hear the details of this blight on the nation’s conscience.

To be completely fair, the reigning reluctance seems, actually, to be a bipartisan affair. Moran is one of the few Democrats possessed of a conscience and enough moral courage to let the American people know what is being done in their name. For other lawmakers, it is a mite too risky.Folksy folks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee which is supposed to exercise oversight of the lethal operations carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, make no bones about the dilemma they prefer to duck when it comes to letting detainees die at Guantanamo or letting the president blow up suspected terrorists via drone strikes.

Here’s Graham quoted in Esquire magazine last summer on why Congress has engaged in so little oversight of the lethal drone program: “Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the president should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that’s why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area.” The same thinking applies to showing any mercy for the people held at Guantanamo.

It seems to me that Guantanamo is a three-fold scandal: (1) the abomination of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment given those prisoners; (2) the reality that most of those remaining were cleared for release more than three years ago; and (3) the fact that Moran’s was the very first congressionally sponsored public “briefing” of its kind – more than 11 years late.

While there has been endless attention paid to how the Benghazi talking points were drafted for use on Sunday talk shows last September, the American people have been spared high-profile testimony about how 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantanamo were cleared for release more than three years ago following a year-long investigation of their cases by an interagency task force of officials at the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security.

How might Americans feel if they knew that most of these 86 are now on a prolonged hunger strike and that many are being force-fed against their will, a notoriously painful, degrading and even illegal practice. Two weeks ago, 40 additional military medical personnel were sent to Guantanamo to assist with the force-feedings.

The American Medical Association has condemned such force-feedings as a violation of “core ethical values of the medical profession.” The United Nations has condemned the practice as torture and a breach of international law.

Concerned Citizens

Friday’s unusual “briefing” sprang from an initiative by a group of concerned citizens mostly from Moran’s district in northern Virginia. On April 30, Kristine Huskey led a small group of us to meet with Moran, one of the very few members of Congress to speak out against the obscenity called Guantanamo. We put our shoulders to the wheel (and enlisted the willing shoulders of many other pro-justice people) and brought about the briefing in nine days.

C-Span filmed the entire hour and a half. You will not be at all bored if you tune in. And that goes in spades if the lack of interest by the corporate media has left you wondering how it came about that America is fast losing its soul. You can find the video under the title, “Panel Holds Discussion on Guantanamo Detainees,” May 10, 10:00-11:30 in Rayburn B-354. Participants included: . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 12:08 pm

“A Lake of Blood and Destruction” – The Voices We Never Hear From America’s Wars

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A powerful piece on Alternet by Fred Branfman:

Voices From The Plain Of Jars: Life Under An Air War [3], “arguably the most important single book to emerge from the Vietnam war” according to historian Alfred McCoy, has just been reissued [4] by University of Wisconsin press. The book is the only one of 30,000 Vietnam-era books written by Indochinese villagers, who comprised most of the population, suffered most, and were heard from least. But though unique, these voices also speak today for the countless unseen civilian victims of U.S. war-making in the Muslim World and beyond, and graphically describe the human consequences of U.S. Executive Secret war-making executed by Henry Kissinger [5] from 1969 until 1975, and the dominant mode of U.S. warfare today.

Below please find excerpts from writings by Lao villagers from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos, who were bombed for 5 years from 1964 to 1969. The bombing,  which eradicated the 700 year old civilization and turned the survivors into penniless refugees, was quadrupled after a November 1968 U.S. bombing halt over North Vietnam. It leveled every village and burned, buried alive, maimed and drove underground tens of thousands of civilians, where they lived like animals until evacuated to refugee camps in the capital city of Vientiane where they wrote this material.

When asked to explain the U.S. bombing escalation, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.” (1)

N.Y. Times columnist Anthony Lewis has written, “the most appalling episode of lawless cruelty in American history (is) the bombing of Laos (and is) described without rancor—almost unbearably so—in a small book that will go down as a classic. It is “Voices From the Plain of Jars,” … in which the villagers of Laos themselves describe what the bombers did to their civilization. No American should be able to read that book without weeping at his country’s arrogance.” (2)

The following are excerpts from the book The Plain of Jars: Life Under An Air War [3]. This material was  collected by Fred Branfman, who lived in Laos from 1967-71, and adds an Afterword to the villagers’ writings below.  (Harper & Row, 1972).

1. “A Life Whose Only Value Was Death,” by a Thirty-three-year-old Woman

A life whose only value was death. I saw this in the village of my birth, as every day and every night the planes came to drop bombs on us. We lived in holes to protect our lives. There were bombs of many kinds, as in this picture I have drawn. It is not beautiful but it shows the shooting and death from the planes, and the destruction of the bombs. This kind of bomb would explode in the air and was much more dangerous than other ones. I saw my cousin die in the field of death. My heart was most disturbed and my voice called out loudly as I ran to the houses. Thus, I saw life and death for the people on account of the war of many airplanes in the region of Xieng Khouang. Until there were no houses at all. And the cows and buffalo were dead. Until everything was leveled and you could see only the red, red ground. I think of this time and still I am afraid.

2. “Have Pity On The Victims Of The War!” by a thirty-year-old woman

There was danger as the war came closer, like the sound of bombs or shells or the airplanes which constantly made a terrible noise in the sky and led me to be terribly, terribly afraid of dying. At that time, our lives became like those of animals desperately trying to escape their hunters. Our lives were confided to the Lord Buddha. No matter when, all we did was to pray to the Lord to save our lives. We didn’t know how long we would stay alive. When looking at the faces of my children who were losing the so very precious happiness of childhood, as each and every day we would seek escape somewhere in the forest, I would grow in creasingly miserable because of the war and hate it more and more.

Why then don’t we people love one another? Why don’t we live together in equality? Why don’t we build happiness and progress together? To kill one another like this! Human beings whose parents brought them into the world and carefully raised them with overflowing love despite so many difficulties, these human beings would die from a single blast as explosions burst, lying still without moving again at all. And who then thinks of the blood, flesh, sweat, and strength of their parents, and who will have charity and pity for them? And then what about the splitting up of families to different parts of the country which was caused by war? Who will pity them? In reality, whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffer. And as for the others, do they know all the unimaginable things happening in this war? Do they? Or is it rather that this war is something which benefits us and thus need not be stopped?

3. “The holes! The holes!” by a twenty-six-year-old nurse

The holes! The holes! During that time we needed holes to save our lives. We who were young took our sweat and our strength, which should have been spent raising food in the ricefields and forests to sustain our lives, and squandered it digging holes to protect ourselves. For many days and nights, having enough food to survive on became a gigantic problem which pressed upon our hearts. The fields, paddy and seedbeds all became bomb craters. And many of our belongings were also lost from the war. All that remained for our people were sad faces, and tired and weak hearts, disgusted with hating the war, which was like a large stone weighing upon us. We could not understand or imagine why something like this could happen. When the bombing would diminish we would seize the occa sion to come out and rebuild our village, repair our homes, and continue farming to sustain our lives, so as to continue on as human beings.

The past has melted away. Our lives have passed like a dream. There is nothing which can make up for the sorrow. The past is finished. Goodbye to old things. May the life of a former nurse from Xieng Khouang pass away without returning again.st is finished. Goodbye to old things. May the life of a former nurse from Xieng Khouang pass away without returning again.

4. “A Lake of Blood and Destruction,”  by a thirty-seven year old man  . . .

Continue reading. The US fights its wars in distant lands and the American public does not know what their country is doing, especially since the military has grown increasingly aggressive about hiding information from the public, with the cooperation of the Executive Branch and with members of Congress abandoning their oversight role in favor of seeking individual riches (from lobbyists, insider information, and other unethical and often illegal practices).

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 12:02 pm

Some Right-Wing canards I encountered this morning

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I have a high-school friend who still lives in Oklahoma, and we exchange emails from time to time. Recently he warned me about the massive amounts of ammo being purchased by Obama and “his cronies” in order to make ammo unavailable to civilians (the better to install a military dictatorship on the American public).  Some of this comes from Sen. James Inhofe (R- OK), who has beat the drums strongly on the ammo purchase. A little Googling and I found this quite sane and reasonable debunking of that idea from (of all sources) the National Rifle Association.

He also was concerned about the massive “civilian national security force” that Obama had said he would create (presumably to use all that ammo). A quick trip to FactCheck.org showed how far off the mark is that reading of the idea Obama proposed.

What’s surprising to me is how much these ideas get repeated when it’s so quick and easy to find that they are completely erroneous.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 11:47 am

Posted in GOP

Associated Press discovers the importance of whose ox is gored

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The AP is beside itself with indignation that the DoJ got a bunch of their phone records—from a perfectly legal procedure using the Patriot Act. Oddly, they never had a problem with this sort of thing when it was happening to the public. I recall Jane Harman, when she was on the House Intelligence Committee, being furious that the Patriot Act was used to eavesdrop on her, although she had voted in favor the act—presuming, I imagine, that it would only be used on the common people, not on luminaries such as herself. I suppose some of the anger was because she was caught committing a crime.

Kevin Drum has a very good comment on this at Mother Jones:

The government has been obtaining phone records like this for over a decade now, and it’s been keeping their requests secret that entire time. Until now, the press has showed only sporadic interest in this. But not anymore. I expect media interest in terror-related pen register warrants to show a healthy spike this week.

That could be a good thing. It’s just too bad that it took monitoring of journalists to get journalists fired up about this.

Timothy also has a good column in the Washington Post:

On Monday the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.” But here’s what’s really scary: The Justice Department’s actions are likely perfectly legal.

U.S. law allows the government to engage in this type of surveillance—on media organizations or anyone else—without meaningful judicial oversight.The key here is a legal principle known as the “third party doctrine,” which says that users don’t have Fourth Amendment rights protecting information they voluntarily turn over to someone else. Courts have said that when you dial a phone number, you are voluntarily providing information to your phone company, which is then free to share it with the government.

This all dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Police had asked the phone company for information about the numbers dialed from a robbery suspect’s phone. The suspect objected, pointing to a famous 1967 ruling holding that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to record the audio of a phone call. He argued that the same principle ought to apply when the government records information about the numbers a suspect dials.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument. “We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the court. He pointed out that telephone customers are used to seeing numbers they’ve dialed on their monthly telephone bill.

Blackmun’s reasoning may have turned on the fact that automatic dialing was a relatively new development in 1979. Previously, telephone users had to tell a human operator which number they wished to reach, making it plausible to regard the phone company as an active participant in the phone-dialing process, but a mere passive conduit in transmitting the phone call itself.

Technological progress has rendered this distinction increasingly dubious. For example, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 11:29 am

Pat Robertson: “Beware of me!”

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Not is so many words, of course. He specifically advises that we avoid false prophets. Brian Tashman reports at Right-Wing Watch:

On today’s episode of the 700 Club, Pat Robertson urged viewers to avoid false prophets and televangelists caught up in scandal. “By your fruits you shall know them, what’s their track record?” Robertson told cohost Terry Meeuwsen, “You can dominate somebody that way: I’ve heard from the Lord, I have a message for you, do this.”

Funny he should mention this, because just today we stumbled across an interview between Pat Robertson and televangelist Benny Hinn the week before the presidential election where Robertson bluntly informed Hinn that “the Lord told me” that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama.

Not only did God inform Robertson that “Romney will win” but that he will be a two-term president who presides over a huge economic boom.

Robertson even told Romney to save him a ticket for the inauguration: “I told Mitt a long time ago, I called him and said listen, I’ve been in prayer and number one you’re going to win the nomination and number two you’re going to win the general election, he said ‘well what can I do for you,’ I said give me a seat on the platform during your inauguration, give me a ticket to your inauguration.”

“The Lord said he’s going to have a second term, I told him there will be to be trillions of dollars coming into the economy when you’re elected,” Robertson continued, “the stock market ought to boom, everything ought to boom.”

This all deeply reassured Hinn who said that Robertson was conveying “God’s voice.”

Watch:

It’s nice as a paradox: a false prophet telling us to avoid false prophets—like “This sentence is false.” Also interesting is the discovery that God will lie to you.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Religion

More evidence of the severely warped NYPD culture

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Graham Kates reports at The Crime Report:

“It took all of two minutes to print out” sector-by-sector crime statistics the first time Bronx, NY journalist Alex Kratz asked Deputy Inspector James Alles of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for an in-depth readout of his precinct’s crime.

Kratz’s non-profit bi-weekly newspaper, theNorwood News, used the information in February 2008 to publish maps and a series of stories that illustrated crime trends in specific neighborhoods within the paper’s coverage area—the north Bronx’s 52nd Precinct.

Reader response in the roughly 130,000-person precinct was overwhelmingly positive.

Until that point, few locals had seen crime statistics beyond the NYPD’s weekly COMPSTAT reports, which track precinct-wide major crime trends.

“Although I feel safe in my neighborhood, evidently our autos are targets,” one reader commented on the paper’s website.

“Is it possible to receive these reports on a sector basis each month?”

As the free broadsheet hit the streets with the new data, two opposing forces were set in motion: one inside the paper’s newsroom and the other in the NYPD.

Deputy Inspector Alles, the paper would soon find out, was being told by his superiors never to release sector statistics again.

Meanwhile in Norwood, a working-class predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, the editors were realizing just how valuable the information was.

“Every (precinct) is a city-sized place,” said Jordan Moss, founder and then Editor-in-Chief of the Norwood News.

“So hearing that crime is up or down in the precinct does not necessarily tell you about crime in your neighborhood.”

Kratz returned to Alles’ office about six months later to request sector stats again.

This time the answer was “No.”

Alles, who retired in late 2009, told Kratz that from then on, if he wanted sector statistics he needed to file an official Freedom of Information request with the NYPD.

The first time Kratz filed such a request, he waited several months to receive the statistics.

They came the day after the Norwood News published an editorial calling the delay “unacceptable.”

The second request, filed in June 2010, took over two years to fulfill.

It became a fight for transparency that would become the newspaper’s calling card and eventually inspire legislation that will completely transform the way the NYPD reports crime to New Yorkers.

Intro 984

On April 25, the New York City Council voted to pass “Intro 984,” which requires the city to maintain an interactive online map that will display monthly, yearly, and year-to-date totals for each class of crime that is reported to the NYPD—searchable by address, zip code and NYPD patrol precinct.

The bill’s two-year-long journey to passage began with an encounter between Kratz and Greg Faulkner, chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Fernando Cabrera.

When it became clear he was going to have a long wait, Kratz appealed to the local community board—a neighborhood body that makes discretionary allocations and recommendations to the mayor—for support.

The Community Board requested the stats and shared them with Kratz. But after the paper published an article based on them, even the board was cut off.

Kratz kept going to the board meetings, hoping to rally support for the paper’s cause.

Faulkner was at one of the meetings. He was intrigued.

Councilman Cabrera had recently decided to devote nearly $1 million in discretionary funding for new surveillance cameras in his district. Faulkner remembers being told that even though the councilman was providing the funding, he’d get no say in where the cameras would be put.

The reason? Sector stats were a key factor in deciding camera location and only the police had them.

“I got the sense that this was some sort of big secret, and it got me thinking, it makes sense that we should know where the crime is,” Faulkner said during a recent phone interview with The Crime Report.

“So I spoke to the councilman and he said if we can’t get it done administratively, let’s do it legislatively.”

The original proposal called for quarterly reports of sector statistics to be released to local community boards. It never made it out of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

For more than a year, the committee debated with Cabrera about whether or not the NYPD had the resources to file that many reports.

As days turned into months, Cabrera tried to move the legislation forward while Kratz regularly checked up on his Freedom of Information requests.

What had once taken “all of two minutes,” according to Kratz, seemed lost in a bureaucratic black hole.

The first Freedom of Information request had been filled the day after the Norwood News slammed the NYPD in an editorial, but this time around, no amount of opining got the paper the response it wanted.

That’s when the paper turned to its popular and now-defunct Bronx News Network blog.

From the Norwood News’ second floor office in a small stone cottage known as The Keeper’s House, Moss and Kratz ran the News, two local sister papers (also both now-defunct) and the blog, which often served as a sounding board for the borough’s political movers and shakers.

Starting the Countdown

“It had been about a year and they just weren’t responding at all,” Kratz said. “That’s when we started the clock.”

Attached to an editorial on the blog, Kratz and Moss posted a simple counter, marking each second, minute, hour and day since he submitted his request to the NYPD.

“We’ve waited long enough,” the editors wrote at 350 days.

In the following months, the counting clock garnered the paper a lot of attention from other media outlets.

NBC filed a two minute segment on the sector stat fight; another Bronx newspaper, The Riverdale Press issued aneditorial in support of the Newsthe Village Voice headlined a piece: “Hey Ray Kelly, NYPD Commish, Norwood News Wants to Know Why You Won’t Release Crime Stats.”

But the attention seemed to harden the NYPD. Even NBC was given a boilerplate response when it asked why the sector stats couldn’t be released. . .

Continue reading. The NYPD has turned on the public, as is obvious from their actions and their responses to requests for information—information that should be routinely provided to the public.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 10:57 am

Posted in Government, Law, Media

More on solitary confinement as torture

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It turns out that enforced solitude can affect even physical health. Judith Shulevitch writes in The New Republic:

Sometime in the late ’50s, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann sat down to write an essay about a subject that had been mostly overlooked by other psychoanalysts up to that point. Even Freud had only touched on it in passing. She was not sure, she wrote, “what inner forces” made her struggle with the problem of loneliness, though she had a notion. It might have been the young female catatonic patient who began to communicate only when Fromm-Reichmann asked her how lonely she was. “She raised her hand with her thumb lifted, the other four fingers bent toward her palm,” Fromm-Reichmann wrote. The thumb stood alone, “isolated from the four hidden fingers.” Fromm-Reichmann responded gently, “That lonely?” And at that, the woman’s “facial expression loosened up as though in great relief and gratitude, and her fingers opened.”

Fromm-Reichmann would later become world-famous as the dumpy little therapist mistaken for a housekeeper by a new patient, a severely disturbed schizophrenic girl named Joanne Greenberg. Fromm-Reichmann cured Greenberg, who had been deemed incurable. Greenberg left the hospital, went to college, became a writer, and immortalized her beloved analyst as “Dr. Fried” in the best-selling autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (later also a movie and a pop song). Among analysts, Fromm-Reichmann, who had come to the United States from Germany to escape Hitler, was known for insisting that no patient was too sick to be healed through trust and intimacy. She figured that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world. She once chastised her fellow therapists for withdrawing from emotionally unreachable patients rather than risk being contaminated by them. The uncanny specter of loneliness “touches on our own possibility of loneliness,” she said. “We evade it and feel guilty.”

Her 1959 essay, “On Loneliness,” is considered a founding document in a fast-growing area of scientific research you might call loneliness studies. Over the past half-century, academic psychologists have largely abandoned psychoanalysis and made themselves over as biologists. And as they delve deeper into the workings of cells and nerves, they are confirming that loneliness is as monstrous as Fromm-Reichmann said it was. It has now been linked with a wide array of bodily ailments as well as the old mental ones.

In a way, these discoveries are as consequential as the germ theory of disease. Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn’t know that germs spread them, we’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven’t been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.The psychological definition of loneliness hasn’t changed much since Fromm-Reichmann laid it out. “Real loneliness,” as she called it, is not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the “shut-upness” and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is “real loneliness” the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It’s not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment—your friend or lover or even spouse— unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. Fromm-Reichmann even distinguished “real loneliness” from mourning, since the well-adjusted eventually get over that, and from depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness but is rarely the cause. Loneliness, she said—and this will surprise no one—is the want of intimacy.

Today’s psychologists accept Fromm-Reichmann’s inventory of all the things that loneliness isn’t and add a wrinkle she would surely have approved of. They insist that loneliness must be seen as an interior, subjective experience, not an external, objective condition. Loneliness “is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness,” writes John Cacioppo, the leading psychologist on the subject. Cacioppo privileges the emotion over the social fact because—remarkably—he’s sure that it’s the feeling that wreaks havoc on the body and brain. Not everyone agrees with him, of course. Another school of thought insists that loneliness is a failure of social networks. The lonely get sicker than the non-lonely, because they don’t have people to take care of them; they don’t have social support. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 10:40 am

The poetry of Bruce Lee

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An interesting post for Bruce Lee fans, with videos of his daughter reading some of his poetry and also “If,” by Rudyard Kipling..

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 10:32 am

Posted in Video

Free to Marry, Free to Work

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E.J. Graff has a thoughtful article in The American Prospect on the importance of gay marriage.

Last month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware. Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply.

And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1994. Even before that, New York state representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch (who would go on to become the mayor of New York City) introduced a version of ENDA in 1974, then called theEquality Act. In 1996, under Bill Clinton, ENDA failed by just a single vote—the very same day that the House passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as being between one man and one woman, and which is currently up for evaluation at the Supreme Court. The congressional debate about “defending” marriage was hateful, replete with references to discredited “scientific” studies about how many hundreds of sex partners an average gay man had and statements about AIDS being God’s punishment for immorality or about gay marriage leading to  legal marriage to your German shepherd (some of us, at the time, wondered what was up with these legislators and their German shepherds). ENDA was tossed in as a way to prove that all that hate wasn’t really hate, just reverence for the institution of marriage.

This hoary old bill was once again put on Congress’s floor at the end of April, buried during a busy news week. Not that anyone would have paid attention even if it had been slow. Perpetual loser bill reintroduced once again—there’s a memorable headline. The difference is that the LGBT advocacy community is nearly united in agreeing that passing ENDA is this year’s overriding goal.

Had ENDA passed in 1996—well, that’s a counterfactual that boggles the mind. There’s a reason that we’ve won civil unions or marriage only in states that havefirst passed statewide nondiscrimination laws. We only win relationship recognition when people know gay people. But too many people are afraid to come out on the job if they might lose that job for being gay. That’s a double whammy: Not only do you have to lie, implicitly, at work, leaving your daily life fraught with anxiety and your income a bit at risk; you also lose your ability to wear down others’ anti-gay prejudice. People change their minds about whether we deserve recognition for our relationships only when they realize that they like us and our partners. Once they realize that the gays they ostensibly hate include Mary Beth in accounting and Jamal in HR, that hatred starts to soften. And once Mary Beth and Jamal know they can keep feeding their families once they’re out, they are more likely to feel comfortable introducing you to their partners at the grocery store or at church, and explaining how much a statewide DOMA would hurt their kids. Had nationwide job protections been in place since 1996, it’s possible to imagine we’d be even farther along with marriage in still more states, as more people realized they cared about their gay colleagues.

If ENDA is so important, why has marriage gotten so far while protection on the job has stalled? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

Kevin Drum interview on the rise of the robot class

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I blogged yesterday an interesting article by Kevin Drum. Here is his interview by Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post Wonkblog:

Dylan Matthews: We’ve had technologies that save labor and increase productivity for years. What makes artificial intelligence different?

Kevin Drum: The difference is that, in the Industrial Revolution, we got big productivity increases from steam engines but there were still people required to run those machines. We had a huge increase in the amount of stuff you could make, but you needed people to design the machines, and make the machines, and use the machines.

With the digital revolution, the difference is that smart machines provide both power and intelligence. You don’t need human beings for anything anymore. You don’t need them for power, or for the intelligence to use the power. It puts everyone out of work eventually. Because smart machines will become as smart as human beings, there simply is not a job that a machine can’t do on its own.

This assumes that there are no human labor tasks that are simply beyond the reach of computers. There are a number of philosophers and computer scientists who might argue that there are some tasks computers just can’t do.

There’s a couple of arguments against the idea that AI is coming soon. One is, as you say, a philosophical argument, which boils down to “However smart machines seem to get, they’ll never have true human intelligence.” I just don’t think that matters. You can call it intelligence or something difference, but that’s semantic. What matters is that they can accomplish the same things humans can.

The second argument is “can we do it?” Moore’s law says computing power will double every 18 months. The question is whether that’s going to continue. There are some good arguments that we’re running up against physical boundaries that will prevent that from happening. But I think it has at least enough life left in it to produce computers that have about the power of the human brain. If you look at software development, that follows Moore’s law as well. If anything, it doubles even faster than hardware development. I think the software is going to catch up rather quickly.

That’s an interesting point, that a lot of the innovation is going to be in the algorithms and techniques used for emulating human intelligence. Are we seeing that kind of innovation?

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Molly, napping

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Molly napping

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 7:11 am

Posted in Daily life

Perfect shave with a Pils

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SOTD 14 May 2013

For some reason—I think I got a few nicks—I fell out of the habit of using my stainless-steel Pils razor. (The gold color it the photo is due, not to lighting, but to my having it gold plated because I liked it so much.)  It has a heavy head with a slightly odd design: the alignment studs are on the (massive) baseplate rather than the cap, so you load the baseplate instead of (as with most razors) the cap. It’s a two-piece razor: the handle is attached to the baseplate with a roller bearing so the handle turns freely while the baseplate remains fixed.

But let’s begin at the beginning. I now understand that “soak” for shaving brushes is a term of art and really means only that you wet the knot thoroughly before you shower and let the wet brush stand beside the sink. It does not (necessarily) mean that the brush knot is submerged in water in a mug or sink. Simply wetting the brush is no problem, so I now “soak” my boar brushes in that way, and today decided to “soak” the horsehair Vie-Long brush. It did indeed make the brush softer—as soft as it is by the end of my usual shave with an unsoaked brush. So I think I’ll be “soaking” the horsehair crowd from now on—i.e., wetting the knot and letting it stand while I shower.

Tabula Rasa is a superb shaving cream, and the lather was fragrant, abundant, and effective. The Pils, with an Astra Superior Platinum blade, did a terrific job. Perhaps my skills have improved—well, no “perhaps” about it: the fact that my morning shave is now leisurely done in such a short time with such a high proportion of BBS results pretty much demonstrates that my skills continue improving over time. So now the Pils is great again, as it was in the beginning. I’ll be using it more often.

A splash of the Bulgari EDT as an aftershave, and I’m ready for the Big Event: getting Megs to vet for an overhaul.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2013 at 7:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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