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

Archive for July 23rd, 2013

Worth reading simply for the clarity of the explanation

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Plus it’s important to know if you want to understand the US and how it works.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Chris Hedges: “We have shifted, I think, from a democratic state to… corporate totalitarianism.”

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Juan Colege points out an excellent interview of Chris Hedges on the Real News Network:\\

Transcript here.


Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Business, Government

North Carolina On Cusp Of Passing Worst Voter Suppression Bill In The Nation

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I guess gutting the Voting Rights act worked, at least from the point of view of the GOP, which is unable to win elections if everyone votes—they have to rely on keeping Democrats from voting, and to the GOP mind, this seems perfectly reasonable and ethical. Scott Keyes reports in ThinkProgress:

Voting in North Carolina may soon change, much in the same way a wrecking ball changes a building.

The highly-conservative North Carolina legislature just released a new voter suppression bill that would enact not just voter ID, but a host of other new initiatives designed to make it more difficult to vote. A significant roadblock to the legislation was removed last month when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states with a history of racial discrimination like North Carolina to enact new voter suppression laws.

The Senate will consider substituted language for HB 589 on Tuesday afternoon. Among the dozens of changes, these are the most onerous for North Carolina voters:

  • Implementing a strict voter ID requirement that bars citizens who don’t have a proper photo ID from casting a ballot.
  • Eliminating same-day voter registration, which allowed residents to register at the polls.
  • Cutting early voting by a full week.
  • Increasing the influence of money in elections by raising the maximum campaign contribution to $5,000 and increasing the limit every two years.
  • Making it easier for voter suppression groups like True The Vote to challenge any voterwho they think may be ineligible by requiring that challengers simply be registered in the same county, rather than precinct, of those they challenge.
  • Vastly increasing the number of “poll observers” and increasing what they’re permitted to do. In 2012, ThinkProgress caught the Romney campaign training such poll observers using highly misleading information.
  • Only permitting citizens to vote in their specific precinct, rather than casting a ballot in any nearby ward or election district. This can lead to widespread confusion, particularly in urban areas where many precincts can often be housed in the same building.
  • Barring young adults from pre-registering as 16- and 17-year-olds, which is permitted by current law, and repealing a state directive that high schools conduct voter registration drives in order to boost turnout among young voters.
  • Prohibiting paid voter registration drives, which tend to register poor and minority citizens.
  • Dismantling three state public financing programs, including the landmark program that funded judicial elections.
  • Weakening disclosure requirements for outside spending groups.
  • Preventing counties from extending polling hours in the event of long lines or other extraordinary circumstances and making it more difficult for them to accommodate elderly or disabled voters with satellite polling sites at nursing homes, for instance.

Each of these changes, on their own, would be a significant step away from increasing voting rights. Taken together, this is the voter suppression magnum opus. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails

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NSA really does lie all the time, doesn’t it? Do you believe that they lack the ability to search their emails? Neither do I. Justin Elliott reports for ProPublica:

The NSA is a “supercomputing powerhouse” with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees’ email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired afriendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts.

A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search emails only “person by person,” rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.

I reached out to the NSA press office seeking more information but got no response.

It’s actually common for large corporations to do bulk searches of their employees email as part of internalinvestigations or legal discovery.

“It’s just baffling,” says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request.”

Federal agencies’ public records offices are often underfunded, according to Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at University of Maryland and a longtime observer of FOIA issues.

But, Daglish says, “If anybody is going to have the money to engage in evaluation of digital information, it’s the NSA for heaven’s sake.”

Really, this incessant lying by NSA makes me totally not trust them. If their statement is true, they are utterly incompetent.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the madder I get. It’s such a moronic lie. The NSA is the ultimate in data-base/network snooping, and can read this as I type it, and they say they cannot search their emails? That shows utter contempt for the public, because it is so overtly a stupid lie that they meant for us to know that they are lying—and we the public can’t do a thing about it, nyah, nyah, nyah. This is what it’s come to.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 10:54 am

Esperanto interlude

with 4 comments

On Wicked_Edge, someone asked the question, “Is it ‘shaving soap’ or ‘shave soap’?” I responded:

I use “shaving soap” and “shaving cream.” “Shave soap” sounds sort of odd to me and drifts toward soap shavings. The idea is the soap/cream is for shaving. Of course, we do say bath soap rather than bathing soap, so we see again why Esperanto is superior to English (Esperanto being regular). 🙂

mr_tenugul commented:

I don’t see why Esperanto is superior. What are the words for bath soap and shaving soap in Esperanto? Is it really regular in lexeme composition? (BTW, if Esperanto is regular in lexeme composition, that means it has no idioms.) Anyway, counter-evidence against the superiority of Esperanto is that it has no or very few native speakers (less than 1000 perhaps. Any native Esperanto speakers would have to be bilingual children of Esperantists.) and a small speech community limited only to enthusiasts whereas English has, at my conservative guess, at least several hundred million native speakers and several billion native and non-native speakers and is currently the dominant language in international business and academia. Therefore learning English has far greater utility than learning Esperanto. Admittedly English’s spelling system sucks though, but it could be worse.

A fair question, but since the answer is lengthy and not shaving-related, I thought I’d post it here and respond on Wicked_Edge with a link.

Esperanto is not superior to English (or to French, German, Russian, or Mandarin) absolutely, but it is superior as a second language—that is, as an easily learned, politically neutral common second language. Of course, we could use an evolved language as a common second language—indeed, Latin and French were long used as “interlanguages,” the language to communicate among speakers with different native languages, somewhat as English is used today to some degree. But all three of these are difficult to learn, and none are politically neutral.

Would you be willing to accept that French should be learned as a common second language? German? Mandarin? English? Well, yes, probably English: you speak it already. But consider that native speakers of the other languages would equally prefer their own language (and would probably resent the imposition of English on them as much as you would resent the imposition of Mandarin on you—even though, according to the criterion of basing interlanguage choice on number of speakers, Mandarin would clearly carry the day: many more in the world speak Mandarin than speak English. Indeed, there are more speakers of Spanish than of English. Here’s a chart:

Language % of World Population
Mandarin 12.44%
Spanish 4.85%
English 4.83%
Arabic 3.25%
Hindi 2.68%
Bengali 2.66%
Portuguese 2.62%
Russian 2.12%
Japanese 1.80%
German 1.33%
Javanese 1.25%
Others 61.17%


But all of the evolved languages are riddled with irregularities and exceptions, and all require learning a large vocabulary. In addition, most of them have a large number of vowel sounds, some of which are quite close to each other. I’m from southern Oklahoma, and we cannot hear (or pronounce, except by training and conscious thought) the difference between “pen” and “pin.” Indeed, I am told I pronounce “penny” as “pinny.”

So Esperanto is superior as an interlanguage first because it is easy to learn. It has only 5 vowel sounds and they are quite distinct—not close to each other at all. It has no irregular verbs. Nouns all end in -o and the plural is always -oj (pronounced like the “oy” in “boy”). (English often forms the plural by adding “s,” but sometimes  “es” is required, or “a” (“medium” has the plural “media”), and sometimes a different word is used: mouse, mice; ox, oxen; man, men. Lots of exceptions. \

Esperanto is also spelled phonetically, another advantage over English. Spanish has this benefit, on the whole, but then Esperanto really shines in the regularity of the grammar. Besides the regularity of plurals, already noted, Esperanto has no irregular verbs. That is an enormous benefit for a student who may not be linguistically gifted: think of an athlete learning a common second language to talk with others at the Olympics, for example, or those whose focus is business: many have little time to devote to language learning.

Another thing that makes Esperanto easy to learn is that Esperanto uses a system of affixes (prefixes and suffixes) to derive a variety of words from a single root. This greatly simplifies (and eases) the acquisition of vocabulary, which in evolved languages is a challenge. I have a copy of Teach Yourself Esperanto-English Dictionary, which actually goes both directions. The English-to-Esperanto section is 254 pages, the Esperanto-to-English section is but 119 pages.

Having to learn fewer words is an enormous benefit for the student. “Lac-” is a root meaning “tired, weary.” So we get: ‘

laca – adjective, “tired”
lace – adverb, “tiredly”
laco – noun, “weariness”
lacigi – transitive verb, “to tire”, “to cause to be tired”
laciĝi – instransitive verb, “to become tired

A 5th grade class in California, which experimented with offering Esperanto in some elementary schools, was moving ahead quickly, and the teacher asked, in Esperanto, whether she was going too fast. One of the students responded, “Ne, vi ne estas lacigemulino.”

The first part of the sentence:

Ne – no, not
vi – second person, nominative case
estas – am/is/are

Let me point out that estas is used for all persons, singular and plural. The complete conjugation of the verb esti in the present active indicative:

mi estas; vi estas; li, ŝi, ĝi estas; ni estas; vi estas; ili estas

Compare with English: I am; you are; he, she, it is; we are; you are; they are. English has three forms of the verb just in the present indicative: “am,” “are,” and “is.”

And then we get the nonce word “lacigemulino,” which after learning some Esperanto easily rolls off the tongue:

lac- root meaning “tired,” “weary”
-ig- affix meaning “to cause to be”
-em- affix meaning “having a tendency toward”
-ul- affix meaning a person, an individual
-in- affix denoting feminine
-o affix denoting a noun

So: “No, you are not a woman who has a tendency to cause (people) to be tired.”

Thus by learning relatively few roots, along with the affixes (which are limited in number—about as many as prepositions), provides the user with a very large vocabulary, quickly and relatively easily—especially compared to evolved languages. And the ending -ulino quickly becomes immediately understood, requiring no analysis, as does the suffix -ig-.

So, given the feebleness of “number of native speakers” as a criterion, and the importance of ease of learning, I would say Esperanto is a superior second language.

In addition, of course, there’s the political issue of picking a particular national language as a common second language. It does, of course, convey an enormous advantage to native speakers of the language, but such a choice also carries enormous political freight—cf. Quebec.

As an aside: because Esperanto is so easily learned, a number of experiments have been done to use Esperanto as the first foreign language learned: because it’s easy and regular, students can quickly get up to speed and have a positive experience in foreign-language learning, and in the process learn important things about using a non-native language.

For example, you learn that you simply have to memorize the prepositions—no way around it. (And in Esperanto, you have to learn the affixes, but it’s much like learning the prepositions.)

In addition, with one’s first foreign language, one learns not to get stuck in speaking because s/he doesn’t know some particular word—the skill of rephrasing the thought to fit one’s vocabulary is important. Replicated experiments have shown that students who study one year of Esperanto followed by two years of German (with Esperanto continued as the language used in, e.g., geography class) learn more German and are more fluent in speaking it than students who study three years of German.

So that’s why I think Esperanto is superior to English as an interlanguage. The conjecture that Esperanto lacks idioms is simply false. One counterexample will serve: krokodil- is the root meaning “crocodile,” and the verb form, krokodili (“to crocodile”) is an idiom meaning to fall back into speaking one’s native tongue. If you’re learning Esperanto, ne krokodilu. (The ending -u signifies the imperative mood—and now you know the Esperanto imperative for all verbs, without exception: root + -u.)

So far as native Esperanto speakers: There are some, but that is irrelevant. The language was intended and designed to be a second language—a common second language. The fact that there are no nations for which Esperanto is a native language is a feature, not a bug. As noted above, national languages carry political freight—and are hard to learn.

Now, as the the specific question regarding shaving soap and bath soap. Sop- is the Esperanto root for “soap,” so sopo (the noun form) means “soap.” The root for “bathe” is ‘ban-” (transitive). So bana sopo = bath soap. The word for “shave” is “raz-” (transitive). So: raza sopo = shave soap or shaving soap.

For more information see the Esperanto links toward the bottom of the page of Useful Posts. In particular, this post has some useful information.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 10:34 am

Posted in Esperanto

A crystal that expands under pressure

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Weird, right? No, Wired:

A new translucent crystal, made from gold, zinc, and cyanide, does something very few materials do: Instead of shrinking under pressure, it expands.

Most ordinary materials contract when pressure is applied equally from all directions. The new crystal’s counterintuitive response to squeezing is the result of a spring-like arrangement of gold atoms nestled within its hexagonal structure. As the springs compress, the crystal grows longer, increasing its length by as much as 10 percent – a change that’s actually visible when scientists put a chunk of the material under a microscope. . .

Continue reading. More at the link, including a diagram of the crystal’s structure.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 9:04 am

Posted in Science

A clear explanation of the complementary roles of Nate Silver and journalists

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Paul Waldman has an excellent review of the issues of Nate Silver vis-a-vis the NY Times Old Guard. The punch line:

. . . The better way for them to look at what they do and what someone like Nate does would be, to use the phrase Stephen Jay Gould coined when speaking of religion and science, “non-overlapping magisteria.” They each have a legitimate and useful place in our search for understanding, but they’re asking fundamentally different questions. Political journalism should give us a deep reading of our politics: what motivates the people involved, how they go about trying to persuade us, what’s true and false in their appeals, where exactly they want to take the country and what it would take them to accomplish it—in short, all of those interesting things that make up the functioning of our democratic processes. Quantitative analysts like Silver, on the other hand, ask much narrower questions, like “What are the chances the Republican candidate will win?” Those questions are interesting to many of us as well, but they aren’t questions journalists should be trying to answer. If the only thing you ever read on politics was what Nate Silver writes, you’d have a poor understanding of politics as a whole, even if you had a good idea of how elections were going to turn out. I’m sure he’d be the first to agree.

The trouble is, many political reporters have come over the decades to think that “Who’s going to win?” is in fact the question they should be asking; indeed, many of them think it’s the only question they should be asking. So it’s no wonder that when people like Silver come along and turn out to be able to answer it using an entirely different set of tools than those the journalists have spent their careers mastering, some react like petulant children. The answer for them, of course, is to focus on what they do well, and do it even better. Give us the full picture of our politics in all its fascinating complexity. And leave the predictions to somebody else.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 9:01 am

Posted in Media, Politics

An utter failure of the British educational system

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It’s a rather specific failure, but (as we learned in 9th-grade biology), the fact that the new Royal Baby is male has absolutely nothing to do with Kate Middleton, and congratulating her on bearing a son is stupid on two counts: First, the baby’s sex is determined by the father and not by the mother—and really, I thought everyone knew this—and second, daughters are perfectly fine human beings, every bit as good as sons—except, apparently, in Britain, where the subjects of Her Majesty the Queen must have been gnashing their teeth for years at the humiliation of having a woman on the throne instead of a man. So every “Huzza!” for the fact that the baby is a boy is pretty much a slap across the face of the Queen, doomed to being of the second-choice sex.

But maybe I don’t get it. Maybe in the UK sex is determined by the mother, not the father. But the “son first” thing is pretty offensive, to my mind. “Thank God it wasn’t a girl!” Do we really want to go there?

If we are to congratulate Kate on having a boy, then I want to be congratulated, too: I had as much to do with the sex of the child as she did.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Perfect shave with the comfortable, efficient DLC Weber

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SOTD 23 July 2013

Another efficient and also comfortable razor: the Weber DLC—and indeed all the Weber family. But first, the lather: Wee Scot easily worked up a fine lather from my tin of Klar Seifen shaving soap. Indeed, the brush so quickly loaded that I had to add more water as I lathered my face to reach the right balance. It was a very nice and thick lather, that clung to the razor’s head like wet snow or thick frosting.

Three passes, a good splash of Klar Seifen aftershave, and I’m pleased to have a BBS. Perhaps the Personna Lab Blue blade also helped.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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