Later On

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Archive for July 24th, 2013

Henry Rollins: Education is the Cure to “Disaster Capitalism”

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Colin Marshall has a good post on Open Culture that opens with this excellent brief video:

I don’t know Henry Rollins from a bale of hay—I’ve never heard of him—but I like what he says and how he says it. The post:

We’ve already featured former Black Flag frontman and current spoken-word artist Henry Rollins explaining why, to his mind, only education can restore democracy. He also believes it can cure something he calls “disaster capitalism,” and you can hear more from him about it in the Big Think video above. He addresses, in his characteristically straightforward manner, the questions of what exactly ails the American economy, how that ailment might have come about, and how the country can educate itself back to health. We may individually get our educations now, he grants, but “how long will it be until America fiscally turns itself around” to the point of repaying “the risk of the investment on that student loan to get a person through four years of college? Will that person get a job where paying off that loan and getting a house and affording a family, will that be a possibility? In the present America, it doesn’t look like it is.”

Seeing a dire national situation, Rollins recommends doing like China, but not in the way you might assume. He suggests looking “500 years at a time,” much farther up the road than we have of late. “I’d be looking up the road so far my eyes would fall out of my head.” He wants the country to become “like Europe, where they’ll educate your kid until his head explodes,” producing “three doctors per floor of every apartment building” and doing so by making “college tuition either free or really low.” Generally thought of as liberal, Rollins sums this up in a way that might appeal to his ideological opponents: “If you have a country full of whip-crack smart people, you have a country the rest of the world will fear. They will not invade a country of educated people because we are so smart we’ll build a laser that will burn you, the enemy, in your sleep before you can even mobilize your air force to kill us. We will kill you so fast because we are so smart and we will have foreign policy that will not piss you off to the point to where you have to attack us.”

Related Content:

Henry Rollins Pitches Education as the Key to Restoring Democracy

Henry Rollins Tells Young People to Avoid Resentment and to Pursue Success with a “Monastic Obsession”

Henry Rollins Remembers the Life-Changing Decision That Brought Him From Häagen-Dazs to Black Flag

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 5:46 pm

Answers to addiction sought in the aquarium

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Interesting article at The Fix by Andy Bodie:

How much do we really know about addiction? The brutal truth is, not a lot. Sure, we’ve come a long way since the days when“treatment” involved the drunkard’s cloak or frying brains, but there are still some fairly hefty gaps in our knowledge. How is it that two people can use the same drug, but only one of them becomes addicted? Why do some people find quitting easier than others? And why does a cure for one person have no effect on the next?

It’s heartening to know, then, that in laboratories around the world, geneticists, psychologists, biologists and neuroscientists are carrying out all sorts of weird and wonderful experiments in the name of addiction research.

What’s my stake in this? Well, I’m no scientist, but I am deeply passionate about the subject. I’ve spent four years reading up on evolutionary psychology for my blog, Womanology, which is an attempt to fathom the mysteries of the dating world, and I’m a volunteer with Science London, a charity that organizes social events with a scientific twist. I’ve also battled my fair share of demons: In my 43 years on this earth, I’ve been hooked on gambling, pornography, tobacco, video games, alcohol and cocaine. (I’m pretty sure I’d have been addicted to sex, too, if I’d ever managed to track down a reliable supplier.)

So when I heard that Science London was putting on a talk called “Addicted Fish: How useful are animal models in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie addiction?” I signed up like a shot.

Can fish really tell us anything about human behaviour? Whoever heard of a herring hooked on heroin?

The speaker was Dr. Matt Parker, a geneticist at Queen Mary University London (and until last month, it seems pertinent to mention, a 30-a-day man). He began, in front of a small but committed crowd in a room above a pub in central London, by addressing the question on everyone’s lips: Why fish? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 5:41 pm

Coordinating crowds in nature

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Interesting article by Cristina Luiggi in The Scientist:

Small silvery schooling fish known as golden shiners are experts at quickly finding shady spots that offer better camouflage from predators. Individual fish flit from one shady spot to another in the ponds and lakes they inhabit, but only appear to sense the changing light when they swim in large schools. When swimming solo, these fish are much less adept at estimating the light levels of their environment. They show little preference for darker areas, suggesting that they have a limited ability, if any at all, to detect the changing brightness of their surroundings.

Such conundrums have always fascinated Iain Couzin, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University. By observing and tracking the behaviors of golden shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas) swimming in a pool with varied light levels, he and his team noticed that individual fish merely swim faster in lit-up areas and slower when light levels drop.1 “That by itself is a very ineffective way of responding to the environment,” Couzin says. However, as a group of golden shiners increases in number, so does their ability to detect and swim into the shade.

The higher-order complexity that arises from the compounded actions of many is the cornerstone of collective behavior.

This complex group sensing capability arises from very simple behaviors of individual fish. In large schools, if a few fish out of the group hit upon a darker area, they slow down, which causes them to cluster, much like what happens when a few cars on a busy highway suddenly decelerate. Fish still in the light continue to move quickly, but their social attraction towards their slow neighbors causes the group as a whole to sling into the darker area, slow down, and remain there. Therefore the whole group appears to “sense” and gravitate toward the darkness.

The school acts as a sensor array that becomes more sensitive to light as the number of sensors—or fish—increases. Similar examples of this principle are pervasive in nature, and can be observed in starkly different systems—from huge herds of wildebeest to groups of cells forming tissues, colonies, and biofilms.

“Individual cells may have a very limited capacity to sense long-range chemical gradients,” Couzin says, but groups of cells, exploiting the same algorithm as golden shiners, may become efficient at sensing their environment over a long range.This higher-order complexity that arises from the compounded actions of many is the cornerstone of collective behavior. It is a field that has enjoyed a burgeoning interest in the last few decades, as more rigorous experimental and theoretical methods for predicting, tracking, and analyzing the behavior of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of individuals in a group are being developed in disciplines as diverse as mathematics, physics, biology, social sciences, economics, and engineering.

Couzin and other collective behaviorists are attempting to unravel the simple algorithms underlying complex group behaviors to understand not only how ant colonies organize and birds in a flock coordinate their motion, but also more fundamental questions about how these simple rules create novel capabilities in molecular and cellular biological systems.

Small beginnings

While bird flocks, fish schools, and honeybee colonies are among the more iconic examples of collective behavior, the phenomenon is also observed at the molecular level in cellular components. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Science

These Bacteria Are Wired to Hunt Like a Tiny Wolf Pack

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Joe Hanson has an interesting article (with photos) at Wired Science. It begins:

You wouldn’t know it, but there is an elaborate stealth communication network in the Earth beneath your feet. This smart web acts like a superorganism, fortifying defensive capabilities and coordinating deadly attacks on unsuspecting targets. But it’s not run by the NSA, the CIA, or the military.

This web is made of bacteria.

A team of scientists led by Manfred Auer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have used cutting-edge 3-D microscopy to identify a new mechanism for bacterial networking. They observed elaborate webs of a common soil bacterium, Myxococcus xanthus, connected by thread-like membranes. This system of cellular pipelines suggests that some bacteria have evolved complex ways to deliver molecular cargo out of sight from snooping neighbors. Their work appears in the journal Environmental Microbiology.

Communication between bacteria is nothing new to biologists, nor to evolution. The idea of lone, antisocial microbes has been replaced in recent decades by complex networks of chemical chatter, allowing swarms of cells to self-organize, coordinating behaviors ranging from group feeding to electrical conduction. The membrane “wires” observed by Auer and his team are one of the most elaborate mechanisms yet identified.

Myxococcus xanthus biofilm devouring a colony ofEscherichia coliCredit: James Berleman

The newly observed shared membrane structures may have been right under scientists’ noses all along. Many researchers had seen hints of chain and thread-like structures between bacteria, but skeptics argued that the tiny filaments seen under the microscope were just debris, bits of junk left over from methods used to prepare samples in the lab.

To settle that question, Auer applied a host of imaging techniques, including a new type of 3-D scanning electron microscopy, to demonstrate that these cell-to-cell wires were real. “People have been mistaken,” Auer says. “These are not a sample preparation artifact.”

Scoop up a handful of dirt, and you’re likely holding Myxococcus. This common bacterium is a model organism for studying biofilms, physical networks of bacteria made from webs of cells and sticky secretions. The gunk that lines water pipes is a biofilm. So is the slippery slime on river rocks. In contrast to the simple petri dish, wild bacteria exist in complex, 3-D, multi-species communities.

Unlike human nerves, bacterial communication doesn’t require that two cells be in near-direct physical contact. Many species of bacteria release chemicals freely into their environment in order to communicate with their neighbors. But this technique is the bacterial equivalent of a general posting top secret military maneuvers to Twitter. Other bacteria within range can eavesdrop and develop chemical countermeasures. To make their communications a little more private, some bacteria evolved the ability to . . .  [encrypt the messages… just joking – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Science

Pakistan: 20% of US Drone Victims are Civilians, 12% are Children (Woods)

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A good post by Chris Wood at Informed Comment. The US government—the Obama Administration specifically—thinks those ratios are just fine.

Exclusive: Leaked Pakistani report confirms high civilian death toll in CIA drone strikes

Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

A secret document obtained by the Bureau reveals for the first time the Pakistan government’s internal assessment of dozens of drone strikes, and shows scores of civilian casualties.

The United States has consistently claimed only a tiny number of non-combatants have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan – despite research by the Bureau and others suggesting that over 400 civilians may have died in the nine-year campaign.

The internal document shows Pakistani officials too found that CIA drone strikes were killing a significant number of civilians – and have been aware of those deaths for many years.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

The confidential 12-page summary paper, titled Details of Attacks by Nato Forces/Predators in FATA was prepared by government officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Jemima Khan

Based on confidential reports from a network of government agents in the field, it outlines 75 separate CIA drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009 and provides details of casualties in many of the attacks. Five attacks alleged to be carried out by Nato or other unspecified forces are also listed.

The numbers recorded are much higher than those provided by the US administration, which continues to insist that no more than 50 to 60 ‘non-combatants’ have been killed by the CIA across the entire nine years of Pakistan bombings. New CIA director John Brennan has described claims to the contrary as ‘intentional misrepresentations‘.

The document shows that during the 2006-09 period covered, when Pakistan’s government and military were privately supporting the CIA’s campaign, officials had extensive internal knowledge of high civilian casualties.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Bureau . . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy report and has a lot of content—content you’re unlikely to see in the US “news” (i.e., celebrity entertainment) media.

Note that John Brennan simply lied. Our government seems now to require lying as a routine way of doing business. But that does make Brennan, along with Clapper and Alexander, something of an expert on “intentional misrepresentations” (commonly called “lies”).

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 5:04 pm

If a cat could talk

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The blurb for the article reads: “Felines walk the line between familiar and strange. We stroke them and they purr, then in a trice they pounce.” That sounds a lot like Megs, except that she doesn’t wait so long as a trice to pounce—and she not only pounces, but whaps your foot. Rub, rub, purr, purr, whap-whap-whap.

David wood writes in Aeon:

Saturday was a small snake. Each morning for six days, Berzerker — half-Siamese, half-streetcat, with charcoal fur and a pure white undercoat — had deposited a new creature on the doormat. On this last day, the snake was as stiff as a twig; rigor mortis had already set in. I wondered if there was a mortuary under the porch, a cold slab on which the week’s offerings had been laid out. What were these ritualistic offerings all about? Gift, placation, or proof of lethal skill? Who knows. On the seventh day he rested.

When I look at any one of my three cats — when I stroke him, or talk to him, or push him off my yellow pad so I can write — I am dealing with a distinct individual: either Steely Dan Thoreau, or (Kat) Mandu, or Kali. Each cat is unique. All are ‘boys’, as it happens. All rescued from the streets, neutered and advertised as mousers, barn cats: ‘They will never let you touch them,’ I was told. Each cat is a singular being ­— a pulsing centre of the universe — with this colour eyes, this length and density of fur, this palate of preferences, habits and dispositions. Each with his own idiosyncrasies.

At first, they were truly untouchable, hissing and spitting. A few weeks later, after mutual outreaching, they were coiling around my neck, with heavy purring and nuzzling. They do indeed hang out in my barn — I live on a farm — and are always pleased to see me at their daily feed. Steely Dan, unlike the other two, will walk with me for miles. Just for the company, I suspect. Occasionally he will turn up at the house and demand to be let in. He is a favourite among my friends for his free dispensing of affection. But the rift between our worlds opens wide again when he shreds the faux leather sofa with his claws. When scolded, he is insouciant.

Since the Egyptians first let the wild Mau into their homes, cats and humans have co-evolved. We have, without doubt, been brutal — eliminating kittens of the wrong stripe, as well as couch-potato cats that gave the rats a pass, cats that could not be trained, and cats that refused our advances. My Steely Dan, steely eyed professional killer of birds and mice (and snakes, lizards, young rabbits, voles, and chipmunks), lap-lover, walking companion extraordinaire, is the product of trial by compatibility. This sounds like a recipe for compliance: domestication should have rooted out the otherness of the feline. But it did not.

The Egyptians domesticated Felis silvestris catus 10,000 years ago and valued its services in patrolling houses against snakes and rodents. But later they deified it, even mummifying cats for the journey into the afterlife. These days we don’t typically go that far — though cats and cat shelters are frequently the subjects of bequests. We remain fascinated both by our individual cats and cats as a species. They are a beloved topic for publishers, calendars and cartoons. Cats populate the internet: there are said to be 110,000 cat videos on YouTube. Lolcats tickle us at every turn. But isn’t there something profoundly unsettling about the whiskered cat lying on a laptop (or somesuch), speaking its bad English? Lolcats make us laugh, but the need to laugh intimates disquiet somewhere.

Perhaps because we selected cats for their internal contradictions — friendly to us, deadly to the snakes and rodents that threatened our homes — we shaped a creature that escapes our gaze, that doesn’t merely reflect some simple design goal. One way or another, we have licensed a being that displays its ‘otherness’ and flaunts its resistance to human interests. This is part of the common view of cats: we value their independence. From time to time they might want us, but they don’t need us. Dogs, by contrast, are said to be fawning and needy, always eager to please. Dogs confirm us; cats confound us. And in ways that delight us.

In welcoming one animal to police our domestic borders against other creatures that threatened our food or health, did we violate some boundary in our thinking? Such categories are ones we make and maintain without thinking about them as such. Even at this practical level, cats occupy a liminal space: we live with ‘pets’ that are really half-tamed predators.

From the human perspective, cats might literally patrol the home, but more profoundly they walk the line between the familiar and the strange. When we look at a cat, in some sense we do not know what we are looking at. The same can be said of many non-human creatures, but cats are exemplary. Unlike insects, fish, reptiles and birds, cats both keep their distance and actively engage with us. Books tell us that we domesticated the cat. But who is to say that cats did not colonise our rodent-infested dwellings on their own terms? One thinks of Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘The Cat That Walked by Himself’ (1902), which explains how Man domesticated all the wild animals except for one: ‘the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.’Michel de Montaigne, in An Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580),captured this uncertainty eloquently. ‘When I play with my cat,’ he mused, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Cats

Why the 1% must not gain control

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They are unethical and dishonest, mainly. As I’ve mentioned, God (Jesus) dwelt on this at some length—the dangers of wealth—so Christians might be expected to draw back from wealth, and most do. Take a look:

That’s from this interesting post at Open Culture:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right. The rich really are different from you or me. They’re more likely to behave unethically.

That’s the finding of a group of studies by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The research shows that people of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to break traffic laws, lie in negotiations, take valued goods from others, and cheat to increase chances of winning a prize. The resulting paper, “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” [PDF] was published last year in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Perhaps most surprising, as this story by PBS NewsHour economics reporter Paul Solman shows, is that the tendency for unethical behavior appears not only in people who are actually rich, but in those who are manipulated into feeling that they are rich. As UC Berkeley social psychologist Paul Piff says, the results are statistical in nature but the trend is clear. ”While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically a

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 4:48 pm

Why the NSA says it is interested in Brazil in particular

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Interesting note at the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza:

One of the more curious revelations from Edward Snowden’s trove of secret N.S.A. documents was a recent report that United States spy agencies have been vacuuming up communications in Brazil. Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, broke this story in O Globo, one of that country’s major newspapers, on July 6th. Greenwald, in an follow-up piece in the Guardian, pointed to a rough Google translation of his original July 6th report:

In the last decade, people residing or in transit in Brazil, as well as companies operating in the country, have become targets of espionage National Security Agency of the United States (National Security Agency – NSA, its acronym in English). There are no precise figures, but last January Brazil was just behind the United States, which had 2.3 billion phone calls and messages spied.…

Brazil, with extensive public and private networks scanned, operated by large telecommunications companies and internet, is highlighted on maps of the U.S. agency focus primarily on voice traffic and data (origin and destination), along with nations such as China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan. It is uncertain how many people and companies spied in Brazil. But there is evidence that the volume of data captured by the filtering system in the local telephone networks and the Internet is constant and large scale.

In a way, the N.S.A.’s focus on Brazil seems puzzling. Why would the United States care so much about communications traffic in a friendly South American country? But last week, at the Aspen Security Conference, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., made a little-noticed remark that helps explain his agency’s interest in Brazil. During a question-and-answer session with an audience of journalists and current and former government officials, a German reporter rose and asked Alexander this: “Why are you focusing so much on gathering data also from Brazil, since there’s not too much terrorism going on in Brazil as far as I know?”

Alexander’s answer was somewhat elliptical (emphasis mine): . . .

Continue reading.

His explanation was interested, but as I attempted to post as a comment (but could not: the New Yorker site is weird):

When listening to explanations from the NSA, it’s important always to remember that they routinely lie, and will lie even in Congressional hearings, as Director James Clapper did to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Sen. Ron Wyden, even though Clapper realized that Wyden knew that he (Clapper) was lying. Sincer Clapper had 24 hours notice of the question, so the lie was quite deliberate. We’ve also seen overt lies scrubbed from the NSA web site. We should approach Alexander’s remarks cautiously, since we now know that NSA lies but we don’t know when. “Trust but verify” doesn’t cut it: there can be no trust, because the NSA decided that lies were acceptable. So we can only verify.

Some facts have come out, thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden, who should get a presidential medal (though probably not from the current president). For example, we now know that Sen. Feinstein did a slipshod and incompetent job of oversight; she seems essentially to have accepted whatever NSA proposed. We also now know that the US has now a body of secret laws (how large we can’t know: they’re secret) and a secret court that makes secret decisions based on those secret laws, laws justified by secret memorandums. We also know that the Obama Administration will go to any lengths to prevent the American public from learning what is going on—his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers is unmatched.

The NSA needs to be melted down and recast: the current organization seems completely corrupted by the power they wield. Probably little will be done. One can only imagine what information they hold on members of Congress—J. Edgar Hoover managed to build an enormous trove of information for blackmail influence with much more primitive tools.

The latest lie from NSA, of course, is that they lack the technical capacity and ability to search their emails. (This despite the billions upon billions they’ve spent.) This is another lie of the sort that Clapper told: a lie so overt and obvious that we know it’s a lie, and the NSA knows that we know, and they don’t care: they have such contempt for Congress and the public that the NSA lies even though the lies are known to be lies. It’s a way of demonstrating how powerless we are against them.

I just saw the news. Apparently NSA controls enough of Congress so that they can continue: the effort to rein them in failed. I’m reminded of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. That vote may represent the high-water mark of efforts to rein in the secret government and its takeover of the US.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 4:35 pm

Will the US survive in a recognizable way?

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I read the article referenced by Kevin Drum in the previous post, and it’s even worse than he makes it sound. I think this could be a trajectory that takes the US over a cliff: the impact of what the GOP threatens to do will tear the country apart and move us a long way down the road to the kind of government we in the past have associated with the most corrupt of governments. Jonathan Weisman in the NY Times:

Congressional Republicans are moving to gut many of President Obama’s top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president’s signature health care law is stripped of money this fall.

As Mr. Obama prepares to deliver a major economic address on Wednesday in Illinois, Republicans in Washington are delivering blow after blow to programs he will promote as vital to a more robust economic recovery and a firmer economic future — from spending on infrastructure and health care to beefing up regulatory agencies. While Mr. Obama would like to keep the economic conversation lofty, his adversaries in Congress are already fighting in the trenches.

On Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee formally drafted legislation that would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent and eliminate his newly announced greenhouse gas regulations. The bill cuts financing for the national endowments for the arts and the humanities in half and the Fish and Wildlife Service by 27 percent.

For the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Mr. Obama requested nearly $3 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs — a mainstay of his economic agenda since he was first elected. The House approved $826 million. Senate Democrats want to give $380 million to ARPA-E, an advanced research program for energy. The House allocated $70 million.

A House bill to finance labor and health programs, expected to be unveiled Wednesday, makes good on Republican threats to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The labor and health measure — for years the most contentious spending bill — will protect some of the White House’s priorities, like Head Start, special education and the National Institutes of Health, but to do so education grants for poor students will be cut by 16 percent and the Labor Department by 13 percent, according to House Republican aides.

“These are tough bills,” acknowledged Representative Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who leads the House Appropriations Committee. “His priorities are going nowhere.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate will not go along with the House cuts, but the different approaches will complicate negotiations. With just 24 legislative days remaining before Oct. 1, talks to resolve the disparities have not really begun, lawmakers said, putting Congress and the president on a collision course that could shut down the government after this fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“This is as serious a challenge on fiscal matters as I’ve ever seen,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat and a veteran of more than three decades in Congress. . .

Continue reading.

I wonder—well, really, I don’t, because I’m pretty sure I know—how the GOP would have reacted if the Democrats had taken this tack against George W. Bush.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Republicans Double Down on Plan to Screw the Poor and Aid the Rich

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Kevin Drum has an excellent, albeit depressing, post:

According to Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times, the Republican budget goal for next year is simple and clear: if President Obama is for it, they want to cut it. “His priorities are going nowhere,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But there’s obviously more to it. Here’s a quick taste:

On Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee formally drafted legislation that would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent….education grants for poor students will be cut by 16 percent….The House transportation and housing bill for fiscal 2014 cuts from $3.3 billion to $1.7 billion the financing for Community Development Block Grants, which go mainly to large cities and urban counties for housing and social programs, largely for the poor….The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been flexing its muscle against hedge fund managers and insider trading schemes, would see financing cut 18 percent from the current level….the Internal Revenue Service would be cut by 24 percent….clean water grants from the Environmental Protection Agency would be slashed by 83 percent.

I assume everyone can see the principle at work: If it helps the poor, slash it. If it reins in the rich, slash it. If it’s defense related, leave it alone. And if we don’t get 100 percent of everything we want, burn the government to the ground.

Here’s a simpleminded—but fair—summary of the past year: Republicans ran on a platform like this in 2012 and the American public rejected it. The deficit is already on a steep downward slope, which gives us a lot more breathing room than we had in the past. And the economy is still fragile, which makes even deeper austerity insane. In other words, pretty much every macro trend argues against either the need or the public desire for massive new spending cuts.

And yet Republican spending mania has gotten nothing but worse. They’ve gone from fanaticism to….what comes after fanaticism? Is there even a word? Nihilism? They obviously don’t genuinely care about the long-term deficit, since that’s almost solely a product of higher health spending and low tax rates. They just care about screwing the poor and helping the rich. Is there anything else left that animates them?

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

The Good News About Race And Crime In America

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Radley Balko writes in the Huffington Post:

The death of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman has given rise to particularly cynical, pessimistic public discourse about race, crime, and violence in America.

Civil rights leaders and progressive activists have cited Zimmerman’s acquittal and the proliferation of robust self-defense laws as evidence of a “war on black men” — or, similarly, that it’s now “open season on black men.” Meanwhile, Zimmerman supporters and many on the political right have used the case to bring up old discussions of black-on-black murders in places like Chicago, and to argue that violence in black America is spiraling out of control. Both positions are cynical, and both tend to pit black and white America against one another.

But both are also wrong on the facts.

First, about the alleged “war on black men.” The argument here is that laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” are encouraging white vigilantism, and moving white people to shoot and kill black people at the slightest provocation. But there just isn’t any data to support the contention. Black homicides have been falling since the mid-1990s (as have all homicides). Moreover, according to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, more than 90 percent of black murder victims are killed by other black people. And if we look at interracial murder, there are about twice as many black-on-white murders as the other way around, and that ratio has held steady for decades.

However, it also isn’t true that black America is growing increasingly violent. Again, black homicides, like all homicides, are in a steep, 20-year decline. In fact, the rates at which blacks both commit and are victims of homicide have shown sharper declines than those of whites. It’s true that Chicago has had an unusually violent last few years, but this is an anomaly among big American cities. The 2012 murder rate in Washington, D.C., for example, hit a 50-year low. Violent crime in New York andLos Angeles is also falling to levels we haven’t seen in decades.

The odd thing is, even in the face of encouraging data, media outlets still manage to find ways to make people afraid. One good example is this 2012 Scripps Howard study of interracial crime, which ran in 2012 just as racial tension was heating up over Martin’s death. The news service analyzed 30 years of data on interracial homicide. The resulting headline: “Interracial murder rate growing in U.S.” The problem is that the data shows precisely the opposite.

To get to the more sensational conclusion, the article considers interracial homicide as a percentage of total homicides. And indeed, measured that way the “rate” of interracial murder has gone up. But it’s an odd way to measure. The vast, vast majority of murders are intraracial. And, as noted, those murders have been dropping considerably. The interracial murder rate has been dropping, too. According to the Scripps Howard review, the raw number of black-on-white and white-on-black murders combined was about the same in 2010 as it was in the early 1980s. But the United States population has grown considerably in that time, from 227 million in 1980, to 315 million today. So if you measure it the way all other crime is measured, the interracial murder rate has dropped, not increased.

It is true that the rate of interracial crime hasn’t dropped nearly as much as intraracial crime. Why might that be? Believe it or not, the news here is encouraging, too.

We aren’t seeing the same rate of progress with interracial killings as we’re seeing in the overall murder rate because the country is becoming more integrated. That’s a good thing. You’re much more likely to be killed over someone you know than by a stranger. So as blacks and whites are increasingly living together and interacting, there are more opportunities for feuds over money, love, and whatever other sorts of quarrels lead to violence. This, too, is suggested in the data: “In the 1980s, about 47 percent of white-on-black killings occurred between people who were strangers. That figure dropped to 40 percent since 2000.” So not only is the rate of interracial killing going down, the rate of interracial killing among strangers — murders more likely to be brought about by raw racism — is dropping even faster.

The Scripps Howard piece also takes a regional approach: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

How we are benefiting from Edward Snowden’s actions

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I truly think Edward Snowden deserves a Presidential medal, though he will probably have to wait for a later President, one who’s not fully implicated in the general overreach and secrecy (and vindictive persecution of whistleblowers). Philip Bump writes in the Atlantic Wire:

Earlier this month, Politico warned that Edward Snowden’s “nightmare may be coming true” — that is, that his efforts would yield no systemic change. Even at the time, that was an iffy argument. But now it seems that the opposite is the case. Edward Snowden may be getting everything his heart desired: a change in policies, a shift in attitudes, and — perhaps surprising even himself — personal freedom.

When Snowden first reached out to reporters, offering details on the National Security Agency’s surveillance systems, he did so with some trepidation. “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” he wrote in one of his first communications with The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.” In a video interview with the paper, he spoke the line that was the focal point of that Politico article:

The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They’ll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.

Which brings us to today.

Policy changes are moving forward. Later today, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 11:01 am

For those fighting heat waves: Best popsicle molds

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life

How would a libertarian solve this problem?

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Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 10:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

The Price of Hypocrisy

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An interesting article by Von Evgeny Morozov in a German newspaper:

The problem with the sick, obsessive superpower revealed to us by Edward Snowden is that it cannot bring itself to utter the one line it absolutely must utter before it can move on: “My name is America and I’m a dataholic.” For American spies, Big Data is like crack cocaine: just a few doses – and you can forget about mending your way and kicking the habit. Yes, there’s an initial illusion of grandeur and narcissistic omnipotence – just look at us, we could prevent another 9/11! – but a clearer, unmediated brain would surely notice that one’s judgment has been severely impaired. Prevent another 9/11? When two kids with extensive presence on social media can blow up a marathon in Boston? Really? All this data, all this sacrifice– and for what?

So let us not pass over America’s surveillance addiction in silence. It is real; it has consequences; and the world would do itself a service by sending America to a Big Data rehab. But there’s more to learn from the Snowden affair. It has also busted a number of myths that are only peripherally related to surveillance: myths about the supposed benefits of decentralized and commercially-operated digital infrastructure, about the current state of technologically-mediated geopolitics, about the existence of a separate realm known as “cyberspace.” We must take stock of where we are and reflect on where we soon will be, especially if we fail to confront – legally but, even more importantly, intellectually – the many temptations of information consumerism.

Why surrender control over electronic communications?

First of all, many Europeans are finally grasping, to their great dismay, that the word “cloud” in “cloud computing” is just a euphemism for “some dark bunker in Idaho or Utah.” Borges, had he lived long enough, would certainly choose a server rack – not a library – as the primary site for his surreal stories. A database larger than the world it is meant to represent: a Borges short story or a slide from an NSA PowerPoint? One can’t say for sure.

Second, ideas that once looked silly suddenly look wise. Just a few months ago, it was customary to make fun of Iranians, Russians and Chinese who, with their automatic distrust of all things American, spoke the bizarre language of “information sovereignty.” What, the Iranians want to build their own national email system to lessen their dependence on Silicon Valley? That prospect seemed both futile and wrong-headed to many Europeans: what a silly waste of resources! How could it possibly compete with Gmail, with its trendy video chats and slick design? Haven’t Europeans tried – and failed – to launch their own search engine? Building airplanes that can compete with Boeing is one thing – but an email system? Now, that’s something Europe – let alone Iran! – would never be able to pull off.

Look who’s laughing now: Iran’s national email system launched a few weeks ago. Granted the Iranians want their own national email system, in part, so that they can shut it down during protests and spy on their own people at other times. Still, they got the geopolitics exactly right: over-reliance on foreign communications infrastructure is no way to boost one’s sovereignty. If you wouldn’t want another nation to run your postal system, why surrender control over electronic communications?

The public-private partnership of American infrastructure

Third, the sense of unconditional victory that civil society in both Europe and America felt over the defeat of the Total Information Awareness program – a much earlier effort to establish comprehensive surveillance – was premature. The problem with Total Information Awareness was that it was too big, too flashy, too dependent on government bureaucracy. What we got instead, a decade later, is a much nimbler, leaner, more decentralized system, run by the private sector and enabled by a social contract between Silicon Valley and Washington: while Silicon Valley runs, updates and monetizes the digital infrastructure, the NSA can tap IT on demand. Everyone specializes and everyone wins.

This is today’s America in full splendor: what cannot be accomplished through controversial legislation will be accomplished through privatization, only with far less oversight and public control. From privately-run healthcare providers to privately-run prisons to privately-run militias dispatched to war zones, this is the public-private partnership model on which much of American infrastructure operates these days. Communications is no exception. Decentralization is liberating only if there’s no powerful actor that can rip off the benefits after the network has been put in place. If such an actor exists – like NSA in this case – decentralization is a mere shibboleth. Those in power get more of what they want quicker – and pay less for the privilege.

A noble mission and awful trip-planning skills

Fourth, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 10:16 am

Dominic Lawson on Chess

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Very interesting (to me) interview with Dominic Lawson:

Dominic Lawson is the former editor of The Spectator and The Sunday Telegraph, and a columnist for The Independentand The Sunday Times. He has a particular passion for chess, writes a chess column forStandpoint and is the author of The Inner Game, a behind-the-scenes account of the World Chess Championship of 1993 between Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short

The interview begins:

You don’t have to be a genius to play chess, but it helps. The journalist tells us about the logical beauty of the game, its history and political context, and the lives and minds of its greatest masters

I’ve always been intrigued by the image chess has in the West as this indicator of extreme, logical intelligence. It really irritates some of my Russian friends, who say, “What a load of nonsense! It’s just a game.”

I don’t think it’s true that chess is a touchstone for the intellect or that it requires an astonishingly logical mind to be very good at it, though it probably helps. Mikhail Botvinnik, who was world champion on and off from 1948 to 1963, said that if music was “an art that illustrates the beauty of sound”, then chess was “an art that illustrates the beauty of logic”. It’s interesting that he used the word art. Chess does correspond, in some ways, to what we see in art ­– it does have a kind of beauty, and the appeal is very strongly aesthetic to those who actually have eyes to see it. But it’s also a sport and a game – it can be played just as a game, and just as a sport.

Do you have to be very clever to be good at it?

It would be difficult to be strong at chess if you had a subnormal IQ, but you certainly don’t need an IQ of above average. I’m sure you could find very strong grandmasters with IQs around about the 100 mark, which is the average. It was always said that [late chess grandmaster Bobby] Fischer had an IQ of 180. I don’t know if there is any evidence for that. It wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t know what the proof is.

What I have noticed in very strong players, though, is an extraordinary degree of concentration. You really do have to concentrate very hard for long periods. There is a very boring phrase for that, which is hard work. That’s often underestimated, while the idea of effortless genius is greatly overestimated. And if it is hard work – and it is – then you must get something really quite special out of it, to put yourself through it. You need to really hate losing. Someone once said, “Chess is a battle between your aversion to the pain of losing, and your aversion to the pain of thinking.” Because hard thinking is stressful and difficult. Quite often, the reason why, as we get older, we lose more games of chess – certainly in my case – is that you begin to get more pain from thinking than you do from losing. Also, if you’re a young person, you’re probably rejecting other ways of occupying your time, which most people would think are more pleasurable, whether it’s watching Teen Idol or playing football or having a drink. It has to really excite you, so motivation plays a huge part. That’s often described as natural ability, but it may actually be a description of something that is more like desire, a really huge desire.

Bobby Fischer claimed he was a genius who happened to play chess, but if you look at his life history he was absolutely obsessed and playing chess constantly from age six.

Fischer became American champion at the age of 14, which is astonishing. But if you think about the amount of effort he put in between learning to play and becoming American champion, it was a huge amount, because he dropped everything else. This partly links into the idea in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers of the 10,000 hours [needed to succeed], which he borrows from various psychologists. I think there is a lot to that. There are exceptions. At the very, very top of the distribution, you get people like Magnus Carlsen, the 20-year-old Norwegian who is the world’s strongest player at the moment. I remember speaking to his father, and he said that at the age of three Magnus would sit for hours doing 50-piece jigsaw puzzles – very unusual behaviour for a three-year-old. Or you have [José Raúl] Capablanca, who was probably the most naturally talented chess player that ever lived. He learned the game at the age of four just by watching his father play. He then beat his father at four and went on to become world champion. He clearly had something very, very special. There was something in the cast of his mind that grasped these concepts with amazing rapidity and very naturally. I don’t know whether the word innate is right, but there’s clearly something there that isn’t normal. But it’s statistically so incredibly unusual that you can almost disregard it.

For people reading this, who might know you as a British newspaper editor and columnist, do you want to explain your connection to chess?

Chess is my particular passion. I became reasonably good at it and I still play for my county, Sussex. I also write a monthly column in Standpoint on chess. I learned the rules of chess when I was eight, at school. Then I lost interest completely. I didn’t come from a chess-playing home or family. In fact, I think I had to teach my father to play. I didn’t really get interested again until my mid-teens, which perhaps ties in with my first book. This is when Bobby Fischer was mounting his assault on the World Chess Championship in the early 1970s. For someone interested in politics, there was a context which will never be repeated – the American loner against, as it seemed, the might of the Soviet Union. The Soviets had made it almost the national sport, and every single world champion since World War II had been a Soviet. I wouldn’t say Russian, although they were described as Russians. One was from Latvia, another from Armenia. Many of them, in fact, were also Jewish, which was never mentioned.

That period was the first time I really got to grips with it. I remember Nigel Short, who was phenomenally strong as a young player, saying to me, “Oh well, Dominic, that was too late!” He said he was lucky, because he was much younger when the Fischer phenomenon hit the West. You had to be much younger to get the bug in order to become very strong. When I won a cash prize at a tournament my father said to me, “That’s good! That means I don’t have to give you any pocket money. But it’s a mistake to think you can make a career out of it.” Of course he was quite right. Very, very few people are especially good at it. I discovered when I was at Oxford, and I was up against people who became very strong grandmasters, like John Nunn and Jon Speelman, that I had no real gift. Their mental hardware was simply miles better than my mental hardware – they just saw things that much more quickly and their powers of visualisation were so much greater.

So Bobby Fischer gave you the bug. Tell me about his book, My 60 Memorable Games.

It’s not clear how much of this book was written by Fischer and how much was written by a grandmaster called Larry Evans, who was a friend of his and a very strong player. Nonetheless, officially, this is Fischer’s only game collection. The 60 games begin in 1957 and go up to 1967, so it’s only 10 years. What is very attractive about the book – apart from the fact that Fischer was such an extraordinary player and analyst – is the honesty of his comments. There was always a simplicity to Fischer which was seductive, even if at times it could also be very crude. Now one thinks of Fischer as someone who would never admit to any kind of error or weakness, but this book sprang from an earlier part of his life.

He’s laceratingly self-critical, which is quite unusual in these kinds of books. He uses phrases like, “I already knew that I had been outplayed.” Or, “I just underestimated the force of his reply.” It also contains three of his losses, whereas you tend to find in these “best of my games” books that it will all be wins.

At the beginning, he quotes Emanuel Lasker, a great world champion of the early 20th century, saying that on the chessboard, “Lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of the lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.” This is an aspect of chess which was especially compelling to me as an adolescent. There is no hypocrisy in it, no duplicity. Everything is open, you can’t hide and you can’t prevaricate. To people of a certain age, boys perhaps, that is very attractive. And Fischer, in that sense, never grew up.

The games themselves, Fischer’s best games, have a fantastic clarity, which is particular to his style. A lot of the very greatest players, and particularly the Soviet players, rather relished high levels of strategic and tactical complexity. Fischer sought clarity, and achieving it is, in a way, more difficult. This is why sometimes comparisons are made between Fischer and Mozart. As a young player, learning chess, you may not be able to emulate it, but you can understand clearly what he is trying to do. It’s not sophisticated, it’s not deliberately obscure. That was very attractive to me, and many other people, coming to terms with the game at that period.

People say he made it look easy.

Yes, but it’s deceptive because clearly he puts huge effort into it. Certainly he had a brain that cut through problems. Often, I suppose, that is the key to the great chess imagination – being able to see what the shortest route is from A to B, when it isn’t necessarily obvious. His play was very streamlined.

Was that the first chess book you read?

No, but it was the first one I found inspirational, partly because he described not just the moves but the psychology, what was going on at the board.

Give me an example.

There’s the game he played against the Yugoslav player [Petar] Trifunovic, game number 33 in the book, played in Bled in 1961. Trifunovic was a very solid player, extremely hard to beat. At one stage Fischer writes “I was considering a move, Bishop to N5”. He gives it a question mark – denoting a blunder – and says, “Trifunovic seemed too quiet all of a sudden, and I suspected he’d tuned into my brain waves.” Fischer goes on to write that it was only because he had sensed his opponent’s unnatural stillness that “at the last minute” he saw that the move he was about to play, B-N5, would in fact have been a terrible blunder. The book has many of these kind of notes that give a tremendously vivid sense of the mental and psychological struggle. He transmits the true nature of top-flight chess, which is not just a question of reams and reams of variations, but also of the interplay between two human beings.

People say of Fischer that he was oblivious to other people’s feelings, but in the context of a game he’s clearly acutely aware of what’s going on in his opponent’s mind.

Fischer used to say, “I don’t believe in psychology, I believe in strong moves.” In a way that’s true, but when you’re at the board you can’t not be aware of it. Of course the variations are also very deep and detailed. It’s one of those books where you need two chess sets, one for the board, and a pocket set to follow the variations, because Fischer had astonishing powers of calculation. It’s not an easy book, at that level. It’s not a book you could give to a beginner.

Are any of these books useful for a beginner?

No. These are books that repay constant reading and rereading. You couldn’t say that about books for a beginner – once you’ve read them, you throw them away or give them to your child, or the child of a friend.

Let’s go on to Masters of the Chessboard by Richard Réti, who died in 1929. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 9:21 am

Posted in Books, Games

Tagged with

Perfectly smooth once more

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SOTD 23 July 2013

Once more with a BBS result. Occasionally someone will ask what’s the point of a very smooth shave since within a few hours roughness reappears. To my mind, that’s like asking what’s the point of a fine meal since you’re going to be hungry again in just a few hours. All life pleasures are transitory, and the idea is to enjoy them while they can. People don’t bad-mouth cherry blossoms for being short-lived, and a BBS shave offers considerable pleasure of the moment—as pleasures tend to be.

A beard wash with my Jlock98 formula, the one with emu oil, and then a very fine lather indeed from the puck of TFS shaving soap. I now understand how to use and enjoy my soft-knot brushes, and the snakewood-handled brush from Strop Shoppe was wonderful today. A quick, thick, creamy lather applied softly across and into my beard.

The Tradere Solid Bar with a Personna Lab Blue blade did its usual fine job: three passes to total smoothness. And the splash of Krampert’s Finest was both fragrant and moisturizing. What man wouldn’t want to start the day with something like this?

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2013 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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