Later On

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

Archive for November 17th, 2013

Totally blown away by a book — in just the first 60 pages

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The book is Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Yeah, yeah. I knew it had won a lot of accolades including National Book Award finalist, but still… somehow, as I was reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Wow! This is really good!” So I’m telling you: read just the first 60 pages and see if you don’t get a strong sense of cyberpunk science fiction. Let me know.

Inexpensive secondhand copies.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Books, Evolution, Science

Interesting breakdown of white voters

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John Halpin posts at ThinkProgress:

Contemporary punditry suffers from many shortcomings, but among its most egregious errors is a widespread failure to examine how political ideology shapes public opinion among whites. Contrary to what you may have been told, there is really no such thing as “white” opinion anymore.

White liberals and white conservatives hold diametrically opposed views on many topics related to the economy and government — divisions that simply do not exist among other groups. Whites may be ideologically polarized, butAfrican-Americans, Latinos, and Asians are not.

A recent CAP/PolicyLink study on attitudes about rising diversity provides clear evidence for this view. Respondents were asked to choose which of the following two statements they agree with more, presenting a clear ideological choice between a more individualistic or collective view of the economy and government. The options were either “In today’s economy, average Americans are on their own. Jobs and benefits are less secure and you can’t really count on anyone but yourself and your family to get ahead” and “In today’s economy, we all face common challenges. Jobs and benefits are less secure, so we all need to work together to make it easier for average Americans to get ahead.”

On the face of it, Americans seem divided on this essential framing of our society — 47 percent believe that people are basically on their own while 49 percent believe that we must work together on common challenges. Under the surface, however, some fascinating trends emerge. A huge divide between whites is one of the most important: while 58 percent of white liberals believe that we must work together on common challenges, 59 percent of white conservatives said that people are basically on their own (overall, 36 percent of white respondents self-identified as ‘liberal’ and 50 percent of whites as ‘conservative’).

By contrast, majorities of African-Americans and Latinos -– regardless of ideological self-identification -– hold a more collective understanding of the economy. 73 percent of African-American liberals and 60 percent of African-American conservatives believe that we must work together on common economic challenges (46 percent of African-Americas self-identify as ‘liberal’ and 38 percent as ‘conservative’). Fifty-six percent of Latino liberals and 53 percent of Latino conservatives believe similarly (45 percent of Latinos self-identify as ‘liberal’ and 43 percent as ‘conservative’). Asian responses on this particular question more closely resemble those of whites than other people of color.

These same ideological patterns emerge on beliefs about reducing racial and ethnic inequality. In a separate test, we asked respondents to choose between two competing ideas about the connection between inequality and growth: “Government policies and investments that reduce racial and ethnic inequality would help us grow faster” and “Government policies and investments to reduce racial and ethnic inequality would not work and would just interfere with economic growth.”

By a 50 to 43 percent margin, Americans overall agree that government policies to reduce racial and ethnic inequality would help with economic growth. Nearly 7 in 10 white liberals (69 percent) take the majority position, but more than 6 in 10 white conservatives (63 percent) disagree. By contrast, significant majorities of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians believe that government investments to reduce racial and ethnic inequality would be beneficial to growth — again, regardless of whether they identify as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. This pattern is repeated on other questions as well.

Although these new results should be replicated by additional studies, the conclusions are nonetheless striking. White liberals think far more like the bulk of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians than white conservatives on the country’s biggest ideological questions. That’s particularly true on diversity questions: . . .

Continue reading. The graph that follows in the text at the link is quite interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Election, Politics

Extremely interesting datapoint: A Louisiana Republican backing Obamacare defeats his rival who ran against Obamacare

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Josh Israel writes at ThinkProgress:

Louisiana voters elected Republican Vance McAllister in a runoff to fill the state’s vacant Fifth District U.S. House seat on Saturday. McAllister, a businessman who embraced the expansion of Medicaid available to the state under the Affordable Care Act, defeated a Republican party favorite who called for full Obamacare repeal.

In a district won by Mitt Romney with 61 percent of the vote in 2012, two Republicans were the top vote-getters in a 14-candidate October primary. McAllister, who received nearly 60 percent of the vote in Saturday’s special election, criticized much of the Affordable Care Act, but also criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) decision to dismantle charity hospitals in the state, and to reject its Medicaid expansion, which would expand the qualifications for Medicaid recipients and extend healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Louisianans. “Our governor and Sen. Riser right here have gutted [heath care] to the core and privatized it.”

McAllister’s top opponent, State Senator Neil Riser (R), received support from House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), three of the four other Louisiana Republican Congressmen, the National Rifle AssociationFreedomWorks and, more tacitly, Gov. Jindal. Riser ran ads saying that he would go to Washington to balance the budget and stop Obamacare — not make friends — andslammed McAllister for ” attempting to redefine himself and stand with President Obama.”

According to President Obama, 265,000 Lousianans would benefit from the Medicaid expansion. According to Jindal’s own Department of Health and Hospitals, the billions of dollars in federal payments available to the state would allow about 272,000 of the roughly 633,000 uninsured adults in the state to get subsidized health insurance on the exchange. But citing potential future costs, Jindal has rejected the expansion, saying “We will not allow President Obama to bully Louisiana into accepting an expansion of Obamacare.”

McAllister received the endorsement of some Democrats who believed him more willing to work across party lines.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 10:50 am

We Are in the Midst of Defeating the Largest Corporate Trade Agreement in History

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An interesting report at AlterNet by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese:

These are times of great secrecy and misinformation. Government and corporations hide their actions to avoid public disapproval and accountability. Courageous truth-tellers are persecuted for exposing the deep corruption. We depend on whistleblowers to expose the lies and shine light on information that is hidden from the public so we can understand what is happening around us. We need to know the truth in order to participate in the great debates that shape our futures.

This week, we learned that a brave whistleblower gave the text of the full intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to Wikileaks. This text was released [4] to the public on Wednesday and has spurred quite a stir as we discover that our concerns about the TPP are justified. We learned that the United States stands out in bullying other countries on behalf of multinational corporations and that the TPP will provide extraordinary patent protections and internet restrictions designed to further enrich the wealthy while the race to the bottom accelerates.

A confluence of events this week has weakened the chances of the TPP’s survival. On Tuesday night, there were light brigade actions [5] in 13 cities from coast to coast. And three letters signed by 180 members [6] of the House of Representatives were submitted in opposition to the President’s request for Fast Track, an authority that would allow him to negotiate and sign the TPP before it would go to Congress for limited debate and only an up-or-down vote. Two letters were signed by Democrats, another by Republicans. Three-quarters of Democrats oppose Fast Track and one-third of Democrats on the committee responsible for Fast Track oppose it as currently constituted. The former US Trade Representative said in 2012 that to complete the TPP “We’ve go to have it. [7]”  Now, Congress will not consider Fast Track until the do-nothing election year of 2014, if even then.

Opposition to the TPP continues to build. Next week, negotiators will be in Salt Lake City, UT and actions are being planned [8] to protest those meetings. Communities are starting to pass resolutions saying that they will not obey if the TPP changes laws in a way that harms them. You can learn more about this on an open training call [9] on November 20. A global day of protest [10] against toxic trade agreements is being organized for December 3. And that same day, two members of the Australian Parliament [11] will submit a request that the text of the TPP be made public.

We are in a historic moment of people vs. the corporations.  We are in the midst of defeating the largest trade agreement in history.  We can defeat the TPP [7] if we keep working together in a movement of movements. That success will be a huge win for the people over corporate power. Join the effort [12].

As we write this, Jeremy Hammond, the young man who hacked into the private security firm StratFor’s emails is facing his sentencing hearing [13] and up to ten years in jail.  While we hope the best for Hammond, we are not confident that his judge, Loretta Preska, can even be fair.  She refused Hammond bail, even though he is not a flight risk, and refused to recuse herself, even though her lawyer-husband’s email was part of the StratFor documents Hammond disclosed.  The appearance of justice in this case is already lost.

Chris Hedges [14] calls Hammond “one of the nation’s most important political prisoners.” The information he released to Wikileaks and other media outlets revealed the cooperation between private and government security agencies and methods used to stifle dissent, including monitoring the Occupy movement, as well as their strategies for defeating movements [15]. Hedges used information leaked by Hammond in his case against President Obama over the section of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows indefinite detention of Americans using a vague definition “terrorist.”

Whistleblowers face serious retaliation in the United States as we have seen with Hammond, Chelsea Manning, Barret Brown, Aaron Schwarz, Thomas Drake, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Jesselyn Radack, Julian Assange, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras. They are feared by the power structure because the truth destroys corrupt power. We must support them because as Hedges reminds us, without them, there will be no free press – indeed, we will not be free peoples. We view whistleblowers as heroes despite the government and corporate media doing their best to convince us of the opposite. They take great risks without the expectation of a reward. Whistleblowing is an act of conscience. And, as we can see by the growing list of these heroes, Wikileaks is right when it says “courage is contagious.”

There are many ways to blow the whistle. For some, like S. Brian Willson, it involves speaking out about the things one has witnessed. Willson served in the Vietnam War and since then has dedicated himself to peace and building a sustainable society. On Veteran’s Day, Willson wrote [16] about a new campaign by the Pentagon to glorify the Vietnam War and hide its atrocities. He said, “It is a shame that the public seems unwilling to grasp that virtually all our military adventures are lawless, imperial barbarisms, violently robbing others of their freedom and autonomy enabling the US people to continue living in fantastic opulence justified by a sense of exceptionalism while we callously outsource the consequential pain and suffering inflicted on innocent others and the sacred earth.”  Willson is one of many vets we work with who comes out of war to spend a lifetime working for peace by telling the truth of what he saw. Some of our colleagues are currently in Palestine on a Peace Team trip [17].

Efforts to hide the truth about the true cost and crimes of war continue. In December the Veterans Administration stopped publishing data[18] on the number of newly-injured service members, probably because that number is now more than one million. The military may also be hiding the murder of ten men in Afghanistan by Green Berets. The US Government has refused to cooperate [19] with an investigation. The soldiers could be charged with war crimes.  Either way, the soldiers are likely to be suffering as a result of their actions as Daniel Somers[20], a young soldier who committed suicide earlier this year described. Somers’ became a whistleblower in his death as his suicide note described how he was forced to participate in “war crimes, crimes against humanity” and to behave “like a sociopath.”

Some go to great lengths to expose true dangers to the health and safety of Americans. Tom Weis of Climate Crisis Solutions has biked thousands of miles to bring attention to the oil and gas pipelines that pollute our land and water. He recently completed a journey to the White House [21] to deliver petition signatures against the Keystone XL Pipeline. And this week, riders begin a 230-mile journey [22] by horseback to call attention to the pipeline owned by Enbridge – this is their third long journey on horseback.

It seems that we are hearing almost daily now of oil and gas pipeline eruptions [23], train car derailments and contamination of aquifers. A report was just released [24] that details the dismal performance of TransCanada, the corporation in charge of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Some industry whistleblowers have come forward, but more are needed.

Some other facts that need to be brought into the light of day for public debate involve . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 8:54 am

Sentenced to a Slow Death

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A strong editorial in the NY Times about a dark aspect of the US criminal “justice” system:

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

Over the past four decades, those laws have helped push the American prison population to more than two million people, and to the highest incarceration rate in the world. As in the rest of the penal system, the racial disparity is vast: in the federal courts, blacks are 20 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crimes.

The report estimates that the cost of imprisoning just these 3,278 people for life instead of a more proportionate length of time is $1.78 billion.

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men.” . . .

Read the whole thing.

I wonder what the Libertarian position on this is. Obviously, Libertarians would think that the free market can solve this problem, but I sure don’t see how.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 8:49 am

Posted in Government, Law

Brain benefits of bilingualism, with an idea

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Bilingual brains are less likely to decline into dementia, reports Barbara King at NPR:

The largest study so far to ask whether speaking two languages might delay the onset of dementia symptoms in bilingual patients as compared to monolingual patients has reported a robust result. Bilingual patients suffer dementia onset an average of 4.5 years later than those who speak only a single language.

While knowledge of a protective effect of bilingualism isn’t entirely new, the present study significantly advances scientists’ knowledge. Media reportsemphasize the size of its cohort: 648 patients from a university hospital’s memory clinic, including 391 who were bilingual. It’s also touted as the first study to reveal that bilingual people who are illiterate derive the same benefit from speaking two languages as do people who read and write. It also claims to show that the benefit applies not only to Alzheimer’s sufferers but also people with frontotemporal and vascular dementia.

Only when I read the research report itself, though, published in the journalNeurology and written by Suvarna Alladi and 7 co-authors, did I realize fully the brilliance of conducting this study in Hyderabad, India.

That choice of location, I believe, lends extra credibility to the study’s results.

Here’s why. India, as the researchers note, is a nation of linguistic diversity. In the Hyderabad region, a language called Telugu is spoken by the majority Hindu group, and another called Dakkhini by the minority Muslim population. Hindi and English are also commonly spoken in formal contexts, including at school. Most people who grow up in the region, then, are bilingual, and routinely exposed to at least three languages.

The patients who contributed data to the study, then, are surrounded by multiple languages in everyday life, not primarily as a result of moving from one location to another. This turns out to be an important factor, as the authors explain:

In contrast to previous studies, the bilingual group was drawn from the same environment as the monolingual one and the results were therefore free from the confounding effects of immigration. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors, such as education, sex, occupation, cardiovascular risk factors, and urban vs rural dwelling, of subjects with dementia.

In other words, thanks in large part to the study’s cultural context, these researchers made great progress zeroing in on bilingualism as the specific reason for the delay in dementia symptoms.

What exactly is it about the ability to speak in two languages that seems to provide this protective effect? Alladi and co-authors explain: . . .

Continue reading. And note that being a polyglot offers no noticeable brain-health advantages over being bilingual.

Unfortunately, languages are learned most easily early in life, and yet in the US foreign language programs in the elementary schools are almost unheard of. It’s easy to understand why, given the current US mania to cut taxes and reduce government spending, which beggars our public schools at the same time that corporations are working hard to offer charter schools for profit.  Hiring specialized staff who are qualified to teach a foreign language is, today in the US, far beyond the capabilities of public elementary schools—these days, they are looking at getting rid of art and music classes and the school library, not take on new educational missions.

However, Esperanto is easy to learn, and as a second language it would offer not only the benefit of bilingualism as well as an excellent foundation (as shown by research studies) for learning a third language, presumably an evolved language (French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, or the like). And parents could feasibly try speaking Esperanto to each other and let the child learn the natural way. In practice, I’ve read, if one parent always speaks to the child in one language (be it Spanish or Esperanto or French) and the other always speaks to the child in English, then the child from first babbling will automatically choose the language appropriate to the parent being addressed. It’s not a conscious decision in young children: they simply speak to Parent A in “Parent A talk” and to Parent B in “Parent B talk.”

So, at least in concept, a parent could learn Esperanto pretty easily (it’s made to be easily learned) and try for a bilingual toddler at home. Plus it’s often good to have a “secret language” when out in public with the kids.

Just a thought. It occurs to me because I’m revisiting (with enjoyment) my own Esperanto stash of books.

If you decide to try it, here are some resources:

Lernu!, a site that teaches Esperanto. (Lerni is the infinitive “to learn”; lernu is the imperative, so the site name is (in English) “Learn!”.

Anki, a free Web-based flash card system. Esperanto vocabulary is easy to acquire (because of the system of affixes: one root generates a panoply of words), but it is important to routinely review words to ensure that they are readily available when you want to speak or write. Anki is free, works on multiple platforms, and is highly capable. It has an add-on that takes care of Esperanto diacritics (the characters the characters ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ are typed cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, and ux and automatically corrected. (With OS X and Windows you can easily trigger the same automatic substitutions by the operating system. See, for example, the comment to this post.) The nice thing about Anki is that many “flash-card decks” (in many languages and disciplines) are available as downloadable files, though in fact in most cases it’s best to create your own deck as you go.

Here are the Anki Esperanto decks available for download. Note that a few include images or audio.

BTW, if you’re interested in other languages/disciplines, Anki offer a host of add-ons, all free. Specifically, note that the program is valuable in working with any set of facts or data you must learn, not simply language vocabulary. And it has a great magnitude of decks contributed by users.

As I write this, I see that it will work best with those with a certain sort of obsessive interest. Still, I wanted to mention the possibility, partly because I enjoy Esperanto. I do recognize that it’s never everyone’s cup of tea, though until you sip a bit you won’t know whether it’s for you or not. 🙂

UPDATE: Now I’m sidetracked in trying to get my Mac keyboard Esperanto-ized, and I came across this useful note on Ukelele.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 7:44 am

US pressures UK to keep Bush/Blair Iraq War dialogue secret

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The US now holds the view that it is vital that US citizens not know what the US government is doing. The efforts to hide programs and punish vindictively any whistleblower who reveals what is going on is not only contrary to what is needed for a democracy, it leads to program failure: mission creep, change of directions, and simple incompetence. A good whistleblower or two in the early stages might have kept the Obama Administration from such an enormous fail in launching But Obama has worked hard to make sure that whistleblowing carries such severe penalties that people won’t do it. is the result. The NSA is the result. And now a new story, from by Sarah Lazare:

If the U.S. gets its way, the world will never know the details of top-level discussions between George W. Bush and Tony Blair that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

An exclusive report released Thursday by The Independent reveals that the White House and U.S. State Department have launched a fierce battle against the release of a four-year government-ordered investigation into the lead-up and aftermath of British participation in a war now widely viewed in the UK as a catastrophe.

The inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, is believed to take aim at the official version of events, including misrepresentation of Iraq intelligence, as well as questions about whether former British Prime Minister Tony Blair engaged in secret negotiations with the Bush administration while lying to the British people.

Yet, the U.S. government is forbidding the release of communications between Blair and Bush in the lead-up to the war, declaring it classified information and pressuring British Prime Minister David Cameron to wipe this information from the report.

The Independent reports that the hidden documents “are said to provide crucial evidence for already-written passages that are highly critical of the covert way in which Mr Blair committed British troops to the US-led invasion.”

The paper goes on to quote a top-level diplomat, who declared, “The US are highly possessive when documents relate to the presence of the President or anyone close to him… this is not Tony Blair’s or the UK Government’s property to disclose.”

There are signs that the British government is poised to cave to U.S. pressure, in a bid to protect the ‘special’ relationship between the two countries.

The Independent reports:

Although the Prime Minister told Chilcot in a letter last week that some documents needed to be “handled sensitively”, the Cabinet Office decoded the Prime Minister’s phrases yesterday, telling The Independent: “It is in the public’s interests that exchanges between the UK Prime Minister and the US President are privileged. The whole premise about withholding them [from publication] is to ensure that we do not prejudice our relations with the United States.”

Immediately following the release of the report, a Cabinet spokesperson denied that the U.S. has veto power over the Iraq War inquiry, declaring, “All sides recognize that this raises difficult issues, involving legal and international relations considerations.”

The inquiry was launched by Gordon Brown in 2009, expected to take a year to finish, and has already been concluded but remains hidden from the public. The report has no set publication date at this time, according toThe Huffington Post.

An editorial by Guardian editors sounds the alarm over the delayed release of the report, declaring, “If there is an urgency, it is because only with publication of Chilcot’s report can this generation hope to learn the lessons of that misguided war and how to avoid repeating those mistakes.”

The US government does not want any glaring contradictions to the story they tell us. And why? Because the US government has done things that they know the public will not approve, and it wants to keep doing such things.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2013 at 6:52 am

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