Later On

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

Archive for December 10th, 2013

Famous Presidential-Dictator Handshakes

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Juan Cole sort of rolls his eyes at the outrage the easily-outraged (indeed, perpetually outraged) Right has expressed about Obama’s handshake with Raoul Castro, Cuban head of state.

President Barack Obama’s casual hand shake with Cuban president Raul Castro at the memorial for Nelson Mandela has, predictably, set off a wave of outrage among right wing politicians and pundits who are anyway perpetually outraged by anything Obama does or indeed, just by his being president.

He then goes on to present a montage of famous and honored past presidents and others shaking hands with or embracing dictators. It’s well worth checking out.

One problem I wish the Right would address: their stone ignorance.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 9:12 pm

Posted in GOP

Scholarship and Politics: The Case of Noam Chomsky

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Stanley Fish has a nice essay in the NY Times, based on the John Dewey lectures that Noam Chomsky recently gave:

It’s not often that you get a public confirmation of views you’ve been pushing for years. But that’s what happened to me last week when I attended the 2013 John Dewey lectures given by Noam Chomsky under the auspices of the Columbia University philosophy department.

The views I have been peddling to various audiences (without notable success) are: (1) The academy is a world of its own, complete with rules, protocols, systems of evaluation, recognized achievements, agreed-on goals, a roster of heroes and a list of tasks yet to be done. (2) Academic work proceeds within the confines of that world, within, that is, a professional, not a public, space, although its performance may be, and often is, public. Accordingly, (3) academic work is only tangentially, not essentially, political; politics may attend the formation of academic units and the selection of academic personnel, but political concerns and pressures have no place in the unfolding of academic argument, except as objects of its distinctive forms of attention. (If academic work had no distinctive forms of attention, it would be shapeless and would not be a thing.) (4) The academic views of a professor are independent of his or her real-world political views; academic disputes don’t track partisan disputes or vice versa; you can’t reason from an academic’s disciplinary views to the positions he or she would take in the public sphere; they are independent variables.

Now, as everyone knows, Noam Chomsky is a distinguished academic, a scholar who pretty much single-handedly reconfigured the discipline of linguistics and a strong presence in the landscape of other disciplines — philosophy of mind, psychology, biology, literary criticism, to name a few. But Chomsky is also a prominent public intellectual whose opinions on a wide range of political topics — American foreign policy, the Middle East, capitalism, fossil fuels, education, etc. — are well known and often controversial. So the question was, which Chomsky was going to show up at Columbia, or alternatively, could you have one without the other? The answer, it turned out, is “yes.”

Chomsky gave three lectures under the general title “What Kind of Creatures are We?” The answer given in the first lecture — “What is Language?” — is that we are creatures with language, and that language as a uniquely human biological capacity appeared suddenly and quite late in the evolutionary story, perhaps 75,000 years ago. Language, then, does not arise from the social/cultural environment, although the environment provides the stuff or input it works on. That input is “impoverished”; it can’t account for the creativity of language performance, which has its source not in the empirical world, but in an innate ability that is more powerful than the stimuli it utilizes and plays with. It follows that if you want to understand language, you shouldn’t look to linguistic behavior but to the internal mechanism — the Universal Grammar — of which particular linguistic behaviors are a non-exhaustive expression. (The capacity exceeds the empirical resources it might deploy.)

In his second lecture (“What Can We Understand?”), Chomsky took up the question of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Education

Interesting idea for treating PTSD

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Becky Bach reports in Pacific Standard:

Thousands of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs for relief. They might be better served, however, if they tapped the hard-won wisdom of incarcerated Vietnam veteran Michael “Doc” Piper.

Piper knows, though the VA has yet to acknowledge, that community service could be the most effective treatment available for PTSD, a debilitating condition marked by nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks, pain, anger, self-blame, alienation, and depression.

Despite his confinement in Soledad Correctional Training Facility, a California state prison, 67-year-old Piper is a professional volunteer. From a 106-square-foot former broom closet with no Internet access, Piper helps fellow incarcerated veterans access VA benefits. By helping others, Piper says he’s been able to cope with his anger, nightmares, and flashbacks. But he’s not the only one who understands the power of community service.

Mission Continues, a St. Louis-based organization, is generating national attention, including a June 2013 Time cover story, for its success helping veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan integrate into society. It’s a dire need: The VA has treated nearly 300,000 veterans from those conflicts for PTSD symptoms, according to a November report. Mission Continues, which was founded in 2007 by a group of veterans, places veterans in six-month service fellowships in community organizations across the country.

Fellows paint hospital walls, collect food donations, and plant gardens, developing career and life skills in the process. And although in-depth studies are lacking, an investigation (PDF) by Washington University in St. Louis social scientist Monica Matthieu, found that Mission Continues helps.

Matthieu and her team surveyed 27 Mission Continues fellows, many of whom have been diagnosed with PTSD. Following their fellowship, 71 percent continued their education and 86 percent were able to find employment.

TREATMENTS
The VA currently assaults PTSD with a grab bag of treatments. It recommends (PDF) a combination of drugs, most commonly anti-depressants, and therapies including individual and group psychotherapy, hypnosis, and meditation. The department’s 2010 guidelines also recommend social and family skills training, job training, education, and spiritual support. VA therapists even teach stress-tolerance techniques.

For example, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 12:46 pm

Movie note, martial-arts division

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A couple of trailers to what I’m watching now reminded me of terrific movies I’ll doubtless see again.

First is Fist of Legend, with Jet Li. It’s not only a great martial-arts movie but also shows us how deeply felt are the wounds of the Rape of Nanking and other such events: a continuing vein of animosity that’s easily tapped on either side. And since we’re not involved in this one (speaking for those of us in the US), it’s easier to examine the after-effects of traumatic, wholesale, documented brutality. That’s what I fear the aftershocks of some US episodes, to some extent on-going: you get too full of yourself and your power, you start to think you can get away with anything, that the rules don’t apply to you. In fact, I picked that exact quote up from the story about the multiple indictments of members of the LASD: “they thought the rules didn’t apply to them—that they were above the law.” Once that mindset gets hold, the consequences are dire.

Second is The Rebel, which gives emotional content to the struggle against Western colonialism, and how deeply offensive that was: to go into another’s land and take offer. It’s like the house guest from hell, who moves in, takes over, and kills any in the family who don’t go along with it. No wonder people are, to say the least, offended. If you in another’s country, it seems best on the whole to remember that you’re a guest. (I’m sure there are exceptions, which will be pointed out to me, but in general the idea of taking over a country and brutalizing the original inhabitants not only looks bad in retrospect, the aftershocks of the offense endure for a long time. The US is still trying to recover from the lengthy and hard-fought (if I may say) episode of slavery, I’m not so sure our treatment of the Native Americans hasn’t done its damage to us—who knows, perhaps contributing to the hubris that seems to guide US foreign policy—and, given what we now know—so far—about the NSA, domestic policy as well: why are we being so closely monitored? And I continue to wonder about the militarization of the domestic police departments. I’m sure it’s in a good cause, but it will also be awfully handy in a bad one.

Both movies have unbelievably good fight choreography.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Paul Ryan tries to claim he’s not that fond of Ayn Rand

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How strange, but I have to admit that I don’t grasp the workings of his mind. (Recall his claim at running a sub-three-hour marathon? “I had a two hour and fifty-something,” Ryan said. Actually when the records were checked his best time turned out to be just over four hours, not under three.)

Well, Ryan is again making false claims, which seems stupid, given that we now have the Internet and can easily check things. MSNBC reports as part of the Rachel Maddow show:

For years, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the right-wing chairman of the House Budget Committee, has been widely described as an Ayn Rand acolyte, best known for assigning “Atlas Shrugged” to members of his staff. Now, however, the Republican lawmaker finds humor in his reputation.

“You know you’ve arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine,” Ryan chuckled in an interview with National Review. He added, “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy.” Ryan said he prefers Thomas Aquinas, concluding, “Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”

I’ll gladly assume the man is familiar with his own philosophy, but it’s curious to see him distance himself from Rand in this way, especially in light of hisapparent preoccupation with her vision. As Alex Pareene noted, Ryan is, after all, the same guy who made these comments:

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” […]

“I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well … I try to make my interns read it.”

National Review knocked Ryan’s detractors for making “Rand-related slams,” but is it a “slam” to take Ryan’s own words about the author at face value? For that matter, is it really unreasonable to note that Ryan’s radical budget plan, which redistributes wealth from the bottom up, seems to have been inspired, at least in part, by a Rand-like philosophy?

Incidentally, Ryan also spoke at some length at Georgetown yesterday about his governing philosophy, which featured a defense of sorts against the criticisms he’d received from leaders of his own Roman Catholic church. As Ed Kilgore reported, the Wisconsinite “mainly relied on the argument that the ‘fiscal crisis’ facing the country trumped any concern over his budget’s impact on the poor and vulnerable.”

It seems like the kind of attitude Ayn Rand would approve of.

Regardless, in case anyone’s forgotten, there is no debt crisis. The United States can easily borrow as much as it needs at low interest rates, suggesting there’s nothing even close to a debt crisis. This is a fig leaf Ryan and the right is using to rationalize draconian cuts to domestic priorities, which they’ve long wanted to make anyway.

Second, if Ryan and his allies were seriously panicked about reducing the deficit and getting our fiscal house in order, they’d consider modest tax increases on the wealthy. Indeed, we know exactly what’s driving the national debt, and much of it has to do with tax cuts the rich didn’t need and the country couldn’t afford. When Ryan acknowledges this, he’ll start to have some credibility on the issue.

And third, for all of Ryan’s alleged fear about the debt, his last budget plan ignored deficit reductionaltogether, and instead prioritized more tax breaks for those at the very top. Asked yesterday about tax loopholes he’d be willing to close to help pay for his plans, Ryan refused to go into any detail.

Update: Our pal James Carter passes along this remarkable clip of Rand gushing about Rand in 2009 – not exactly ancient history – and how relevant he considers her work in his attacks on Democrats and the modern welfare state.

http://youtu.be/3XYw9RtDbU8

I suppose the Ayn Randian mantle has now devolved on Rand Paul, who wants to stop giving assistance to those seeking work because (presumably) if you don’t give them any help, that will create jobs… or something.

Sometimes I get the idea that some politicians simply cannot think in a straight line. Here’s a good example, described by Kevin Drum. As near as I can tell, Rep. Shuster (R-PA) has a simple criterion: if something bothers him, there should be a Federal law against it.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 10:57 am

Posted in Books, GOP, Government

How embarrassing! I see now that in grade school I simply didn’t understand how to use a seesaw

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 10:01 am

Posted in Daily life

18 Cops At Abusive Sheriff’s Department Charged With Brutally Beating Inmates And Jail Visitors

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I would say Sheriff Baca of Los Angeles County is going to be out of a job, and a good thing, too. Aviva Shen reports for ThinkProgress:

More than a dozen officers at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department were indicted Monday for allegedly widespread abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County jails.

After years of complaints and a lengthy FBI investigation into brutality and corruption at the jails, the four grand jury indictments amount to the most dramatic statement against the notorious Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department yet. The indictments accuse deputies of beating inmates and then falsifying records to cover up the attacks. Officers even allegedly assaulted and arrested visitors to the jail, including the Austrian consul general. Another indictment charges top jail officials with hiding and changing the name of an inmate who was collaborating with the FBI, so agents could not reach him.

Reports of brutality have been trickling out of LA county jails, considered some of the most violent in the nation, for years. A 2012 report by the independent Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence placed the blame squarely on Sheriff Lee Baca for allowing high-level perpetrators of violence against inmates to go unpunished and ignoring the problem. Baca is now denying the U.S. Attorney’s charge that this misconduct was an institutionalized problem.

Evidence suggests that, absent pressure from above, a culture of violence festered in the jails. According to one high-level officer, deputies were encouraged to beat inmates, but warned to avoid their faces, where the abuse would be too obviously on display. A harrowing ACLU report from last year suggests even this advice was ignored, as witnesses, former inmates, and current inmates recounted how deputies would routinely stomp on inmates’ heads, even after handcuffing them. “They have bashed inmates’ faces into concrete walls. They have fractured inmates’ facial bones — noses, jaws, cheekbones or eye sockets,” the report reads. In one high profile incident, a man who was simply visiting his brother at the jail was handcuffed and brutally beaten by five officers.

The LASD’s abuses are hardly confined to its jails. The Department of Justice found earlier this year that officers illegally and systematically targeted blacks and Hispanics. The LASD is also in hot water for hiring over a hundred officers who had previously been fired for offenses like falsifying police records, cheating on polygraph tests, accidentally firing weapons, and soliciting prostitutes.

Los Angeles has been plagued by bad police for years—not just the Sheriff’s department but LAPD has had an embarrassing number of scandals.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2013 at 9:39 am

Posted in Government, Law

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