Later On

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

Archive for May 4th, 2014

Cool spider moves

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Watch this amazing video.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Science

“How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam? “

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Jonathan Schell has a good column on the Vietnam War and what happened there:

For half a century we have been arguing about “the Vietnam War.” Is it possible that we didn’t know what we were talking about? After all that has been written (some 30,000 books and counting), it scarcely seems possible, but such, it turns out, has literally been the case.

Now, in Kill Anything that Moves, Nick Turse has for the first time put together a comprehensive picture, written with mastery and dignity, of what American forces actually were doing in Vietnam. The findings disclose an almost unspeakable truth. Meticulously piecing together newly released classified information, court-martial records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews in Vietnam and the United States, as well as contemporaneous press accounts and secondary literature, Turse discovers that episodes of devastation, murder, massacre, rape, and torture once considered isolated atrocities were in fact the norm, adding up to a continuous stream of atrocity, unfolding, year after year, throughout that country.

It has been Turse’s great achievement to see that, thanks to the special character of the war, its prime reality — an accurate overall picture of what physically was occurring on the ground — had never been assembled; that with imagination and years of dogged work this could be done; and that even a half-century after the beginning of the war it still should be done. Turse acknowledges that, even now, not enough is known to present this picture in statistical terms. To be sure, he offers plenty of numbers — for instance the mind-boggling estimates that during the war there were some two million civilians killed and some five million wounded, that the United States flew 3.4 million aircraft sorties, and that it expended 30 billion pounds of munitions, releasing the equivalent in explosive force of 640 Hiroshima bombs.

Yet it would not have been enough to simply accumulate anecdotal evidence of abuses. Therefore, while providing an abundance of firsthand accounts, he has supplemented this approach. Like a fabric, a social reality — a town, a university, a revolution, a war — has a pattern and a texture. No fact is an island. Each one is rich in implications, which, so to speak, reach out toward the wider area of the surrounding facts. When some of these other facts are confirmed, they begin to reveal the pattern and texture in question.

Turse repeatedly invites us to ask what sort of larger picture each story implies. For example, he writes: . . .

Continue reading.

Do read it. You begin to understand the view of the US that has gradually developed in the world at large.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Books, Military

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How long before a blood market, legal and/or not, springs up?

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See this story and think what an aging multibillionaire might pay to feel young again—and obvious science-fiction plot follows: practically done to death. It’s pretty obvious that a certain class has a strong influence on governmental decisions, so I doubt that legal impediments would be an issue, and readily ignored if they are. Will we see it play out in real life? Stay tuned, I suppose. In the meantime, who’s funding the research.

Philip K. Dick probably already wrote a novel with this plot.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 12:51 pm

Echoes of George Wallace’s “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”

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Nikole Hannah-Jones has an article whose title reminds one of George Wallace, standing in the school doorway to prevent integration: “Hundreds of School Districts Have Been Ignoring Desegregation Orders for Decades”. The ProPublica article is reprinted in Pacific Standard and begins:

For decades, federal desegregation orders were the potent tool that broke the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.

Federal judges, often facing down death threats and violence, blanketed Southern states with hundreds of court orders that set out specific plans and timetables to ensure the elimination of racial segregation. Federal agencies then aggressively used the authority of the courts to monitor hostile school systems, wielding the power of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to strip federal dollars from districts that refused to desegregate.

The pace of the change wrought by the federal courts was breathtaking. In 1963, about one percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools. Court orders proved most successful in the South, but were also used in an attempt to combat de facto segregation in schools across the country, from New York to Michigan to Arizona.

Today, this once-powerful force is in considerable disarray.

A ProPublica examination shows that officials in scores of school districts do not know the status of their desegregation orders, have never read them, or erroneously believe that orders have been ended. In many cases, orders have gone unmonitored, sometimes for decades, by the federal agencies charged with enforcing them.

At the height of the country’s integration efforts, there were some 750 school districts across the country known to be under desegregation orders.

Today, court orders remain active in more than 300 districts. In some cases, that’s because judges have determined that schools have not met their mandate to eliminate all vestiges of segregation.

But some federal courts don’t even know how many desegregation orders still exist on their dockets. With increasing frequency, federal judges are releasing districts from court oversight even where segregation prevails, at times taking the lack of action in cases as evidence that the problems have been resolved.

Desegregation orders were meant to . . .

Continue reading.

The constant pressure to cut government funding and cripple government programs has had many bad consequences. This is one, and (I think) deliberately so on the part of the GOP.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 8:59 am

Posted in Education, GOP, Government, Law

Bridgegate metastasizes to New York

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It’s going beyond New Jersey. Zach Fink reports in Salon:

It hasn’t been a great few weeks for New York governor Andrew Cuomo. He got in a public spat with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for closing down an anti-corruption commission, his budget was roundly criticized by many in his own party, and a new poll shows him losing serious ground to his Republican opponent if he gets a challenge on the left.

But another unwelcome development for the governor flew mostly under the radar, and has national implications. While the George Washington bridge scandal focused exclusively on the role of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the bridge is controlled by a joint New York-New Jersey bi-state authority – and last week Cuomo’s hand-picked Executive Director of the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, was issued a subpoena by the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the flap.

Investigators believe there are omissions in the carefully crafted timeline put forth by the Cuomo Administration about what they knew about the lane closures, and how they responded. ”Lots of questions need to be asked to fill in the blanks,” the committee’s Co-Chair John Wisniewski told Salon.

In a worst-case scenario, Cuomo’s version of events could . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 8:44 am

Posted in Democrats, Government

Congress may not be able to protect the environment or voting rights, but they sure as hell protect their technological and scientific ignorance

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Timothy Lee writes at Vox.com:

A lot of members of Congress were caught off guard in 2012 when the internet exploded in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act. Lobbyists for the motion picture and recording industries had assured them that the proposal, which involved creating a government-sponsored blacklist and forcing ISPs to block sites on it, wouldn’t be too disruptive to the internet ecosystem. But the people who actually run the internet were barely consulted.

At a December 2011 hearing, members of Congress admitted that they were not “nerds” and didn’t have the technical expertise to evaluate its provisions. But that didn’t stop them from pushing the legislation forward, until it was finally killed by a massive online protest the following months.

It would be nice if Congress had some technical experts on staff to analyze proposed legislation and advise members about its technical implications. And in fact, Congress did have an agency like that, called the Office of Technology Assessment, until Newt Gingrich zeroed out its funding in 1995.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), one of the few members of Congress with scientific training, wants to change that. Yesterday he introduced an amendment that would have allocated funds to re-start the agency. But it was defeated in a 164-248 vote.

It’s a puzzling move given how often people comment on Congress’s shortage of technical expertise — and it speaks to the way Congress view technical expertise as a luxury rather than a necessity. When they zeroed out the OTA’s funding in 1995, Holt says, the new Republican majority “actually said Congress shouldn’t have any special perks. As if having a congressional agency that provides advice is a perk.”

The problem, Holt continues, isn’t that Congress doesn’t have access to technical advice. To the contrary, there’s an endless parade of people wanting to advise Congress on technical issues. But much of the advice comes from lobbyists and other paid advocates who might not have the public’s best interests at heart. A staff of in-house technical experts could help members of Congress distinguish good advice from advice that is merely self-serving.

Holt’s amendment would have allocated $2.5 million to re-start OTA. That’s not enough money to get the agency back to the approximately 100 staffers it had two decades ago. But Holt is confident that once his colleagues see the benefits of an in-house technical staff, they will support further increases.

And Holt emphasizes that $2.5 million is a tiny amount of money compared to the amounts good technical advice can save taxpayers. For example, Holt notes that one OTA report recommending an overhaul of the Social Security Administration’s computer system led to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. He said OTA was also instrumental in convincing Congress to cut back the wasteful synfuels program in the 1980s, a move that saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

“There’s this old saying that if you think this is expensive, you ought to try ignorance,” Holt says. Yesterday Congress voted to prolong its own ignorance for another year.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 7:49 am

Posted in Congress, Technology

Writing fiction while recognizing the impact of race and culture

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The New Yorker has has a very good account by Junot Diaz of the problem with many MFA programs: working totally from the viewpoint of a white person of privilege, with no understanding of real issues (and thus subjects of fiction) of race and non-white culture. It’s strange: Frank O’Connor, a truly excellent writer, talked about how short stories become most vivid when they give voiced to a submerged population, a group whose voice is otherwise ignored. For Frank O’Connor that was the Irish and particularly the poor Irish. J.F. Powers wrote stories giving voice to nuns, monks, and priests who struggled with feelings ignored by the church hierarchy.

Worth reading, if you’re interested in serious fiction.

I will mention in passing that I was in the University of Iowa Writers Workshop for a while, and I similarly had the naive idea that the MFA program would be nurturing and supportive. That one wasn’t, not at the time. At least not for me.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 7:42 am

Posted in Books, Education, Writing

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