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Archive for April 8th, 2018

Good news: In Wisconsin, authorities now have to convict you of a crime before they can take your cash

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Before, law enforcement officials could simply take your money and other property and you had to prove you were innocent to get it returned.

Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed into law a forfeiture reform billlast week that will require law enforcement officials to obtain a criminal conviction before permanently taking a person’s cash or property, making Wisconsin the 15th state to do so.

The law is intended to address the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, a common legal maneuver that allows police to seize and keep cash, real estate and other property from people suspected of criminal activity, regardless of whether those people are convicted.

Defenders of civil forfeiture, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, maintain that it’s a valuable law enforcement tool that allows authorities to seize the ill-gotten gains of criminals who are difficult to apprehend and convict, such as the leaders of international drug cartels

But the reality of forfeiture is often very different. A Washington Post investigation revealed that police officers routinely seize small amounts of cash during traffic stops under flimsy pretenses. Civil liberties groups have found that forfeiture actions tend to target minority neighborhoods and involve amounts of cash that are “pocket change.”

In most states and at the federal level, authorities are allowed to keep whatever they seize from suspects, regardless of whether a criminal conviction is obtained or whether a charge is filed. Reform groups such as the Institute for Justice contend that this creates a profit motive that encourages law enforcement agencies to seize cash and property to pad their budgets.

Nationwide, forfeiture actions amount to a huge transfer of property and wealth from private people to government agencies. At the federal level alone, asset seizures topped $5 billion in 2014, greater than the amount of property lost to burglary. The inspector general of the Justice Department last year found that since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone took more than $3 billion in cash from people who were never charged.

Reports like these have inspired legislative changes in a number of states, most recently Wisconsin. The bill Walker signed shifts the burden of proof in forfeiture cases to the state, instead of requiring suspects to prove their innocence. The government can permanently forfeit property only if a person is tried and convicted in criminal court.

But the Institute for Justice notes that several significant loopholes remain in the new legislation. If the property owner doesn’t challenge the forfeiture in court, for instance, after a waiting period of nine months, law enforcement officials can permanently seize it, regardless of whether a conviction is obtained.

“In many forfeiture cases, it often costs more to hire a lawyer to fight for the seized property than what the property itself is actually worth,” legislative analyst Nick Sibilla wrote in a statement. “That forces many property owners to walk away and abandon their property, even in states that enacted reforms.”

According to Lee McGrath, the institute’s senior legislative counsel, Minnesota enacted a similar law in 2014. “But even after reform [in Minnesota], over 95 percent of civil forfeitures do not involve a criminal conviction, precisely because the owner either could not or did not challenge the forfeiture case in civil court,” McGrath wrote.
The bill also lets law enforcement officials keep property taken from people who “fled the jurisdiction,” which could create difficulties for out-of-state motorists traveling the state’s highways.
number of other states are considering forfeiture reform actions this legislative term, including  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2018 at 7:01 pm

Why the literature of antiquity still matters

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Michael Dirda writes in the Washington Post:

There are any number of reasons why we read, and reread, the literature of antiquity. First of all, its poems, plays, philosophical dialogues and, yes, novels (Lucian’s “A True Story,” Petronius’s “The Satyricon,” Apuleius’s “The Golden Ass”) aren’t just works that illuminate the human condition; they are — to use what might seem an oxymoron — profoundly entertaining.

What’s more, the classics of Greek and Latin literature provide templates and imagery that writers have drawn on for more than 2,000 years. Homer’s tale of Odysseus echoes down the ages, as Dante, Tennyson, James Joyce and many others ring changes on the wanderings and homecoming of that most resourceful of all the warriors who fought at Troy. “The Odyssey” itself is also constantly being reinvigorated through new translations, most recently that of Emily Wilson, the first woman to render the entire epic into English.

Wilson, though, is simply one star in a constellation of brilliant female classicists. On April 27, for instance, the University of Maryland honorsthe retirement of the anything-but-retiring professor Judith P. Hallett with an international colloquium titled “Women and Classical Scholarship.” Eminent trailblazers, such as Edith Hamilton (author of “Mythology”), have now been succeeded by MacArthur Award-winning poet-translators such as Anne Carson and A.E. Stallings. Carson’s first book, “Eros the Bittersweet” — a study of Sappho’s poetry — must be one of the most exciting works of criticism ever written. Stallings’s 2007 verse-translation of Lucretius’s “The Nature of Things” actually transforms that recondite poem about cosmology and human nature into an intellectual page-turner.

In her new English version of Hesiod’s Works and Days(Penguin), Stallings joins those who argue that its author wrote before Homer and is, thus, the first major poet of Western civilization. Today, Hesiod is known for two works — a genealogical history of the gods titled “Theogony” and what Stallings calls this “variegated and discursive poem about justice and man’s place in the world.” That sounds very high-minded, yet “Works and Days” is a surprisingly personal work, grounded in a quarrel between Hesiod and his brother over a paternal inheritance. As she did with Lucretius, the formalist Stallings again translates into couplets, this time channeling Robert Frost’s mid-register conversational tone. She consequently risks phrases such as “the payback of the gods” and refers to those who don’t do “a lick of work.” Her Hesiod can even be inadvertently funny: “Don’t let a woman mystify your mind/ With sweet talk and the sway of her behind — / She’s just after your barn.”

Still, the most famous section of Hesiod’s poem is probably his heavy-metal account of ancient history. From the paradise-like Golden Age, humankind has gradually devolved through eras of Silver and Bronze to arrive at our own dismal Iron Age, a time without pity, where “suffering never ceases” and all power comes from “the rule of fist.”

Certainly, an absence of pity characterizes Euripides’s greatest tragedy,Bakkhai, as Carson transliterates its title (New Directions). In it, the Asiatic god Dionysos announces that he has returned to his birthplace, Thebes, aiming “to make myself known:/ my rituals, my dances, my religion, my livewire self.” First, he converts the most aristocratic women of the city into whirling dervishes, gentle enough when they gambol in the mountains but capable of superhuman ferocity. Even two standbys from Greek myth, the now decrepit Kadmos, who once sowed the dragon’s teeth, and the aged prophet Teiresias decide to join Dionysos’s posse. “We must get to the mountain,” Kadmos says. “Should we call a cab?” To which Teiresias replies, “That doesn’t sound very Dionysian.”

Throughout, the sassy, seductive Dionysos deliberately antagonizes Thebes’s King Pentheus, who espouses traditional civilized values but represses his own desires, which emerge when he dons women’s apparel. In the end, Pentheus is torn apart by maenads led by his own deluded mother, who imagines she is killing a lion. Her eventual recognition of the truth makes for one of the most shocking epiphanies in Greek drama. Though “Bakkhai” might appear a warning against manic behavior and mindless emotion, it actually stresses the need to accommodate the instinctual in our natures. The mature individual, as Jung said, must embrace his darker, shadow self.

In Horace: Odes and Carmen Saeculare (Hackett), the versatile translator Stanley Lombardo sticks close to the facing-page Latin but eschews the more singing melodiousness of a James Michie or David Ferry. Horace, of course, remains ever-fresh. The famous Ode 1.5, Latin scholar Anthony Corbeill tells us in an endnote, has been translated more than 500 times. Lombardo’s take on it begins: “What slender boy has you bedded on roses/ and, oiled and scented, urges you on/ in some pleasant cave, Pyrrha?” Ode 4.7 — the one A.E. Housman acclaimed the most beautiful poem in ancient literature — is particularly appropriate for April: “The snows have fled away; grass to the meadows/ and leaves to the trees return/ Earth goes through her changes.”

All of the above are familiar classics, but not so The Elegies of Maximianus , now deftly translated by A.M. Juster (University of Pennsylvania) and introduced by Michael Roberts. In them, Maximianus, who flourished in the 6th century and was a friend of the philosopher Boethius, epigrammatically reflects on old age, lost love and sexual impotence. The noted Latinist Helen Waddell convincingly likened him to Maupassant.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2018 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Books

The brutal mirror: What the psychedelic drug ayahuasca showed me about my life.

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Sean Illing reports in Vox:

When I finally puked on the fourth night, I felt an odd sense of pride.

Inside the loud, stuffy ceremony room, people were laughing, crying, chanting, gyrating, and, yes, vomiting, around me. When my time finally comes, I think: Just aim for the bucket and keep your ass above your head like the shaman told you.

I try to wipe my face but can’t grab the tissue paper because it melts every time I reach for it. Nearby, a man starts to scream. I can’t make out what he’s saying on account of the shaman singing beautiful Colombian songs in the other room.

I finish vomiting and start crying and laughing and smiling all at once. Something has been lifted in this “purge,” something dark and deep I was carrying around for years. Relief washes over me, and I slowly make my way back to my mattress on the floor.

For four consecutive nights, a group of 78 of us here at a retreat center in Costa Rica have been drinking a foul-tasting, molasses-like tea containing ayahuasca, a plant concoction that contains the natural hallucinogen known as DMT.

We’re part of a wave of Westerners seeking out ayahuasca as a tool for psychological healing, personal growth, or expanding consciousness.

I flew to Costa Rica hoping to explode my ego. And I was not prepared for what happened. Ayahuasca turned my life upside down, dissolving the wall between my self and the world. I also stared into what I can only describe as the world’s most honest mirror. It was a Clockwork Orange-like horror show, and it was impossible to look away. But I saw what I needed to see when I was ready to see it.

Ayahuasca exposes the gap between who you think you are and who you actually are. In my case, the gap was immense, and the pain of seeing it for the first time was practically unbearable.

An ayahuasca boom

Ayahuasca remains a fringe psychological medicine, but it’s slowly working its way into the mainstream. Until fairly recently, you had to travel to South America if you wanted to experiment with the plant, but now ayahuasca ceremonies are popping up in the United States and Europe.

Indigenous people in countries like Colombia and Peru have been brewing the concoction for thousands of years, mostly for religious or spiritual purposes. It’s considered a medicine, a way to heal internal wounds and reconnect with nature.

It wasn’t until 1908 that Western scientists acknowledged its existence; British botanist Richard Spruce was the first to study it and write about the “purging” it invokes. He was mainly interested in classifying the vines and leaves that made up the magic brew, and in understanding its role in Amazonian culture.

Ayahuasca emerged again in the early 1960s with the counterculture movement. Beat writers like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac all described their experiences with ayahuasca, most famously in Burroughs’s book The Yage Letters. Scientist-hippies like Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary then went to South America to research and experience the drug firsthand. All of this helped bring ayahuasca into Western culture, but it was never truly popularized.

Today, the tea is having a bit of a moment.

Celebrities like Lindsay LohanSting, and Chelsea Handler have spoken about their experiences with it. “I had all these beautiful images of my childhood and me and my sister laughing on a kayak, and all these beautiful things with me and my sister,” Handler told the New York Post after her first ayahuasca trip. “It was very much about opening my mind to loving my sister, and not being so hard on her.”

Handler’s experience appears to be common. The scientific evidence on ayahuasca is limited, but it is known to activate repressed memories in ways that allow people to come to a new understanding of their past. In some cases, it helps people work through memories of traumatic events, which is why neuroscientists are beginning to study ayahuasca as a treatment for depression and PTSD. (There are physical and psychological risks to taking it as well — it can interfere with medication and exacerbate existing psychiatric conditions.)

What I was looking for

My interest in ayahuasca was specific: I wanted to cut through the illusion of selfhood. Psychedelics have a way of tearing down our emotional barriers. You feel plugged into something bigger than yourself, and — for a moment, at least — the sensation of separation melts away.

Buddhists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers have all made persuasive arguments that there is nothing like a “fixed self,” no thinker behind our thoughts, no doer behind our deeds. There is only consciousness and immediate experience; everything else is the result of the mind projecting into the past or the future.

But this is a difficult truth to grasp in everyday life. Because you’re conscious, because it’s like something to be you, it’s very easy to believe that a wall exists between your mind and the world. If you’re experiencing something, then there must be a “you” doing the experiencing. But the “you” in this case is just an abstraction; it’s in your mind, not out there in the world.

I spent about five years as a philosophy graduate student and another few as a teacher. I understood these arguments in intellectual terms but not in experiential terms. I’ve tried meditating, and I’m terrible at it. My mind is a parade of discordant thoughts, and as a result, I’m rarely present — in conversations, during meditation, in daily life.

One way to escape this trap, I hope, is to get the hell out of my head.

There are many ways to reach the truth of non-selfhood. Think of it as a mountain peak, with meditators and certain spiritual traditions ascending different sides. Psychedelic drugs offer a kind of shortcut; you get a glimpse of this higher truth without all those years of serious, disciplined practice.

That shortcut is what I was after.

Night 1: dread

The approach at this retreat center, called Rythmia, is all-encompassing. During the day they pamper you with all the luxuries of a wellness retreat — massages, volcanic mud baths, organic food, yoga classes, colonic cleanses. Then at night, you drink ayahuasca and put yourself through emotional and physical hell.

One of the first things I was told is that I had to enter the ayahuasca ceremony with a clear goal or question in mind: What do you want to learn about yourself?

The trained facilitators who led the ceremonies recommend that you begin with a simple request: Show me who I’ve become.

The question implies that at some point you lost yourself, that when you were a child, your soul was pure, open, uncorrupted by culture. As you enter society, you lose that childlike love for the world. You start to judge yourself by external standards. You compare yourself to friends, neighbors, and peers. You develop an ego, an identity, and your well-being becomes bound up with these constructs.

There’s nothing new about these ideas, but they strike me as true all the same. So I decide to focus on self-discovery.

It’s now 5:15 pm, and the first ceremony starts in 15 minutes. I’m terrified. “Do I really want to see what I’ve become?” I keep asking. I’m pretty sure I won’t like the answer — almost no one does, it seems.

The doors open, and all 78 of us here for this week-long session pour into the ceremony room, called the “flight deck.” The room is big, divided into three sections, and there are two bathrooms on each side. It’s dimly lit, and mattresses are lined up on the floor against the walls. The beds are only a few inches apart. At the foot of each mattress is a roll of toilet paper and a blue or red bucket.

I pounce on the first mattress I see; it’s near the door and just a few feet from the bathroom. I feel safe here. To my right is Chad, a photographer from Ontario who looks as nervous as I am but somehow seems more prepared for this. To my left is a giant window that opens to a view of the courtyard.

There’s a nervous collective energy. Almost everyone here is doing ayahuasca for the first time, and we’re all scared shitless. They announce the first call to drink, and I make my way to the front of the line. One by one, we take our cups, silently reflect on the intention for the evening, and then drink.

It’s my turn to drink. The stuff is nasty, like a cup of motor oil diluted with a splash of water. I throw it back like a shot of cheap bourbon.

We’re instructed to sit up and lean against the wall after the first cup. The tea takes at least 30 minutes to work its way through the body. I sit quietly for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, and then I lie down on my mattress and wait.

Nothing happens. I feel a little dizzy but nothing overwhelming. I go outside, walk around a bit, feel my feet in the grass. Then they announce a call for the second drink. I remember the mantra here: “Drink, don’t think.” If you can hear the call, if you can move your body, you drink. So I awkwardly drag myself out of bed and head to the front for a second cup.

About 30 minutes pass, and I start to feel … strange. I can see colors, shapes, and shifting shadows on the wall. I’m nervous that something is about to happen, so I go outside and gather myself. I settle in one of the hammocks and stare at the stars.

Suddenly the stars start to spin in a clockwise direction. Then a little faster. Then, for reasons that escape me, I start yelling at the moon, saying over and over again, “Is there anyone up there? Is each other all we have?” (Don’t ask me why I did this.)

So it goes, for what feels like an hour or two. I keep hurling those two questions at the heavens but get no answers, no insights, just silence and spinning.

I walk back inside and collapse in my bed. For the rest of the night, I see sporadic visions of geometric figures, a few flashes of light, but that’s about it. Then one of the assistants starts to ring a gentle bell.

It’s 2 am, and it’s time to close the ceremony.

Night 2: “Don’t fight the medicine”

The next day I realize why I had no great revelations on the first night. I couldn’t let go. I thought I was prepared for the trip, but anxiety got the better of me. As soon as I thought something — anything — was about to happen, I tried to think myself out of the experience.

Tonight will be different. I’m going to stay in the moment, stay with my breath, and see what happens. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2018 at 7:50 am

Posted in Daily life

A New Study Shows How American Polarization Is Driven by a Team-Sport Mentality, Not by Disagreement on Issues

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Zaid Jilani has an interesting report in the Intercept:

IN 2004, THEN-SENATOR Barack Obama wowed the country with an address at the Democratic National Convention designed to unite the country and tear down partisan divides.

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes,” he said. “Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”

He talked about how in so-called blue states they “worship an awesome God” and about how people have gay friends in red states. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” he said to thunderous applause.

The years since then have softened the national debate over marriage equality, but the question of how we fall into color-coded political patterns has gotten even more resonant. While support for same-sex marriage has increased, for instance, support for “interpolitical marriage” — specifically, Gallup asked adults about the prospect of their son or daughter marrying someone of a different political background — has actually gone down.

But what if the source of this polarization has little do with where people actually fall on the issues, or what people actually believe in? What if people are simply polarized by political labels like “liberal” and “conservative” and what they imagine their opponents to be like more than they are by disagreements over issues like taxes, abortion, and immigration?

That news wouldn’t surprise anybody who’s spent time battling it out in a news outlet’s comment section, and it’s the firm conclusion of new research by Lilliana Mason, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Her paper, “Ideologues Without Issues: the Polarizing Consequences of Ideological Identities,” published in late March by Public Opinion Quarterly, uses 2016 data from Survey Sampling International and American National Election Studies to study how and why Americans are politically polarized.

She used measures that identify both where people stand on issues and how they identify their political clan. For issues, she took six major ones from the survey: “immigration, the Affordable Care Act, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and the relative importance of reducing the deficit or unemployment.” Additionally, she used their measurements of social identity on a range from liberal to conservative.

She then sought to correlate these answers with questions where respondents answered whether they would prefer to live next door to, marry, be friends with, or spend social time with someone who differs from them politically.

She found that the political identity people adopt was far more predictive of their preferences for social interaction.

For instance, “moving from the least identified to the most identified with an ideological label increases preference for marrying inside the ideological group by 30 percentage points.” In other words, if you are a committed liberal, you’re much more likely to want to live next to other committed liberals. But if you just disagree strongly with them about a specific issue like abortion, not so much.

She writes, “The effect of issue-based ideology is less than half the size of identity-based ideology in each element of social distance. … These are sizable and significant effects, robust to controls for issue-based ideology, and they demonstrate that Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences.”

“There’s been a debate within political science for a long time about whether or not the American public is polarized,” Mason said in an interview with The Intercept. “I’m sort of making this argument that as you have multiple social identities that line up together, people hate their out groups more regardless of their policy positions.”

She noted, for instance, that Americans who identify most strongly as conservative, whether they hold more left-leaning or right-leaning positions on major issues, dislike liberals more than people who more weakly identify as conservatives but may hold very right-leaning issue positions.

THE LOOSE CONNECTION some voters have with policy preferences has become apparent in recent years. Donald Trump managed to flip a party from support of free trade to opposition to it by merely taking the opposite side of the issue. Democrats, meanwhile, mocked Mitt Romney in 2012 for calling Russia the greatest geopolitical adversary of the United States, but now have flipped and see Russia as exactly that. Regarding health care, the structure of the Affordable Care Act was initially devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts as “Romneycare.” Once it became Obamacare, the Republican team leaders deemed it bad, and thus it became bad.

Mason believes the implications of such shallow divisions between people could make the work of democracy harder. If your goal in politics is not based around policy but just defeating your perceived enemies, what exactly are you working toward? (Is it any surprise there is an entire genre of campus activism dedicated to simply upsetting your perceived political opponents?)

“The fact that even this thing’s that supposed to be about reason and thoughtfulness and what we want the government to do, the fact that even that is largely identity-powered, that’s a problem for debate and compromise and the basic functioning of democratic government. Because even if our policy attitudes are not actually about what we want the government to do but instead about who wins, then nobody cares what actually happens in the government,” Mason said. “We just care about who’s winning in a given day. And that’s a really dangerous thing for trying to run a democratic government.”

She suggested a solution:  . . .

Continue reading.

I’m not very sports oriented, but I think those who are would benefit by following the sport and not just a team, and applaud good plays (for being good) regardless of the team making the play. (This is not, I  imagine, a popular view: it would offend tribalism, to which many cling.)

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2018 at 6:35 am

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