August 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Who Was Maureen Dowd's Source? (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 8/01/15, Weekly Standard)

Here's part of Maureen Dowd's interesting and moving column in tomorrow's New York Times on Joe Biden:

When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.

"Of course, honey," the vice president replied.

At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him.

My kid's dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he's making sure I'm O.K.

"Dad, I know you don't give a damn about money," Beau told him, dismissing the idea that his father would take some sort of cushy job after the vice presidency to cash in.

Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, "Dad, it's who you are." [...]

Ask this question: Who gave Maureen Down the details of the conversations between Joe Biden and his sons? The details are, after all, pretty ... detailed: There are direct quotations from Beau, Hunter, and Joe; a sentence capturing the thought process of Joe; a brief description of Beau's physical state. It's great reporting, and it's a story well-told; but we can ask, how did Maureen Dowd know this? Who was willing and able to give her this level of detail?

Somewhere, Richard Ben Cramer is joyful, because that's exactly the kind of phoney-baloney nonsense that Joe loves to make up.  The rest of us just have to wonder if Neil Kinnock had a son die young...

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


Conservative donor Charles Koch urges end to 'corporate cronyism,' 'welfare for the wealthy' (JULIE BYKOWICZ, 8/01/15, Associated Press)

Billionaire industrialist and conservative political donor Charles Koch welcomed a group of roughly 450 like-minded fundraisers to one of his twice-annual conferences Saturday by challenging them to advocate for ending "corporate cronyism" - even if those policies help their businesses.

Koch, who along with brother David has long pressed for a federal government that collects fewer taxes and issues fewer regulation, said cutting back special treatment for business is the first step to ending a "two-tiered society" and encouraging "principled entrepreneurship"

"Where I believe we need to start in reforming welfare is eliminating welfare for the wealthy," Koch said. "This means stopping the subsidies, mandates and preferences for business that enrich the haves at the expense of the have nots."

Subsidies are always bad policy.
Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


A tourist in the land of the ayatollahs : From ayatollahs railing against the Great Satan (aka the United States) to whip-wielding policemen on motorbikes, Iran hasn't presented the most inviting face to the outside world over the last few decades. But a few days ago the UK Foreign Office stopped telling travellers to avoid non-essential trips. So what's it like for a visiting foreigner? (Amy Guttman, 7/31/15, bbc mAGAZINE)

I'm fairly fearless in far-flung places, but arriving in Tehran made me nervous. As a single, white female, I stuck out. I scanned the hall for my guide Amin, and didn't relax until I spotted his placard with my name on it.

British, American and Canadian tourists must be accompanied at all times by a guide. This meant Amin, short in stature, but long in kindness, would spend the next eight days with me - many of them stretching from dawn until late at night. Amin, with his warm smile, sharp sense of humour, and gentle nature became like a brother to me. He also became my accountant. Hotels, food and souvenirs are roughly on a par with American prices, but for an outsider working this out can be tricky - Iran uses the rial, but prices are often in toman, which equal 10 rials... Let's just say there are several zeros to contend with, and long-division skills are a necessity. [...]

All women, including foreign tourists, must wear a headscarf and manteau, a loose robe covering neck to knee, including elbows. Only the most religious are cloaked in black. Most women embrace colours and patterns.

An entire cottage industry has emerged to supply this mandatory uniform. At one end of the scale you find bespoke interpretations from design studios in sophisticated styles such as a pale-blue linen duster coat, or fabric overlays in contrasting shades. Some are casual, others elegant.

But there is a manteau for everyone. I wore a shirt dress over trousers, which was totally acceptable, but visited Tehran's Friday Market to buy more manteaux for the rest of my trip. There were rooms and rooms of vendors selling antiquities, handicrafts, jewellery, household goods, rugs and clothing, all crowded with local people. Most tourists head to the Grand Bazaar, but it's the Friday Market where the bargains are - and haggling is a must.
Women shop at the Grand Bazaar

I wandered through it with Sarah, another guide, who watched me admire an inexpensive, vintage pendant and instructed me not to buy it. "I have one just like it at home. I will give it to you," Sarah said. The legendary Persian hospitality was in full swing, with no expectation of anything in return. I was relieved she was by my side, when I received a warning from the religious police - my headscarf had slipped to the back of my neck and needed to be returned to the top of my head.

One long road, Vali Asr, divides the east and west of Tehran, charting the personalities of the city as it snakes from south to north. The south is home to the more religious and traditional, working and middle classes. The north is home to Tehran's elite, successful business owners and the Alborz Mountains. In the south you find affordable dress shops selling conservative styles - further north, these turn into boutiques, which wouldn't be out of place in a European capital.

The streets are quiet in Tehran in the early morning - until the rush-hour begins. Then they become choked with traffic, and it stays that way all day and into the night. Apart from that it's easy to get around Tehran, and the rest of the country too. Most tourists travel by car, often with a guide who is also a driver. The roads seemed perfectly safe to me.

I also took a short, domestic flight to the city of Yazd, famous for its 15 different cookies and a Fire Temple, containing a flame kept alight since 470 AD.

In the departures hall, before the flight back to Tehran, men and women were quite casual about mixing in public. A friendly man in his mid-thirties, carrying a box of cookies for his family back home, struck up a conversation with me. 

We joked about everyday topics and his geniality didn't stop once we boarded the plane. After we landed, he saw me waiting for Amin while family members and taxi drivers came to meet others. "Are you OK? Is someone coming for you?" he asked. I assured him my guide was probably delayed by traffic, but he insisted on waiting with me until Amin arrived.

I also met women who made a big impression. Fatemeh Fereidooni established her own travel agency two years ago. She's a strong, single woman and the first to offer culinary tours in Iran - as good a sign as any, that Western tourism is on the up. With eight different kinds of bread in Tehran alone and each region of the country producing its own unique watermelon, there is no shortage of stops. Dishes like lamb with pomegranates and walnuts, herb stew with beans and turmeric-seasoned beef or jewelled saffron rice with slivers of almonds and dried fruit read like an Ottolenghi menu - an imaginative reinvention of Middle Eastern cuisine - except they are Persian classics.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


A Former Ally Says Bernie Sanders Has Changed (MARK DAVIS, July 29, 2015, 7 Days)

Sanders quit the Liberty Union Party and, while remaining a "democratic socialist," went on to support Democratic Party candidates. He rose to become a respected leader in Vermont and is now a presidential contender.

Meanwhile, Diamondstone hasn't budged an inch politically. He has entered every Vermont state election since the early 1970s and never won more than 7 percent of the vote. He is known as much for his antics and unconventional appearance -- bushy beard and thick, curly hair -- as for his socialist views.

As Sanders has been jetting around the country this summer, speaking to adoring crowds, Diamondstone has been recuperating from complications from heart and liver failure. He's been confined to his Dummerston home since Medicare stopped paying for his stay in a respite facility. Clad in compression socks, he uses a walker to get around.

When he looks at his old friend, does Diamondstone ever think, "That could have been me?"

Sitting in his living room, the 80-year-old Socialist paused but couldn't summon a direct answer. He noted that it has been decades since he and Sanders have exchanged a friendly word.

"There's no 'friends' there for me," said Diamondstone. "There's nothing, from my point of view. He went in a certain direction, and that was the opposite of mine. Sanders and I suffered a hostile divorce. He was moving to the right, and I was moving to the left."

Diamondstone did admit feeling annoyance that Sanders gets credit, in Vermont and nationally, for an unwavering dedication to his beliefs -- as the guy who has been saying the same thing for years, no matter how unpopular.

If that were true, Diamondstone said, Sanders' career would look an awful lot like ... Diamondstone's. He views Sanders as just another sellout who moderated his image and compromised his beliefs to win elections.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds return to original Slough production site (BBC, 30 July 2015)

Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds are set to return to the site where they were originally created to mark the show's 50th anniversary.

Three new episodes, starring the show's iconic puppets, including Lady Penelope and Parker, will be produced at Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire.

The children's TV programme was written and filmed at the site of the estate between 1964 and 1966.

The project will use audio recordings of the original voice cast.

As well as these recordings, which were first released in 1966, the Thunderbirds 1965 project will feature recreated puppets and sets.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Getting It Write : a review of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris (JOHN R. COYNE JR. • July 9, 2015, American Conservative)  

Mary Norris, a copy editor charged with helping the magazine enforce its high standards, and the author of this splendid book, is an admirable woman totally immersed in and loving her work with words, writing, and writers--in no way pedantic and only mildly prescriptive, her own writing easy and unpretentious, touched throughout with genial good humor. In a wonderful introduction, she retraces her early work history, probably not quite the career path we'd imagine for a typical New Yorker employee--at 15, for reasons of sanitation, "checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland"; after graduation from Douglass College at Rutgers, a job at the Cleveland Costume Company, where "I learned to repair big papier-mache animal heads and not to paint the panther's eyes blue."

"I called a local dairy and asked whether there were any openings for milkmen." She fantasized about owning a dairy farm, she tells us. And she liked cows. "'We've never had a lady drive a milk truck, but there's no reason not,' a man said...." She mastered driving a dual-transmission truck, survived a crash, and was given her own milk-delivery route. 

You put the milk in a chute, she tells us, and shouted "Milkman!" But she wasn't a man, and she didn't like "lady"--"it seemed not feminist"--so she settled for "milkwoman, which was a bit too anatomically correct and made me sound like a wet nurse. I muffled the last syllables."

She gave up her milk route to accept a fellowship in English at the University of Vermont, where there was also an agricultural school. She learned to milk cows there and later got a job "packaging mozzarella on the night shift in a cheese factory," where she "had a secret yen to operate the forklift truck."

Somewhere along the line, on the road to The New Yorker, she became a member of the Brotherhood of Teamsters. She maintains her chauffeur's license.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Book review: Enemy on the Euphrates : a review of Ian Rutledge's book, Enemy on the Euphrates: The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt, 1914-1921  (WILLIAM EICHLER 8 July 2015, Open Democracy)

Its main focus, as the subtitle suggests, is "The Battle for Iraq, 1914-1921", but it deals in great detail with the byzantine negotiations and deals, the backstabbing and fighting, and the betrayals and murder that characterised the carve up of "Asiatic Turkey". It also vividly captures how the ground was prepared for much of the violence in today's Middle East.

Throughout the 19th century the Ottoman Empire--the so-called "sick man of Europe"--struggled to stay in one piece under the twin pressures of Great Power politics and separatist nationalism. The 600 year-old Muslim autocracy suffered repeated military defeats and new ideas about national self-determination were becoming attractive to its various Christian minorities.

Seeking to arrest its apparent decline it adopted technical innovations from its competitors, further centralised power in the hands of the Sublime Porte and promoted a new Ottoman identity that sought to unite Muslims and Christians. This had very little effect, as did later attempts at promoting pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism. The empire was finished and it was its entrance into WWI that sounded the final death knell.

The Allied powers did all they could to finish it off. They attempted to rally the Arabs against their Turkish overlords by promising Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, a rather ill-defined "independent Arab Kingdom". This proved only marginally effective and, despite the myths that surround the adventures of T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia (who comes across as a clown in Rutledge's telling), most of the region's population preferred to support the Sultan-Caliph in Istanbul.

This was probably just as well because the European powers had no serious intention of allowing the creation of a genuinely independent Arab Kingdom. Sir Mark Sykes, who was now in the War Office and a protégé of arch-imperialist Lord Kitchener, and the French diplomat François Georges-Picot had secretly divided up the Middle East into "spheres of influence" for Britain and France in what would become the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Iraq fell within Britain's "sphere of influence". There had been much deliberation in London about Britain's "economic and commercial interests" in the region and there was no question that Iraq, or at least a part of it, would have to stay under British control.

London's main concern was in defending the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's (APOC) oil fields and pipelines in Abadan in southwest Iran. The government owned majority shares in this corporation but, more importantly, the British navy was changing over to oil-fired ships and so control over oil fields was going to be a major strategic factor in the future. In order to guarantee this control they took over Basra and then moved north to Baghdad and, as it became clear that there was more oil to be had further north, Mosul.

In the end, the only Pioint that Wilson cared about was the least important.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


What does the future of work look like? (Abhimanyu Ghoshal , 8/02/15, Next Web)

"The new sharing economy and the way millennials think, have combined to create a new collaborate work culture. We're now working on the same files together and messaging each other all in one place. It's more about real-time teamwork and transparency than individual effort," [Google for Work president Amit Singh ] said. [...]

How is the way we work going to change in the next five years?

Singh predicts that AI-based assistants will play a big role in increasing human productivity:

We've been thinking a lot about the the increasing importance of mobility at work. We're currently taking traditional data and tools and unlocking them from your desk. But creating an intelligent assistant that goes where you do and helps you out by surfacing data when you need it, in context, cognitive in real-time -- I believe that's the future.

The search giant acquired machine learning firm DeepMind last year to boost its AI efforts, so it'll be interesting to see how Google follows up on Singh's vision.

Mathrubootham articulated it quite simply: "90 percent of the world consumes while only 10 percent creates. Consumption of content has moved steadily into the cloud and onto mobile devices, while the tools for creation remain tied to desktops. That's all going to move away from traditional computing devices to more personal, portable solutions by 2020."

And there's no reason that creative collaborators need be employees.
Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


The Dreadful Saviors: Feared Shiite Militias Battle Islamic State in Iraq (Christoph Reuter, 8/02/15, Der Spiegel)

What happens in Baiji and elsewhere is not a battle between unequal forces, but a tough, intense struggle between militias aided by snipers, explosives and homemade cannons.

"And we're the elites among the Shiite groups," says radio operator Abbas. His group, the League of the Righteous, was created in 2006 as a radical spinoff of the Shiite Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and includes thousands of well-trained fighters. Abbas is crouching in their quarters in Baiji, where men doze between ammunition crates in a living room, under pictures of children on the walls, with the booming sound of nearby mortar shells in the air. "That's why we always go to the front line. We have experience."

They certainly do. The League of the Righteous committed thousands of attacks against American soldiers and members of the Iraqi armed forces. They kidnapped and murdered civilians, most of them Sunnis. Now the collapse of the Iraqi army has provided them with a new reputation, as saviors of the nation.

Somehow it used to be easier, says Abbas. "We would conduct an operation against the Americans, and then we would go home. But this full-time war we are in now, we're not used to this. After all, we all have civilian jobs." Abbas is an elementary school principal, but his deputy is doing his job at the moment.

Abbas says he has respect for their opponent, IS. "They are professionals, too. They find the best positions for their snipers, who can wait for hours without moving an inch. When they withdraw, they mine everything -- houses, bridges, gardens. Sometimes we don't see a single one of them for weeks, and yet we still lose men. They are actually fighting for the first time here in Baiji."

A day earlier, the men put 19 bodies of IS militants on display on the militia-run TV channel. But that was an exception. Normally they don't find any bodies. Most of the 19 dead were from Saudi Arabia, says Abbas. They even shot a Chinese man recently, he adds. "A Chinese! Why here?" he shouts. "Did I kill Jackie Chan?"

The comment is slightly ironic given that radio operator Abbas himself has also fought abroad. His unit recently returned from Aleppo, where they fought for the Syrian regime, as contract fighters for President Bashar Assad. Abbas pauses as the irony dawns on him. "Perhaps this is no longer about countries. We Shiites must defend ourselves everywhere."

Commander Rasan and his men return to headquarters from the front line, bringing along two bodies in black bags: the young cameraman and one of their snipers. At first, Rasan and his men had tried to retrieve the sniper in a Humvee, but they were forced to pull back when they came under a barrage of fire from IS. "First they shoot at the tires, then at the windows," explains the shaken commander. "And they have armor-piercing ammunition." His men eventually manage to pull out the body by climbing through the ruins and carefully avoiding the enemy's lines of fire.

The offensive has come to a standstill. After several hours, additional fighters arrive from Baghdad as reinforcements, traveling in SUVs, taxis and pickup trucks. Despite the seemingly makeshift nature of their operation, the men agree that they are more capable of driving back IS than the Iraqi army. "The army can't do it," says Rasan. "It no longer has any real leadership, and it has no fighting spirit and no faith. This is a war between Sunnis and Shiites. The army has no place here."

Our occupation of Iraq just prevented this from happening in a more timely fashion.
Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


A shameful day for Israel (David Horovitz, 8/02/15, Times of Israel)

"We have been lax in tackling Jewish terrorism," President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged Friday, and he was right. "Price tag" attacks, hate crimes, acts of Jewish terrorism -- call them what you will, Israel's authorities have failed to prevent them, and failed overwhelmingly to apprehend those responsible for them.

Condemnation across the spectrum is not sufficient. Israel needs to act -- to catch the killers who targeted the Dawabsha family and the gangs who have carried out dozens of other attacks, and to work a great deal harder to prevent future such crimes.

Israeli intelligence and security are not perfect. Just witness the utter fiasco of Yishai Schlisser, who attacked participants at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2005, being released three weeks ago, making plain in interviews and statements that he was determined to repeat his crime, and yet being able to do so, to devastating effect, on Thursday afternoon. But the accumulation of unsolved hate crimes in the weeks, months and years before the Dawabsha attack would strongly suggest that Jewish terrorism has not been a top priority for Israel's security establishment. It needs to be. (Israel's Channel 2 reported Friday night that there have been 15 fire-bombings of Palestinian homes in the West Bank since 2008 by suspected Jewish terrorists; none of the assailants has been caught.)

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


A Paper-Thin Solar Panel Can Charge Your Phone on the Go (Bryan Lufkin, 7/17/15, Gizmodo)

Solar panels keep getting lighter and tinier--good news for rugged on-the-go types who can charge their devices on the trail with sun-fueled chargers. And this particular solar charger on Kickstarter is so thin, you can slip it in your Lonely Planet while it feeds your phone battery.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


RACHEL YEHUDA --How Trauma and Resilience Cross Generations (On Belief, 7/31/15, NPR)

Genetics describes DNA sequencing, but epigenetics sees that genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior. Rachel Yehuda is a pioneer in understanding how the effects of stress and trauma can transmit biologically, beyond cataclysmic events, to the next generation. She has studied the children of Holocaust survivors and of pregnant women who survived the 9/11 attacks. But her science is a form of power for flourishing beyond the traumas large and small that mark each of our lives and those of our families and communities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Canada prime minister Stephen Harper set to call October election (Reuters, 2 August 2015)

Polls indicate that Harper's right-of-center Conservative party, which has been in office since 2006, could lose its majority in the House of Commons.

That would leave Harper at the mercy of the two main centre-left opposition parties, who could unite to bring him down. Minority governments in Canada rarely last more than 18 months.

Harper, 56, says only he can be trusted to manage an economy that is struggling to cope with the after-effects of below-par global growth and a plunge in the price of oil, a major Canadian export.

The Conservatives are trailing slightly behind the left-leaning New Democrats (NDP), who have never governed Canada. The Liberals of Justin Trudeau are well behind in third.

Both parties say Canada needs a change from Harper, who has cut taxes, increased military spending, toughened the country's criminal laws and streamlined regulations governing the energy industry.

Five of Canada's last six election campaigns have lasted the minimum length of just over five weeks.

The Conservatives have deep pockets and the campaign - the longest in modern Canadian history and the third longest on record - will allow them to run a wave of attack ads. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


How the Iran Deal Complicates Israel's Approach to Iran (James Carafano, August 02, 2015, Daily Signal)

Israel, like all nations, has the inherent right of self-defense. The crucial question is: How will Israeli choose to exercise that right?

The right of self-defense does not demand that a country wait until it is physically attacked before taking steps to protect itself. But there are rules--and they mark the difference between preventative war and pre-emptive action.

Preventative war is when a country strikes another first because it perceives a potential future threat. Early in the Cold War, there was serious debate in U.S. policy circles about launching a preventative nuclear strike on the Soviet Union--before Stalin had a chance to build up his nuclear arsenal. It never happened, partly because such action would have been unethical, immoral and illegal.

While preventative war is beyond the pale, pre-emptive war is not. If a nation believes that it is under threat, it has the inherent right to protect itself. That requires judiciously weighing two factors: intent and actions.

Hiroshima's fate, 70 years ago this week, must not be forgotten (Andrew Anthony, 8/02/15, The Guardian)

In numbers of people killed, the second world war is uncontested in its claim to be the most murderous six years in human history. About 60 million perished in a global conflagration of total warfare. But amid this remorseless carnival of death and destruction, two very different events stand out for their grotesque novelty and their coldly efficient slaughter of civilians: the Holocaust, the world's first industrialised genocide, and Hiroshima, the world's first atomic bomb attack, which took place on 6 August 1945, 70 years ago this week.

Both cast long shadows over the 20th century and on into the present day. And both raise complex questions about the nature of humanity - that we have within us the capability to organise over several years the systematic extermination of a whole race of people, and also the obliteration of a large populated city in the blink of an eye.

While there's a natural tendency to overstate the number of casualties--on both sides--that would have resulted from an Allied invasion of the home islands, it is indisputable that the atomic bombs saved Allied lives and you can pick your own number of how many Japanese would have been killed had the war been won by "conventional" means.  It seems fairly certain that continued fire-bombing (after all, those two cities had been saved for nukes so we could measure the results) and an assault would have killed some considerable portion of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki toll, if not more.

So we get a fairly simple question, not whether the atomic bombs were morally justified, but whether the war was. Do the world's democracies--chiefly England, America and our Anglospheric partners--have the right to replace undemocratic regimes, especially those involved in exterminating populations, their own and others.  

The past hundred years suggest that, despite some feeble demurs, we all agree that we have not only the right but the obligation.

So, having determined that the Axis regimes could not stand, atomic weapons ought only have been a part of the calculus of how to end them quickest and with the least deaths--our own and theirs. 

Their use inarguably ended the regime, irrepective of the possibility that it might have been ended by other even less destructive means. 

Now, Mr. Anthony expresses horror at the Holocaust, with its seven million dead, but let us also add the millions of others who died in Hitler's wars.  

So, here's a simple question, why would it have been morally wrong to use an atomic weapon--had they been developed sooner--to destroy a German city where the Nazi Party was rallying in the years before the Holocaust reached full swing and before we'd had to invade the Continent?  By what moral calculus could say 100,000 deaths in such a bombing not justify saving ten million and more?

Likewise, how many holocausts occured--in the USSR, China, Cambodia, Korea, Iraq, Syria, etc.--because we failed to strike Stalin's regime immediately upon developing nukes?  How many lives would have been saved had the second demonstration  bomb been dropped on Moscow instead of on Nagasaki?

If the calculus we're engaged in concerns only, or mainly, the costs in lives, then the great sin of the 20th century was not using the bomb, but failing to do so.


August 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Iranian Dissidents Explain Why They Support the Nuclear Deal : We know what politicians from the U.S. to Israel think about the Iran nuclear deal. How about asking some opponents of Iran's regime? (DANNY POSTEL, 7/22/15, In These Times)

"All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran's international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society," the report's authors note, "negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata."

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure."
--Shahla Lahiji (Publisher, Roshangaran and Women Studies Publishers)

"Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now."
--Ahmad Shirzad (university professor and former member of Parliament)

"[M]any of our patients have problems obtaining their medication and medications are expensive. ... [M]any of our passenger airplanes have ... no repair facilities ... and we can't [get] spare parts."
--Abbas Ghaffari (film director)

"[An agreement] will have its first impact on society's collective mental state. While many predict this might be short-lived ... the psychological impact of this victory in the different sectors of the society will definitely not be short-lived. Such a positive impact can even move people to take action to improve their conditions."
--a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities in every area will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings." 
--Mahmoud Dolatabadi (author)

"[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities. The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups." 
--Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour (civil society activist and wife of a political prisoner)

"[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly."
--a civil rights lawyer in Tehran (anonymous)

"Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. ... The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. ... The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. ... [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode ... [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent." 
--a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

This last comment echoes the sentiments of Akbar Ganji, one of Iran's leading democratic dissidents who almost died on a hunger strike behind bars. "As a former Iranian political prisoner who spent six years in the Islamic Republic's jails and whose writings have been banned in Iran, I support the [nuclear] agreement," he has written. Reaching a nuclear deal, he argued, would "gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran." The Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam recently made a similar point.

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure" said tranlator and publisher Shahla Lahiji. (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue "should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties" and that "the nation's attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran," according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

That is, on the real issues in Iran. Or, to use an old-fashioned phrase, removing the nuclear issue--and the concomitant economic sanctions and threats of external military action--could "heighten the contradictions" within the Islamic Republic. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


When a Boy's Life Is Worth More Than His Sister's (VALERIE HUDSON, ANDREA DEN BOER, JULY 30, 2015f, Foreign Policy)

The list of countries where girls are culled from the population -- either actively (through sex-selective abortion) or passively (through inadequate nutrition and healthcare) -- is growing and has been for well over a decade. The phenomenon, previously concentrated in Asia, is now increasingly common in countries in southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Unless aggressively addressed, cultural diffusion will spread the practice even further, with disastrous consequences not only for women, but also for the stability of the nations in which these practices become normative.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


The Opportunity Debate Heats Up (WSJ, July 31, 2015)

In early July former Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered a strong speech in Washington, bluntly asserting that Republican policies would produce better results for black Americans than what Democrats long in political control of big U.S. cities have produced. On Friday attendees at the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale heard Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton speak. They were not singing from the same hymnal.

The former Florida Governor said that the decades-long War on Poverty effort, which has spent trillions of dollars, "while well intentioned, has been a losing one." He talked about his theme of a "right to rise" in America, which he said requires a much faster rate of economic growth and greater opportunity for all income groups. Mr. Bush also pushed school choice and charter schools, pointing to the gains in educational achievement when he was Governor. Mr. Perry pointed to similar performance in Texas. that it's not important that the nominee win more of the black vote; because simply courting it will tend to repress black turnout and make white women view him as moderate enough for them to be comfortable.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


U.S. Labor Costs Rise at Slowest Pace in Three Decades ( JOSH MITCHELL,  July 31, 201, WSJ)

U.S. labor costs rose at the slowest pace in at least three decades in the spring, a sign of persistently sluggish wage growth that could weigh on the Federal Reserve's decision to raise short-term interest rates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Ascendant Kurds emerge from Syrian civil war as major power player (Martin Chulov, 1 August 2015, The Guardian)

Now though, with some kind of safe haven seemingly on the table, it is the Kurds, not Isis, who control much of the north. The YPG-Syrian Kurds allied to the PKK in Turkey have influence from just north-east of Aleppo to the Iraqi border. They also control Irfin in north-western Syria. Isis controls the area between the Kurds - and it is here that the Turks want to enforce a safe haven, one effect of which would be to deny the Kurds in the north-east to link up with the north-west.

"The Turks' move last week is not about Isis," said one senior Kurdish official in Irbil. "It's about us." As Syria has crumbled, Syria's Kurds have quietly built an arc of influence that Turkey believes advances the broader Kurdish project of an eventual sovereign state carved from north-eastern Syria, south-eastern Turkey, parts of western Iran and what is now Iraqi Kurdistan.

This has raised an unprecedented alarm in Ankara, which wants nothing less than an emboldened and spreading Kurdish enclave just across its border, which could link up with the semi-autonomous Kurdish north of Iraq.

Turkey's fear over the Kurds has led it to ignore its anger at what it sees as US prevarication in moving against Bashar al-Assad. It has done little to convince Washington, however, that it is serious about tackling Isis.

Turkey's approach to the group had until recently been to contain rather than confront. And, since the jihadist group gathered momentum, the US has been pressuring Turkey to seal its borders and to stop interactions with Isis officials, such as buying smuggled oil, which keep the terror organisation's economy rumbling.

Throughout the past four years, all stakeholders in the Syrian war, then the war against Isis in Iraq and Syria, have been trying to avoid one outcome - a breakdown of unitary borders that had bound together the centre of the region for much of the past century.

A de facto partition already exists in Iraq, where the Kurds of the north and the Sunnis of Anbar are drifting ever further from central government control. Now, with Syria's Kurds ascendant, hopes that the country as it is now may again be controlled from Damascus are also falling.

The creation of Kurdistan is a function of U.S. violence against internationally recognized regimes and a great achievement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Pope Francis has chosen social media star Robert Barron for Los Angeles auxiliary bishop (Sarah Pulliam Bailey July 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Pope Francis has named Chicago priest Robert Barron one of three new assistant bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a move some insiders are calling noteworthy because of his wide social media presence.

Barron is well known among church-going Catholics, since his video series on Catholicism is regularly shown in churches across the U.S. His appointment is both surprising and not surprising, said James Martin, editor at large of America magazine.

"It's surprising because bishops aren't normally people who are so media savvy," Martin said. "But given his talent and profile, I thought this was just a matter of time."

We'd always liked his movie reviews and cultural commentary, but the Catholicism series is a tremendous sustained statement of the faith with A League production values.  It's Chesterton/Lewis-worthy and marked, in particular, by a tremendous generosity of spirit.  Father Barron's is a religion of love.

New Video Series Contemplates the "Mystery of God" (MATTHEW BECKLO, 7/31/15, Aleteia)

 Merton wrote. ]"I had never had an adequate notion of what Christians meant by God."
The problem is a familiar one to Fr. Robert Barron, the YouTube evangelist and recently elected auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. What is (and what isn't) the 'God' of Christianity? How do we know? Arguments about God's existence and non-existence all seem to hinge on a more critical question: namely, what is it we're all talking about when we talk about God?
This recurring theme of Fr. Barron's ministry has culminated in a six-part video series titled "The Mystery of God: Who God Is and Why He Matters," which puts the enigma of the meaning of "God" front and center.
The first talk, "Atheism and What We Mean By 'God'," is a longer, more polished video in keeping with Word on Fire's minimalist aesthetic. With typically deft and sweeping insights, Fr. Barron brings us from Christopher Hitchens back to the great giants of modern unbelief, most notably Feuerbach. The upshot is this: when any of these atheists recasts God as the ruler of a kind of "celestial dictatorship," scaling back human freedom or demanding credit for this or that natural process, they pivot on a "Yeti theory of God," which thinks of God as a kind of supreme being that's either "out there" in the universe or not.
You can hardly blame them. Christians everywhere loudly profess the God atheists are busy deconstructing. But there is a lively classical alternative to this false dilemma, one that continues to revolutionize the way people approach the question to begin with. Drawing on Augustine, Aquinas, and other giants of Catholic theology, Fr. Barron returns to the notion that flipped a switch in Merton's mind all those years ago: ipsum esse, the infinite wellspring of the universe that, to borrow from Gilson, lies "beyond all sensible images, and all conceptual determinations... the absolute act of being in its pure actuality."
That wellspring is not a problem for us to solve, but a mystery in which "we live and move and have our being." 

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


No interviewers are asking Tom Cruise about Scientology. Here's why that's not surprising. (Emily Yahr, July 31, 2015, Washington Post)

It's the extremely obvious elephant in the room and it's impossible to overlook. Earlier this week, TheWrap reported that reporters are banned from asking Cruise about his dating life or Scientology. "At the very least, Cruise is the highest-profile advocate for an institution that's been repeatedly charged with human-rights abuses over the past few decades," The Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert wrote. "If [accounts] are accurate, he's the second most-powerful person in Scientology, and he's completely insulated from even the most irreverent television personalities in the country asking him questions about it."

Gilbert points out the strangeness of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, a master at calling out hypocrisy, interviewing Cruise this week and completely gliding over the topic, instead bantering about workout routines. 

(A) What could be funnier than Mr. Speaking-truth-to-Power being cowed by a cult?


(B) I'm in the middle of Lawrence Wrigh't book, Going Clear, and it is, predictably, a great read.  However odd you think Hubbard and his followers are, multiply that by googleplex.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


China's Naked Emperors (Paul Krugman, 7/31/15, ny tIMES)

China's leaders appear to be terrified -- probably for political reasons -- by the prospect of even a brief recession. So they've been pumping up demand by, in effect, force-feeding the system with credit, including fostering a stock market boom. Such measures can work for a while, and all might have been well if the big reforms were moving fast enough. But they aren't, and the result is a bubble that wants to burst.

China's response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. These are things you might do for a couple of days to contain an obviously unjustified panic, but they're being applied on a sustained basis to a market that is still far above its level not long ago.

What do Chinese authorities think they're doing?

In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market's plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge "shadow banking" sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.

But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it's ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.

Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves.

Contra Mr. Krugman, the Chinese economy was built on nothing but cheap labor and "stability."  If you share the wealth with the masses you can't get them to work cheap.  If you don't, you provoke instability.  It's a lose/lose, which is why the PRC has no future.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Spin to separate : Sweating on purpose is becoming an elite phenomenon (The Economist, Aug 1st 2015)

Jobs no longer involve labor and we're so wealthy we all have nearly unlimited access to calories.  One of the bases of future wealth transfers could be fitness.

July 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Ebola vaccine trial proves 100% successful in Guinea (Sarah Boseley, 31 July 2015, The Guardian)

A vaccine against Ebola has been shown to be 100% successful in trials conducted during the outbreak in Guinea and is likely to bring the west African epidemic to an end, experts say.

The results of the trials involving 4,000 people are remarkable because of the unprecedented speed with which the development of the vaccine and the testing were carried out.

Scientists, doctors, donors and drug companies collaborated to race the vaccine through a process that usually takes more than a decade in just 12 months.

...the disease didn't stand a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


As Americans Figure Out the Roundabout, It Spreads Across the U.S. (ERIC A. TAUB, 7/31/15, NY Times)

Once seen only in countries like France and Britain, the roundabout, favored by traffic engineers because it cuts congestion and reduces collisions and deaths, is experiencing rapid growth in the United States.

First built in the United States in the early 1990s, roundabouts have doubled in the last decade, to around 5,000 today, according to Richard Retting, a former transportation researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "There are hundreds if not thousands more in the planning stages," he said. [...]

Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles. Columbus Circle in Manhattan, for example, is a traffic circle; vehicles have the right of way based on when their light turns green.

But roundabouts typically do not have traffic lights; instead, a vehicle approaching one slows to around 20 miles an hour and yields to those already in the circle.

New Jersey has gradually been replacing traffic circles with roundabouts. At trouble-prone intersections, "one of the options given serious consideration would be a modern roundabout," said Kevin Israel, spokesman for the New Jersey Transportation Department.

Compared with stop signs and traffic lights, roundabouts are significantly safer, engineers say. For example, crashes that result in serious injuries or death are reduced by 82 percent versus a two-way stop, and by 78 percent compared with an intersection with traffic lights, according to Jeff Shaw, the intersections program manager for the Federal Highway Administration.

Mr. Retting of the insurance group said that the reduction in injuries and fatalities was "unmatched by anything else we can do in traffic engineering."

Unlike standard intersections, drivers cannot speed across a street and hit a vehicle in the perpendicular lane; instead, they must slow and merge with others in the circle. Left turns in front of oncoming traffic are eliminated. And because vehicles never come to a complete stop, less fuel is consumed.

Elon Musk: Tesla 'almost ready' to go driverless (Cludia Assis, July 31, 2015, Marketwatch)

Elon Musk has test-driven Tesla's next software update, which will enable cars to steer themselves on highways and parallel park. [...]

The Model S cars have built-in driver-assistance systems that include, among other things, forward radar, a camera mounted by the rear-view mirror, and 12 sensors that can sense objects within 16 feet of the car. Tesla is able to release over-the-air software updates so owners don't have to bring their cars in for service.

The road to autopilot driving has been incremental. Last year, Tesla launched features such as lane-departure warnings, and earlier this year it released adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, and a forward-collision warning system.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Hillary Clinton Delivers 'Cautious' Message on Trade to AFL-CIO (PETER NICHOLAS and  MELANIE TROTTMAN, 7/30/15, WSJ)

 One labor leader who heard Hillary Clinton's private pitch Thursday for the AFL-CIO presidential endorsement came away unimpressed by her "cautious" message and her refusal to take a position on the Pacific trade pact, which organized labor fiercely opposes.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and a member of the labor federation's executive council, said in an interview that Mrs. Clinton was "non-committal" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a "bedrock issue" for the labor movement. Many union leaders predict that, if enacted, the TPP will result in jobs moving overseas and new strains for U.S. workers.

Were they not paying attention to the free trading administrations she served in?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Black flight to the suburbs on the rise (William H. Frey, July 31, 2015, New Geography)

While much attention is correctly given to alleviating the persisting segregation of blacks in many American cities, it is also important to recognize a newly emergent shift to the suburbs among blacks from major cities with established black populations. Black population losses have been occurring in some cities since the 1970s. However, the magnitude and pervasiveness of black city population losses during the first decade of the 2000s was unprecedented. As discussed in my book "Diversity Explosion," the black population of the combined central cities of the 100 largest metropolitan areas declined by 300,000 between 2000 and 2010. This is the first absolute population decline among blacks for these cities as a group. [...]

Much of that population is suburbanizing. Metropolitan areas in the growing parts of the country are registering the greatest numeric gains in suburban black population. The suburbs of Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas experienced the largest increases in black population during 2000-2010, although Detroit and Chicago also make the list, due in part to large black losses from their central cities (see map). Among the largest 100 metropolitan areas, 96 showed gains in their suburban black populations. Of these, 76 had larger increases in the past decade than in the 1990s. Leading black movement to the suburbs are the young, those with higher education, and married couples with children--attributes that characterized white suburbanization for almost a century. While delayed for decades, a full scale suburbanization of blacks is finally underway.

We should be helping the rest of them flee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Two Points for Austerity: Spain and Ireland (Leonid Bershidsky, 7/31/15, Bloomberg View)

Spain and Ireland now have the euro zone's most dynamic economies: The International Monetary Fund expects Spain to expand by 3.1 percent this year and Ireland, by 4 percent -- realistic expectations, in light of their progress in the first six months. Given this performance, one has to wonder how long any economists can continue to condemn austerity as deadly poison based on the example of Greece. [...]

Of the three countries, it was Ireland, not Greece, that saw its public spending diminish the most relative to the size of its economy. One could argue that austerity was what caused Greece's GDP to contract so painfully, but that argument would be purely ideological, because there's no way to accurately compare the effects of the countries' individual measures. Their economies are too different. It's just as easy to say -- and as hard to prove -- that governments' management aptitude or cultural factors were decisive.

As for statistics, they show that of the three countries, the one that lowered its public spending-to-GDP ratio the most got the best results: Ireland's economic output is back at its pre-crisis level, it's the fastest-growing economy in Europe, and its unemployment level is down to 9.7 percent from the 2012 peak of 15 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Are US Middle-Class Incomes Really Stagnating? (Martin Fekldtein, 7/30/15, Project Syndicate)

Any adult who was alive in the US during these three decades realizes that this number grossly understates the gains of the typical household. One indication that something is wrong with this figure is that the government also estimates that real hourly compensation of employees in the non-farm business sector rose 39% from 1985 to 2015.

The official Census estimate suffers from three important problems. For starters, it fails to recognize the changing composition of the population; the household of today is quite different from the household of 30 years ago. Moreover, the Census Bureau's estimate of income is too narrow, given that middle-income families have received increasing government transfers while benefiting from lower income-tax rates. Finally, the price index used by the Census Bureau fails to capture the important contributions of new products and product improvements to Americans' standard of living.

Consider first the changing nature of households. From 1980 to 2010, the share of "households" that consisted of just a single man or woman rose from 26% to 33%, while the share that contained married couples declined from 60% to 50%.

When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conducted a detailed study of changes in household incomes from 1979 to 2011, it expanded the definition of income to include near-cash benefits like food stamps and in-kind benefits like health care. It also subtracted federal taxes, which fell from 19% of pretax income for middle-income households in 1980 to just 11.5% in 2010. To convert annual incomes to real incomes, the CBO used the price deflator for consumer expenditures, which many believe is better for this purpose than the consumer price index. The CBO also presented a separate analysis that adjusted for household size.

With the traditional definition of money income, the CBO found that real median household income rose by just 15% from 1980 to 2010, similar to the Census Bureau's estimate. But when they expanded the definition of income to include benefits and subtracted taxes, they found that the median household's real income rose by 45%. Adjusting for household size boosted this gain to 53%.

And, again, even this more substantial rise probably represents a substantial underestimate of the increase in the real standard of living. The authorities arrive at their estimates by converting dollar incomes into a measure of real income by using a price index that reflects the changes in the prices of existing goods and services. But that price index does not reflect new products or improvements to existing goods and services.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Labour's Reckless Left Turn (Matthew d'Ancona, 7/29/15, NY Times)

Mr. Corbyn's rise has caused some consternation. The former prime minister Tony Blair, who led Labour to three successive election victories by jettisoning precisely what Mr. Corbyn stands for, has warned the party against a regression to left-wing purism. To those who say that their heart tells them to vote for Mr. Corbyn, Mr. Blair said, "Get a transplant."

Mr. Blair's analysis is hard to refute, but so far the party is deaf to his entreaties. Ms. Kendall, the only candidate who shares Mr. Blair's perspective, is running fourth. Ms. Cooper and Mr. Burnham are both capable politicians, but neither communicates a sense of urgency or passion.

To win the 2020 election, which will follow redistricting, the Labour Party would need an additional 106 seats in the House of Commons. To achieve this, it must woo Conservative voters.

In Scotland, the dynamic is different. Labour must try to take seats from the left-wing Scottish Nationalist Party. But at present, there are only 59 constituencies in Scotland, so a Labour strategy based on competing with the S.N.P. will fail if applied across the rest of Britain.

This points to the heart of the problem. With the exception of Ms. Kendall, none of the candidates would follow a Blairite template for winning back moderate Conservatives. Although Mr. Miliband, who earned the nickname "Red Ed," already tested to destruction the theory that Britons had shifted leftward, the left is overweening, contemptuous of the "Blairite comfort blanket" -- the idea that tacking back toward the center would make Labour more electable.

In practice, there's nothing comforting in Mr. Blair's message. He's asking a progressive party to confront the bleak reality that millions of decent people are fearful that voting Labour in 2020 would be an act of self-harm.

When I hear Mr. Corbyn speak -- and he speaks very well -- I recall a story from Mr. Blair's great ally Peter Mandelson. He recalled being told by a far-left colleague during Labour's long years of opposition, from 1979 to 1997, that there must be "no compromise with the electorate."

...a party of the right will run on the First Way or a party of the Left on the Second and they will cease to matter to their nation's politics.  Labor bids fair to be the canary in the coalmine.

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