September 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Iran Negotiations Are Bearing Fruit (for Iran) (Michael Rubin, 09.01.2014, Commentary)

When it comes to the Iranian economy, however, the negotiations have been nothing but positive. According to Iran's Central Bank, the Iranian economy contracted by 5.4 percent in the Iranian calendar year ending on March 20, 2013. Obama's team promised Iran perhaps $7 billion in sanctions relief just to come to the table to negotiate. [...]

Consider the latest headlines:

*Iran has announced that in the first five months of the Iranian year (March 21-August 21, 2014), trade volume has increased 136 percent.

*The deputy finance minister announced yesterday that foreigners' willingness to invest in Iran has increased 500 percent. In addition, Iran has announced that they have received more than 300 European and Arab trade delegations.

*Iranian officials singled out Qatar, the tiny, gas-wealthy Persian Gulf emirate that increasingly finances terrorist groups and encourages the growth of radical Islamism abroad, for its willingness to invest in Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Happy Labor Day. Are Unions Dead? : An interview with Rich Yeselson, labor strategist and expert (Jonathan Cohn, 9/01/14, New Republic)

The decline of private-sector unions in America--how much is because of weak labor laws, and how much is because of the way the economy is changing?

A lot of people don't realize that  the decline has occurred all over the advanced capitalist world, even in countries with laws that protect and promote unions far more than in the U.S. Essentially, we have seen a great shrinking in the advanced world of what was the core union demographic: manufacturing and mining workers. Production in those sectors is high, but companies need fewer workers to do it--and they've transferred much of the work to developing countries like China, where they can get away with much lower wages.

But, yes, the United States is a special case. The peak of union density in the US following the Second World War was lower than in other wealthy democracies, and its trough is now lower, too (France actually has smaller percentage of union members than the US, but union contracts cover almost the entire workforce.). In no other advanced country is the entire political economy as relentlessly opposed to unionization as it is here. The U.S. has the most hostile anti-union management/ownership class, and corresponding conservative politicians and media to assist it, in the advanced world.  The legal framework assumes that companies--the people who sign workers check--have a right to interfere with their right to choose a collective bargaining agent. Workers do not get a corresponding right in the United States to participate with management in investment decisions. Anti-union activity is flourishing billion dollar consulting business. Laws to fight it are toothless. Today, decades after the National Labor Relations Act became law, Republicans don't accept its basic legitimacy--and do everything they can to undermine the NLRB.

And it's not like that elsewhere?

Pretty much in every other country in Western Europe, Canada, even Australia and the U.K. (which share some labor-management features with the U.S.), the assumption is that unions are basic ingredient of liberal capitalism. Among conservatives and business owners in those countries, you'll hear a lot about how they are inefficient, too powerful, or just pains in the ass. But pretty much everybody accepts them as a normal part of the political/economic/legal landscape. That's simply not the case here.

What's ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts--and there's nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract--to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. They are capable of having huge fights with capital (as in the thirties)--which raise the hopes of leftists--but, usually, over the attainment of very incremental ends---which disappoint leftists. Marx had nothing but contempt for British trade unionists, and Trotsky saw no value in unions at all.  Yet conservatives and most libertarians hate them. Weird.

The better, more American/capitalist/conservative, model is to make the employees part of the owner class by giving them stock in the company.  At that point they become owners too.  Owning capital is obviously even more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Steyn's Song of the Week : Over The Rainbow by Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg (Mark Steyn, September 1, 2014)

Ah, but who wouldn't love that song?

Well, let's see: for starters, the studio executives, the film's producer and director, the music publisher, and the lyricist.

It was the first number in the movie, and the last to be written. Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg had written what Arlen called the "lemon drop" songs - "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and the other Munchkin novelties so well suited to Harburg's particular brand of lyric whimsy. But Arlen knew little Dorothy needed a big tune, an emotion-wringing ballad, and the awesome weight of it seemed to paralyze him. "I can't tell you the misery that a composer goes through," his lyric writer, Yip Harburg, said years later, "when the whole score is written but he hasn't got that big theme song that Louis B Mayer is waiting for." Arlen and Harburg had a 14-week contract with MGM. It was Week 14 - at the end of which Mr Mayer would cease paying them. And yet Arlen couldn't get the tune. "I was getting anxious," he recalled. "My feeling was that picture songs need to be lush, and picture songs are hard to write."

One day he and the missus decided to catch a movie at the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater. His wife Anya drove; Harold was a bag of nerves over his ballad block. They were tootling along Sunset Boulevard, round about where the original Schwab's drugstore was, when the tune more or less fell out of the sky and into his lap - a "broad long-lined melody" that he scribbled down on the jotting paper he kept in the car precisely for such moments. "It was as if the Lord said, 'Well, here it is, now stop worrying about it!'"

He got home at midnight and called Yip Harburg: "Come right over. I've got the tune!"

There was one slight problem: To the composer's dismay, the lyricist didn't care for it. That big octave leap on the first two notes sounded all wrong to Harburg. "Oh, no, not for little Dorothy," he said. "That's for Nelson Eddy." He thought Arlen's grandiloquent formal theme stuck out like a sore thumb among all the playful "lemon drop" stuff like "If I Only Had A Brain".

Sometimes when a lyric writer doesn't warm to a tune, the composer withdraws it and writes another. But Arlen determined to defend his corner. So they went round to Ira Gershwin's house.

Arlen, Gershwin and Harburg were good friends. The latter two had been in high school together, and written a column for the school newspaper called "Much Ado by Yip and Gersh". In the Thirties, the grown-up Yip and Gersh wrote songs with Harold, when George Gershwin's obsession with Porgy And Bess was getting to brother Ira and and he was in the mood to moonlight with Harburg and Arlen on some revue numbers. So both men were happy to have their chum pronounce one way or the other. Arlen played the tune, very grandly, symphonically, like a fellow who knows he's written something important. And Gershwin couldn't really hear it. So he asked him to pick it out on the piano with one finger. "See?" said Ira. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"You're right," conceded Harburg. "That's fine."

He had a lot riding on the song. For a jobbing lyricist on a movie assignment, he was as emotionally invested in The Wizard Of Oz as Ira's brother was in Porgy And Bess. The rainbow was Harburg's principal contribution to the project. Or as his son Ernie put it, in the title of his fascinating book about his father, Who Put The Rainbow In The Wizard Of Oz? Answer: Yip Harburg. There's no such meteorological phenomenon in L Frank Baum's original book, but, as Yip conceived it, for little Dorothy in dirt-poor hardscrabble Depression-era Kansas the rainbow was the only colorful thing she'd seen in her life. It's what gave the studio the idea of shooting the Kansas scenes in monochrome, and reserving full blazing color for when Dorothy gets to Oz. that we all prefer drab gray home.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


U.S. and Iran Unlikely Allies in Iraq Battle (TIM ARANGO and AZAM AHMEDAUG. 31, 2014, NY Times)

With American bombs raining down from the sky, Shiite militia fighters aligned with Iran battled Sunni extremists over the weekend, punching through their defenses to break the weekslong siege of Amerli, a cluster of farming villages whose Shiite residents faced possible slaughter.

The fight in northern Iraq appeared to be the first time American warplanes and militias backed by Iran had worked with a common purpose on a battlefield against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, even though the Obama administration said there was no direct coordination with the militias.

Should such military actions continue, they could signal a dramatic shift for the United States and Iran, which have long vied for control in Iraq. They could also align the interests of the Americans with their longtime sworn enemies in the Shiite militias, whose fighters killed many United States soldiers during the long occupation of Iraq.

Few stories of the 21st Century have been more predictable than the eventual alliance of the Middle East's two main democratic forces.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


How the World Is Becoming More Equal : Globally, lifespans have never been so long and evenly distributed. Education has had an equalizing effect too. (NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, Aug. 26, 2014, WSJ)

[I]ncome is not the only important measure of human well-being and life chances. Consider two global revolutions that are improving the human condition and making it more equal.

The first is how long people live. In 1751, according to the Human Mortality Database, Sweden's overall life expectancy at birth was barely 38 years. But this was an arithmetic average for a population within which survival prospects were wildly, brutally disparate. Roughly a fifth of all Swedes died in their first year of life; by age 5 only 70 Swedes were still alive of every 100 born. But about half of those who made it to age 5 lived to 60 and beyond.

This dispersion of lifespans means that the distribution of survival was correspondingly unequal. When measuring disparities in income distribution, economists conventionally use the "Gini coefficient." This index runs from 0 (perfect equality) to 1.0 (representing perfect inequality when a single person possesses everything). If we use this metric to assess inequality in Sweden's lifespans in 1751, we get a Gini index of 0.46.

By comparison, the World Bank says the Gini index for income in Mexico in 2010 was 0.47. Lifespans in 18th-century Sweden, in short, were distributed about as unequally as incomes are in Mexico today.

Flash forward to 2011. Sweden's life expectancy at birth was nearly 82 years. The risk of dying in infancy in Sweden today is about 100 times lower than in 1751--and the risk of dying in early childhood is more than 100-fold lower. Today 90% of Swedes can expect to survive to age 65, and more contemporary Swedes live to 86 than to any other particular age. The estimated Gini index for Sweden's inequality in age at death has plummeted to 0.08. Lifespans have never been so long--or so equally distributed--as they are now.

The trend in Sweden holds for the rest of the world. In the early 1870s Italy's life expectancy was under 30 years and the odds of death before age 5 nearly 45%. The estimated Gini index for age at death was 0.56. Today (2009) Italy's life expectancy at birth is about 82 years, and the Gini index for the distribution of national lifespans is as low as Sweden's.

And the U.S.? Life expectancy rose from about 61 years in 1933 to about 79 in 2010. Over those same decades the Gini index for lifespan inequality was cut in half--from 0.22 to 0.11. Despite the ethnic, income and other differences that characterize our society, Americans of all backgrounds have never enjoyed such equality in length of life as we know today.

Detailed, reliable, long-term mortality for most of the world is unavailable. However, the broad pattern for every national population is essentially the same: the higher the life expectancy at birth, the lower the inequality in age at death.

Demographers suggest that life expectancy at birth for the world in 1900 was about 30 years. Today, according to the World Health Organization, the U.N. Population Division and the U.S. Census Bureau, it is about 70.

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population's life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds--from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution--and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity's life chances--is an epochal advance in the human condition. 

Which is why it's always amusing when folks whinge about the West destroying indigenous ways of life.  They would better be called ways of early death. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Jeremiah Healy, Who Created Boston Private Eye, Dies at 66 (WILLIAM YARDLEY, AUG. 28, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Healy, a Harvard Law School graduate who began writing his books while teaching law, introduced Cuddy with the publication of his first novel, "Blunt Darts," in 1984. He went on to write a dozen more and two short-story collections about the jaded but earnest sleuth who typically plied the waterfront and back streets of Boston. Many of the books were finalists for the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America, and one, "The Staked Goat" (1986), won it.

John Cuddy was a former military police officer and widower who read deep into newspapers and took long, thoughtful jogs across his historic city. He killed when he needed to kill, but readers were as likely to remember his vivid observations of the people and places he knew as they were the violence.

"The morgue was built back in the '30s," Mr. Healy, in Cuddy's voice, wrote in "Rescue" (1995). "It was almost new in November 1942, when the bodies from the Coconut Grove fire were taken there by the hundreds, at least as many people standing in line outside the mortuary that next Sunday morning, waiting to identify friends and loved ones. Now, though, the morgue was literally falling down on the pathologists and technicians who work inside it, gaps in the hung ceiling where the rectangles of Styrofoam have crumbled onto the examining tables and slabs.

"They've been talking for years about moving the place out to Framingham on state-owned land that would be a cheaper site than building or renovating in Boston. Until then, the medical examiner struggles with an inadequate budget and a pared-down staff and conditions more appropriate to the end of the 19th century than the predawn hours of the 21st."

Mr. Healy explored topical issues, including assisted suicide in "Right to Die" and urban-rural divisions in "Foursome." He wrote about date rape, racism, AIDS and homelessness.

Reviewing "Shallow Graves" in The New York Times in 1992, Marilyn Stasio called the Cuddy books a "superior series" and cited Mr. Healy's "mousetrap timing and tight plotting."

"Using fine brush strokes when he likes his subject and sharp pointillist jabs when he doesn't," Ms. Stasio wrote, "the author executes one of his better studies on Primo T. Zuppone, a mob enforcer whose aesthetic sensibility belies his skill at smashing kneecaps. 'Cuddy,' he advises the detective, 'you got to look for the art in life.' If Cuddy doesn't quite get the message, we do." [...]

Like some mystery writers and so-called midlist authors, he began struggling to find publishers when the industry began contracting in the late 1990s. The last Cuddy book, "Spiral," was published in 1999 and took place mostly in Florida.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


State fair scandal: Winning pie may have store-bought crust (Jere Downs, 8/29/14, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal)

A blue ribbon is at stake as Kentucky State Fair officials investigate whether a store-bought crust was used to create this year's prize-winning buttermilk pie.

Linda Horton, a 67-year-old retired factory worker who sweetly shared her recipe with Courier-Journal readers this week, did not return phone calls immediately Friday morning seeking comment.

Her winning entry, described as tasting like a chess pie that got crossed with a cheesecake, took top prize in the category for the second consecutive time at this year's fair.

On Monday, she told the newspaper, "This year, I used a Pillsbury pie crust," adding her experience with prior homemade pie crusts was that they "didn't crumble a whole lot."

Horton said she uses Pillsbury brand rolled pastry crust to hold the mixture of butter, flour, buttermilk, sugar, eggs and vanilla.

A Pillsbury-brand pie crust "is so buttery," she said.

August 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Peter Lorre: a great screen actor remembered (Philip French, 8/30/14, The Observer)

Born László Löwenstein in Rosenberg, Hungary, in 1904, Lorre grew up in Vienna where he left school to work as a bank clerk by day and to act at night in a theatre company that combined improvisation with Freudian therapy. The manager, probably inspired by Struwwelpeter, the shockheaded hero of a popular 19th-century children's book, gave him the name Peter Lorre. This was not inappropriate, because at 5ft 3in and with unruly hair and a face that was a series of circles (infinitely expressive saucer-like eyes, a round face, a neck that would often disappear) he cut something less than a stellar figure. Graham Greene, who thought him a genius, wrote in 1936 of his performance in Mad Love: "Those marble pupils in the pasty spherical head are like the eye-pieces of a microscope through which you can watch the tangled mind laid flat on the slide."

Within three years of settling in Berlin, Lorre was considered the capital's most exciting actor, acclaimed by Bertolt Brecht as the greatest exponent of his work. An essential figure in creating the playwright's concept of epic theatre, he was capable of miming with his body the opposite of what he was expressing in words. In M (1931), one of the first German sound films, Fritz Lang entrusted him with the demanding part of a sympathetic child murderer and later described Lorre's performance as "one of the best in film history and certainly the best in his life". M uncannily anticipates the coming of the Nazis, as the police and the underworld unite to pursue the hapless killer. It not only made Lorre world-famous but also trapped him for ever within a screen persona. Whatever he brought to subsequent roles by way of humour, pathos, pain and human kindness failed to conceal an insistent membrane of threat and danger.

August 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


PA to pay Hamas staff 'as soon as possible' (AFP, August 31, 2014)

 The Palestinian Authority will pay its employees' August salaries on time and Hamas civil servants in Gaza "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the unity government said Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Obama: Bush-Cheney 'Security Apparatus' Makes Us 'Pretty Safe' (DANIEL HALPER, 8/30/14, Weekly Standard)

"I don't have to tell you, anybody who has been watching TV this summer, it seems like it is just wave after wave ofupheaval, most of it surrounding the Middle East.  You're seeing a change in the order in the Middle East.  But the old order is having a tough time holding together and the new order has yet to be born, and in the interim, it's scary."

Then he told the Democratic donors not to worry because measures put in place by Bush and Cheney "make us ... pretty safe." 

"The good news is that we actually have a unprecedented military capacity, and since 9/11 have built up a security apparatus that makes us in the here and now pretty safe.  We have to be vigilant, but this doesn't immediately threaten the homeland.  What it does do, though, is it gives a sense, once again, for future generations, is the world going to be upended in ways that affect our kids and our grandkids."

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Our Secular Baptism (Nathan Nielson, 8/30/14, Real Clear Religion)

The ALS "ice bucket challenge" has become our new rite of social participation. But it's so much more. Mass public movements have many ancestors, including religious ones. This phenomenon is tapping into something deep in the human spirit, feeding on the desire to order our ethical and social lives by ritual. In a time when traditional religiosity may be losing its appeal and religious experience is becoming more diverse and pluralistic, we now see a practice that unites everyone, regardless of religious, political or socio-economic status.

In short, we have a new baptism -- the renewal of life delivered by bucket.

All the elements are there: cleansing by water, the call to act, absolution of our affluent guilt, commitment to a cause, charity that suffereth long and endureth all things, hope in philanthropic perpetuation, and faith in the efficacy of donations, performed one by one, for all the community of believers to see and enjoy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 50 (Lucy Mangan, Friday 29 August 2014, The Guardian)

[S]hortly after his son Theo was born in 1960, Dahl sent a revised version of the story, entitled "Charlie's Chocolate Boy" to his agent Mike Watkins, in which the eponymous hero visits the factory with nine other children and is accidentally made into a chocolate figure and delivered to Mr Wonka's house, where he foils a burglary and is rewarded with a sweet shop of his own "nine storeys high".

The others include Augustus Pottle (Gloop's precursor), Miranda Grope (disappears up the pipe with Augustus), Wilbur Rice, Tommy Troutbeck (whose fates you will learn in the never-before-published chapter cut from the draft that accompanies this piece); Violet Strabismus (had been Glockenberry, would become Beauregarde, always ends up violet); Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside, Trevor Roper (who all overheat after ingesting an unwise number of Warming Candies), and Elvira Entwhistle (gets booted down a rubbish chute but would eventually be known as Veruca Salt as she went) - an unwieldy group and it is obvious that some of them need to go, but it is still great fun while they're around.

But then Theo was almost killed when a cab hit his pram in New York. He survived, but developed hydrocephalus. The shunt put in his head to drain the fluid kept clogging, nearly killing him each time. Dahl mined Theo's neurosurgeon Kenneth Till for every ounce of his knowledge then took the problem to his friend Stanley Wade who, in a twist you wouldn't dare write, was an engineer whose hobby was making miniature engines for toy aeroplanes and whose job was running a factory that produced precision hydraulic pumps.

Together, the three men invented the Wade-Dahl-Till valve for Theo and the thousands of other children in his situation. In June 1962, the first one was inserted into the head of a patient in London's Great Ormond Street hospital. It worked beautifully. Theo was well enough not to need it by then, but over the years it was used to treat thousands of children all over the world.

Dahl went back to his book.

The publishers Knopf were reading a second draft when Olivia and Tessa arrived home from school with a note warning parents about a measles outbreak. Vaccination programmes would be introduced a year later in America, but that was too late for the Dahls. Seven-year-old Olivia caught the bug and died. It is perhaps both impossible and unwise to try to describe the depths of anyone's grief at losing a child: recalling it 20 years later in her autobiography As I Am, Neal still struggled to articulate hers; of her husband, she says simply that he "all but lost his mind".

Eventually, however - and it's not quite clear how long after, because Dahl did not date his drafts - the need, both financial and personal, to work reasserted itself and another draft of Charlie took shape. And another, and another.

Reading them now is like watching a familiar landscape slowly emerge out of the mist, or the coloured chips of glass in a kaleidoscope before a final turn of the lens aligns them in the proper pattern. The chocolate river is there, but there's no waterfall or minty grass-meadow setting (though the latter has its precursor in a garden Wonka makes for a rich woman, full of trees with barley sugar branches, fudge trunks and mint crisp leaves). The inventor is the central figure, not Charlie. There are uniformed workers in the factory and disembodied voices whispering the songs that accompany each child's departure instead of a musical tribe of tiny, cacao-loving Loompaland natives.

What we think of as the "real" Dahl is there, moving underneath the story like a shark but only occasionally breaking the surface to show his grinning teeth (one mother objects to her child being made into fudge on the grounds that "we've spent far too much on his education already"). But it is only after a letter from his former agent and confidante Sheila St Lawrence that you can see him start to really trust his instincts. Although she says now that "he was going to get there anyway ... If someone else hadn't alerted him, I'm quite sure he would have alerted himself", she made a variety of specific suggestions - including making the uniformed assistants "something more surprising than they are" - but also encouraged him more generally to let rip. "I'd like to see more humour, more light, Dahlesque touches throughout," ends the letter. "I hope some of my remarks will produce counter remarks in you that will stir you to flights of fancy to make the book take off and really fly, as it undoubtedly will."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Werner Franz, Survivor of the Hindenburg's Crew, Dies at 92 (BRUCE WEBER, AUG. 29, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Franz was believed to be the last surviving crew member. At least one other survivor of the crash, Werner Doehner, who was 8 years old and traveling with his family at the time, is thought to be still living.

The Hindenburg, 800 feet long (more than three times the length of a Boeing 747) and 135 feet in diameter, had its maiden voyage on March 4, 1936, and made 62 safe flights before its destruction. Mr. Franz had made four round-trip crossings on it, to both North and South America. As he recalled his experience of the crash in a book published in Germany a year later, he had been clearing dishes in the officer's mess when the Hindenburg began to burn.

"Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground," Mr. Grossman wrote on his website,, summarizing the German account. "Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship tilted more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water."

The inadvertent soaking was Mr. Franz's good fortune, offering a buffer against the mounting heat and flame. He kicked open a hatch used to bring supplies onto the ship, and when the ground loomed close enough, he leapt to safety, running from the wreckage before it could entrap him. He suffered no injuries.

August 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Ruble Hits New Low as Ukraine Tensions Rise (ANDREY OSTROUKH and CHIARA ALBANESE, Aug. 29, 2014, WSJ)

The ruble eased to a low of 37.07 versus the dollar, losing around 0.7% on the day. That took the ruble below its previous record of 37 per dollar, which it hit on the first trading day of March after the West had threatened to punish Moscow for its annexation of Crimea.

Analysts say the Russian unit could plumb new depths should the crisis in Ukraine escalate further as foreign players are the main sellers of the ruble.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Rick Perlstein: By the Book (AUG. 28, 2014, NY Times)

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? 

The Book of Job, maybe. It's the best story I know at driving home the fact that the world just isn't always a reasonable place. Not grasping that, I think, is Barack Obama's tragic flaw: He still seems to stubbornly believe that if he just explains clearly and calmly enough to his friends across the aisle why his ideas will bring the greatest good to the greatest number, there'll finally be no more Red America and no more Blue America. But my 18 years studying conservatism has convinced me the right just doesn't work that way -- they're fighting for civilization stakes, and he's a liberal, so, Q.E.D., he's the enemy. His longing to compromise with them just ends up driving the political center in America further to the right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


How we shop for food is changing, in three charts (Sarah Halzack, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

While the traditional supermarket still reigns as the top destination for grocery shopping, this chart effectively illustrates just how fierce the competition for your grocery dollars has become.  FMI found that the traditional way of shopping-with one major weekly trip to the same neighborhood grocery-is becoming less common.

The shopping experience is becoming highly fragmented, the study found.  For example, a consumer might do a large trip to a traditional supermarket every other week, but do "fill-in trips" in between those outings to a drug store or a convenience store.  Another shopper might purchase produce at an organic food store, but get packaged items at a warehouse club store such as Costco or Sam's Club.

Our decreased loyalty to a single store is also evident in the number of people who say they have a "primary store" where they do most of their shopping.  In 2014, the number of people who do not have a primary store rose to 9 percent, up from 3 percent in 2013 and 2 percent in 2011.

As these patterns continue to shift, the pressure is on food retailers of all kinds to react nimbly to give shoppers an experience that will keep them coming back.

It's all about the dollar store....
Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Landrieu claims parents' home as her own, raising questions of Louisiana residency (Philip Rucker, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

In Washington, Sen. Mary Landrieu lives in a stately, $2.5 million brick manse she and her husband built on Capitol Hill.

Here in Louisiana, however, the Democrat does not have a home of her own. She is registered to vote at a large bungalow in New Orleans that her parents have lived in for many decades, according to a Washington Post review of Landrieu's federal financial disclosures and local property and voting records.

On a statement of candidacy Landrieu filed with the Federal Election Commission in January, she listed her Capitol Hill home as her address. But when qualifying for the ballot in Louisiana last week, she listed the family's raised-basement home here on South Prieur Street.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


What If There's No There There? (JAY COST, 9/08/14, Weekly Standard)

Toward the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, a friend of Vice President Bush encouraged him to think carefully about what a Bush presidency should look like. According to Time, Bush responded, "Oh, the vision thing." Fairly or unfairly, this phrase came to characterize the Bush 41 tenure. Despite his impressive résumé spanning three decades in government, he seemed not to have a clear view of what he wanted to do.

When Barack Obama campaigned for the White House in 2008, that hardly seemed like his problem. Obama would take in the whole sweep of American history in his speeches to suggest that his candidacy was its culmination. His heavy-handed propaganda​--​from the Greek columns to Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster​--​suggested a man with a vision surplus.

In the sixth year of his presidency, it is clear that Obama does not have much of a vision at all. Sure, he is a man of the left and possesses a commitment to its goals; he thinks government should grow larger and taxes should increase. Beyond that, he does not seem to have a firm sense of the reforms he should implement, how to implement them, how he fits into the constitutional schema, what a sensible U.S. foreign policy should be or how to execute it.

The Left was so busy hailing the Messiah and the Right decrying the Anti-Christ they never stopped to recognize that he believes in nothing and follows wherever he's lead. In America, the public leads you towards moderate Republicanism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Was Wittgenstein Right? (PAUL HORWICH,  MARCH 3, 2013, NY Times)

Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible "from the armchair" through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.

This attitude is in stark opposition to the traditional view, which continues to prevail. Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe, leading to vital conclusions about how we are to arrange our lives. It's taken for granted that there is deep understanding to be obtained of the nature of consciousness, of how knowledge of the external world is possible, of whether our decisions can be truly free, of the structure of any just society, and so on -- and that philosophy's job is to provide such understanding. Isn't that why we are so fascinated by it?

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking. So it should be entirely unsurprising that the "philosophy" aiming to solve them has been marked by perennial controversy and lack of decisive progress -- by an embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues. Therefore traditional philosophical theorizing must give way to a painstaking identification of its tempting but misguided presuppositions and an understanding of how we ever came to regard them as legitimate. But in that case, he asks, "[w]here does [our] investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble)" -- and answers that "(w)hat we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand."

Given this extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy -- perhaps tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject -- it is hardly surprising that "Wittgenstein" is uttered with a curl of the lip in most philosophical circles. For who likes to be told that his or her life's work is confused and pointless? Thus, even Bertrand Russell, his early teacher and enthusiastic supporter, was eventually led to complain peevishly that Wittgenstein seems to have "grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary."

But what is that notorious doctrine, and can it be defended? We might boil it down to four related claims.

-- The first is that traditional philosophy is scientistic: its primary goals, which are to arrive at simple, general principles, to uncover profound explanations, and to correct naïve opinions, are taken from the sciences. And this is undoubtedly the case.

--The second is that the non-empirical ("armchair") character of philosophical investigation -- its focus on conceptual truth -- is in tension with those goals.  That's because our concepts exhibit a highly theory-resistant complexity and variability. They evolved, not for the sake of science and its objectives, but rather in order to cater to the interacting contingencies of our nature, our culture, our environment, our communicative needs and our other purposes.  As a consequence the commitments defining individual concepts are rarely simple or determinate, and differ dramatically from one concept to another. Moreover, it is not possible (as it is within empirical domains) to accommodate superficial complexity by means of simple principles at a more basic (e.g. microscopic) level.

-- The third main claim of Wittgenstein's metaphilosophy -- an immediate consequence of the first two -- is that traditional philosophy is necessarily pervaded with oversimplification; analogies are unreasonably inflated; exceptions to simple regularities are wrongly dismissed.

-- Therefore -- the fourth claim -- a decent approach to the subject must avoid theory-construction and instead be merely "therapeutic," confined to exposing the irrational assumptions on which theory-oriented investigations are based and the irrational conclusions to which they lead.

It's not that Wittgenstein was right, but that Hume was.  Wittgenstein just reiterated.

August 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


The euro has failed to boost trade between the countries that adopted it (Allister Heath, 27 Aug 2014, The Telegraph)

Nobody today can argue that the past 15 years have been anything other than disastrous for the eurozone, but many ardent supporters still maintain that the single currency has been good for trade. It is hard to know what would have happened to imports and exports had the euro not replaced the franc, lira and mark, of course, but fresh research demonstrates that the eurozone is actually less integrated today than it was when the euro was launched.

The note, produced by the Bruegel think-tank, is devastating. It measures integration on one simple metric: the share of exports from members of the eurozone and EU that go to other eurozone and EU countries, as derived from the IMF's Direction of Trade Statistics database. The figures have been adjusted for the changing membership of both those regions.

During the 1980s, as Bruegel's researcher Giulio Mazzolini points out, EU countries' exports increasingly went to one another. Intra-EU exports rose by eight percentage points of the total to peak in the early 1990s at around 68pc of the total. The share then fell back to around 65pc before stagnating for a while and then returning to the 67-68pc level, where it remained until the end of the 2000s. It then collapsed and is now back to around 64pc, a level of integration last seen in the mid to late 1980s.

As to the eurozone, which was launched on January 1, 1999, the results mirror those for the broader EU almost perfectly, suggesting, as Bruegel puts it, that "the common currency might not have had the expected effect on trade between euro area members". Intra-eurozone exports peaked at around 52pc of the total in the late 1990s and have been in decline ever since. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM


Huskers football train for the NU-Miami game is a nod 
to past and sign of future (Steve Jordon, 8/26/14, World-Herald)

If you're feeling nostalgic about those special trains that carried fans to Nebraska football games, you're in luck.

An Omaha group is organizing a 10-car, 500-seat "Big Red Amtrak Special" that will travel the rails from the Durham Museum in Omaha to Lincoln's Haymarket district and back for the Sept. 20 NU-Miami game. [...]

Special trains have been hauling Husker fans between Omaha and Lincoln, off and on, for at least a century. About 700 fans boarded a special train for the Nebraska-Kansas game on Nov. 11, 1914, and hundreds more rode "regular trains" to the game, according to a World-Herald account at the time.

From 1958 to 1974, Omahan William Kratville, a Union Pacific and Amtrak photographer, saw to it that trains carried fans to the Nebraska home games and frequently to Big Eight road games, too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Remember the Wendy Davis Filibuster? The Law She Fought Is Driving Dozens of Abortion Clinics Out of Business (Hannah Levintova and Kristine Stolakis, Aug. 28, 2014, Mother Jones)

[C]ome next week, abortions can no longer legally be performed at that old facility thanks to HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill that made national headlines last summer after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster. The law requires that abortions--though not vasectomies--be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, hospital-like facilities that specialize in outpatient surgery. This provision goes into effect on September 1.

Ahead of this deadline, women's health care providers have raced to meet HB 2's burdensome requirements, spending millions of dollars and countless hours of fundraising and construction labor. Converting a medical facility into a full-blown ambulatory surgical facility can be very expensive. Texas has 114 pages of regulations governing ASCs, which mandate wide, gurney-accommodating hallways, larger operating rooms, and sterile ventilation. According to one Texas provider, it will cost them about $40,000 more each month to operate an ASC than it would a regular clinic.

In the face of the law's requirements, all but eight abortion clinics in the state will close by September 1. Many were forced to lock their doors earlier this year as other HB 2 provisions went into effect, including a rule that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions by the end of October 2013.

Apparently being in favor of women's health means opposing quality health care standards.

August 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Qatar says it's ready to rebuild Gaza Strip (AFP, August 27, 2014)

Qatar, a key backer of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, hailed the Gaza ceasefire accord and offered to help rebuild the enclave battered by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment in response to rocket fire emanating from the Strip.

The accord for a long-term ceasefire which came into effect on Tuesday was thanks "firstly to the resistance and the sacrifices" of the Palestinians, the gas-rich Gulf emirate said in a statement.

It said Qatar, which is home to Khaled Mashaal, the political chief of the Islamist movement Hamas, was "ready to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible,"

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Sheepdogs could be replaced by robots after scientists crack simple process (, 27 August 2014)

Sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability.

Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found.

One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd - or sheepdog - to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Gaza War's Clear Loser: Netanyahu (Daniel Gordis, 8/27/14, Bloomberg View)

The political right smells blood. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who coupled his Yisrael Beitinu ("Israel is our Home") party to Netanyahu's Likkud for the January 2013 elections but has since insisted he would not do so again, has demanded that the Israeli Defense Forces retake the Gaza strip. Few Israelis wanted to do that -- the losses would have been extremely high (some estimates projected 500 to 1000 soldiers killed), and it wasn't clear how Israel would eventually extricate itself or bear the international condemnation. Still, in the Morning After, some Israelis who thought that Lieberman was behaving like a thug who are now muttering: "Maybe he was right." [...]

The other likely winner on the right is Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Habayit Hayehudi ("The Jewish Home") party was a surprisingly strong player in recent elections. There has always been bad blood between Netanyahu and Bennett (some attribute it to Netanyahu's wife detesting Bennett), and Bennett, like Lieberman, had also urged the use of much greater force. Bibi not only ignored him, but publicly smacked him down for creating a wartime rift in the cabinet. It's virtually inconceivable that Bennett will not try a little jujitsu after that humiliation; he, too, is almost guaranteed to climb in the polls.

With Hamas celebrating in the streets, and Israelis who live near Gaza still insisting they're too afraid of rockets and tunnels to go home, the potential for Bennett and Lieberman to challenge Bibi has never looked better. Ironically, Hamas may have just ushered in a much more hard-line Israeli government.

But the political left is equally unhappy. Israel bombed Gaza into smithereens for seven weeks, killed thousands of people -- many of them terrorists, but many of them civilians, women and children (as was inevitable, given that Hamas stationed itself in neighborhoods, mosques and hospitals). To do all of that without having achieved victory, the left insists, is a moral and political catastrophe. Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning paper of record, led this morning with an opinion piece noting that after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Netanyahu castigated then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying that Hamas should have been toppled and security restored to Israel. Bibi insisted that only he could do it, which was when that "A Strong Leader for a Strong Nation" manta re-appeared. "Reality is a bit more complicated, isn't it?" Haaretz derisively castigated him this morning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Medicare: Not Such a Budget-Buster Anymore (NY Times, AUG. 27, 2014)

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare's 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak -- combined. It's equal to about one-fifth of the expected Pentagon budget in 2019. Widely discussed policy changes, like raising the estate tax, would generate just a tiny fraction of the budget savings relative to the recent changes in Medicare's spending estimates.

In more concrete terms, the reduced estimates mean that the federal government's long-term budget deficit is considerably less severe than commonly thought just a few years ago. The country still faces a projected deficit in future decades, thanks mostly to the retirement of the baby boomers and the high cost of medical care, but it is not likely to require the level of fiscal pain that many assumed several years ago.

The reduced estimates are also an indication of what's happening in the overall health care system. Even as more people are getting access to health insurance, the costs of caring for individual patients is growing at a super-slow rate. That means that health care, which has eaten into salary gains for years and driven up debt and bankruptcies, may be starting to stabilize as a share of national spending. [...]

[M]uch of the recent reductions come from changes in behavior among doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients. Medicare beneficiaries are using fewer high-cost health care services than in the past -- taking fewer brand-name drugs, for example, or spending less time in the hospital. The C.B.O.'s economists call these changes "technical changes," and they dominate the downward revisions since 2010.

In all, technical changes have been responsible for a 12 percent reduction since 2010 in the estimates for Medicare spending over the decade ending in 2020. In dollar terms, that's over $700 billion, which is more than budget cutters could save by eliminating the tax deduction for charitable giving or by converting Medicaid into a block-grant program or cutting military spending by 15 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


François Hollande's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week (ARTHUR GOLDHAMMER, AUGUST 25, 2014, American Prospect)

At the center of Hollande's domestic policy is the so-called Responsibility Pact, which proposes shifting employer-paid payroll taxes to individual taxpayers, coupled with unspecified cuts in government spending. The measure is deeply unpopular, especially on the Left, so much so that it triggered a fronde, or insurrection, in the ranks of the president's own Socialist Party. Prime Minister Manuel Valls nevertheless succeeded in mollifying the hundred or so dissident deputies, only to see the provisions of the Pact that were intended to ease the additional tax burden on the poorest taxpayers struck down by the Constitutional Council, a French judicial body that determines whether legislation conforms to the nation's Constitution.

The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs.
The government was therefore already facing a restive majority, half of whose members were insisting on a major revision of this key measure before voting on a new draft designed to pass muster with the Constitutional Council. The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs. Then, on Thursday, the day after the interview, a new book harshly critical of the president's leadership appeared. The author was Cécile Duflot, a leader of the Green Party, who had been the environment minister until she walked out in protest, ending her party's coalition with the Socialists.

On Friday, Arnaud Montebourg, the minister of the economy, also spoke to Le Monde, openly repudiating the president's "stay-the-course" rhetoric. Hollande had called for "an acceleration of the reforms," but as far as Montebourg was concerned, the reforms were leading France straight into a wall--although unemployment was continuing to rise, the deficit was only getting worse, not better--and acceleration would simply increase the damage. On Saturday, education minister Benoît Hamon joined Montebourg in calling for a change of policy, and on Sunday evening the two appeared together at Montebourg's Festival of the Rose, an annual event in which he celebrates socialism in his Burgundian fiefdom with lofty rhetoric lubricated by good red wine.

For Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the sight of his two ministers on the evening news, wine glasses in hand, jocularly proclaiming loyalty to a president whose policy they simultaneously denounced, was the last straw. He had made "governmental solidarity" a tenet of his leadership and had no intention of tolerating the open insubordination that had made his predecessor, Jean-Marc Ayrault, with whom Montebourg had previously locked horns, a laughingstock. On Sunday night he informed the president that it was "either Montebourg or me," and on Monday morning he announced the dissolution of the government.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Poll: Gov. Scott Walker in tight race in Wisconsin, trailing among likely voters (Eric Kleefeld, 8/27/14, The Week)

The new poll from Marquette University Law School, conducted from Aug. 21 to 24, notably shows different results among registered or likely voters -- but not in the way one might expect. Among registered voters, Walker leads with 47.5 percent, against Burke with 44.1 percent. But among likely voters, Burke is the one who is ahead with 48.6 percent, compared to Walker at 46.5 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Ceasefire sparks storm of criticism against Netanyahu : Disapproval from allies, opposition exposes rifts in Netanyahu's coalition (SPENCER HO, August 27, 2014, Times of Israel)

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's allies trumpet Tuesday's ceasefire agreement as a clear win for Israel over Hamas, Israeli politicians in the opposition called for his job Wednesday and even allies warned that elections could be on the horizon.

August 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


UFO Believers Organize Another Successful Topless Day (NSFW) (Frank Kobola, Cosmopolitan)

Vancouver just wrapped up another successful Go Topless Day, where women and men alike paraded down the street without shirts.

Go Topless Day is designed to protest the double-standard that men can go topless in many public places while women get shamed for public breastfeeding, let alone going topless at a beach. 

All that and we conned them into being breadwinners.
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