March 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


How to Stop Eating Sugar (David Leonhardt, 3/18/18, NY Times)

Health experts recommend that you focus on reducing added sweeteners -- like granulated sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, stevia and molasses. You don't need to worry so much about the sugars that are a natural part of fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Most people don't overeat naturally occurring sugars, as Marion Nestle of New York University says. The fiber, vitamins and minerals that surround them fill you up.

A typical adult should not eat more than 50 grams (or about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, and closer to 25 is healthier. The average American would need to reduce added-sweetener consumption by about 40 percent to get down to even the 50-gram threshold. Here's how you can do it -- without spending more money on food than you already do. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


UK sets new wind power record as turbines deliver 14 gigawatts for first time - 37 per cent of nation's electricity (Peter Stubley, 3/18/18, Independent)

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Lavrov: Syria's partition must stop (Al Jazeera, 3/18/18)

Vlad never understood the war.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM



SILKE WEINFURTNER IS trying to build the universe from scratch. In a physics lab at the University of Nottingham--close to the Sherwood forest of legendary English outlaw Robin Hood--she and her colleagues will work with a huge superconducting coil magnet, 1 meter across. Inside, there's a small pool of liquid, whose gentle ripples stand to mimic the matter fluctuations that gave rise to the structures we observe in the cosmos.

Weinfurtner isn't an evil genius hell-bent on creating a world of her own to rule. She just wants to understand the origins of the one we already have.

The Big Bang is by far the most popular model of our universe's beginnings, but even its fans disagree about how it happened. The theory depends on the existence of a hypothetical quantum field that stretched the universe ultra-rapidly and uniformly in all directions, expanding it by a huge factor in a fraction of a second: a process dubbed inflation. But that inflation or the field responsible for it--the inflaton--is impossible to prove directly. Which is why Weinfurtner wants to mimic it in a lab.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


The Dying Art of Fishing for Shrimp on Horseback: In Oostduinkerke, Belgium, horses plow the ocean instead of the fields. (NATASHA FROST MARCH 16, 2018, Atlas Obscura)

The fishermen, known in Flemish as paardenvissers, ride Brabant horses, a regional breed that is large and sturdy (generally around 5'7", or 16 hands, at the withers), with dense feathering on their lower legs, flaring out over their hooves like the bell of a trumpet. The Vandendriessches have six. A few times a week, they harness a chosen horse to a cart via a special wooden saddle and bring it down to the shore. The cart is piled high with equipment--nets, clothes, baskets, and sieves--and the fisherman must perch on its side.

On the grey-blue beach, beset with flocks of seagulls, the horse waits while the fisherman pulls yellow waterproofs over his clothes--pants, secured around the ankles with twine, and a hooded oilskin. The pair walk into the waves, rider on horseback, until the horse is breast-deep in the surf, jerking its head to avoid the seawater that licks at its nostrils.

Behind them, a 30-foot funnel-shaped net stretches back into the waves. As the horse walks, a chain dragged over the sand creates vibrations--causing the shrimp to jump into the net as gaily as if they'd been called for supper. Slowly, they go to and fro, walking the length of the flat coastline, as the net fills with shrimp. Once every half hour, they return to the beach: The horse has a few moments to rest as the fisherman empties the net, using wooden sieves to sift through the catch.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Whit Stillman's Sympathetic Aristocrats (Nicholas Rowan, 3/17/18, Imaginative Conservative)

The American indie director Whit Stillman has made only five movies, but if you're an aspiring cineaste, you need to see them all.

Focusing exclusively on young members of the upper crust, Mr. Stillman humanizes a class of people typically derided for belonging to the privileged one percent. Mr. Stillman endears audiences to his heroes by depicting them as prosaic mourners, the last of the noblesse yearning for a forgotten age of civility.

Like the British author P.G. Wodehouse, Mr. Stillman possesses the delicate ability to present serious topics through lighthearted and often absurd-sounding dialogue. He injects the aristocracy with a whimsy underscored by an urgent desire for order and meaning in an often inexplicable world. His best films fit the author Joan Didion's assessment of the nature of American art. "Every real American story begins in innocence and never stops mourning the loss of it," she once wrote for National Review. "The banishment from Eden is our one great tale, lovingly told and retold, adapted, disguised and told again."

So it goes for America; so it goes for Whit Stillman.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Let the robots have the damn jobs -- all of them! (BEN DICKSON, 3/17/18, Next Web)

In today's world, we value most products (or services) by their scarcity and the human labor that goes into them. For instance, diamonds are scarce and that's why they're so expensive. But in most cases, we're paying for the human labor that goes into creating goods and services. For example, when you buy grocery, you're not paying for the scarcity of food. You pay for it because a lot of human labor goes into producing it, packaging it, transporting it and selling it to you in the store.

By human labor, I do not necessarily mean physical toil. It can also be cognitive functions. When you acquire a software or an online service, you pay for it because a lot of human labor goes into programming it and maintaining it. Those services in turn must pay for other services that support them and are running on human labor.

Each of us has a specific set of skills, which we sell to afford other people's skills. For instance, I develop software and write articles to earn money and buy food and pay the rent. These activities account for a considerable part of our everyday lives. We're still in a better situation than our ancestors, who had to spend the entire day hunting for food.

With artificial intelligence and machine learning earning a more prominent role in every industry and domain, the need for human labor, both physical and cognitive, is dwindling. Self-driving trucks will eventually replace truck drivers, and smart vending machines fast food workers. Robots can flip burgers just as well as cooks and harvest crops better than field workers. Amazon's automated retail store will obviate the need for cashiers, and smart drone deliveries might even make stores excessive. Even doctors, lawyers and news reporters can someday surrender their professions (or a large part of it) to artificial intelligence. We're already seeing the glimmers of AI algorithms that create their own AI. Maybe one day, even AI researchers will go extinct.

In every case, we can expect robots to perform faster, better and cheaper than humans. They can work for longer periods (sometimes incessantly), improve their skills over time, and pass on their experience to their peers in real time.

As automation removes humans from the loop, the costs for human labor will gradually fade. A transportation company doesn't need to pay its self-driving trucks as it used to do its truck drivers. However, it must pay for their maintenance (which still costs less) because the task still involves human labor. That too will cost next to nothing once the development and maintenance of the trucks and their AI software become automated as well. The same goes for everything else.

March 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Source: McCabe gave interview, memos to Mueller (Mike Allen, Jonathan Swan, 3/17/18, Axios)

McCabe's interview with Mueller's prosecutors apparently included what he knows about former FBI director James Comey's firing.
The bottom line: The memos include corroboration by McCabe of Comey's account of his own firing by Trump, according to the source.

McCabe alluded to that in a 10-paragraph statement right after his firing, in which he said: "[M]y testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey's accounts of his discussions with the President."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


FEC probes whether NRA got illegal Russian donations : Complaint alleges that the gun-rights group may have received contributions intended to help the 2016 Trump campaign. (JOSH MEYER, 03/16/2018, Slate)

The Federal Election Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the National Rifle Association that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to people who were notified of the probe. [...]

Under FEC procedures, the preliminary investigation is likely to require the NRA to turn over closely guarded internal documents and campaign finance records. Depending on what FEC investigators and lawyers find, the agency could launch a full-blown investigation, impose fines or even make criminal referrals to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, people familiar with the probe said.

The preliminary investigation focuses on issues similar to those raised recently by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the NRA, the Trump campaign and Russia.

Wyden is particularly interested in whether Russian-backed entities helped the Trump campaign by funneling contributions to the gun-rights group that "inappropriately and illegally influenced our election," according to a Feb. 2 letter Wyden sent to the NRA.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Comey to Trump: America will decide who's honest (AP, 3/17/18)

Andrew McCabe -- the former FBI deputy director just fired by the attorney general -- kept personal memos regarding President Donald Trump.

The person with knowledge of McCabe's situation says McCabe's memos include details of interactions with the president, among other topics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


What We Know, and Don't Know, About the Firing of Andrew McCabe (Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes, March 17, 2018, LawFare)

The FBI takes telling the truth extremely seriously: "lack of candor" from employees is a fireable offense--and people are fired for it. Moreover, it doesn't take an outright lie to be dismissed. In one case, the bureau fired an agent after he initially gave an ambiguous statement to investigators as to how many times he had picked up his daughter from daycare in an FBI vehicle. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled against the agent when he appealed, finding that "lack of candor is established by showing that the FBI agent did not 'respond fully and truthfully' to the questions he was asked."

Consider also that although Sessions made the ultimate call to fire McCabe, the public record shows that the process resulting in the FBI deputy director's dismissal involved career Justice Department and FBI officials--rather than political appointees selected by President Trump--at crucial points along the way. To begin with, the charges against McCabe arose out of the broader Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation. While the inspector general is appointed by the president, the current head of that office, Michael Horowitz, was appointed by President Barack Obama and is himself a former career Justice Department lawyer. As Jack Goldsmith has written, the inspector general has a great deal of statutory independence, which Horowitz has not hesitated to use: Most notably, he produced a highly critical 2012 report into the Justice Department's "Fast and Furious" program. So a process that begins with Horowitz and his office carries a presumption of fairness and independence.

After investigating McCabe, Horowitz's office provided a report on McCabe's conduct to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which investigates allegations of misconduct against bureau employees. This office is headed by career Justice Department official Candace Will, whom then-FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed to lead the OPR in 2004. According to Sessions, the Office of Professional Responsibility agreed with Horowitz's assessment that McCabe "lacked candor" in speaking to internal investigators.

Finally, Sessions's statement references "the recommendation of the Department's senior career official" in advocating McCabe's firing on the basis of the OIG and OPR determinations. (The official in question appears to be Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools.)

So while Sessions made the decision to dismiss McCabe, career officials or otherwise independent actors were involved in conducting the investigation into the deputy director and recommending his dismissal on multiple levels. [...]

We will refrain from speculating on the reason for the rush to fire McCabe before his retirement. But it is peculiar. Why, one wonders, could the Justice Department not have handled his misconduct--if there was misconduct--the way it usually does: by detailing it in the inspector general's report and noting that the subject, who has since retired, would otherwise be subject to disciplinary action?

The timing seems particularly irregular in light of a second peculiarity unique to McCabe's case--one probably singular in the history of the American republic: Trump's personal intervention in the matter and public demands for the man's scalp. Trump has not been shy about McCabe. 

...or else you did something you should not have.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


White House Watch: Is McMaster on His Way Out, Too? (MICHAEL WARREN, 3/16/18, Weekly Standard)

The president is also considering removing a number of his Cabinet officials, several of whom he's grown concerned about over news reports that they have misused taxpayer dollars for travel or personal luxuries. Trump's list of most imminent departures includes Ryan Zinke at Interior, Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development, and David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs. All three have faced scrutiny in recent weeks for outlandish spending, including Carson's purchase of a $31,000 dining room set at the HUD building, Zinke's $139,000 in door repairs, and Shulkin's misleading ethics investigators over expensed travel for he and his wife. The coverage has apparently embarrassed Trump for undercutting his campaign pledge to "drain the swamp."

Also earning the president's ire is EPA director Scott Pruitt for the former Oklahoma attorney general's apparent preference for first-class airline travel, though it's not evident Pruitt is in the same precarious positions as the others. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, too, is always potentially on the chopping block.

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Americans Are Banding Together to Save the Oldest Church in Paris: The Church of Saint-Germain-des-Près requires extensive renovations if it's going to survive another 1,000 years (KATHERINE MCGRATH, Posted March 2, 2018, Architectural Digest)

In the eyes of travelers, tourists, and locals alike, Saint-Germain-des-Près serves as the archetype of the quintessential Parisian neighborhood. Bursting with character, charm, and a fascinating wealth of history, the neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement sits on the left bank not far from the Seine and the Île de la Cité. The quarter has been home to countless writers, artists, and philosophers, and a multitude of publishing houses, museums, cafés, art galleries, jazz clubs, and universities, among other celebrated institutions. But for all the culture that the neighborhood has birthed, none of it would be here were it not for the église of Saint-Germain-des-Près, the church around which the village was established.

The Church of Saint-Germain-des-Près is the city's oldest church and the very heart of the vibrant neighborhood. It was first built by King Clovis in A.D. 543, and while the original structure was obliterated some 500 years after it was built, the current structure standing in its place has remained for over 1,000 years. While it has stood vigilantly for centuries--surviving fires, a brief stint as a jail, and countless restorations-- it has long been in a tragic state of neglect and in desperate need of repair. To counteract the ravages of time, some passionate Americans have banded together to procure the funding needed to save the church for years to come by starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, appropriately named the American Friends for the Preservation of Saint-Germain-des-Près.

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Flippy, the Burger-Flipping Robot, Is Now Gainfully Employed: The more burgers it makes, the smarter it gets. (ANNE EWBANK MARCH 05, 2018, Ars Technica)

WHEN THE BURGER-FLIPPING ROBOT FLIPPY debuted last year, the Miso Robotics contraption seemed to be mostly a futuristic curiosity. But today, Flippy fulfilled the purpose it had been built for. After a year-long testing period, a model of the robot is now hard at work flipping burgers at a Caliburger restaurant in Pasadena, California.

Looking like a large arm swathed in a chef jacket and mounted on a cart, it comes with a spatula at one end. Using thermal imaging and cameras, Flippy can tell when a burger needs to be flipped and taken off the heat. Flippy can also switch out dirty spatulas for clean ones, and can even scrape the grill. According to local news outlet KTLA, artificial intelligence is a part of its programming, meaning that Flippy has the potential to get better at its job over time.

Caliburger, which helped fund Flippy and Miso Robotics, plans on rolling its technology out to restaurants across the world. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Where H.R. McMaster Went Wrong: He built a storied military career by speaking truth to power--until that power was President Trump. (FRED KAPLAN, MARCH 16, 2018, Slate)

McMaster, a combat hero in both Iraq wars, had made his reputation 20 years earlier, as an Army major, with his dissertation-turned-book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, which criticized the top generals of the 1960s for betraying their constitutional duties by failing to give the president their honest military advice.

In his assignments since then, McMaster only solidified his standing as an officer who spoke truth to power, sometimes impetuously, with a distinct lack of talent for dissembling. Some of his superiors admired him for his impolitic indifference; most despised him for it.

He came to the White House with no background in broad national security policy and no experience in Washington politics--and those shortcomings helped seal his doom. When the president called on him to tell the sorts of lies for which he'd lambasted an earlier generation of generals, he didn't know how to evade the pressure, and he succumbed to it just as they did.

The turning point came in May, barely three months into the job. The Washington Post reported that at a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump had divulged to Russia's two top diplomats highly classified secrets about Israel's involvement in an intelligence operation. In the wake of this appalling security breach, which would have sent anyone else to prison, McMaster was ordered to cover Trump's tracks at a press conference.

Reading from a carefully worded script, McMaster strung together a series of mendacities and half-truths that appalled his friends and admirers. One of them pronounced himself "heartbroken." Eliot Cohen wrote in the Atlantic, in a pointed reference to McMaster, that, for the high officials dragged into Trump's swamp of deceit, the worst moment may come when they "can no longer recognize their own characters for what they once were."

You can't both tell the truth and support Donald. And, if you work for him, you have to lie with gusto, not with shame.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Ed Charles, Infield Sage of the Miracle Mets, Is Dead at 84 (GEORGE VECSEY, MARCH 15, 2018, NY Times)

Charles's way to the majors was blocked by Eddie Mathews, the Braves' future Hall of Fame third baseman, but he also saw lesser infielders called up.

He made it to the majors after being traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1962.

At 34, Charles was traded to the Mets in 1967, when they were still staggering along at the bottom of the league.

In a game weeks after joining the team, he went to his left and snagged a hard shot before it could go past him, impressing the rookie left-handed pitcher Jerry Koosman so much that Koosman walked toward third base.

"He was sort of flabbergasted that I'd made the play," Charles recalled in 2009. "He said, 'You sort of glide to the ball. That's it. You're the Glider from now on.'" [...]

Charles was always eager to talk about his brushes with Jackie Robinson, starting with the sighting in Daytona Beach in 1946.

Charles also recounted a story of how he later spotted Robinson, who was by then on the Brooklyn Dodgers' roster, on a train.

The Dodgers were in Florida playing an exhibition, and Charles and several friends "peered through openings in the fence," he recalled in "Carrying Jackie's Torch: The Players Who Integrated Baseball -- and America," by Steve Jacobson (2007).

After the game, the Dodgers prepared to leave from the railroad station.

"So now we're walking down the platform, looking in the windows trying to see where Jackie was seated," Charles said. "Finally we come to the right coach, and there is Jackie, playing cards. We waved and, you know, he waved back to us."

"Then the train starts pulling out," he went on, "and we start slowly walking with it, just waving to Jackie. The train picked up speed. We kept running and waving till the train got out of sight."

"Things like that, you know, I can recall so vividly," he said, "because they were very special moments in my life and in the life of the country. It was like the Messiah had come."

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Finland has practically ended homelessness (Jack Webb, 3/13/18, Independent) 

Last year, Finland was the only EU country not currently in the middle of a massive homelessness crisis.

In fact, the EU homelessness organisation FEANTSA, which published the report, found Finland's number of homeless has been decreasing year-on-year.

Finland employed a bold initiative to get people off the streets: it's called Housing First.

These radicals from Finland had the crazy idea that giving people a permanent home gives them... well, gives them a place to live and get off the streets.

It's a far-cry away from some of the tactics that have been deployed in the UK, which has included disturbing anti-homeless architecture like metal spikes.

Finland even goes as far as assigning individual support to sort out the issues that have led to the person becoming homeless.

This is a complete reversal of what other countries do and although it might sound simple, it's also incredibly effective. When someone has a literal place to call home, it makes it a whole lot easier to solve any potential problems which lead to an individual becoming homeless in the first place.

Just one of many ways in which W was revolutionary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


Tariffs Were Killing New Zealand's Economy. Free Trade Turned It Around. (Patrick Tyrrell & Caleb Pascoe,  March 16, 2018, Daily Signal)

New Zealand now ranks third in The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom and is one of the champions of economic freedom around the world. But it wasn't always so.

In the mid-1980s, New Zealand was facing an economic crisis, with its domestic market and international trade both heavily regulated. Unemployment had reached 11 percent, and inflation was a sky-high 15 percent.

In response, the government of New Zealand began implementing revolutionary economic reforms, most significantly related to trade policy. It announced in 1987 a program that would reduce the tax on imports to under 20 percent by the year 1992.

By 1996, that tax was reduced further to under 10 percent, and by the end of 1999, about 95 percent of New Zealand's tariffs were set at zero. Successive New Zealand governments, whether conservative or liberal, have maintained the strong commitment to free trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Vanessa Trump hires criminal defense attorney for Donald Jr. divorce (Julia Marsh and Emily Smith, March 16, 2018, NY Post)

Vanessa Trump has hired a criminal defense attorney to represent her in her divorce from Donald Trump Jr. just as special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed the president's family business.

White Plains, NY-based lawyer David Feureisen is representing Vanessa, according to paperwork filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Vanessa and Don Jr. had claimed in a joint statement that their split after 12 years of marriage was not acrimonious. "It's a curious choice if it's an amicable separation," Manhattan family law expert Bonnie Rabin said of Vanessa's attorney. "If it's an amicable situation, you wouldn't be highlighting the criminal aspect," noted Rabin, who is not involved in the case.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Richard Weaver: The Conservatism of Piety (John P. East, 3/09/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Throughout Weaver's work is found a profound appreciation for Plato and his contribution to the Western heritage. Indeed, Weaver's best-known and probably most influential work, Ideas Have Consequences, is a hook long lament that Western modernism has departed from the Platonic tradition. Plato, Weaver wrote, "possessed the deepest divining rod among the ancients."[9] In Plato, Weaver found the personification of that philosophical bent which pursued an understanding of "the structure of reality:"

From the time of the Greeks there have existed in most periods 'wise men,' phi­losophers, or scholars who make it their work to seek out the structure of reality, and to proclaim it by one means and an­other to the less initiated. The first Greeks began looking for the structure of reality in the constitution of matter: What was the prime element out of which all other things were made?[10]

Weaver reasoned that a mature conserva­tism would follow in that tradition:

It is my contention that a conservative is a realist, who believes that there is a structure of reality independent of his own will and desire. He believes that there is a creation which was here be­fore him, which exists now not by just his sufferance, and which will he here after he's gone.... Though this reality is independent of the individual, it is not hostile to him. It is in fact amenable by him in many ways, but it cannot be changed radically and arbitrarily. This is the cardinal point. The conservative holds that man in this world cannot make his will his law without any regard to limits and to the fixed nature of things.[11]

In keeping with the Platonic view, Weaver argued this "structure of reality" was composed of things which have "essential natures" and that these natures were "knowable." Moreover, we have an "intui­tive feeling that existence is not meaning­less."[12] It is then the function of the philoso­pher to discern the realities--the essential nature of things--and hopefully to per­ceive, even though dimly and imperfectly, the meaning and purpose of existence. As it was with Plato, so it was with Weaver, that philosophy was the highest of callings whereby through "right reasoning" knowl­edge, understanding, wisdom, and ultimate­ly Truth were to be pursued.

Consistent with the Platonic view, Wea­ver contended that basic and inherent in the "nature of things" was a dualism:

The first positive step must be a driv­ing afresh of the wedge between the ma­terial and the transcendental. This is fundamental: without a dualism we should never find purchase for the pull upward, and all idealistic designs might as well be scuttled.... To bring dualism back into the world and to rebuke the moral impotence fathered by empiricism is then the broad character of our objec­tive.[13]

The material side of this dualism related to specifics and concretes, to the imperma­nent and transitory. The transcendental facet pertained to first principles, essences, universals, forms, and finally to unchang­ing ideals: truth, beauty, justice, and good­ness. In Weaver's words: "Plato reminded us that at any stage of an inquiry it is important to realize whether we are moving toward, or away from, first principles."[14] Similarly, Weaver wrote, "Belief in universals and principles is inseparable from the life of reason," and he noted, "[W]e in­variably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms."[15] In this regard, probably Weaver's best-known observation was: "The true conservative is one who sees the universe as a paradigm of essences, of which the phenomenology of the world is a sort of continuing approxima­tion. Or, to put this in another way, he sees it as a set of definitions which are struggling to get themselves defined in the real world."[16]

Weaver's embracing of the Platonic con­cept of the transcendent led to his observa­tion that "the conservative image of history arises out of primal affection and a desire to follow transcendental ideals of justice. And it is this that gives content to the phi­losophy of conservatism."[17] In the final analysis, the pursuit of ideals is the Pla­tonic quest for standards and values:

Standard means, first of all, something of general application and validity. A standard is something that is set up as a measure for all. It is not contingent upon this man's preference, or whim, or that man's location in space and time.... A standard is, therefore, something of uniform and universal determination. This is one of the aspects of the meaning. But in addition to this, the term standard in its more general usage has the imperative sense of an ideal.[18]

We must, Weaver argued, have ideals, stan­dards, and values in order that we can dis­tinguish and evaluate: "Before we can have the idea of relative evaluation at all, we must have a tertium quid, a third essence, an ideal ideal, as it were. This is why a humanism which is merely historical-minded can be learned, but cannot in the true sense be critical."

March 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Report: McMaster out as top Trump security aide (AFP and TOI, 3/16/18)

US President Donald Trump has decided to fire national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in what would be the latest in a string of high-profile White House departures, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


The Eagles Have Landed: Kazakhstan's Masterful 'Berkutchi' (Radio Liberty, February 28, 2018)

Kazakh eagle hunters, known as "berkutchi," took part in a national tournament in the city of Oral on February 24-25, the first event of its kind in the West Kazakhstan region. The hunters showed off their skill in training their eagles and other birds to follow commands, catch prey, and return to their masters. RFE/RL Kazakh Service photographer Pyotr Trotsenko shared these photos of the winter competition.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


This Startup Grows Diamonds In A Lab That Are Just Like The Real Thing (Fast Company, 3/02/18)

West Coast startup Diamond Foundry is ushering in a new precious-mineral rush in California--this time for clear, undetectably lab-grown diamonds made by plasma reactor technology that mimics the outer core of the sun.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


The Man Behind The Music Man: Who Was Meredith Willson? (TERRY TEACHOUT / APR. 1, 2012, Commentary)

One of a bare handful of hit Broadway musicals to have been written in its entirety by a single person, The Music Man opened to rave reviews in 1957, beat out West Side Story at the Tony Awards, and ran for 1,375 performances. Then it was turned into one of the most popular Hollywood musicals ever filmed. The story of a smooth-talking con man who breezes into a hick town to swindle its residents and ends up losing his heart to the local librarian was successfully revived on Broadway in 2000, filmed a second time for TV in 2003, and continues to be performed regularly by regional and amateur theater companies throughout America.

Why, then, is Meredith Willson--the author of its libretto and music and lyrics--so completely forgotten? Because nothing he did before or after The Music Man was of lasting interest. Willson (surely one of the last males in America to carry the first name of Meredith) was 55 years old when The Music Man premiered, and the two musicals that followed it, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960) and Here's Love (1962), were successful in their day but have since failed to hold the stage. (The peculiarly unmusical movie version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with Debbie Reynolds as a brassy survivor of the Titanic, was a big hit, but it dispensed with most of the score, featuring only six of Willson's songs.) Willson also wrote the music for one film of note, William Wyler's 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, but his score was undistinguished. Only one of his non-theatrical songs, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," continues to be sung, and except for the ubiquitous "Seventy-Six Trombones," none of the numbers from The Music Man quite established itself as a standard (although "Till There Was You" came close).

Willson was, in other words, a one-hit wonder, and the immense and enduring popularity of his hit, coupled with the fact that he was by all accounts exceedingly likable and seems to have led a blameless private life, has had the unexpected effect of blotting out any lasting memories of the man who wrote it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Hawaii: Where Evolution Can Be Surprisingly Predictable: On each Hawaiian island, stick spiders have evolved into the same basic forms--gold, white, and dark. It's a stunning example of how predictable evolution can be. (ED YONG  MAR 8, 2018, The Atlantic)

Most people go to Hawaii for the golden beaches, the turquoise seas, or the stunning weather. Rosemary Gillespie went for the spiders.

Situated around 2,400 miles from the nearest continent, the Hawaiian Islands are about as remote as it's possible for islands to be. In the last 5 million years, they've been repeatedly colonized by far-traveling animals, which then diversified into dozens of new species. Honeycreeper birds, fruit flies, carnivorous caterpillars ... all of these creatures reached Hawaii, and evolved into wondrous arrays of unique forms.

So did the spiders. There are happy-face spiders whose abdomens look like emojis, and which Gillespie started studying in 1987. There are appropriately named long-jawed spiders, which caught her attention years later. Spiders have so repeatedly radiated on Hawaii that scientists often discover entirely new groups of species at once, allowing them to have some taxonomic fun. One genus was named Orsonwelles and each species is named after one of the director's films; another group is named after all the characters from the film Predator. "The diversity is extraordinary," says Gillespie, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley.

The most spectacular of these spider dynasties, Gillespie says, are the stick spiders. They're so-named because some of them have long, distended abdomens that make them look like twigs. "You only see them at night, walking around the understory very slowly," Gillespie says. "They're kind of like sloths." Murderous sloths, though: Their sluggish movements allow them to sneak up on other spiders and kill them.

During the day, stick spiders hide, relying on their camouflage to protect them from the beaks of honeycreepers. Each of Hawaii's islands has species of stick spider that come in three distinctive colors--shiny gold, dark brown, and matte white. Go to Oahu and you'll find all three kinds. Head to East Maui and you'll see the same trio.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


MICKEY SPILLANE TURNS 100: Max Allan Collins on Sex, Violence, and Mike Hammer (MAX ALLAN COLLINS, 3/09/18, Crime Reads)

In July of 2006, at the age of 88, the last major mystery writer of the twentieth century left the building. Only a handful of writers in the genre--Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler among them--achieved such superstar status.

Spillane's position, however, is unique--reviled by many mainstream critics, despised and envied by a number of his contemporaries in the very field he revitalized, the creator of Mike Hammer had an impact not just on mystery and suspense fiction but popular culture in general.

The success of the paperback reprint editions of his startlingly violent and sexy novels--tens of millions of copies sold--jumpstarted the explosion of so-called "paperback originals," for the next quarter-century the home of countless Spillane imitators, and his redefinition of the action hero as a tough guy who mercilessly executed villains and slept with beautiful, willing women remains influential (Sin City is Frank Miller's homage). [...]

This was something entirely new in mystery fiction, and Spillane quickly became the most popular--and controversial--mystery writer of the mid-twentieth century. In addition to creating an eye-for-an-eye hero, the writer brought a new level of sex and violence to the genre. He was called a fascist by left-leaning critics and a libertine by right-leaning ones. In between were millions of readers who turned Spillane's first six Hammer novels into the bestselling private eye novels of all time.

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