October 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era Reading of a Treaty on Torture (CHARLIE SAVAGE, OCT. 18, 2014, NY Times)

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute "acknowledges and confirms existing obligations" under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama's legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration's position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


In Ferguson, activists in search of a revolution (Amanda Sakuma, 10/19/14, MSNBC)

It took seven University of Pennsylvania students piled into a rental van nearly 16 hours to drive to St. Louis. They had raised $600 in three days from a Go Fund Me account that was supposed to last them through the weekend. They slept wherever they could crash for free -- the basement of a St. Louis couple's home, or packed on the floor of a church at night.

But once in Ferguson, it was nothing like the war zone they had seen splashed on their television screens exactly two months earlier. 

Instead of armored vehicles blocking suburban intersections and stoking chaos in the streets, police squad cars were escorting peaceful marches that were careful organized and tailored during the day. Instead of training assault rifles on the faces of protesters, officers were standing idly by, at times even joking around with anyone within earshot.

"It was awesome to go and be there in solidarity -- we went to the events, we went to the protests -- but it still feels a little like it was not ours." [...]

Krasovitzky and her crew of classmates were there to join the "Weekend of Resistance" -- what they saw as their generation's own civil rights revolution over the death of Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. That officer, Darren Wilson, remains free while a St. Louis grand jury investigates whether he should be charged with a crime. 

National groups had stepped in to plan the four-day event, organizing rallies and marches to keep the movement alive. They set up a website offering a forum for local residents to offer couches or beds for visitors, and connected people from across the country who needed a ride to the Midwest. 

Hundreds of people poured into the city - far short of the thousands organizers had projected - representing a diverse coalition of trade unions, student associations, religious groups and concerned citizens. Still, the disconnect between the die-hard protesters who had camped out for nearly 60 days and the activists who were now joining months later was difficult to overcome.

That divide between the local activists and those joining events just for the weekend was on full display last Sunday night when audience members at an interfaith event heckled black leaders who came to St. Louis to urge for peaceful demonstrations in the face of police crackdowns.

"The brother with the suit and tie on isn't the guy who's protecting me," local rapper Tef Poe said to the crowd after he had been called onstage to speak. "It's the dude with tattoos on his face that look like Chief Keef."

That same division was on display during the protests last weekend. By the time the group of University of Pennsylvania students arrived in Clayton, where the first organized march was to take place, police officers had already blocked off the streets with barricades to neatly contain the protests. Volunteers wearing neon vests walked along the center of the street, acting as a human boundary between the oncoming traffic and the crowd of barely a few hundred participants who marched the predetermined eight-block route. Though pockets of protesters continued to brave the brutal rain while chanting at the phalanx of police guarding the county prosecutor's office, the demonstration wrapped up in less than two hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Paul Krugman's sloppy, wet kiss (Thomas Frank, 10/19/14, Salon)

As Salon readers know, Krugman has for years been willing to criticize the Obama administration. However, in a much-discussed essay the economist published in Rolling Stone last week, he reverses himself and declares that Obama has won him over; that the president is "one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history."

What makes Krugman's article peculiar is that he now derides as irresponsible "Obama-bashing" some of the very criticisms of the administration that he himself has made over the years. In 2010, for example, he strongly hinted that bankers had been engaged in "white-collar looting"; in Rolling Stone he laughs at people who complain that "Wall Street hasn't been punished." The Krugman of today also, amazingly, distances himself from certain misguided souls who are upset because "income inequality remains so high"; amazing because this is a subject on which Krugman has written for decades--indeed, just a few months ago he penned a scorcher against people who deny the mushrooming problem of inequality.

Sure, the UR's a pale imitation of W and Bill Clinton, but this is the most liberal presidency Mr. Krugman will get to see for the remainder of his life.  He may as well embrace it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Jeanne Shaheen attacks Scott Brown in new TV ad (Joshua Miller, AUGUST 27, 2014, Boston Globe)

In a shift in strategy, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen Wednesday launched her first attack television advertisement against Scott Brown, painting the Republican as a pawn of "big oil" and a candidate looking out for himself rather than New Hampshire.

It might make sense to run these ads when folks are angry at big oil, but as prices plummet they just seem odd.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World (Dalibor Rohac, August 25, 2014, Cato)

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies--in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

MENA countries need to implement privatization in order to sustain their transitions toward more representative political systems and inclusive economic institutions. Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization programs in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the financial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform package that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Eurozone stagnation is a greater threat than debt (Wolfgang Munchau, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

Financial markets have woken up to the possibility of a eurozone-wide economic depression with very low inflation over the next 10 to 20 years. This is what the fall in various measures of inflation expectations tells us. Investors are not worried about the solvency of a member state. That was clearly different two years ago.

But the present scenario is no less disturbing. The implications for those who live in such an economic snake pit are already visible: high unemployment; rising poverty; real and nominal wage stagnation; a debt burden that will not come down in real terms; a decline in public sector services, and in public investment. A shocking example is the decrepit state of German military hardware. Of the Luftwaffe's 254 fighter planes, 150 cannot fly.

The eurozone's stagnation will affect the rest of the world to different degrees. The UK might manage to escape the same fate, but the eurozone economy is big enough to pull Britain down with it. Hardest hit will be the parts of central and eastern Europe that do not use the euro. They are caught between an imploding Russia and a stagnating Europe. It is hard to see how the oil price can recover in an environment of permanently low growth. And it is even harder to see how Russia can live with a permanently depressed oil price.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Poland leads opposition to EU energy deal (Henry Foy in Warsaw, Christian Oliver in Brussels and Pilita Clark in London, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

The opponents to the deal, led by Poland and the Czech Republic, but also including Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, are ready to walk away from the summit if they are not offered improved terms.

"This may fail," Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland's European affairs minister, told the Financial Times. "We have our well-entrenched red lines . . . If they are not ready to take into consideration our apprehensions, then we will decide later this week or early next week not to deal with the issue at the summit."
Brussels wants to compensate eastern European nations for the potential costs by allocating them allowances from the EU's carbon market but officials in Warsaw argue that the current plan on the table cannot guarantee enough cash that the huge overhaul of its coal industry requires to meet the EU's targets. [...]

The central Europeans think that their best chance of a sweetened deal is to postpone a decision on the emission reduction targets into the next commission, rather than accept a rushed compromise this month. Brussels is proposing that, by 2030, countries should reduce their emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels.

Poland fears that this target would hit its economy disproportionately because 90 per cent of its electricity comes from coal and Warsaw argues that the EU deal will drive up consumer prices 120 per cent between 2021 and 2030. Likewise, an unusually high percentage of Czech industry is dependent on energy-intensive manufacturing.

"What we are trying to do is work with the assumption that we want a compromise," said Mr Trzaskowski, describing a "common position" between the five countries. "The most important thing is that we do not take additional burdens that will increase the cost of energy."

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


What a menu tells you about a restaurant: The language of food (CLINT WITCHALLS, 30 September 2014, Independent)

Writers are often given the advice: "Don't use a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do." But the advice should come with the disclaimer: "Unless you write menus for a living." As Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University discovered, using long words to describe a dish is a sign of an expensive restaurant.

In his hugely entertaining book, The Language of Food, out today, Jurafsky explains that every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents (42p) in the price of that dish. In a study of 6,500 menus, Jurafsky found that the words "exotic" and "spices" also raise the price of a dish. But "linguistic fillers" like "mouth-watering", "sublime" and "crispy", tend to feature more often on cheap menus.

"At the expensive restaurant, you're supposed to assume that the crispy food will be crispy," Jurafsky said in a telephone interview. "The cheaper restaurants are a little worried that you might not know. It's a kind of status anxiety."

Eat at home and call it breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Poll: Likely Voters Favor GOP-Led Congress (REID J. EPSTEIN, 10/18/14, WSJ)
Voters likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections favor a Republican-led Congress over a Democratic one, 49% to 44%, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey finds.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Hamas reconstructing damaged Gaza attack tunnel (ELHANAN MILLER, October 19, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas's armed wing is reconstructing an attack tunnel damaged by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the movement's newspaper reported on Sunday, admitting that renovation work was carried out on the tunnel under the protection of a humanitarian ceasefire during the operation

It's more like polishing their victory trophy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Author Katha Pollitt Claims "Abortion is Part of Being a Mother" (THERESA BONOPARTIS, 10/19/14, Aleteia)

Ms. Pollitt tells us," We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women." But it is not "normal," regardless of its frequency, and no amount of writing or talking will ever make it so. That is why abortion continues to be such a controversial issue. She tries to justify her position by stating abortions occur worldwide and throughout history. So have rape and murder, but simply because an action is widespread does not make it normal or acceptable. [...]

Her rationalizations are extremist: she tells us abortion is "part of being a mother and of caring for children, because caring for children is knowing when it's not a good idea to bring them into the world." If a woman is pregnant, she is already a mother and her child is already in the world. Does she even hear what she's saying? Part of being a mother is to NOT be a mother by doing the most unmaternal act of having one's child eliminated? Caring for children consists in killing them? And if it's not a good idea for them to be in the world and this decision is solely the mothers', why stop at birth?

...and ask why a caring mother would not then kill her children whenever she feels its a bad idea for them to be in the world?  It's not an argument about caring for others, but about aggrandizing power to the self. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Marriage Is Not a Water Fountain (ANTHONY ESOLEN, 10/18/14, Crisis)

Consider the segregationist in Alabama, who wanted to keep one water fountain (the nice one in the middle of the hall) for whites, and another (the rusty one out back) for colored people. What can we say about that?

What the southern slaveholders themselves said about it, for one: it is a peculiar institution. It is not part of the universal human experience, this uncharitable preoccupation with race. Ancient Rome knew nothing of it. Does anyone know the color of Saint Augustine's skin? He was born in Africa to a father with a Roman name and a mother with a Punic name. Was his blood Caucasian, Semitic, Berber, Ethiopian, or some combination thereof? No one knows, because no one thought it worth mentioning. After the first century, none of the emperors are specifically Roman, and very few are even Italian. No one cared. [...]

Third: the separation violated the natural law. The water fountain is designed to meet the natural bodily needs of a human being. Everyone needs to drink. Thirst is far more distressing than hunger. Every traveler or stranger needs a place to sleep. Every sick person needs a bed and a doctor. The black man needs water, or food, or a bed, or medicine no more and no less than does the white man, and for the same reasons. The right to these things, without any encumbrance based upon the fantasy of race, flows from our common human nature. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. [...]

Now, none of these conditions characterizes our efforts to restore and protect the institution of marriage. If anything, they characterize some of our opponents in the debate. Let us see why. [...]

First, the idea that marriage requires a man and a woman is not peculiar to us. It is universal in human culture. Its universality is based upon the obvious functions of the reproductive organs, and the obvious need to propagate the species. We may add, too, that in a multitude of manifestations, wide in variety but recognizably of the same kind, what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are also universal in human culture. That too is observed and accepted as natural and good, most nobly embodied in the complementarity of marriage, man and woman.

What is peculiar? The idea that there are no such things as manhood and womanhood; that the sexes are empty of significance, except in the sole case of what must then be considered a mere irrational and inexplicable desire: that this particular male must have another male, and this particular female must have another female. We can pretend that a man can possibly marry another man, because we have shut our eyes to what marriage is, and what men and women are.

That means that we have to shore up a lie. Suppose I say, "A marriage by our bodily nature requires a man and a woman. If we think about it for a moment, it also requires a vow of permanence and exclusivity, because marriage involves the time-transcending act that brings a new generation into being." What about that is not true? When a man and a woman unite in the congress of the sexes, that is exactly what they are doing, even if they try to thwart its natural result. Nothing in human reality is comparable to that act.

So clear it is that sodomy and sexual congress are different kinds of things, biologically and ontologically, that it takes tremendous pressure to pretend otherwise. We must engage in bad science (social "research" on the children of gay parents, with self-selected participants and no check on their veracity). We must engage in linguistic subterfuge (saying that it shouldn't matter whom you "love," finessing the meaning of "love" and diverting attention away from the issue, which is the nature of marriage and its current health). We must indoctrinate children, vilify ordinary people ("breeders"), put hesitant parents under suspicion, and concentrate the massive might of the State against normal and unremarkable cultural expression (trying to compel Irishmen in Boston to celebrate sodomy on Saint Patrick's Day).

And what is this for? It is not for a universal need. Human beings do need friendships, but we do not register friendships with the State. Human beings do need a mother and a father; but the movement for homosexual pseudogamy, like the sexual revolution generally, cruelly denies that need. The person at the water fountain needs a drink. But no one needs sodomy, in part because no one, as an individual, needs any sexual activity at all. If you keep your clothes on, you are not going to shrivel up and die. You may want the activity. You may want it very much. But it is not a necessity. In fact, most of our noblest thinkers have cautioned against putting too much stock in the nether regions, arguing that what we really need in that regard is self-control, lest our lives become dissipated and debauched.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


A Jewel in the Buckle of the Bible Belt: Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery (Dwight Longenecker, 10/19/14, Imaginative Conservative)

Because Baroque art was unpopular in the 1950s, "Dr Bob" got started with twenty-five paintings including works by Botticelli, Botticini, Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Ribera. By 1954 his collection had grown to 40 paintings, then within ten years the owned 211 old masters, and by 1991 the Bob Jones Gallery had over four hundred works on permanent display including works by Rubens, Dore, Rembrandt, Murillo and van Honthorst. They added seven large Benjamin West paintings and also began acquiring valuable antiques, vestments and a glittering collection of Russian icons.

On entering the Bob Jones gallery one is entranced by the austere beauty of altarpieces from the early Sienese school, then as one progresses through the galleries the history of European sacred art opens up through the late medieval Flemish and Italian masters through the Renaissance and Baroque to the nineteenth century. The paintings in the Bob Jones collection are arranged chronologically and by geographical regions in galleries that are lavishly decorated and professionally lit. The artwork is displayed with salvaged architectural features, complementary wall hangings, tapestries, sculpture, church fittings and period furniture.

The visitor to Bob Jones University campus who knows only of the school's unfortunate reputation will be bemused and bewildered. "How is it that a school once known for being racist, rabidly fundamentalist and virulently anti-Catholic could have acquired such an outstanding collection of Catholic art?" The questions continue: "What do the fundamentalist students make of the art collection? How do the anti-Catholic supporters of Bob Jones University feel about the overtly Catholic artwork?

The answers remain with the eccentric and unique flair of Bob Jones Jr. who died in 1997. On the event of the museum's opening in 1951 he explained to the students, "Bob Jones University believes that nothing is too good for God, and here on these walls we see great talent employed in His service. We want you to enjoy these pictures as well as be blessed by them. Come back again and again to look at the pictures. After you have formed a general acquaintance with them all, concentrate on them one by one. Your appreciation and understanding of art will grow, your life will be enriched, and your culture increased as great masters, long gone to dust, speak to you of their faith and their dreams--reveal to you something of their own personalities. You will realize more and more how universal is the message of the Word of God in its appeal to human hearts in every generation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Low oil price means high anxiety for Opec as US flexes its muscles (Terry Macalister, 10/18/14, The Observer)

The US, the world's biggest oil consumer, has relied in the past on Saudi to keep Opec price rises relatively low. But now it has the complicating factor of protecting its own huge shale industry.

Even US oil producers see the political benefits of abundant shale resources and the resultant downward pressure on prices. Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, the biggest US oil company, said recently that his country had now entered a "new era of energy abundance" - meaning it is no longer dependent on the politically unstable Middle East.

So there will be understandable tension next month when the ruling Opec body meets in Vienna and its member states fight over what to do. The cartel would like to reassert its authority over oil prices but some producing countries, such as Saudi, can withstand lower crude values for much longer than others, and the relative costs of production vary wildly between nations.

Since the Arab spring, many countries in the Middle East have hugely increased their public spending in response to growing dissent over unemployment and high prices. A lower oil price endangers this.

The best strategy for the free world to use against the authoritarian petro states is to keep the prices low while reducing consumption, which is done with gas taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Deus Ex Musica : Beethoven transformed music--but has veneration of him stifled his successors? (ALEX ROSS, 10/20/14, The New Yorker)

Beethoven is a singularity in the history of art--a phenomenon of dazzling and disconcerting force. He not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions. The professional orchestra arose, in large measure, as a vehicle for the incessant performance of Beethoven's symphonies. The art of conducting emerged in his wake. The modern piano bears the imprint of his demand for a more resonant and flexible instrument. Recording technology evolved with Beethoven in mind: the first commercial 33⅓ r.p.m. LP, in 1931, contained the Fifth Symphony, and the duration of first-generation compact disks was fixed at seventy-five minutes so that the Ninth Symphony could unfurl without interruption. After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven's dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians' platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.

Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870. Weber sees an 1807 Leipzig performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony, the titanic, turbulent "Eroica," as a turning point: the work was brought back a week later, "by demand," taking a place of honor at the end of the program. Likewise, a critic wrote of the Second Symphony, "It demands to be played again, and yet again, by even the most accomplished orchestra." More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven's constructions--his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs--that made the repertory culture of classical music possible. This is not to say that Beethoven's predecessors, giants on the order of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, fail to reward repeated listening with their cerebral games of variation. In the case of Beethoven, though, the process becomes addictive, irresistible. No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time. [...]

How did Beethoven become "BEETHOVEN"? What prompted the "great transformation of musical taste," to take a phrase from William Weber--the shift on the concert stage from a living culture to a necrophiliac one? The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated. But no one is well served by history in the style of superhero comics. This composer, too, was shaped by circumstances, and he happened to reach his maturity just as listeners of an intellectual bent, such as E. T. A. Hoffmann, were primed for an oversized figure, an emperor of an expanding musical realm. The scholar Mark Evan Bonds, in his new book "Absolute Music," describes the "growing conviction at the turn of the nineteenth century that music had the capacity to disclose the 'wonders' of the universe in ways that words could not, and that the greatest composers were in effect oracles, intermediaries between the divine and the human." As Bonds observes, people had spoken of Mozart's genius but had not referred to him "as a genius." With Beethoven, genius became a distinct identity, fashioned by the self rather than furnished by God.

That, in a nutshell, is the damage he did, turning artists inwards on themselves, where they had looked outward to Creation.  He was sufficiently a genius that he could still produce art.  Very few of his fellow modernists ever have or will.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members (JAY LIVINGSTON • October 16, 2014, Pacific Standard)

The 1954 sociology classic When Prophecy Fails describes groups built around a prediction that the world would soon be destroyed and that they, the believers, would be saved by flying saucers from outer space. When it didn't happen, they too faced the problem of cognitive dissonance--dissonance between belief and fact. But because they had been very specific about what would happen and when it would happen, they could not very well use the  denial and equivocation favored by the economists. Instead, they first claimed that what had averted the disaster was their own faith. By meeting and planning and believing so strongly in their extraterrestrial rescuers, they had literally saved the world. The economists, by contrast, could not claim that their warnings saved us from inflation, for their warning--their predictions and prescriptions--had been ignored by the Fed. So instead they argue that there actually is, or will be, serious inflation.

The other tactic that the millenarian group seized on was to start proselytizing--trying to convert others and to bring new members into the fold. For the conservative economists, this tactic is practically a given, but it is not necessarily a change. They had already been spreading their faith, as professors and as advisors (to policymakers, political candidates, wealthy investors, et al.). They haven't necessarily redoubled their efforts, but the evidence has not given them pause. They continue to publish their unreconstructed views to as wide an audience as possible.

That's the curious thing about cognitive dissonance. The goal is to reduce the dissonance, and it really doesn't matter how. Of course, you could change your ideas, but letting go of long and deeply held ideas when the facts no longer cooperate is difficult. Apparently it's easier to change the facts (by denial, equivocation, etc.). Or, equally effective in reducing the dissonance, you can convince others that you are right. That validation is just as effective as a friendly set of facts, especially if it comes from powerful and important people ,and comes with rewards both social and financial.

It is possible to forgive Alan Greenspan for tanking the economy twice by raising rates into the teeth of deflation, after all, he'd been in positions of power during the great inflation of the 70s.  It is understandable if some such people remain terrified of the phenomenon.

But the problem now is not just that these guys are obsessed with a problem that no longer exists, but that they can not even begin to face the potential issue that does exist : deflation.

October 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 PM


The Last Founding Father : Richard Brookhiser's new biography of Lincoln is splendid : a review of Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Richard Brookhiser  (MYRON MAGNET, 17 October 2014, City Journal)

Though what we call the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred in their Illinois senatorial contest of 1858, the "six years from 1854 to 1860 were one long Lincoln-Douglas debate," writes Brookhiser, as Douglas went around the state defending the act and an indignant Lincoln pursued him, rebutting his emollient arguments in a string of immortal speeches. In Peoria in October 1854, Lincoln condemned Douglas for reopening an already scabbed-over wound. "Every inch of territory we owned already had a definite settlement of the slavery question," he observed; but thanks to Douglas, "here we are in the midst of a new slavery agitation." Douglas wants the people of the territories to decide? Fine. But who the people are "depends on whether a Negro is not or is a man." If he is, then isn't it "a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself?" When a white man "governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism." [...]

Brookhiser properly devotes an entire chapter to Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which he rightly judges the greatest of his speeches--and (in my view) is perhaps the greatest speech ever made. In it, Brookhiser believes, Lincoln completed his lifelong search for a surrogate father, moving from the Founding Fathers to God the Father. To be sure, this speech, delivered on March 4, 1865, like the Gettysburg Address given some 15 months earlier, resounds with the poetry of the King James Bible, which a childhood friend of Lincoln's sons' remembered the president would often read after lunch in the White House, while the children played, "sometimes in his stocking feet with one long leg crossed over the other, the unshod foot slowly waving back and forth" as he kept time to the rhythm of the Elizabethan language's stupendous music.

But if I have one disagreement with Brookhiser's splendid book, I would think of Lincoln not as the Founders' son but rather as the last Founding Father, shoulder to shoulder with them in greatness as he completed their work, giving the nation a "new birth of freedom" and ensuring that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, that they had instituted but could not perfect, would not perish from the earth. And in the Second Inaugural, he sounds like an Old Testament prophet, questioning God's purposes, even quarreling with them, as he felt himself to be the instrument of accomplishing them. Yes, the war was just and necessary, but why was it lasting so long? Why did so many have to die in the flower of their youth? "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come;" Lincoln quoted, "but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" Why would God decree that offenses must come and then punish those who act according to His decree? Why would He decree slavery, then decree its removal, and decree punishment to everyone who had benefited from it, not just Southern slaveowners but every Northern broker and shipper who had profited from it, down to his children and his children's children? We can only carry on "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right," said Lincoln--however dimly that may be.

After the Confederate capital of Richmond fell a month later, Lincoln wanted to see it with his own eyes, and he walked the silent streets on April 3, 1865, with a bodyguard of only ten sailors, six days before Lee surrendered. But suddenly crowds of blacks surrounded him, shouting, "Glory to God! The great Messiah! Come to free his children from bondage." Several touched the president, as James McPherson recounts in Battle Cry of Freedom; and one old woman cried, "I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him." She was right: he was one of those world-historical figures we can never account for but can only marvel at with gratitude.

Six days after the victory, Lincoln was dead. "The Almighty has His own purposes," he had said in the Second Inaugural. But who can tell what they are?

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 PM


U.S. Debt Held by Foreigners Hits Record $6.07 Trillion (IAN TALLEY, 10/17/14, WSJ)

Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities hit a record high $6.07 trillion in August, up nearly $70 billion from July, as the dollar began its climb to five-year highs and the U.S. recovery showed signs of gaining steam.

...insufficient US debt.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 PM


Wind Power Blows Away Coal and Gas in Nordic Countries (Nerijus Adomaitis, 10/17/14, Reuters) 

Wind power is blowing gas and coal-fired turbines out of business in the Nordic countries, and the effects will be felt across the Baltic region as the renewable glut erodes utility margins for thermal power stations.

Fossil power plants in Finland and Denmark act as swing-producers, helping to meet demand when hydropower production in Norway and Sweden falls due to dry weather.

The arrival of wind power on a large scale has made this role less relevant and has pushed electricity prices down, eroding profitability of fossil power stations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton (Jonathan Derbyshire,  September 12, 2014, Prospect)

JD: In the preface to the book, you say that there are two kinds of conservatism, "one metaphysical, the other empirical." The metaphysical variety, you write, "resides in the belief in sacred things and the desire to defend them against desecration." The empirical version, meanwhile, is a "reaction to the vast changes unleashed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment." You say you're mostly preoccupied in this book with "down-to-earth matters." I wonder, though, just how hard-and-fast that distinction is. It struck me that the empirical side of your conservatism is also underpinned by what might be call a metaphysics of personhood, a conception of the nature of the human person.

RS: That's absolutely true. I think it's what conservatism--my kind of conservatism, at least--shares with liberalism: an attempt to found things ultimately on a vision of what the human person is. Of course, it is the case that conservatism as I envisage it distances itself always from abstract conceptions and tries to find the concrete reality... the good in the present.

Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the "first-person plural," a phrase that occurs several times in the book.

Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate itself. For that reason, social contract theories are suspended in mid-air, so to speak. All political order presupposes a pre-political order, a sense that people belong together. And then, of course, they might seek a contract that embodies their togetherness. But the togetherness has to be there. [...]

You have a very distinctive account of what the principal evil of communism was. People often talk in very general terms about totalitarianism and the sclerosis of the planned economy. But for you the real evil was the assault on the institutions of "civil association"--the closing down of choirs, theatre groups, reading societies, walking clubs, church institutions, charities and so on.

Absolutely. I think I'm speaking the same language as Burke there. He was so prescient about what he saw as evil in the French Revolution. It was not just the executions and so on--it was the confiscation of civil society from its members. That's what I felt most strongly [in Czechoslovakia], because I was trying to revive it in my own way.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


The incredible shrinking Keystone (ELANA SCHOR | 10/14/14 , Politico)

Environmental groups are happily endorsing pro-Keystone candidates, as long as they support President Barack Obama's broader agenda of slashing greenhouse gases. Climate activist billionaire Tom Steyer, who's spending up to $100 million to influence seven Senate and gubernatorial races, has yet to air a Keystone-focused ad in any of them. And oil companies have found plenty of other ways to get Canadian crude into the U.S., even as Keystone enters its sixth year of awaiting a permit from the State Department.

Keystone isn't even North America's biggest oil-sands pipeline project anymore. That title now belongs to a project most Americans have never heard of called Energy East, which would bypass the need for U.S. approval by piping Alberta's heavy crude oil to Canada's Atlantic provinces.

Essentially, both sides have already won: Keystone is stalled, yet oil is booming.

October 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Anthropocene: Welcome to the 'Age of Humans' (Associated Press Oct. 17, 2014)

People are changing Earth so much, warming and polluting it, that many scientists are turning to a new way to describe the time we live in. They're calling it the Anthropocene -- the age of humans.

Though most non-experts don't realize it, science calls the past 12,000 years the Holocene, Greek for "entirely recent." But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, has caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word Anthropocene to better describe when and where we are.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Obama's Ebola challenge (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN and JENNIFER EPSTEIN, 10/17/14, Politico)

The crisis is escalating just as people begin early voting in key states and the campaign for control of the Senate enters the final weeks, returning attention to an unpopular president right when Democrats least want that.

So Obama has been forced to claim ownership of the problem, balancing the tension between his own reluctance to play into the frenzy and the growing public demands that he take dramatic action to protect Americans from further exposure.

He took the unusual step of suspending his travel schedule for the past two days to stay at the White House, where he has consulted with congressional leaders, called foreign leaders and held lengthy meetings with his top advisers. He also authorized the Pentagon to send National Guard troops into West Africa. By Thursday night, in an acknowledgement of the pressure to step up his response, Obama suggested he might need to appoint an "Ebola czar."

"We are taking this seriously," Obama said in the Oval Office. "This is going to be something that is contained here."

But none of that has been enough for Republicans and even some Democrats, particularly those in close election fights, who say that he should take tougher steps ranging from firing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to banning flights from some affected countries.

How about being the adult in the room and telling people to calm down?

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Big Banks Start Charging Clients for Euro Deposits (JULIET CHUNG and VIPAL MONGA, Oct. 17, 201, WSJ)

A number of global banks have begun charging large customers to deposit their money in euros, a rare move that could have costly implications for investors and companies that do business on the Continent. [...]

Now, instead of paying customers interest on their euro accounts as they have done traditionally, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. BK +0.33%  , Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +1.74%  and J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +1.65%  & Co. have started charging them, according to people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


How liberal/conservative is your name? (Crowdpac)
Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


John Grisham apologizes for controversial comments about sex offenders (Husna Haq,  OCTOBER 17, 2014, CS Monitor)

An evildoer may be entitled to a legal defense; he is not entitled to a moral defense.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM

AEROBICS? (self-reference alert):

Recline, don't 'Lean In' (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg) (Rosa Brooks February 25, 2014, Washington Post)

 I'm sure Sheryl Sandberg is a delightful person, and I'd love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch at a fancy restaurant. In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common; we were college classmates, though I don't remember if we ever met.

"Did we know Sheryl Sandberg?" I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college class.

She gave me a funny look. "Well, I knew her. Don't you know if you knew her?"

"I can't remember."

"If you knew her, you would remember," said Suzanne. "She was one of those people you would definitely remember. I used to go to an aerobics class she taught."

That explained it. Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes. Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels. Sheryl Sandberg was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.

My Senior Spring at Colgate, someone in the dean's office realized I only had 2 of my 8 required gym credits (marching band Freshman and Sophomore fall).  I got a fraternity brother who ran the squash club to add me to his class list--never held a squash racket to this day.   They sent me to CPR and the instructor just passed me after I broke two Resusci-Annies by pressing too hard on the sternum--do not have a medical emergency in my vicinity.  And they put me in a Stress Management class.... 

The first couple classes the instructor taught us various techniques--breathing, yoga, etc.--then at the start of the next class she had us do whichever one we'd liked best for the first fifteen minutes.  I lay down on the mat and went to sleep. She woke me when she was ready to start.  Same thing the next week.  So she asked: "Orrin, what are you doiung here, you have less stress than anyone I've ever met?"  "I need the gym credit."  "If I let you pull the mat out in the hall and sleep for an hour and still give you the credit would that work."   "You got it, sister." Bingo!  A phys ed credit for sleeping.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:00 AM

All That Jazz #5

Coleman Hawkins - "Body and Soul"

After ATJ#4 was posted last Friday, The Other Brother sent the following comment:  "In the past I've tried to develop my appreciation for jazz - maybe it was your influence or I thought I should.  However, I haven't really gotten to the point where I seek it out to listen.  That may be largely due to my general lack of musicality.  I appreciate these posts you are doing, since they're giving me some insight into what's going on in the music.  Maybe a future post could be the three standards a neophyte should listen to in order to get a taste of what makes jazz compelling - that may be a tall order!"
Before I could formulate a reply, I received an email from Brother Orrin reminding me that Saturday (October 11) was the 75th anniversary of perhaps the greatest recording in the history of jazz (and, if not the greatest, certainly near the top of anyone's short list): Coleman Hawkins's majestic "Body and Soul."  And with that, I had my example for Stephen...not 3 standards, but a few versions of one great standard tune that should give him a taste (indeed, a veritable feast) of what makes jazz compelling.
Before jumping into Hawkins and the other examples, I want to note that any art form can and should be "compelling" to (enjoyed by) those with little knowledge of its practitioners, styles, history, technical aspects, etc.  This is particularly true of jazz, which started as a popular music.  Something about a performance should grab you: the beat and rhythm, the melody, the sound of the instruments, or the emotions it triggers.  Despite everything I've learned and heard over more than 40 years of listening to jazz, I'm still drawn first and foremost to the elements that grabbed me as a kid, the infectious bounce of the shuffle beat and the sound of the tenor sax.  As you learn more about jazz and can make connections between styles and musicians, the more you may enjoy it, but even without that knowledge, a good tune should make you smile or tap your foot or remember a romantic evening or an unrequited love.
So, on to Hawkins and "Body and Soul."  Before the late 1920's, the clarinet was the main reed instrument in jazz ensembles, and the saxophone was a novelty instrument, often relegated to marching bands, vaudeville and the circus.  With the evolution of early jazz into the swing era, the sax rose to prominence, led by Coleman Hawkins.  Everything we think of the sax today, its power, its swagger, its sensuality and sex appeal, traces back to Hawk.  In his 1939 recording of the ballad "Body and Soul" Hawkins goes on a 3-minute excursion that is by turn tender, swinging and yearning.  A remarkable piece of improvisation, his solo barely hints at the actual melody of the tune in the first notes before riding off into an amazingly coherent and emotional musical statement.  Orrin sent me this very good article about Hawkins and this record that was a popular hit in its time and has become an enduring classic.
To help put Hawkins's recording of "Body and Soul" in context...and to help newbies like Stephen get a better sense of how much individual interpretation and improvisation there is in jazz...here are a few other versions of "Body and Soul," one that pre-dates Hawk's 1939 masterpiece and the others showing the state of jazz at different points over the ensuing 75 years.
Benny Goodman was already the "King of Swing" when he recording B&S with his trio (Teddy Wilson, piano; Gene Krupa drums) in 1935:

I selected this version because Goodman plays the melody fairly straight, with only minor embellishments, while Wilson is a bit more adventurous in his improvisation.  Listening to this will allow you to get familiar with the tune and its harmonic underpinnings (chords).
Serge Chaloff was one of the great baritone sax players of the post-War era.  Drugs and cancer took him at age 33 in 1957, but in 1955 he gave us this poignant and charming version:

In 1958, Hawk's spiritual heir, Sonny Rollins, took on the challenge of B&S with a modernist wrinkle: he recorded it without a rhythm section...no piano or bass to provide the harmonic framework or drummer to provide a steady beat.  Just a man (well, for some of us, The Man) and his horn:

And, finally, something from this century, tenor man Chris Potter's performance of B&S on PBS's Jazz Legends with Ramsey Lewis television series.  Although thoroughly modern in approach (folks danced to Hawk's version in 1939, this version is strictly concert music) Potter plays B&S with a big sound, range of dynamics and tone qualities, melodic continuity, harmonic ingenuity and aching tenderness that would make Hawkins proud:

Stephen - if none of these grab you, I've got nothing else...

October 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Late Surge of Money Buoys Republicans in Races That Will Decide Control of Senate (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, OCT. 15, 2014, NY Times)

Republican candidates for the Senate have overcome the sizable fund-raising edge held by their Democratic opponents for most of the 2014 election cycle, according to new disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, outraising or matching Democrats in races that will decide control of the Senate and entering the final weeks of the campaign with ample cash.

Republican candidates and "super PACs" are now splurging on expensive last-minute advertising, at a time when polling shows Republicans increasingly more likely to win control of the Senate.

Republicans lost a chance to beat Bernie Sanders in 1994, because the race seemed a reach from the Beltway, so no one would commit resources.  In the end, he couldn't reach 50% despite that.  

Now would be a good time for the GOP to throw some long balls and see if we can't pick off one or two extra seats in the "leans Democrat"/"likely Democrat" columns.  Races where the Democrat is at or below 50% and a Republican has won statewide this century seem worth the gamble. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


How the 'Fundamental Right' to Abortion Faded Away : Under the standard set by Roe v. Wade, there would be no question that a controversial Texas abortion law was invalid. What happened? (GARRETT EPPS, OCT 16 2014, The Atlantic)

Flash forward to 2011, as newly elected Republican legislatures convened in red states. After 40 decades of mobilization by anti-abortion activists, the political climate and much of the federal judiciary had turned toxic for abortion rights. A study by the Guttmacher Institute finds that state legislatures enacted 205 restrictions between 2011 and 2013--more than had been passed nationwide in the 10 previous years. The two at issue in Texas are called "TRAPs" ("targeted regulation of abortion providers")--supposedly health-related rules that apply only to abortion providers and clinics.

First is an "admitting privileges" requirement--any doctor performing abortions must have a formal seal of approval from a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic--approval which may be withheld for economic or competitive reasons, or simply because the hospital disapproves of abortion. There is no real medical benefit. In the rare case of a complication requiring emergency treatment, local hospitals will treat any patient from a clinic. Second is a requirement that abortion clinics meet the physical standards for "ambulatory surgical centers," which perform invasive outpatient surgery. Abortion clinics aren't ASCs, but the legislatures now required them to have the same level of facilities, including things such as the width of hallways. Many existing clinics don't meet those standards, and would have to close.

So did these laws impose an "undue burden"? No, the Fifth Circuit found, because they wouldn't stop a "large fraction" of women from getting an abortion.

If the laws went into effect, 90 percent of women would only have to drive 150 miles to get to a clinic--and "an increase of travel of less than 150 miles for some women is not an undue burden," the Fifth Circuit said. The remaining 10 percent would be out of luck--but 10 percent is not a "large fraction."

The Casey plurality had said an undue burden was any measure that had "the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle" in a woman's path. As Cornell Law Professor Sherry Colb has pointed out, "Had the Fifth Circuit ... taken the purpose prong of this test seriously, it would not have had to closely examine the impact of such laws." The Texas law clearly had the purpose of stopping as many abortions as the legislature thought it could get away with. The emerging rule is: Some bullying, even a lot of bullying, is okay. As long as we pretend there's a health purpose, as long as some women somewhere can get still abortions, as long as nobody anywhere admits what's really going on, the "right" has not been violated.

The right to choose, then, isn't what The New York Times's Linda Greenhouse calls "a right like any other." It's more like a role on a reality-TV show--the chance to stumble through a growing, onerous, and senseless set of demands designed to exhaust and bully any woman who tries to exercise it. It would be nice to imagine that the Supreme Court might set this topsy-turvy doctrine straight. But looking at the five members of this Court's majority--the five who voted in Hobby Lobby to ignore female employees' reproductive-health needs--I remember some words of Justice Harry Blackmun as he watched the tide on the Court turn against abortion rights in 1989. "The signs are evident and ominous," he wrote, "and a chill wind blows."

Gay marriage is likely just the new abortion, an issue the Left believes to have been settled in its favor by courts which will not withstand the pressures of democratic government.

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