April 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM

SCRATCH A NATIVIST, FIND A DARWINIST:

Race Cleansing In America : A nationwide gene-purity movement promoted methods that eventually were adopted by the Third Reich. And everyone from John D. Rockefeller to W. E. B. Du Bois supported it. (Peter Quinn, March 2003, American Heritage)

Eugenics--the theory as well as the word (which means "wellborn")--originated with Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Inspired by Darwin's theory of natural selection, Galton's study of the family backgrounds of prominent members of British society led him to the conclusion that achievement and heredity were clearly linked. He declared in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences: "It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality." A wise and enlightened state, in Galton's view, would encourage "the more suitable races or strains of blood" to propagate and increase their numbers before they were overwhelmed by the prolific mating habits of the pauper classes.

Galton's beliefs were mirrored in the work of Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician who warned of the "atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals." (Robert Louis Stevenson made Lombroso's theory the basis of his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.) Lombroso wrote: "There exists, it is true, a group of criminals, born for evil, against whom all social cures break as against a rock--a fact which compels us to eliminate them completely, even by death."

In 1874 Richard Dugdale, a wealthy English expatriate social reformer, made a tour of upstate New York jails. Acquainted with Lombroso's notion of hereditary criminality, he focused in particular on a jail in which six inmates were related and found that they shared a family tree perennially abloom with social deviates. He called them the "Jukes," and gave the pseudonym to his book.

Dugdale insisted that human behavior was influenced by several factors, environment among them, but it was the portrait of a self-perpetuating clan of reprobates that the public focused on and embraced. He said he found among the 700 Juke descendants 181 prostitutes ("harlotry may become a hereditary characteristic," he speculated), 42 beggars, 70 felons, and 7 murderers. The Jukes became a staple of eugenic literature, a spur to similar case studies, and a symbol of all those whose poverty and aberrancy were seen as expressions of the ineluctable dictates of biology. A decade after The Jukes appeared, the eminent German biologist August Weismann added to the notion of eugenic predestination his theory of a hereditary "germ plasm," an embedded legacy that dictated individual physical, mental, and moral traits and was the collective basis of rigidly distinct race differences.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, several forces had joined together to give the eugenics movement new power and prominence, foremost among them the growing concern over the quality and quantity of the country's newest immigrants.

Nativism can not be reconciled with conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM

THE PARENT TRAP:

The Spirit of Youth : What was so new about Futurism? (Morgan Meis, Smart Set)


Futurists like Pannaggi may have been trying to break civilization wide open. They may have declared a new age of speed and violence and radical newness. But as soon as they attempted to analyze that newness, as soon as they attempted to say something about their brave new world, they found themselves pulled back into history and tradition. Pannaggi wanted to show us that modern machines are unlike anything we've ever seen or experienced before. Then he created a painting that doesn't look radically different from Cézanne's paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, a mountain that has existed since before the dawn of the human species. Pannaggi wanted to paint the very essence of speed in the machine age. His painting, with its basic geometrical shapes, looks like a study in Platonic solids that could have come from the early Renaissance; something, maybe, by Paolo Uccello.

This inability truly to break out of the old ways must have been frustrating for the Futurists.

Newness, it turns out, is a trap. That is one of the essential discoveries of Futurism. Futurism was not the first movement to discover this trap. But the trap of newness is no less important for being discovered and rediscovered over the ages. That is part of the trap, after all. You rediscover something that has already been multiply rediscovered. What seemed brand-new at first, turns out, on further reflection, to be ancient.

Amusingly, perhaps maddeningly, you can scratch the surface of any work of Futurism and the past comes rushing back in. Take Umberto Boccioni's Futurist sculpture, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space." Boccioni's work is to sculpture what Pannaggi's "Speeding Train" is to painting. It is the attempt to make a solid, motionless piece of cast bronze into something that is fluid in space and time. Boccioni achieves this by breaking up the surfaces of a human figure. That's to say, he sculpts a person in several moments of motion all at once. Look, especially, at the legs of the figure. The legs are thick because Boccioni is showing us multiple positions of a moving leg. It is as if Boccioni took a series of photographs of a person striding forward, spliced those photographs together, and then made a sculpture of the result. The sculpture does not freeze a moment into sculptural eternity, as a more traditional sculpture might do. Instead, it shows us that form is never frozen, but always in transition from one state to another. That's an essentially Futurist thought--all the emphasis is on dynamism, with little regard for the fixed state.

But the problem with Boccioni's sculpture is that, though it may suggest movement, as a sculpture, it is still in a fixed state. It may express dynamism, but it does so in static -- one almost wants to say classical -- form. Indeed, as has been noticed before, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" resembles the classical sculpture, "Winged Victory of Samothrace." You'll recall that "Winged Victory of Samothrace" was the very sculpture that Marinetti referred to in his Manifesto. Marinetti claimed that the roaring motorcar was more beautiful than the "Winged Victory of Samothrace." This was his way of rejecting past notions of beauty in the name of the resolutely modern. But Boccioni's sculpture is beautiful partly because of what it shares, formally and historically, with the "Winged Victory of Samothrace." Boccioni's sculpture does not resemble an automobile; it resembles a stone statue from ancient times. Boccioni and the sculptor of "Winged Victory" share the assumption that there is something essentially compelling about the movement of human bodies. When a human being strides forward, the rest of us pause to take a look. The lyrical quality in "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" would have been beautiful to a citizen of 2nd century Hellenistic society, just as it is to someone wandering through the Guggenheim in the early 21st century.

Indeed, the more one looks at Futurist art, the more one suspects sleight of hand. Maybe the claim to radical newness was not so much a trap as a conscious or semi-conscious ploy. In this, Futurism was a fascist movement all the way to its core. That's to say, Futurism and fascism were both about restoring order in a disordered world.

And art is great to the extent it reflects the order of creation.


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM

OVERDUE:

Sizzling Satchel Paige : The pitcher with the unhittable fireball deserves as much credit for breaking baseball's color barrier as Jackie Robinson (Larry Tye, Spring 2010, American Heritage)

Leroy "Satchel" Paige, arguably the greatest pitcher ever to throw a baseball, was as green as a big league infield that April day in 1926 when he joined his first professional team, the all-black Chattanooga White Sox. Everything he owned--a couple of shirts, an extra pair of socks, underwear wrapped in an old pair of pants--still fit into a brown paper sack, the same as it had eight years earlier, when he was sentenced to the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers. That was a good thing, because Satchel still could not afford a suitcase. He rented a room in a flophouse at the royal rate of two dollars a week. No sooner did he collect his first five dollars than he headed to the pool hall where a pair of sharks let him win a few games, then ran the table when the betting began. "I always figured I was pretty good at nine-ball and eight-ball," Satchel told an interviewer decades afterward, "but those sleepy-eyed Chattanooga sharpies played me like the biggest fish in the Tennessee River."

He looked like a rube on the diamond, too. His new uniform hung limply over his six-foot-three-inch, 140-pound frame. Street shoes with spikes nailed to the bottom had to suffice until the team could come up with regulation cleats large enough to fit his "satchel-sized" 11 feet. The one pitch he knew was an overhand fireball, so his catchers could dispense with signs; hitters knew it would be all heaters all the time. They quickly learned that while Paige was fast, he also was wild. Worst of all, he was swaggering. He resisted offers of coaching and crowed to his receivers, "Hold the mitt where you want it. The ball will come to you."

What saved him was a willingness to work hard and a mentor as hardboiled as Alex Herman, a former semipro player. Lesson one was location, location, location: getting the ball over the plate every time. The key to control like that was practice. Herman lined up empty soda pop bottles behind home plate; Satchel worked at knocking them down, mornings before other players got to the field and evenings after they left. Herman knew there was something magical about this rookie righthander. His talent traced back to his hometown streets of Mobile, Alabama, where he fired rocks with enough power and precision to bring down a bird or a rival gang member. He learned to play at reform school and could pitch hard and sure enough to drive 10-penny nails into a plank set up behind home plate. The coach saw, too, that unless his raw gifts were refined, Satchel would stand little chance in a Jim Crow America where baseball, like every institution that mattered, was split into white and black worlds. "It got," Satchel recalled, "so I could nip frosting off a cake with my fast ball." [...]

Satchel would be coveted by white teams throughout his career in blackball. He had first heard the tease "if only you were white" back home in Mobile and would hear it repeatedly for another 20 years in Jim Crow America. Named after a white actor in blackface playing a cowering plantation slave in an 1820s minstrel show, Jim Crow refers to the amalgam of Southern statutes that legalized separation of the races everywhere from public bathrooms to hospitals, boarding houses, and even parks. It also is shorthand for a racist way of life. By either definition Jim Crow was there with Satchel in Mobile, capital of the old Confederacy and a city where many white residents still were fighting battles from a war they lost two generations before. Jim Crow is even more central to the saga of the Negro Leagues, where Satchel played most of his career. The era of black baseball ran from 1887, when the first professional league crafted its color line, through the path-breaking signing of Jackie Robinson in 1945--60 years that mirror the rise and fall of legally sanctioned segregation in America.

Satchel Paige started hacking away at Jim Crow long before the world heard of Jackie Robinson. Satchel never was a modern militant, waging war over every slight, but he brought a spotlight to the Negro Leagues. He pushed to be paid a wage commensurate with his drawing power, in the process raising the wages of his teammates. His salary in his best years at least equaled the President's, which is how he could afford 40 tailor-made suits, 30 pairs of custom-made shoes with pearls in the toes, underwear festooned with flowers, and a personal valet. He proved that black fans would fill ballparks, even when those parks had concrete seats and makeshift walls, and that white fans, too, would turn out to see black superstars. Satchel pitched so brilliantly, especially when his teams were beating the best of the white big leaguers two of every three times they played them, that fans, sportswriters, and big league owners could not help but notice.

Satchel's July 3rd telegram to Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians, was point-blank: "Is it time for me to come?" The pitcher had swallowed his pride when Jackie Robinson broke through baseball's color bar by suiting up with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the start of that 1947 season. He was kicked in the gut again three months later, when the Indians integrated the American League by hiring Larry Doby. Veeck had claimed for years that Satchel was the greatest Negro Leaguer of all, born to break barriers. Now, a day after the Doby signing and two decades after Satchel's professional debut in Chattanooga, the aging hurler simply had to ask. Veeck's reply was a cruel twist on the old tease: "All things in due time."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM

LIVES TOO COMFORTABLE TO BOTHER:

Europe's disaffected youth too tired to riot (Costas Lapavitsas and Alex Politaki, 4/06/14, The Guardian)

As economic and social disaster unfolded in 2012 and last year, the youth of Greece became invisible in social and economic life.

The young have been largely absent from politics, social movements and even from the spontaneous social networks that have dealt with the worst of the catastrophe.

On the fifth anniversary of the events of 2008, barely a few hundred young people demonstrated in Greek urban centers.

There was no tension, no passion, no spirit, just tired processions repeating well-known slogans. Where were the 17-year-olds from five years ago?

Similar patterns can be observed in several other European countries, though perhaps not to such an extreme degree.

What is the youth of Portugal doing as the country's social structures continue to collapse? Where is the youth of France as the country drifts further into stagnation and irrelevance? Where has the youth of Britain been while the coalition government has persevered with austerity?

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM

WEALTH, NOT WAGES:

Capital for the Masses : Thomas Pikettey's new book from the left provides unwitting support for private retirement accounts. (Christopher DeMuth, April 7, 2014, WSJ)

'Capital in the 21st Century," by French economist Thomas Piketty --its title inviting comparison with Karl Marx's "Das Kapital"--has electrified the intellectual left in the U.S. since its English publication in March. The book is bold, brilliant and perfectly aligned to the current obsession with economic inequality.

Mr. Piketty argues that, in modern market economies, private returns on capital investment are systematically higher than the rate of growth of income and output, and that the difference explains the increase in inequality. A fortunate few derive their income from capital: Some are celebrity capitalists like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates but most are mere business executives who extract enormous salaries from corporate earnings. Capital returns enable them to accumulate wealth at far higher rates than the mass of men whose wages grow no faster than the economy or their own productivity. [...]

That story begins with the 1976 essay of Peter Drucker in the Public Interest (later expanded to a book) on "pension fund socialism." Drucker observed that the growth of invested pension funds--corporate, union, public employee, professional and individual--had made wage earners the owners of one-third, soon to be one-half, of the equity capital of American industry.

"The U.S., without consciously trying, has 'socialized' the economy without 'nationalizing' it," Drucker wrote. Capital investment was better for workers than owning just their own firms because it offered higher returns through trading and diversification--advantages that, Drucker suggested, could be improved with earlier vesting and portability. The corporate income tax, he added, had become exceedingly regressive, because its rate was much higher than that on low-income pensioners--eliminating it, at least for pension holdings, would be a great stroke for income equality.

The left was contemptuous. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jason Epstein pronounced Drucker's book "the sort of torpid whimsy that high-price business consultants concoct to amuse their clients." Hadn't Drucker noticed that the stock market was flat while the consumer-price index was soaring (this was 1970s stagflation)? Corporations, Mr. Epstein opined, were ripping off poor pensioners just as effectively as the then-notorious New York City politicians who had diverted city pension funds.

In the ensuing decades, academic and think-tank economists, most of them right of center, put forth a succession of proposals for transforming Social Security from a wage-transfer program (from workers to retirees) to one of real capital investment and heritable personal ownership. The aims were to anticipate the retirement of baby boomers, improve on Social Security's already poor returns on payroll taxes, increase national savings, and promote widespread ownership of productive capital.

President George W. Bush campaigned for personally owned and invested Social Security accounts in 2005. He was crushed by an avalanche of objections from progressive intellectuals, AARP lobbyists and Democratic politicians. The objections ran the gamut from high brokerage fees to consumer confusion to corporate self-dealing. But the central, ultimately decisive argument was that exposing average folks to the vicissitudes of stocks and bonds would be tantamount to shredding the social contract.

"Capital" is a comprehensive refutation of that argument. If returns on capital are as superior to the growth of GDP and wages as Mr. Piketty has found, then short- and medium-term fluctuations are a detail. They can be managed through classic diversification, as practiced by many progressive professors in their own TIAA-CREF accounts. Social Security can be divided into a minimum tax-financed guarantee augmented with personally owned, professionally managed investments like TIAA-CREF's. Nations such as Chile with capitalized pension systems have employed these and other approaches with little fuss and much success.

At the End of History, we are all capitalists.



April 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM

ON AN BICYCLE BUILT FOR TWO:

In the End, People May Really Just Want to Date Themselves (EMMA PIERSON, 4/09/14, 538)

I studied 1 million matches made by the online dating website eHarmony's algorithm, which aims to pair people who will be attracted to one another and compatible over the long term; if the people agree, they can message each other to set up a meeting in real life. eHarmony's data on its users contains 102 traits for each person -- everything from how passionate and ambitious they claim to be to how much they say they drink, smoke and earn.

The data reveals a clear pattern: People are interested in people like themselves. Women on eHarmony favor men who are similar not just in obvious ways -- age, attractiveness, education, income -- but also in less apparent ones, such as creativity. Even when eHarmony includes a quirky data point -- like how many pictures are included in a user's profile -- women are more likely to message men similar to themselves. In fact, of the 102 traits in the data set, there was not one for which women were more likely to contact men with opposite traits.1

Men were a little more open-minded. For 80 percent of traits, they were more willing to message those different from them. They still preferred mates who were similar in terms of height or attractiveness2, but they cared less about these traits -- and they didn't care much at all about other things women cared about, like similarity in education level or number of photos taken.3 They cared less about whether their match shared their ethnicity.4

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM

WHY INFLATION MEASURES ALWAYS OVERINFLATE:

Shop Thrift Stores First When Looking for Long-Lasting, Reliable Tools (Eric Ravenscraft, 4/08/14, Lifehacker)

Whether it's for the kitchen, the garage, or the office, finding tools that stand the test of time isn't always easy. Finance blog The Simple Dollar suggests that one way to find tools that will last longer than a year or so is to shop for the ones that already have by checking out thrift stores.P

Merchandise at thrift stores may not come with warranties or guarantees, but what they do come with is experience. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM

COAL MINERS WERE BUSY; YOU'RE WHINY:

You're Not As Busy As You Say You Are : Also, by talking about it so much, you're wasting time.  (Hanna Rosin, 3/23/14, Slate)

John Robinson, a sociologist known as Father Time because he was one of the first people to start collecting time use diaries, which became the basis for the American Time Use Surveys that tell us so much about how we live [...] doesn't ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you're oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. And our consistent insistence that we are busy has created a host of personal and social ills which Schulte reports on in great detail in her book--unnecessary stress, exhaustion, bad decision-making, and, on a bigger level, a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be "busy," and that we should all aspire to the insane schedules of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

"It's very popular, the feeling that there are too many things going on, that people can't get in control of their lives and the like," Robinson says. "But when we look at peoples' diaries there just doesn't seem to be the evidence to back it up ... It's a paradox. When you tell people they have thirty or forty hours of free time every week, they don't want to believe it."

Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time, as Tim Kreider wrote in "The 'Busy' Trap."* It's the equivalent of being told that you're redundant or obsolete. Robinson has Schulte keep a time use diary and shows her lots of free time she hadn't counted as such--lying in bed aimlessly, exercising, playing backgammon on her computer, talking to a friend on the phone. Yet she still doesn't believe that, as a working mother, she could possibly have any leisure time. In fact, she seems skeptical of Robinson's whole premise that we are busy because we say we are.



Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM

IN OTHER WORDS...:

Losing Interest  (Barry Eichengreen, APR 11, 2014, Project Syndicate)

Adjusted for inflation, interest rates have been falling for three decades, and their current low level encourages investors, searching for yield, to take on additional risk. Low rates also leave central banks little room for loosening monetary policy in a slowdown, because nominal interest cannot fall below zero. 

..inflation has been overstated for three decades.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM

WE HOLD ALL THE WEAPONS:

The West's Financial Arsenal (Harold James, 4/10/14, Project Syndicate)

As the former US Treasury official Juan Zarate revealed in his recent memoir Treasury's War, the US spent the decade after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks developing a new set of financial weapons to use against America's enemies - first Al Qaeda, then North Korea and Iran, and now Russia. These weapons included asset freezes and blocking rogue banks' access to international finance.

When the Ukrainian revolution began, the Russian banking system was already over-extended and vulnerable. But the situation became much worse with the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the annexation of Crimea, which triggered a stock-market panic that weakened the Russian economy considerably and depleted the assets of Russia's powerful oligarchs.

In a crony capitalist system, threatening the governing elite's wealth rapidly erodes loyalty to the regime. For the corrupt elite, there is a tipping point beyond which the opposition provides better protection for their wealth and power - a point that was reached in Ukraine as the Maidan protests gathered momentum.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM

SPORTS AIN'T ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT IT IS SCIENCE:

The People Pushing the NHL Into the Advanced Stats Era (ERIC TULSKY, 4/06/14, 538)

With 17:25 left to go in the first period of a December National Hockey League game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers, the Oilers gathered the puck in their defensive end and passed it ahead to Jordan Eberle, who was headed up the left side of the ice. The Flyers' defensemen -- Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn -- were well positioned, but Eberle decided to challenge them. He cut diagonally across the ice towards Timonen, drove wide to the far boards, put on a burst of speed and beat Timonen to enter the offensive zone.

Somewhere, Jessica Schmidt was watching. She has spent the last two seasons tracking each entry into the offensive zone with a spreadsheet open in front of her. A 26-year-old diehard hockey fan, she had read some articles I wrote about the Flyers' zone entries in the 2011-12 season and the usefulness of zone entries in assessing a team's performance. When the Flyers missed the playoffs in 2013, she wanted to know what had gone wrong and volunteered to try recording the zone entries herself.

That information doesn't come easily, however. Schmidt estimates that tracking a game takes her about 90 minutes, which means that it would take an incredible amount of dedication and effort from several people to collect a year's worth of data for a handful of teams. It would take a whole platoon of volunteers to track zone entries for every NHL game, and even then they would be capturing only specific pieces of select key moments. An NBA analyst wouldn't need someone like Schmidt to put in hundreds of hours tracking zone entries; that sort of information -- and much more -- is easily gleaned from the NBA's automated video tracking system, SportVu. But hockey lacks the position-tracking systems that many other sports use, even though there are hugely important lessons their data can teach.

Instead, it has people like Schmidt. As Eberle drove around Timonen into the offensive zone, Schmidt made a note in her spreadsheet: "1 17:22 C Opp 44." Translation: in the first period, with 17:22 left, there was a carry-in (C) by the Flyers' opponent defended by the Flyers' No. 44, Timonen.

That last part -- who defended the play -- was a new wrinkle Schmidt and I added this year. Previous analysis had given us important insight into the performance of the puck-carrier, but assessment of the other nine skaters on the ice relied largely on inference. This year, I asked Schmidt to include some off-puck information -- things like which player retrieved the puck when the Flyers dumped it in, or who had primary defensive responsibility on the opponent's entry.

Tracking by Schmidt and others has helped explain that a team's entry into the offensive zone has a big impact on its shot differential. Carrying the puck into the offensive zone leads to more than twice as many shots and goals as a dump-and-chase play does, even after removing plays like odd-man rushes and dump-ins that are made just to buy time for a line change. These results have even made an impact on strategy.

April 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM

AND NOTHING CAN MATCH THE OPPORTUNITY FOR COMMUNITY-BUILDING...:

The Prospects for Community in the Age of Obama (Ross Douthat, March 17, 2014, Intercollegiate Review)

From émigré philosophers like Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin to native-born figures like Richard Weaver, the central thinkers of the emerging American Right labored to explain how "progress" and "enlightenment" had produced the gas chamber and the gulag. In the process, they often ended up reinterpreting the whole sweep of Western intellectual history, emphasizing unusual inflection points (Machiavelli, William of Ockham) and fingering unusual suspects (gnosticism, nominalism) along the way.

All of these efforts looked backward and forward at once, explaining the Western past to illuminate the dilemmas of the future. But few of them did so more persuasively than Robert Nisbet's The Quest for Community. No prophet or futurist could have anticipated all the twists and turns that American political life has taken since 1953, when the forty-year-old Nisbet published his "Study in the Ethics and Order of Freedom." But his Eisenhower-era analysis of the modern political predicament looks as prescient as it's possible for any individual writer to be.

What was Nisbet's insight? Simply put, that what seems like the great tension of modernity--the concurrent rise of individualism and collectivism, and the struggle between the two for mastery--is really no tension at all. It seemed contradictory that the heroic age of nineteenth-century laissez faire, in which free men, free minds, and free markets were supposedly liberated from the chains imposed by throne and altar, had given way so easily to the tyrannies of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. But it was only a contradiction, Nisbet argued, if you ignored the human impulse toward community that made totalitarianism seem desirable--the yearning for a feeling of participation, for a sense of belonging, for a cause larger than one's own individual purposes and a group to call one's own.

In pre-modern society, this yearning was fulfilled by a multiplicity of human-scale associations: guilds and churches and universities, manors and villages and monasteries, and of course the primal community of family. In this landscape, Nisbet writes, "the reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power."

But from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together, while intermediate powers and communities either fell away or were dissolved. As social institutions, these associations would be attacked as inhumane, irrational, patriarchal, and tyrannical; as sources of political and economic power, they would be dismissed as outdated, fissiparous, and inefficient. In place of a web of overlapping communities and competing authorities, the liberal West set out to build a society of self-sufficient, liberated individuals, overseen by an unitary, rational, and technocratic government.

The assumption, indeed, was that the emancipated individual required a strong state, to cut through the constraining tissue of intermediate associations. "Only with an absolute sovereign," Nisbet writes, describing the views of Thomas Hobbes, "could any effective environment of individualism be possible."

But all that constraining tissue served a purpose. Man is a social being, and his desire for community will not be denied. The liberated individual is just as likely to become the alienated individual, the paranoid individual, the lonely and desperately-seeking-community individual. And if he can't find that community on a human scale, then he'll look for it on an inhuman scale--in the total community of the totalizing state.

Thus liberalism can beget totalitarianism. The great liberal project, "the progressive emancipation of the individual from the tyrannous and irrational statuses handed down from the past," risks producing emancipated individuals eager for the embrace of a far more tyrannical authority than church or class or family. The politics of rational self-interest promoted by Hobbes and Locke creates a void, a yearning for community, that Rousseau and Marx rush in to fill. The age of Jeremy Bentham and Manchester School economics leaves Europe ripe for Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

"The extraordinary accomplishments of totalitarianism in the twentieth century would be inexplicable," Nisbet concludes, "were it not for the immense, burning appeal it exerts upon masses of individuals who have lost, or had taken away, their accustomed roots of membership and belief."

But this is not the only possible modern story, he is careful to insist. The mass community offered by totalitarianism may be more attractive than no community at all, but it remains a deeply unnatural form of human association. And it's possible for both liberal government and liberal economics to flourish without descending into tyranny, so long as they allow, encourage, and depend upon more natural forms of community, rather than trying to tear them up root and branch.

Possible, and necessary. "The whole conscious liberal heritage," Nisbet writes, depends for its survival on "the subtle, infinitely complex lines of habit, tradition, and social relationship." The individual and the state can maintain an appropriate relationship only so long as a flourishing civil society mediates between them. Political freedom requires competing sources of authority to sustain itself, and economic freedom requires the same: capitalism "has prospered, and continues to prosper, only in spheres and areas where it has been joined to a flourishing associational life." Thus Nisbet quotes Proudhon: "Multiply your associations and be free."

...that will be afforded by the end of labor.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM

hISTORY eNDED EVERYWHERE:

Why Are Rich Countries Democratic? (Ricardo Hausman, 3/26/14, Project Syndicate)

[S]uccessful political systems have had to create an alternative invisible hand - a system that decentralizes the power to identify problems, propose solutions, and monitor performance, such that decisions are made with much more information.

To take just one example, the United States' federal government accounts for just 537 of the country's roughly 500,000 elected positions. Clearly, there is much more going on elsewhere.

The US Congress has 100 senators with 40 aides each, and 435 representatives with 25 aides each. They are organized into 42 committees and 182 subcommittees, meaning that there are 224 parallel conversations going on. And this group of more than 15,000 people is not alone. Facing them are some 22,000 registered lobbyists, whose mission is (among other goals) to sit down with legislators and draft legislation.

This, together with a free press, is part of the structure that reads the millions of pages of legislation and monitors what government agencies do and do not do. It generates the information and the incentives to respond to it. It affects the allocation of budgetary resources. It is an open system in which anybody can create news or find a lobbyist to make his case, whether it is to save the whales or to eat them.

Without such a mechanism, the political system cannot provide the kind of environment that modern economies need. That is why all rich countries are democracies, and it is why some countries, like my own (Venezuela), are becoming poorer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM

ALWAYS AT, NEVER WITH:

It's Funny How Humor Works (SCOTT WEEMS, March 21, 2014, WSJ)

"I just shot an elephant in my pajamas," goes the old Groucho Marx joke. "How he got in my pajamas I don't know."

You've probably heard that one before, or something similar. For example, while viewing polling data for the 2008 presidential election on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert deadpanned, "If I'm reading this graph correctly...I'd be very surprised."

Zingers like these aren't just good lines. They reveal something unusual about how the mind operates--and they show us how humor works. Simply put, the brain likes to jump the gun. We are always guessing where things are going, and we often get it wrong. But this isn't necessarily bad. It's why we laugh.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM

SLOW CYCLE:

The Original Nate Silver Also Thinks Pundits Are 'Stupid' : Bill James on "moneyball" in 2014 and backward political thinking (MARC TRACY, 3/31/14, New Republic)

MT: What would be an example of a field where the knowledge wasn't particularly well structured, but then it got better structured?

BJ: Thinking about economics is greatly better organized now than it was 60 years ago. We all know--well, there's a large segment of the public that doesn't know anything--but there are millions of Americans who have a very sophisticated understanding of how the banking system works, how an economy works. Our thinking about technology is still primitive, but is far, far ahead of where it was even when I was a young man. In politics, on the other hand, we've made no progress at all. People who are perceived as learned experts go on television and say stupid s[***], and nobody says, "Boy, that's really stupid." Don't you find that to be true?

MT: Well, yes.

BJ: I don't mean conservatives or liberals.

MT: I know exactly what you mean, and it's funny, because this sentiment has been much discussed recently because another person--a friend of yours--says much the same thing, and just launched a new website. Have you been following the discussion surrounding Nate Silver?

BJ: Sure, and I'm very impressed by what he's been able to do.

MT: Does some of the pushback resonate with what you faced 25 years ago?

BJ: No. The public's thinking about politics and the general analytical thinking about politics is probably more backward than sportswriting was 30 years ago.

MT: Why is that? The stakes seem, if anything, higher in politics.

BJ: Because people think they know things. The greatest barrier to understanding things is the conviction that you already understand them. People are so convinced that they understand politics. It creates huge barriers to understanding.

MT: But weren't people convinced they knew things in baseball as well?

BJ: Not as convinced. And--this is a point I stole from Nate: Baseball teams play 162 games a year. In politics, you have a couple elections. [In baseball all the games] act as a self-correcting method. In baseball, if you're a great team, you lose 65 games a year. It teaches you constantly that you don't understand things and you're still working on it. In politics, you have great infrequency of elections, allowing extremely sloppy analysis to flourish, because the correction cycle is so slow.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM

BECAUSE THEY DON'T CHOOSE TO:

Why don't different species have sex more often? (Matt Soniak, 4/07/14, The Week)

Desert woodrats and Bryant's woodrats are closely related. So close, in fact, that the two species can interbreed and produce healthy hybrid offspring. What has scientists puzzled is why they don't do it more often.

Both species are members of the genus Neotoma, collectively known as the packrats. They diverged, probably because of geographic isolation, some 1.6 million years ago. Today, the two species are neighbors again in the American West, and despite their genetic distinctions, they can and do mate where their territories butt against each other and produce hybrid rats.

In these hybrid zones where the two species overlap, around 13 percent of the population have genes that suggest interbreeding. Why, biologist Quinn Shurtliff, wondered, weren't there more?

April 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM

IT'S NOT TERRORISM WHEN WE DO IT:

The Father of American Terrorism : Two hundred years after his birth, Americans still revere him as a martyr and loathe him as a fanatical murderer. What was he? (Ken Chowder, February/March 2000, American Heritage)

On December 2, 1859, a tall old man in a black coat, black pants, black vest, and black slouch hat climbed into a wagon and sat down on a black walnut box. The pants and coat were stained with blood; the box was his coffin; the old man was going to his execution. He had just handed a last note to his jailer: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had...vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done."
As he rode on his coffin, John Brown gazed out over the cornfields of Virginia. "This is a beautiful country," he said. "I never had the pleasure of seeing it before."

The United States in 1859 was a nation that harbored a ticking time bomb: the issue of slavery. And it was a place where an astonishing number of men were willing to die for their beliefs, certain they were following a higher law. John Brown was one of those God-fearing yet violent men. And he was already more than a man; he was a legend. In fact, there were two competing legends. To slaveholders he was utter evil--fanatic, murderer, liar, and lunatic, and horse thief to boot--while to abolitionists he had become the embodiment of all that was noble and courageous.

After a lifetime of failure John Brown had at last found a kind of success. He was now a symbol that divided the nation, and his story was no longer about one man; it was a prophecy. The United States, like John Brown, was heading toward a gallows--the gallows of war.

A scaffold had been built in a field outside Charlestown, Virginia. There were rumors of a rescue attempt, and fifteen hundred soldiers, commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee, massed in the open field. No civilians were allowed within hearing range, but an actor from Virginia borrowed a uniform so he could watch John Brown die. "I looked at the traitor and terrorizer," said John Wilkes Booth, "with unlimited, undeniable contempt." Prof. Thomas Jackson, who would in three years be known as Stonewall, was also watching: "The sheriff placed the rope around [Brown's] neck, then threw a white cap over his head....When the rope was cut by a single blow, Brown fell through....There was very little motion of his person for several moments, and soon the wind blew his lifeless body to and fro."

A Virginia colonel named J. T. L. Preston chanted: "So perish all such enemies of Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All such foes of the human race!"

But hanging was not the end of John Brown; it was the beginning. Northern churches' bells tolled for him, and cannon boomed in salute. In Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau spoke: "Some eighteen hundred years ago, Christ was crucified; This morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung....He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light."

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM

"SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS":

Surprised by N.T. Wright : The Bible scholar's goal is to massively revise the way we talk about the Christian faith. By many accounts, he's already succeeded. (Jason Byassee, APRIL 8, 2014, Christianity Today)

Instead of teaching about souls being saved from hell, say Wright and others, Paul is centrally teaching about God's faithfulness to Israel.

According to the NPP (a phrase coined by Wright), Paul was not worried about where believers' souls would go after death. Christians of the late medieval period were worried about hell and felt they had to earn entry to heaven with works. This is the theology Martin Luther taught and wrote against, helping to ignite the Protestant Reformation.

But Jews of Paul's time were nowhere near so individualistic, so obsessed with the next life, so unfamiliar with grace as were the late medieval Christians. Instead of teaching about souls being saved from hell, say the NPP scholars, Paul is centrally teaching about God's faithfulness to Israel. He is showing that Yahweh is a God who keeps his promises, and so can be trusted to fulfill his promises in history. NPP scholars actually think the works commanded in the law are good gifts from God. Paul doesn't say not to do them because you'll go wrong and think you're earning salvation. He says not to do them because the Messiah has come and the world is different now. All people can worship Israel's God and should do so together without ethnic division.

In defense of the NPP, I can't remember the last time I heard Israel included in a presentation of the gospel--even a long one. It leads one to wonder: What was God doing all that time with his chosen people? Wasting time?

Since the calling of Abraham, Jews had been unique in three ways: for their monotheism (established in the Shema--"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one"--the founding prayer that faithful Jews say to this day), election (God calls a specific people), and eschatology (God will save his people on the last day). Wright shows how the resurrection of Jesus reworks each of these central Jewish beliefs.

Wright argues that Christians believed Jesus was Lord very early in church history--not centuries later, after councils had "decided" that he was so. So when Paul invokes Christ in 1 Corinthians 8--"one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live"--he is referring to the Shema, reworking it in light of Christ. Paul is altering the Bible's cornerstone prayer to include Jesus of Nazareth.

And Paul doesn't even have to argue for it. Within a generation of the Resurrection, a Christology that ranks Jesus with the jealous God of Israel is not controversial. It simply is "common coin," to use a Wrightian phrase. So, too, with the Holy Spirit. The shekinah that is God's presence in the Scripture of Israel is the "spirit" (the lowercase reflects Wright's usage throughout PFG).

Election is similarly reworked in light of the Resurrection and the spirit. The relentless drumbeat driving this volume is that Paul's teachings are deeply Jewish. According to the NPP, Paul is clinging to his Jewishness. He has not rejected one religion for a brand-new one. In fact, he believes that the law is God's good gift of grace.

But this is where things get interesting. Wright so emphasizes the good news of God's electing grace that, in a friendly parody he passed on to me in our interview, "God so loved the world that he sent it Abraham." The Pauline phrase beloved by the Reformers--"the righteousness of God"--is actually Paul's way of referring to the covenant people extended to include Gentiles as promised in Genesis 12:1-3, "the one family of Abraham," says Wright. To belong to Abraham's family is to be marked as those who will be justified on the last day. This is what it means to be saved.

It is important to stop and note how dramatically Wright has reworked things here. It means, in part, that the evangelist at summer camp who asked me, "If you died tonight, why should God let you into heaven?" was wrong when he provided the answer, "For no reason other than that Jesus died in my place."

Righteousness in Scripture does not refer to the righteous Judge passing his righteousness to the defendant. According to Wright, passages like Romans 4 (God "justifies the ungodly"); Galatians 2 ("a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ"--though Wright and other scholars now say this is better translated "by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ"); and 2 Corinthians 5:21 ("[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God," ESV) are not about imputed righteousness. Instead, they are about God fulfilling his promises to Israel in Christ to remake the world through one Jew-plus-Gentile family.

Wright insists often on what he told an overflow audience at Wheaton College in 2012: "I love the doctrine of justification." But it is not everything in Paul. It appears in only a few places in his letters. It is the wheel of the car, Wright says--not the whole vehicle.

So if Paul's courtroom metaphors are not about imputed righteousness, what are they about?

They have a much narrower frame of reference, says Wright. In Jewish tradition, all people will stand before the judge on the last day, after their bodies are resurrected. For the Jews who came before Jesus, those who kept Torah will be judged faithful on that day--saved, in the truest sense. The badge of their faithfulness is observing Torah. Here, studying Jewish sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls helps to clarify the Bible's references. For those "in the Messiah," faith, ratified in baptism, is the only badge that marks out in advance our judgment on the last day. So Paul's courtroom references mean only that the judge rules the defendant is in the right, vindicated over against any accusation, and assured of resurrection on the last day.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM

COWS WORK HARDER:

It's a Living : A surprisingly sprightly history of the glum designs behind the world of modern work : a review of Cubed by Nikil Saval (JERRY STAHL, April/May 2014, Bookforum)

On one level, Cubed can be seen as a study of how authority maintains authority--and of how the subjugated stay subjugated, in ways spoken and unspoken. Saval goes to great lengths to show how oppressive structure exists not just as a matter of corporate policy but in the very architecture of the workplace--the physical boundaries within which the business of business is carried out. As Saval notes, the actual walls--or lack thereof--of the office space dictate the terms of the occupants' status. Cubed takes us on the happy journey from cozy countinghouse rooms at the turn of the last century to open-plan offices in the wide-open '60s and '70s to the heinous hell-boxes born out of the mass layoffs of the '80s. In the wake of this latter shakeout, Saval writes, "corporations responded by giving a privileged elite the few remaining offices while cramming everyone else into partitioned spaces."

This was the era famously captured by Douglas Coupland's Generation X, in which he birthed the phrase "veal-fattening pen" as a painfully accurate description of the office cubicle. These holding facilities, Coupland memorably observed, were "small, cramped office workstations built of fabric-covered disassemblable wall portions and inhabited by junior staff members. Named after the small pre-slaughter cubicles used in the cattle industry." A grim stop, in other words, where the life-hating, managerially disrespected masses can kill time until they're led to their own metaphorical killing floor to be laid off.

All this talk of design and repression brings to mind the resemblance Black Panthers first pointed out between slave-ship design and the layouts of supermax prisons. Saval gives us statistics on the dimensions of a standard worker-bee workstation circa 2006, "when the average cubicle was seventy-five square feet." According to the latest information, the average Solitary Housing Unit at Pelican Bay supermax averages about eleven and a half by seven and a half feet. So in this case, if in few others, convicts serving time in solitary come out ahead of salaried cubicle dwellers. It's true that prisoners are also confined in their windowless environment twenty-three hours of every day. On the other hand, SHU residents have an hour to exercise, which may be more than the average cubicle drone can squeeze in in the course of trying to stay alive on temp pay. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM

SEVEN UP:

How the Bible has shaped the West : Rabbi Jonathan Sacks detects seven key ideas in Judaeo-Christian culture which explain why the West is unique. (Michael Cook | 24 March 2014, MercatorNet)

Speaking to a packed lecture theatre, Lord Sacks highlighted seven propositions drawn from Biblical ethics which help to understand why the West developed market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society.

'The historian Niall Ferguson quotes the verdict of a member of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, tasked with finding an explanation for why the West overtook China in the sixteenth century and went on to industrial and scientific greatness. At first, he said, we thought it was because you had better guns than we had. Then we thought it was your political system. Next we thought it was your economic system. But for the past twenty years we have had no doubt: it was your religion.'

The first three characteristics he identified were: human dignity; freedom and responsibility; and the sanctity of life - a central principle because human beings are in the image of God, therefore human life human life itself is sacred.

Citing American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, Lord Sacks said the fourth aspect was the concept of guilt as opposed to shame.  Articulating the difference between a guilt culture and shame culture, he drew on Sir Bernard Williams' observation that shame cultures are visual cultures; whereas a guilt culture is a hearing culture. Giving the example of the story of Adam and Eve, he said:

'It is an extremely significant point that the Hebrew Bible introduced a guilt culture to a world that only knew shame cultures, because guilt cultures make a distinction, and shame cultures do not, between the sinner and the sin. What is wrong is the act not the person.'

His fifth principle was the significance of marriage as the matrix of society, 'The family is sacred', he said. 

Sixth, he said, society is covenantal - threaded by the covenant that binds people together and to God in a covenantal bond.

Finally, he said his seventh aspect was a basic principle of Judaism: since every society is the result of the covenant, it means all human power, all political authority, is subject to the transcending authority of the Divine. There are moral limits to power, he asserted: 'Right is Sovereign over might.'

April 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM

YOUR NEXT CAR WILL BE A VOLT:

Tesla Motors Inc. Is Leaving Big Energy in the Dust (Justin Loiseau, April 11, 2014, Motley Fool)

Tesla Motors, is building more than cars -- it's building a support system to overthrow the entire way we conceive of getting from Point A to Point B. The key: electric-vehicle charging stations. Tesla Motors knows it's up against a century-old status quo of gas guzzlers, so the company is doing everything in its power to ease consumers' switching costs.

While technological improvements are enabling Tesla drivers to go further on faster charges, the company's massive network of Supercharger stations is what truly sets it apart, and what energy companies wish they'd cashed in on earlier.

At what is dubbed "the fastest charging station on the planet," Tesla owners can charge their vehicles at more than 10 times the rate of public charging stations. With 84 stations open across the nation, Tesla drivers can now make a full American road trip without needing a single drop of gas. Just check out the video below for proof.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM

A PEOPLE WHO THINK THEMSELVES A NATION ARE ONE:

Scottish referendum gives us hope for independence, says Catalonia minister (Harriet Alexander,  09 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Ask Andreu Mas-Colell, the man in charge of Catalonia's economy, for his thoughts on Scotland's forthcoming independence vote, and he hardly draws breath before answering.

"Admiration, respect and envy," he said. "It's an exemplary process." [...]

Unlike in Britain, Spain already has high levels of regional independence: Barcelona controls its own police, education system and health provisions. The Catalan language is also legally recognised.

But the wealthy region has long felt that it was paying too high a share of Spain's economic burden, and when Mr Mas failed to clinch a better financial pact for Catalonia in 2012, he revived calls for a full referendum on independence.

The spectre of a breakaway Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy and 16 per cent of its population, has become a big headache for Mr Rajoy, who is battling high unemployment and the scars of a deep recession. Mr Rajoy has so far vehemently rejected all calls to follow the Scottish path, saying that it simply wasn't possible to grant permission for a vote, which he said was prohibited by the constitution.

For Mr Mas-Colell, however, the Scottish vote gives hope to Catalonia.

"Sooner or later, Spain will have to yield to democratic imperatives," he said, speaking to The Telegraph ahead of Tuesday's vote. "No two countries are the same, but I like to think that the European traditions of democracy imposes norms for behaviour. And the Scottish process is scrupulously democratic."

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM

60 in '14:

Big G.O.P. Donors Stir Senate Runs (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, APRIL 11, 2014, NY Times)

Democrats in races that will help determine control of the Senate are rapidly burning through their campaign cash, whittling away their financial advantage over Republican opponents as they fend off attacks from conservative groups, according to figures released through Friday. [...]

In Alaska, the Democratic incumbent, Senator Mark Begich, spent about as much money as he raised during the first three months of the year, while Dan Sullivan, a Republican candidate and former state attorney general, increased his fund-raising and substantially narrowed Mr. Begich's advantage in cash on hand.

In Montana, Senator John Walsh, a Democrat, spent almost three-quarters of the money he raised since January, ending with about $700,000. Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa, the likely Democratic nominee for Senate, spent over 60 percent of the cash he raised.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, spent only about a third of what she collected through the end of March. But last month, Ms. Landrieu reserved $2.7 million of advertising time, according to strategists tracking both parties' television spending, which will cut deeply into the $7.5 million she reported at the beginning of April.

"The spending totals so far show that a lot of Democratic candidates find themselves on the run," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM

WE ALL KNOW WHERE WE'RE HEADED:

One way to pay for health-care costs in retirement (TOM TORRE, April 9, 2014, Washington Post)

HSAs are individual accounts, owned by the consumer, just like personal checking and savings accounts.  As such, they are portable - the account and the contributions in it remain the property of the account holder, even if he or she changes jobs or   enrolls in a different health insurance plan.  Consumers can continue to contribute up to the allowable IRS limit, as long as they are enrolled in qualifying high deductible health plans. The funds roll over from year to year with no expiration.

Best of all, HSA contributions are triple-tax-advantaged.  Contributions are tax free. Once HSA account balances reach a minimum threshold, funds can be invested, with interest and earnings on investments tax free.  And HSA account holders do not pay income tax on funds when they withdraw the money for qualified health-care expenses, as they do with the money in their 401Ks.

All of these features make HSAs an attractive way of managing near term health-care spending and saving for health-care costs through retirement.
Employers also benefit when their employees understand the full value of HSAs.  Employers realize an immediate tax benefit when more workers adopt HSAs and contribute to them. HSAs augment benefit programs, which are typically designed with the intent of attracting and retaining talent. Forward-thinking employers may want to offer integrated retirement planning strategies that take into account potential future health needs by offering to match contributions to HSAs, as they do for 401Ks.

HSAs are growing as more people come to understand them. According to a recent report, assets in HSAs exceeded $20 billion  as of January 2014.  Growth is stable. And HSA investment assets have now reached $2.3 billion, meaning that more than 10 percent of HSA deposits are currently invested in mutual funds or other long-term growth vehicles.  These trends are expected to continue as the popularity of HSAs grows and consumers increasingly look to HSAs as a complement to their retirement savings.


UMB grew Health Savings Accounts 40 percent last year (Greg Edwards, 4/04/14, St. Louis Business Journal)

UMB Healthcare Services, a division of UMB Financial Corp., grew Health Savings Accounts 40 percent in 2013, to 449,292 individual accounts.
Balances in the accounts grew 30 percent, surpassing $800 million, the company reported.

"We have seen tremendous growth and adoption of HSAs since their enactment 10 years ago," Dennis Triplett, CEO of UMB Healthcare Services, said in a statement. "The health care landscape continues to make these accounts attractive to not only employers, but also employees that look to economize health care spending while maintaining coverage and saving for the future."

April 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM

FROM THE BELTWAY YOU CAN'T HEAR AMERICA:

Jeb Bush's Stance on Education May Not Be That Controversial (NATE SILVER, 4/11/14, 538)

 This post will look at the polling on education reform -- specifically, support for the Common Core, which Bush has championed and which sets a set of recommendations for what students should know in kindergarten through high school. We'll look at the immigration numbers in a subsequent post.

National polling on educational issues is fairly sparse. This may partly be because the federal government exerts relatively little control over education as compared with states and localities. (In 2013, the federal government represented only about 9 percent of education spending, as compared with 27 percent for states and 64 percent for local governments.)

But the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research last year conducted a poll on education that included a series of questions on the Common Core. One conclusion is that Americans don't know a whole lot about it -- only 26 percent of respondents said they'd heard a "great deal" or a "lot" about Common Core, as compared with 52 percent who said they'd heard little or nothing about it. [...] Among Republicans, 44 percent said they thought the Common Core would improve the quality of education, against 13 percent who said it would make things worse. (Another 44 percent either said they thought it would have no effect or had no opinion.) The numbers among independents and voters unaffiliated with a political party were nearly identical to the Republican figures.

Democrats were modestly more likely to be in favor of the Common Core: 57 percent said they thought it would improve educational quality as compared with 6 percent who said it would produce a decline. Still, the partisan split on this issue is mild as compared to most others.

But what about the strongest Republicans, such as those that might participate in the primaries and caucuses in some of the most conservative states?

I also split the results between "strong" and "moderate" Republicans, as respondents described themselves in the survey. Indeed, there is a divide between these groups. Among moderate Republicans, the numbers look a lot like those for Democrats: 52 percent said they thought the Common Core would improve educational quality against just 7 percent who expected a decline. "Strong" Republicans had mixed views; 29 percent said the Common Core would improve educational quality against 22 percent who said it would produce a decline.

So there is some debate within the GOP on the Common Core. But even self-described "strong" Republicans are more likely to think it improves rather than harms educational quality. And relatively few Americans of any political description have strong feelings against it.

Opposition is essentially a sign of psychosis.


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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM

BILLY WEPT:

A Major League Pitcher's Guide To Doctoring A Baseball (Dirk Hayhurst, 4/11/14)

I'm fairly certain, for instance, that last night, the entire world caught Michael Pineda shamelessly loading the ball up with the gunk he was keeping on his pine-fresh palm. Bud Selig didn't send investigators to the scene of the crime, though, nor is there--to the best of my knowledge--a suspension looming on the horizon. The umpires did their best Sergeant Schultz impression, Pineda claimed it was just dirt, and the Red Sox did their part by deeming it all no big deal.

Thus, despite Pineda having been caught brown-handed, it was like the whole thing never happened.

This shouldn't be any surprise. Advances in broadcast technology have made it so that everyone can see what people on the field always have--pitchers with various foreign substances slathered on their person, compulsively rubbing them all over the ball. Even with instant replay, additional eye-in-the-sky umpires, and HD cameras, though, these mysterious substances go completely ignored. When someone like Pineda cheats so obviously that it has to be acknowledged, it's discussed in terms of a ludicrously weak explanation that all players seem to accept: Loading the ball is not about cheating; it's about getting a grip.

Since it seems like everyone could stand to get a grip on this form of cheating in the majors, let's talk some of the ways pitchers go about getting one. This is a strange thing, existing in a sort of no-man's land. It's not really illegal, since no one gets called out for openly doing it, and yet it's not quite legal, given that no pitcher would ever just waltz out to the mound and set a towel full of pine tar down next to the rosin bag. Pitchers having to act like this is something they could get in trouble for leads to all sorts of chicanery, which at times reaches the level of fine art. To discuss it, we have to know how it's done.

Since it's a popular topic right now, we'll start with pine tar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM

IF YOU ACT LIKE A NATION YOU ARE ONE:

Switzerland: Palestinians join Geneva Conventions on war (AFP, 4/11/14)

The Palestinian Authority has signed up formally to the Geneva Conventions, which set down the rules of warfare and humanitarian operations in conflict zones, the treaties' guardian Switzerland confirmed Friday. [...]

The Palestinians have also submitted requests to the United Nations to join 13 other international conventions and treaties, and the world body said Thursday that the move was legal.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and an anti-corruption accord.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM

WHICH IS STILL TWICE WHAT THEY SHOULD BE:

Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 4.34 pct.; 15-year loan eases to 3.38 pct. (The Associated Press, April 11, 2014) 

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages declined this week, edging closer to historically low levels as the spring home-buying season begins.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 4.34 percent from 4.41 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage eased to 3.38 percent from 3.47 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM

IT'S HYGIENE, NOT MEDICINE:

Are Mammograms Worth It? (EMILY OSTER, 4/10/14, 538)

Putting all of these results together, things don't look good for mammography. It would be a shame to stop with this study, though, since it's only one of many large randomized controlled trials of mammography. If we want the entire picture, we need to look at all of them together.

Most of the work is already done for us by Cochrane Reviews, which published on this topic in 2013. The Cochrane Reviews are a series of summary documents on a whole host of medical questions. Their goal is to aggregate information from individual randomized controlled trials to provide evidence-based guidance on best practices.

In the case of mammograms, the review in question aggregated eight large randomized trials encompassing more than 600,000 women. All of these trials had a similar structure to the Canadian trial: They divided women into two groups, and one group got mammograms with some frequency over a period of several years while the other group got "usual care." The researchers then compared breast cancer deaths, diagnoses and treatments between the two groups.

One of the key advantages of these Cochrane Reviews is that they try to say something about the quality of each study they cover. In this case, the authors argue that three of the large trials were well-randomized and unlikely to be biased, and five were less well randomized and more likely to be biased. What it means to be "sub-optimally randomized" varies across trials, but to give one example: in a large trial in New York, which started in the 1960s, more than twice as many people with a history of breast cancer were excluded from the mammogram group than from the control group. This suggests more women with previous breast cancer were included in the control group, thus biasing the conclusions in favor of mammograms.

When we focus on the high-quality trials (the Canadian study is one of these), the Cochrane Reviews' authors found those who were screened with mammograms were only slightly less likely to die from breast cancer in the seven or 13 years following the trial. This effect was not statistically significant. And, perhaps more important, they were no less likely to die overall.2

It's not that mammograms do nothing. Women who were randomized into the mammography group were much more likely to be diagnosed and treated for breast cancer -- this was true for all the studies. And it starkly illustrates the over-diagnosis issue. In the control group, some small tumors were not detected or treated, but they were detected in the mammogram group, hence the higher diagnosis rates in the latter group. And yet women in the control group were no more likely to die of breast cancer. This suggests those tumors that were missed were often not fatal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM

Interview: Kathy Shaidle on Confessions of a Failed Slut (Ed Driscoll, April 10th, 2014, PJM)

During our 29-minute interview, Kathy will explore:

● How the Love Boat, that weekly video voyage of the Hollywood damned, caused Kathy to begin seeing the world is "though a Gen-X filter of self-defensive snark."

● Why Glen Close's character in Fatal Attraction is "one of the most misunderstood females on film."

● Why today's women in rock and pop make the first generation of women in punk rock seem positively chaste by comparison.

● How TV's Dr. Phil caused a Twitter storm when his show tweeted, "If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?"

● In a pop culture obsessed with sex, why does it seem like the male metrosexual is so...asexual?

● Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean somebody of the opposite sex isn't out to meet you: Going undercover in the 9/11-"Truther"-themed InfoWars Internet dating site.

● How to break free of the Nanny State's crushing group hug.

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