October 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


And Nolan Ryan to top off the tableau.

Has the UR ever looked as comfortable in his own skin as W does driving in?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


Republicans poised to make gains; House could fall, Senate unlikely (Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, 10/31/10, Washington Post)

In the House, Republicans need 39 seats to win back the majority that they lost four years ago and are competing on an enormous playing field heavily tilted in their direction.

According to The Post's analysis, 19 Democratic-held seats currently lean toward the Republicans, and Democratic strategists all but concede those contests. An additional 47 Democrat-held districts are considered tossups, while 38 other Democrat-held seats, while leaning toward the Democratic candidate, remain in potential jeopardy. Meanwhile, just four Republican-held seats appear truly competitive - three leaning toward the Democrats and one considered too close to call.

That gives Republicans multiple opportunities to win enough seats to claim the majority. Some independent forecasters are projecting GOP gains of 50 seats or more, which would offset all of the GOP's losses in the past two elections and rank in size with the party's historic 1994 landslide.

In the Senate, Republicans need to win 10 seats to take the majority. As of this weekend, they appear all but certain of winning three seats - Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota - and probably a fourth in Wisconsin. According to The Post analysis, Republicans could gain as many as nine seats. But to do that they would have to run the table on the most competitive seats - Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington - and that appears unlikely.

In governor's races, Democrats hold 26 states to 24 for the Republicans (which counts Florida, although Gov. Charlie Crist quit the GOP in his campaign for the Senate). Republicans have set a goal of reaching 30 and appear likely to reach and possibly exceed that number.

Republicans are almost certain to pick up Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. They are also favored in Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats could pick up Hawaii, Minnesota and California. The most competitive races are in Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Oregon, all currently held by Democrats; and in Florida, Connecticut and Vermont, which are in Republican hands. Rhode Island, held by the GOP, could go independent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Rural Radio and the Juan Williams Controversy (Matthew Schmitz, 10/29/10, First Things)

One of the stranger responses to the controversy over Juan Williams’ firing was National Review’s attack on public radio for rural America. They singled out for scorn the idea of “coastal liberalism” being broadcast in Ogallalla, Nebraska. They might as well have said O’Neill, my home town in the same state.

O’Neill is a small town, though the largest in the area at about 3,500 people. Each year seventy students graduate high school and, for the most part, leave. For the eighteen years they’re there they listen to one of three stations. One station begins the day by playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” features a daily devotional led by a member of the ministerial association, and also carries a “Pro-Life Update” from National Right to Life. That’s the country station. There’s also a Christian one.

And then there is NPR. When just a few years ago I worked in the summers as an apprentice electrician I would tune in every day at four o’clock for a stream of remarkably calm, far-ranging reporting would carry me to the end of the work day. In a media environment that often blurs the line between information and provocation, article and advert, public radio provided a welcome respite.

I knew other NPR listeners in rural Nebraska: electrical journeymen, shop keepers, school teachers. They noticed NPR’s political and religious blind spots. But they appreciated its consistent effort to put policy before personality and substance before scandal. I am not sure if these virtues are conservative, but the people who valued them were.

Attempts to spot and highlight media bias have, I think, caused us to overestimate its importance in media coverage. Say one station is biased but offers otherwise excellent content while another is unbiased but does spotty and shoddy reporting. Any person willing to expend a little effort in listening can simply ignore the bias and take in the good content, though he may find it necessary to occasionally shake his fist at the radio. Rural Americans are no more susceptible to being buffaloed by liberal bias than their suburban or urban counterparts.

Why would conservative Eastern elites be expected to grasp America any better than liberal Eastern elites?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


The war recovery? (David S. Broder, October 31, 2010, Washington Post)

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century.

Does the Left even know what it is portraying him as when it says he needs "scapegoats" and an external enemy to war against in order to distract people from domestic affairs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Looking to 2012, but in the Senate (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 10/30/10, NY Times)

The numbers are stark. Democrats will be forced to defend 24 seats in the 2012 election, including those of two independents aligned with them, compared with just 9 seats for Republicans.

Even those numbers do not fully reflect the steep challenge Democrats will face. Many of the Democratic senators up for re-election hail from battleground states, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida and Jim Webb of Virginia. Others from traditionally Republican-leaning states may have it even harder, including Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, above, and Jon Tester of Montana.

The sole Republican up for re-election in a traditionally Democratic state will be Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Stewart-Colbert rally: Skits, songs, empty message (David Zurawik, 10/30/10, Baltimore Sun)

That is all I am going to say about the wit and so-called keen social commentary of the comedic moments brought to us Saturday at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear by these two cable TV comedians who have been endlessly compared to every satirist from Swift to Twain this week by some of my adoring and critically-challenged colleagues.

As for the other non-musical guest talent, consider the "performance" by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, of the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters," who spent 10 minutes asking the crowd to do various versions of The Wave. wasn't that transcendent?

The music was another matter. Mavis Staples' closing the show with "I'll Take You There" was so perfect it was almost worth suffering through Stewart's pompous, empty, politician-phony closing speech to get to it -- almost.

I say almost because Comedy Central, Stewart's employer and partner in this production on the mall, didn't let me hear all of the closing number. They had to cut away to tell me that today's rally was brought to me by Volkswagen, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and LG (electronics).

And that's one of the things that I think is most fascinating about the whole Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear: the way Comedy Central essentially commodified all those folks who showed up in the mall, rounding all of them up and delivering them to advertisers -- along with viewers like me in front of our screens. Weren't the good intentions and hopes that tens of thousands who came to the mall being exploited for profit?

Say what you will about Glenn Beck and his rally in August: He and Fox News, his employer, didn't sell the folks who supported him on the mall to advertisers that way. There were no peanut butter cups being advertised on my screen as I watched. There was no commercialization of any kind that I discerned on my TV screen. Not only didn't Fox News televise the rally, the channel barely covered it. But not so Stewart, Colbert and their employers.

..Beck is just a product. His rally marketed him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


India will supersede ageing China in Asia: Former Aussie PM (IANS, Oct 31, 2010)

China is "rapidly ageing" because of its one-child policy and this will allow India, a younger nation, to supersede it as the dominant nation in Asia before the end of the 21st century, former Australian prime minister John Howard has said.

"The problem China has is that she will grow old before she grows rich, she's got a terrible demographic problem because of the one-child policy. China is a rapidly ageing country, whereas a country like India is a younger country and I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of the century India is a more powerful country," Howard was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Howard said changing power bases in Asia justified his government's decision to forge new regional alliances while strengthening Australia's ties to its traditional allies. He served as the prime minister from 1996 to 2007.

Howard, however, said China could never overtake the US as the world's military or financial superpower. "I think China is a rising power but I do not share the view China will ever outstrip the US as an economic power or military power," he said.

"I think one of the problems China has is eventually she will have to decide whether she can maintain a position where the country is economically liberal and open and, politically, still closed and controlled."

...if they do not point out that India faces many of China's problems, not least demographic collapse and the artificiality of the current state.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


India-US: Do we really need each other? (Chidanand Rajghatta, Oct 31, 2010, Times of India)

It is a recalibration of the Bush-Vajpayee era mantra of "natural allies." Somewhere down the line, Washington has figured out that India is not cut out to be an ally in the traditional sense. Depending on how one looks at it, India is too independent, too timid, too fractious, too tetchy, too assertive, too moralistic, to make a good ally. So it's now a "partner." And in Obama's eyes, "indispensable."

Really? What gives? How come? What is it that India offers the US that the world's superpower (albeit declining) can't live without? Not cheap goods. China takes the cake (and eats it too). Not oil and gas. Not precious metals, rare earths, or hi-technology. We come up short on all the good stuff. We are not even a gateway to landlocked Afghanistan (like Pakistan is, which makes it temporarily indispensable), and the one time we helped US planes refuel during the first Gulf War, all hell broke loose in India. So what are the reasons India is termed "indispensable"?

Well, there are 1.2 billion reasons. It's called the "market" in Americanese. This is the most attractive thing about India right now for the US. Or, to paraphrase an American expression from not so long ago: 'It's our economy, stupid.'A constantly expanding middle-class riding on 8% economic growth into the near future, fuelled by blind American-style consumerist aspiration, hungering for goods, gadgets, and gee-gaws.

Don't believe it? Some of our best and the brightest staff their labs, universities, think tanks and other centers of excellence. We are the repository of prime human capital.

It's nice that they offer a billion customers/workers to our economy, but even setting aside our Anglospheric bonds, just look at a map. Alone, India would be flanked by the Islamists and the ChiComs. Together with the US and the rest of the Axis of Good it flanks those enemies.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Israeli Jews at odds with liberal brethren in US (ARON HELLER, 10/31/2010, AP)

When Hillary Rubin immigrated from the U.S. to Israel, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and descendant of a famed Zionist visionary felt that she had finally arrived in her true home.

But now that religious authorities are questioning the 29-year-old Michigan native’s Jewish pedigree and refusing to recognize her marriage, she’s having second thoughts.

Rubin is at the center of a deepening rift between the world’s two biggest Jewish communities — the American and Israeli. Religious life in Israel is dominated by the strict ultra-Orthodox establishment, which has growing political power and has become increasingly resistant to any inroads by the more liberal movements that predominate among American Jews.

Many Americans — whose faith is seen by the ultra-Orthodox as blurred by intermarriage and fading adherence to tradition — are feeling rejected and unwelcome.

...Israel is left defending UN Resolution 3379 against the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Cargo Terror Culprit: All signs point to Al Qaeda's Yemen branch, which has a clever bomb-maker and a U.S.-born mastermind. Ex-CIA analyst Bruce Riedel on how to defang our most dangerous enemy. (Bruce Riedel, 10/30/10, Daily Beast)

There is much we do not know about the latest terror threat this weekend. Who was behind it? Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has a clever bomb maker in Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri; was it AQAP? How lethal were the explosive devices discovered? Forensics will tell a lot soon. Who provided the tip-off? The Saudis? Information from the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates? How did the informants know?

But there is one thing we know for sure: the timing, the weekend before Election Day. That timing is vintage al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden has been focused on American elections and our politics for years. Most famously he put out an audio message on the eve of the 2004 election to remind voters he was still alive and dangerous. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, spoke out in 2008 as the election neared. It's not that al Qaeda cares who wins our elections; the group regards all American political leaders as Zionist-controlled, war-mongering Crusaders. They just want to crash the party.

However, the fact that these "missions" are no longer even related to the original al Qaeda leadership--dead and scattered in AfPak--and that they have been thwarted can't help but minimize the threat in the mind of American voters and suggest to them that W and the UR have rather successfully prosecuted the WoT.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


A choice for Obama: Try leadership (Fred Hiatt, October 31, 2010, Washington Post)

A leader would look to cooperate with business, not demonize it. He would tell upper-income Americans that they have to pay more taxes not because they're bad people who caused the recession but because everyone will have to do his part if America is to get well. Cotton farmers, mortgage bankers, ethanol peddlers - no sacred cow would stay sacred. He would reach out to Republicans privately, not in public forums intended to show them up, to see if he could find anyone willing to do business.

I'm not recommending that Obama be naive about his opposition, nor that he sit the American people down, Jimmy Carter-style, for a dose of bad news. But a lot of Americans would welcome a president who sought to rise above the ugliness: business executives who are disappointed but still want Obama to succeed, independent voters who still hope for the change in political climate that he promised in 2008, ordinary people buffeted by forces beyond their control who want straight talk on where the country is headed. They can tell the difference between pretend and real leadership, and between show bipartisanship and attempts at the real thing.

Many would prefer the real thing. It might even help in 2012.

Mr. Obama's entire life and career is based on following so perfectly as to win universal acceptance within whichever institution he finds himself. Leadership is by its very nature divisive, because it requires making decisions rather than just acquiescing to those of the majority. There is no basis for believing him capable of what Mr. Hiatt is asking.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Abraham’s Progeny, and Their Texts (EDWARD ROTHSTEIN, 10/21/10, NY Times)

The sweep of the new exhibition at the New York Public Library — “Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam” — is stunning. It stretches from a Bible found in a monastery in coastal Brittany that was sacked by the Vikings in the year 917, to a 1904 lithograph showing the original Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue. It encompasses both an elaborately decorated book of 20th-century Coptic Christian readings and a modest 19th-century printing of the Gospels in the African language Grebo. There are Korans, with pages that shimmer with gold leaf and elegant calligraphy, and a 13th-century Pentateuch from Jerusalem, written in script used by Samaritans who traced their origins to the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The library’s Gutenberg Bible is here, as well as its 1611 King James translation. The first Koran published in English is shown, from 1649, along with fantastical images from 16th-century Turkish and Persian manuscripts in which Muhammad is pictured with other prophets, his face a blank white space in obeisance to the prohibition against his portrait.

Out of many, one. That could well be the motto of this ambitious exhibition. It focuses on “the three Abrahamic religions” — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — each of which takes as a forebear an “itinerant herdsman” of the Middle East, Abraham, who affirmed belief in a single God. As the show puts it, Abraham rejected “the religions of antiquity with their plethora of gods, each imbued with a particular attribute, purpose and power,” replacing the many with the one.

The Abrahamic religions share other characteristics as well. Each believes that God has made himself known to his prophets through acts of revelation. And such revelations shape groups of believers by being incorporated in canonical written texts: the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Gospels, the Islamic Koran.

Though the exhibition does not point this out, the connection between monotheism and such texts is no accident. Once multiple divinities are discarded, along with their rivalries and conflicting powers, religion is concerned with just two poles: the human and the divine. Religious events take place not on Mount Olympus or in some imagined godly castle, but in the earthly realm. Religious history becomes fully part of human history. And the telling of that history, along with commentary and reinterpretation, becomes an aspect of the religion itself. These faiths are historical faiths. [...]

These are not subtle disputes, and the consequences were far from ecumenical, particularly when successor religions sought to spread their beliefs through conquest and conversion. And while the three share many traits — these are not primarily meditative or contemplative religions, after all, and they are indeed historical faiths, concerned with action, even with mission — their commonalities also lead to profound contrasts. For two millenniums, Judaism, tied to a particular people, was the least outwardly directed, but all three religions saw themselves as shaping world history. Each one also imagined a distinctive role for believers within it. And here the three are quite diverse indeed.

This is, of course, beyond the scope of this show. But understanding this would mean examining the three faiths more closely for their differences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Deal or punt decision on Bush tax cuts is Obama’s (ANDREW TAYLOR, 10/31/2010, AP)

Will Congress extend the Bush tax cuts into 2011 in the weeks after Tuesday’s election or let the automatic increase start cutting into most people’s paychecks early next year?

It’s really pretty much up to President Barack Obama.

Despite the punishment his fellow Democrats are expected to take from voters, Obama has shown no sign of retreating from his insistence that families and small businesses with incomes above $250,000 return to higher, Bill Clinton-era tax levels starting Jan. 1.

But Obama also has dodged the question whether he would veto a bill that extends the tax cuts for everyone.

If only he were a leader, he could steal a march by proposing bigger, permanent cuts that depend on simplifying the tax structure or propose replacing "lost revenue" with a hike in gas taxes.

October 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


....but the bigger problem is that if you make a living holding other people up to ridicule for their political positions you probably shouldn't be blaming other people for creating a climate iof division.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Nation-Building: RATIFICATION: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier (RICHARD BROOKHISER, 10/29/10, NY Times Book Review)

[M]aier’s subtitle directs our attention to the people, and she devotes time to Americans who stepped onto history’s stage only for this drama. At several conventions important speeches were made by back-benchers who sat quietly through most of the proceedings, then gave their judgment. Jonathan Smith of western Massachusetts said he knew “the worth of good government by the want of it.” There was “a time to sow and a time to reap,” and if the Constitution were not ratified now, “we shall never have another opportunity.”

Maier also covers the media campaign for and against. America’s newspapers were lopsidedly Federalist, but New York’s Antis ran “the only prominent organized group that worked across state lines,” disseminating critical essays and trying to coordinate strategy. The war of words enlisted a woman, Mercy Otis Warren, a Massachusetts bluestocking, who compared the Constitution to “shackles on our own necks.” Her fellow Antis found her writing “too sublime & florid.” The level of popular interest in contested states was high. One New York newspaper wrote that “almost every man is now a politician, and can judge for himself.”

Politics is a contact sport, and Maier shows a lot of rough stuff. Federalists in some states hired convention secretaries whose minutes mutilated the speeches of Antis, or suppressed them altogether. Newspaper editors who ran political stories that readers didn’t like were threatened with canceled ads and subscriptions. Mobs in Philadelphia, Albany and New York City trashed buildings and roughed up the un-likeminded. Happily, no one was killed.

Both sides, Maier believes, won something. The Constitution prevailed, but the spirited resistance encouraged the First Congress to propose the amendments now known as the Bill of Rights. Maier does not lard her conclusion with Big Thoughts, so let me rush in. The ratification process was a tribute to what Nathan Dane of Massachusetts, a reluctant convert to the Constitution, called “the attention of this intelligent people.” Elites who disdain or ignore their fellow citizens come to grief. Witness the mess of the European Union, made and run by Brussels wire-pullers. Americans who tut-tut about our political process sometimes have a point — we can always do better —but sometimes they go too far. The process was not that different in 1787-88, and we did all right.

"...let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Our divisive president, redux (Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, October 30, 2010, Washington Post)

In a Univision interview on Monday, the president, who campaigned in 2008 by referring not to a "Red America" or a "Blue America" but a United States of America, urged Hispanic listeners to vote in this spirit: "We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us."

Recently, Obama suggested that if Republicans gain control of the House and/or Senate as forecast, he expects not reconciliation and unity but "hand-to-hand combat" on Capitol Hill.

What a change two years can bring.

We can think of only one other recent president who would display such indifference to the majesty of his office: Richard Nixon.

We write in sadness as traditional liberal Democrats who believe in inclusion. Like many Americans, we had hoped that Obama would maintain the spirit in which he campaigned. Instead, since taking office, he has pitted group against group for short-term political gain that is exacerbating the divisions in our country and weakening our national identity.The culture of attack politics and demonization risks compromising our ability to address our most important issues - and the stature of our nation's highest office.

Indeed, Obama is conducting himself in a way alarmingly reminiscent of Nixon's role in the disastrous 1970 midterm campaign.

...then imagine how personally he must take rejection by the voters? He's in real danger of becoming the most dangerous thing a politician can be: pitiable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Swing Voters Are Flocking to GOP (PETER WALLSTEN AND NEIL KING JR., 10/30/10, WSJ)

The Democrats' final push to woo undecided voters appears to have fizzled, potentially putting dozens of competitive House races beyond reach and undermining the party's chances in at least four toss-up Senate seats, according to party strategists and officials.

Independents, a crucial swing bloc, seem to be breaking sharply for Republicans in the final days of the campaign.

One nonpartisan prognosticator, Stuart Rothenberg, said Friday he thought the Republicans could pick up as many as 70 House seats—something no party has achieved since 1948.

...is most evident in the curious decision to plaster the President all over the media pushing a message that electing the GOP will apply the brake to his administration. That, of course, is exactly the basis of the Republican campaign.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Florida swings toward Republicans (Carol E. Lee, 10/30/10, Politico)

Two years after Florida Democrats celebrated their role in the election of Barack Obama and the ouster of two Republican congressmen, the nation’s largest swing state is poised to tilt back toward the GOP, a pivot that could dramatically alter the dynamic for the president’s 2012 election campaign.

The backslide came into focus Thursday as the Democratic drama surrounding the state’s open Senate race spilled into public view.

Former President Bill Clinton’s efforts to persuade Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the contest during a trip to Florida last week, an acknowledgment of the congressman’s distant third-place showing in most public polls, was defensive in nature: Meek’s withdrawal, the thinking went, would deliver core Democratic voters to Gov. Charlie Crist’s independent bid in a last-ditch attempt to stop rising GOP star Marco Rubio, who leads in the polls.

Rubio isn’t simply a potential problem for Florida Democrats. A fresh-faced, Cuban-American conservative, the former state House Speaker is already being talked about as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2012. Democrats from the White House to Miami believe the GOP will look to put Rubio on the 2012 ticket, a move that could siphon off the Hispanic vote and make Florida—and its 29 electoral votes—even more of a tossup.

...which is why he should have run for governor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


The Führer in the Making (NORMAN STONE , 10/29/10, WSJ)

How did the young Hitler—diffident, gauche, without solid political convictions—turn into the fascist demagogue of 1922? There is no simple answer to this question, but "Hitler's First War" debunks some of the standard responses. Biographers have long assumed that the war marked a turning point: the comradeship of the trenches, the common soldier's hatred of the profiteers in the rear and the sense of betrayal with the peace made in 1918. Yet there was the nagging question of why the brave, decorated soldier of "Mein Kampf" was not promoted. Hitler served more or less for the whole of the war and never rose above the rank of corporal, which, given that he undoubtedly had leadership qualities, comes as a considerable surprise.

With some luck and a lot of diligence, Mr. Weber has discovered the missing documents of Hitler's war service, and it is fair to say that very little of Hitler's own account survives the discovery. There were indeed two Iron Crosses, but his regimental runner's job was not necessarily dangerous, and he lived in relative comfort at the regimental headquarters away from the front lines. Ordinary soldiers referred to such men as Etappenschweine ("rear pigs") —all armies have such a word: "cushy number" and "base wallah" are British examples. Officers had to dish out a quota of medals, and if you did not offend them they would just put your name on the list. Hitler was not, it appears, particularly courageous. He was just there. And, as it happens, a Jewish superior officer, Hugo Gutmann, recommended Hitler for his first Iron Cross. He was not thanked for this act in later life—though his fate, emigration to the United States, was greatly preferable to that of the old couple in Vienna.

There also wasn't much comradeship. When Hitler broke surface in politics, he asked his old comrades in the regiment for support and discovered that on the whole they had not liked him one bit. Men who had fought at the front in World War I were, moreover, not at all keen on staging a second war, and extraordinarily few of Hitler's old comrades went along with Nazism. Most supported the Weimar Republic. Mr. Weber's research shows that it's not really possible to connect the brutalization of men in the trenches to the birth of National Socialism.

It is very much to Mr. Weber's credit that he has managed to dig out the details, and we can place his book together with Ms. Hamann's as a triumph of original research in a very stony field. The conclusion that might be drawn is that Hitler was far more of the opportunist than is generally supposed. He made things up as he went along, including his own past.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Tea party movement alienating young voters (JOSH LEDERMAN, 10/30/2010, AP)

A survey released Oct. 21 by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics showed that only 11 percent of those 18 to 29 consider themselves supporters of the tea party, and analysts say the leaderless movement’s ties to social conservatism and rhetoric in favor of an earlier America are hampering its appeal.

Despite widespread voter anger ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, the tea party has been a hard sell to young voters because many equate joining with embracing conservative social values, said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, a Tufts University group that conducts research on the political involvement of young Americans. He said this holds true even for those who would otherwise identify with the party’s call for stricter fiscal conservatism.

“A lot of young people, whether it’s from the media, professors or other sources, come to the opinion that the tea party is just a bunch of right-wing extreme radicals, racists — whatever,” said Patrick Kelly, a tea party activist and freshman at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. “That’s the biggest deterrent.” [...]

Many young voters also recoil at the tea party’s homogenous racial makeup. According to the Pew Research Center’s October political survey, 85 percent of registered voters who agree with the tea party are white. Just 2 percent are black.

“The young generation is just by the numbers the most diverse generation in American history,” Levine said. “You can’t get that much purchase on this generation if you look like you’re all white.”

To the Right immigrants are gardeners who took the jobs from those nice white fellas who used to do the work and were so much easier to talk to. To the young they're classmates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


How Immigrants Create More Jobs (TYLER COWEN, 10/30/10, NY Times)

Over all, it turns out that the continuing arrival of immigrants to American shores is encouraging business activity here, thereby producing more jobs, according to a new study. Its authors argue that the easier it is to find cheap immigrant labor at home, the less likely that production will relocate offshore.

The study, “Immigration, Offshoring and American Jobs,” was written by two economics professors — Gianmarco I. P. Ottaviano of Bocconi University in Italy and Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis — along with Greg C. Wright, a Ph.D. candidate at Davis.

The study notes that when companies move production offshore, they pull away not only low-wage jobs but also many related jobs, which can include high-skilled managers, tech repairmen and others. But hiring immigrants even for low-wage jobs helps keep many kinds of jobs in the United States, the authors say. In fact, when immigration is rising as a share of employment in an economic sector, offshoring tends to be falling, and vice versa, the study found.

In other words, immigrants may be competing more with offshored workers than with other laborers in America.

American economic sectors with much exposure to immigration fared better in employment growth than more insulated sectors, even for low-skilled labor, the authors found.

...it would embrace immigration. But it cares more about the latter than the former.

October 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


Recalling a New York Character, in Fiction and Real Life (JAMES BARRON, 10/29/10, NY Times)

Tom Wolfe said Burton B. Roberts, the model for a cranky character in Mr. Wolfe’s 1987 best-seller “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “had such a huge impact on my life, it’s hard to know where to start.”

Facing the crowd at Judge Roberts’s funeral on Tuesday, Mr. Wolfe paused, as if he were waiting for instructions.

“Burt’s yelling,” he said, alluding to Judge Roberts’s tendency to use his thunderous voice to tell people the facts as he wanted them presented.

Mr. Wolfe said Judge Roberts, who died on Sunday at age 88, was a “totally honest, totally compassionate, totally strong man who opened up so much of the world for me.” He also repeated what some in the crowd of judges and lawyers said before the hourlong service began: Judge Roberts was one of those larger-than-life New York characters.

“There could be 20, there could be 50 people in a room, but Burt took it over,” Mr. Wolfe said to the mourners at Riverside Memorial Chapel on the Upper West Side. [...]

Mr. Roberts also recited “An Ode to the Bronx,” which he said Judge Roberts had delivered “in response to some judges from Buffalo who were criticizing the Bronx with its high crime rate.” [...]

I see thee in my dreams, my dear beloved Bronx.

Thy face to me is fairer by far than the face of Yonkers.

I love thy charm, I love thy grace,

I love the beauty of thy face.

I love thee Bronx, I love thee well

Anywhere else, a living hell.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


NBC's latest House ratings changes (Domenico Montanaro, 10/29/10, NBC: First Read)


An image comes to mind, perhaps the same one comes to you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


uspicious Packages on Cargo Planes Intercepted (ADAM ENTOUS And EVAN PEREZ, 10/29/10, WSJ)

Authorities intercepted two U.S.-bound suspicious packages in cargo shipments from Yemen, raising alarm in the U.S. and Europe at a time when counterterrorism officials say they are closely tracking multiple suspected terror plots by al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The discovery of the packages on UPS and FedEx cargo planes in the U.K. and Dubai prompted U.S. officials to conduct wider screening for potential bombs in airports in Newark and Philadelphia and in a delivery truck in New York City. No explosives were found.

The White House characterized the incident as a potential terrorist threat, and officials said they believed the packages, which had the appearances of improvised bombs, may have been deliberately placed on the planes to test security systems as a possible dry run or diversionary tactic for a planned attack.

...but in the wake of the Madrid train bombings you have to assume authorities are particularly attentive to potential plans to disrupt elections.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Ferndale man pleads guilty in goat sex case (Spokesman-Review, 10/29/10)

FERNDALE, Wash. — A Ferndale man accused of sexually abusing a goat pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Inside Outsider: Questions for Garry Wills (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, 10/29/10, NY Times Magazine)

You’ve accused him of excessive ingratiation, or “omnidirectional placation,” as you wrote in a blog post for The New York Review of Books.

As a black man with an odd name, he often had to ingratiate himself in the companies that he kept, and he does.

Except that he was a non-black named Barry for long enough that it seems fair to say that his ingratiating nature is more likely a function of his parentlessness. Conformity produces acceptance which is his (sorry) substitute for love.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Germans Are 'Over The Rainbow' for Iz : Thirteen years after Hawaiian star Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole, died at the age of 38, his recording of "Over the Rainbow" has gone platinum in Germany. His music is also inspiring a new love of the ukelele. (Mary Beth Warner, 10/29/10, Der Spiegel)

It's a song, and a story, both poignant and melancholy. Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, more affectionately known as "IZ," or the "gentle giant," recorded a cover of Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" in 1993. Four years later, he died at the age of 38 of weight-related illness. More than 10,000 came to his funeral, and his coffin lay in state in the Capitol building in Honolulu. It was the first time a non-politician in the aloha state had received the honor.

Softly strumming the ukulele, and with a voice both warm and inviting, IZ sang: "Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. And, the dreams that you dreamed of, dreams really do come true."

Now, half way around the world from his island home, Germans find themselves singing along.

IZ's version of "Over the Rainbow" was released in Germany by Universal Music and B1 Recordings on Sept. 3. Since then, it has reached No. 1 on the charts and achieved platinum status, having sold more than 300,000 copies in the country, the fourth largest music market in the world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


New prediction in battle for the House (Paul Steinhauser, 10/29/10, CNN)

The Rothenberg Political Report Friday forecast a net gain of 55 to 65 seats for the Republicans, with gains at or above 70 seats possible. That's up from Rothenberg's previous forecast of a GOP gain of 45 to 55 seats. The Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to win back control of the chamber from the Democrats, who have held the House and the Senate for the last four years.

"At this point, there are no signs of a Democratic 'surge,' and some Democrats think that the political environment is deteriorating for the party. Across the country, Republicans are ending their campaigns with calls to 'check' President Obama. Given the mood of the electorate, this is likely to be an effective closing argument," says the Rothenberg Report.

Another top non-partisan political handicapper, the Cook Political Report, Wednesday forecast a net gain of 48 to 60 seats for the Republicans, with higher gains possible.

...but it's hard to see how the Democrats can melt down in nearly every congressional district yet still hold the Senate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Obama Needs An Enemy (Peter Beinart, 10/29/10, Daily Beast)

Amid the misery of the moment, here’s something Democrats can look forward to: President Obama is about to get his foil. He’s needed one throughout his career. In 2007, it was the contrast with Hillary Clinton that accentuated Obama’s freshness and authenticity. In 2008, it was during the presidential debates—where McCain looked erratic and uninformed and Obama looked analytical and centered—that Obama put the race away. In 2009 and 2010, by contrast, Obama has had no one to contrast himself with except for George W. Bush, and that stopped working long ago.

...but it is certainly true that there is so little to Mr. Obama that he can only define himself in the negative. Being nothing, he is very much not W, Hillary, Maverick nor anyone he seizes upon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


The Big Lie About Social Security (Jeff Madrick, 10/29/10, NY Review of Books)

With the midterm elections days away, Republicans and quite a few Democrats have once again been attacking Social Security for running up the federal deficit. The president’s own deficit commission is likely to make Social Security reform a priority. In view of all the rhetoric, voters may be surprised to find out how little Social Security will actually contribute to the future budget gap. In fact, most would probably be stunned.

The Congressional Budget Office, which produces dry, cautious budget projections, recently reminded Congress that Social Security as a percent of GDP will rise from 5 to 6 percent in 2035 and simply stay at that level for the foreseeable future. In other words, the much decried shortfall amounts to only 1 percent of GDP over three decades. And this may be exaggerated. As some observe, much will depend on the flow of young immigrant workers to America. The more workers contributing to Social Security, the smaller any future deficit will be. And the CBO projections tend to make overly conservative estimates about such immigration in the decades to come. [...]

The president’s 18-member fiscal commission, which must report its recommendations by December 1, will almost certainly use its political ammunition against Social Security. Why? Because its members can’t agree on cuts related to Medicare or Medicaid, or related to health care reform in general, that will have a meaningful effect on future costs. In contrast, after years of denigration by some politicians and economists, Social Security benefits have become a comparatively easy target.

Personal accounts aren't necessary, just good policy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Prosperity Index Shows That Democracy Still Works Best (JOEL KOTKIN, 10/26/10, Forbes)

The Legatum Prosperity Index found that all the more prosperous places – not only by income, but by quality of life, environment, education and health care – almost exclusively are democratic states. “Prosperity,” the report concludes, “is found in entrepreneurial democracies that have strong social fabrics.”

This is a critical point given the current focus and admiration for the more centralized, state-controlled models emerging in places like Russia, China and Brazil. As an emerging country, China may enjoy the highest rate of growth but overall still does not provide most of its citizens anything close to what we might consider the “good life.” China, the Legatum study found, still lags behind in a host of factors besides democracy, ranging from poor health care and a degraded environment to an overweening state role in the private sector.

In contrast, without exception, the most prosperous states are not so much the fastest-growing economies but those democracies that have been able adjust successfully to the emerging reality. At the top of the list are the northern democracies, led by Scandinavian countries Norway (#1), Denmark (#2), Finland (#3) and Sweden (#6). These are joined by other small, compact cold-weather states such as the Netherlands (#9) and Switzerland (#8). Rounding out the top 9 on the list are three resource-rich Anglo-American states, (#4) Australia, (#5) New Zealand and (#7) Canada. [...]

What about the other big Western democracies? Most rank between the ascendant Hansa and the depressed Olive Republics. The mega-giant of the liberal democracies, the U.S., ranks 10th, followed by the 13th ranked United Kingdom, 18th ranked Japan and 19th ranked France. All these countries retain strong technological prowess and entrepreneurial savvy, but have proven more adept at consuming goods and services from the rising Asian powers than selling to them. Governance, particularly fiscal management, also generally has been less impressive than among the Hansa states.

But perhaps the best proof that democracy remains an economic asset can be found not in Europe or North America, but among the developing economies. China may dominate the world’s current trajectory through its huge population and expanding economy but its level of prosperity still lags that of democratic Australia and New Zealand. It also ranks well below demonstrably more democratic countries (albeit imperfectly liberal) like #17 Singapore, #22 Taiwan and #27 South Korea. These are emerging as the Hansa of Asia, selling high-technology products and services to the emerging Asian powers . If China ever could achieve some level of democratic governance say of South Korea, the world would need to really watch out.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Take the ultimate intelligence test (Adrian M Owen, 10/27/10, New Scientist)

Like many researchers before us, we began by looking for the smallest number of tests that could cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that are believed to contribute to intelligence, from memory to planning.

But we went one step further. Thanks to recent work with brain scanners, we could make sure that the tests involved as much of the brain as possible – from the outer layers, responsible for higher thought, to deeper-lying structures such as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. Here's a longer explanation of the theory and evidence that we used when devising the tests.

The result is a set of tests that probe what might be called your 12 pillars of wisdom. In all, they take about half an hour to complete. Now we've teamed up with New Scientist and the Discovery Channel to give you the chance to take the test for yourself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Obama the Thinker?: Meet James Kloppenberg, the left's Dinesh D'Souza (JAMES TARANTO, 10/29/10, WSJ)

If the president does not seem to be the intellectual heavyweight [James Kloppenberg, a Harvard historian,] makes him out to be, the Harvard historian has an explanation: Obama is a sort of secret-agent philosopher. "He would have had to deny every word," Kloppenberg tells the Times, which helpfully explains that "intellectual" is "a word that is frequently considered an epithet among populists with a robust suspicion of Ivy League elites."

When Sarah Palin called Obama a "professor," some professors accused her of racism. What she really meant, they claimed, was "uppity." Kloppenberg's similar characterization, however, draws a quite different response:

Those who heard Mr. Kloppenberg present his argument at a conference on intellectual history at the City University of New York's Graduate Center responded with prolonged applause. "The way he traced Obama's intellectual influences was fascinating for us, given that Obama's academic background seems so similar to ours," said Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University who helped organize the conference.

One assumes that Andrew Hartman is a serious scholar, although one doesn't know for sure because one has never heard of him. Barack Obama, by contrast, is a scholarly dilettante, a professional politician who has moonlighted as a university instructor.

Yet Hartman's remark about Obama's "academic background" is revealing. Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.

Kloppenberg's thesis reminds us of another elaborate attempt at explaining Obama: Dinesh D'Souza's "The Roots of Obama's Rage." D'Souza, like Kloppenberg, imputes to Obama a coherent philosophy, in D'Souza's case "anticolonialism." It is a needlessly elaborate explanation for an unremarkable set of facts.

Occam's razor suggests that Obama is a mere conformist--someone who absorbed every left-wing platitude he encountered in college and never seems to have seriously questioned any of them. Kloppenberg characterizes Obama as a skeptic, not a true believer. We're not sure he has an active enough mind to be either one.

It is this characteristic--his unthinking conformity--that could earn the UR a second term, if he just follows along behind the next Congress as he tragically followed this one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Top candy choices: Best other candies (LA Times)

1. Dubble Bubble

Serving size: 2 pieces [...]

Calories: 40

Saturated fat: 0

...a two piece serving size is laughable. But, secondly, you can buy the bucket at BJ's for about 2 cents a piece.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Faith Without Reason: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis By Robert R. Reilly (Matthew Kenefick, October 2010, American Spectator)

Reilly is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and a well-published writer with substantial government service, including a stint as director of the Voice of America and senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Information in 2003. As a sideline, he is also one of our finest classical music critics. [...]

[H]e marshals convincing historical evidence of the likelihood that the Christian West and the Muslim countries will remain incompatible, because we believe in man's power to reason -- and they don't. And barring some sort of Islamic Reformation (which theologians such as Michael Novak do not rule out as impossible), jihadist Islam and the Christian West will remain in mortal conflict, as we have intermittently in the past. The difference now, however, is that Islamic nationalists may already be capable of using nuclear weapons, or else are on the verge of that capability, whether in war or as instruments of terror. Most worrisome, they have the will and the irrational theology to use them. In short, dialogue is not possible with those who are incapable of religious tolerance.

At the heart of Reilly's book is his argument that the

denigration of dialogue is due to the demotion of reason that took place in the ninth-century struggle between the rationalist theologians, the Mu'tazilites and their anti-rationalist theologians, the Ash'arites. Unfortunately, for those who prefer dialogue, the Ash'arites won.

The Ash'arites' position was that reason is so infected by men's self-interest that it cannot be relied upon to know things objectively. What is more, there is really nothing to be known because all created things have no nature or order intrinsic to themselves, but are only the momentary manifestations of God's direct will. Since God acts without reason, the products of his will are not intelligible to men. Therefore, in this double disparagement, reason cannot know, and there is nothing to be known.

All of this may prompt memories of the Islamic world's outrage when the just-elected Pope Benedict XVI told his audience in Regensburg, Germany, that not only is violence in the service of evangelization unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason or above reason leads to that very violence. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his 2005 Subiaco address said:

From the beginning Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the "Logos," as the religion according to reason. In the first place, it has not identified its precursors in other religions but in the philosophical enlightenment which has cleared the path of tradition to turn to search of the truth and toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods.

Reilly writes, "Ultimately this theological view developed into the realist metaphysics of Aquinas which became the metaphysical foundation of modern science, as Fr. Stanley Jaki, a Hungarian theologian and physicist, explained in his voluminous writings on the origins of modern science. Jaki laid out, as well, the reasons modern science was stillborn in |the Muslim world after what seemed to be its real start." Fr. James Schall of Georgetown University states that "Jaki saw much of the rage in Modern Islam as due to its failure or inability to modernize itself by its own powers."

Reilly asks, "Are [the Islamists of today] something new or a resurgence from the past? How much of this is Islam and how much is Islamism? Is Islamism a deformation of Islam? If so, in what way and from where has it come? And why is Islam susceptible to this kind of deformation?" You will have to read his book to find the answers.

The point is that Islam will be modernized by our powers.

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: A deformed theology has produced a dysfunctional culture. (Michael Cook, MercatorNet)

What Reilly suggests, based on abundant modern scholarship, is that the first fully developed theological school in Islam, the Mu’talizites, would probably have despised bin Laden’s ravings. The tragedy of Islam is that the Mu’talizites, after a brief flowering in the 9th and 10th centuries under the Abbasids in modern Iraq, have become anathematised heretics.

The fundamental questions in any culture are: who is God and who is man? Christianity responds that man has been created in the image and likeness of God. The universe is rational and comprehensible because it reflects the rationality of its creator. The Incarnation – the assumption of a human nature by God – is the capstone of the metaphysics of Christian culture. The God-Man dignifies human nature and confirms that God’s actions are ultimately humanly comprehensible.

The Qur’an’s teachings are not altogether clear. On the one hand, many verses -- such as “When you shot, it was not you who shot but God” -- support determinism. But others do not, like “Each soul earns but its own due.” How did early Muslims cope with this? Is the sacred text God’s inalterable word, or can it be interpreted by his creatures?

Influenced by the rationalism of ancient Greek philosophy, the Mu’tazilites taught that God the Qur’an had been created in time and was therefore subject to human interpretation. God had endowed man with reason so that he can know the moral order. Reasoning is essential for a good Muslim. The great philosophers Averroes and Avicenna, who influenced Christians like Thomas Aquinas, belonged to this school.

Unhappily, by the 12th century, the Mu’talizites were almost exterminated. The victorious Ash’arites taught that the supremacy of the revelation of the Qur’an was absolute. Reason was useless for discerning good and evil and God was incomprehensible, supreme Will.

The Ash’arite conception of God’s transcendence has been unimaginably important in shaping Muslim thought. “God is so powerful,” says Reilly, “that every instant is the equivalent of a miracle.” Science becomes almost impossible because there are no natural laws which govern the universe – only God’s eternally renewed decree. One scholar summarised it as follows: “to search for ends and reasons in His laws is not only meaningless but also grave disobedience to Him.”

The Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy observes, almost in despair: “Many, if not most orthodox ulema [Islamic scholars] contend that prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man, and infringes on the supernatural domain. Consequently, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were quietly suspended by the Pakistani media, although they were later reinstated.” Causality, the foundation on which science rests, is meaningless in such a philosophy.

What about morality? God is beyond good and evil for the Ash’arites. Whatever he commands is good; whatever he forbids is evil. Ed Husain, a British Muslim who was a member of a fundamentalist group for several years, recalls in his 2007 book The Islamist that his leader “always taught that there was no such thing as morality in Islam; it was simply what God taught. If Allah allowed it, it was moral. If he forbade it, it was immoral.”

Consequently there can be no freedom of conscience. How could there if our reasoning power is suspect? “Good and evil are foreordained,” wrote the great philosopher Al-Ghazali. “No one can rebel against God’s judgement. No one can appeal His decree and command.”

As Hoodbhoy says, “the gradual hegemony of fatalistic Ash’arite doctrines mortally weakened… Islamic society and led to a withering away of its scientific spirit. Ash’arite dogma insisted on the denial of any connection between cause and effect – and therefore repudiated rational thought.” It was, in Reilly’s words, intellectual suicide.

Muslim thought and society entered a long, sad decline under influence of Ash’arite dogmas. The Islamic Golden Age, when Muslim science, philosophy, medicine and technology were the best in the world, is long, long past. Today, Spain translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand; scientific inquiry is nearly dead in the Islamic world; the Arab world stands near the bottom of every measure of human development.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Poll: Independents Drive GOP Midterm Advantage (Brian Montopoli, 10/27/10, CBS News)

With the midterm elections less than a week away, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that Republicans continue to hold an advantage over Democrats in the generic House ballot. Forty-six percent of likely voters say they plan to vote Republican, while 40 percent say they will vote Democrat.

The advantage can be attributed in large part to independents, who are breaking hard for the GOP. Forty-seven percent of independent likely voters say they plan to vote Republican, while just 32 percent plan to vote Democrat. Seventeen percent haven't made up their minds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law (Laura Sullivan, 10/28/10, NPR)

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

"The gentleman that's the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger," Nichols said. "He's a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman."

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

"They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community," Nichols said, "the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate."

But Nichols wasn't buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

"They talked like they didn't have any doubt they could fill it," Nichols said.

That's because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona's immigration law.

Sink Pink: A new book takes down Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Katherine Russell Rich, Oct. 29, 2010, Slate)
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a distracting sideshow, a situation that sociologist Gayle A. Sulik explores in compelling depth in her new book, Pink Ribbon Blues. Sulik argues that despite the $1 billion raised over the years by pink-clad volunteers on hikes, despite the greater billions the U.S. plows into related research each year, science has failed to make any real progress in the fight against breast cancer. All the hoopla and boosterism of Breast Cancer Awareness Month leaves the impression that important work is being done, but in fact, in the time since the war on cancer was declared 40 years ago, things have gotten worse. "The stats are dismal," she writes.

Sulik's is strong and disturbing. A woman now has a 1-in-8 chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. In 1975, the figure was 1-in 11. The risk of dying from the disease, upon diagnosis, decreased just .05 percent from 1990 to 2005. A woman with breast cancer today will be bombarded with many more treatments and spend a lot more than her grandmother might have on care, but she'll have about the same chance of dying from the illness as women did 50 years ago.

But the pink ribboned are unfazed by these statistics. Or more likely, unaware of them. "Survivors and supporters walk, run, and purchase for a cure as incidence rates rise, and the cancer industry thrives," Sulik writes. She points out that "cancer drugs are the fastest growing and best selling class of drugs" in the prescription drug market, which totals more than $200 billion and is ever growing. Given the profits, Sulik questions whether any amount of pink-ribbon volunteering can alter the medical establishment's investment the current treatments. Who needs a cure if you can make so much money without one?

If that sounds shady, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month itself has a dubious provenance. It was established by the American Cancer Society with funding from the pharmaceutical giant Zeneca. The company continues to underwrite and direct publicity for this month's breast cancer early detection campaign while also manufacturing the pesticides and insecticides that cause breast cancer.

If God didn't want them sheared....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


The evolution of the English language: Love it or loath it, the English language is evolving (Christopher Howse, 29 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Transfer the argument to Britain, and what do you get? A cast of academics, sociologists and educationists on one side who declare that one child’s pronunciation is as valid as the teacher’s, that spelling doesn’t count, and that English classes are valuably spent in composing rap lyrics. These politically correct forces are equivalent to Indian Nationalists who wouldn’t dream of calling the Indian Mutiny anything but the First War of Independence.

On the other side are teachers, employers and media columnists who agree with the Untouchables (whom we must call Dalits today). They know that a child in Bradford or Southwark will never get a good job unless he spells the words in a letter of application correctly, can string two sentences together in an interview without lapsing into: “It was, like, massive.” (By he, they mean “he or she”, to the rage of those for whom so-called inclusive language is to be as inviolable as the virtue of a Victorian maiden.)

Which side of the argument, then, is supported by these typical hip-hop lyrics from the song Take Me Back by the popular Tinchy Stryder? “Look I know you got played and that, /And it’s only right you ain’t feeling let alone rating that, / But babe it’s a fact you on with the latest map / I had to live by that I spend night in your bredrin’s flat.”

Mr Stryder’s real name is Kwasi Danquah, for he was born in Ghana. His English forms part of that global tongue being celebrated in a big exhibition called Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices at the British Library. A two-and-a-half hour event at the end of November linked to the exhibition is called “Voices of rap and hip hop”. The evening includes “a discussion of how words impact at street level”. It is already sold out.

But of course, Tinchy Stryder’s lyrical language is not Ghanaian English. He was educated at St Bonaventure’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Forest Gate, once in Essex, now in the London Borough of Newham. His lyrics are not in the English of Essex (which centuries ago influenced so strongly the language of the court, and hence that of the upper classes).

No, Tinchy Stryder’s argot is carefully acquired from the mixture of West Indian dialects and the black gangsta slang of the United States.

Enjoy it or loathe it, hip-hop lingo is a cultural construct.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


Obama hope was all hype: The US president has caved into vested interests and preserved extraordinary rendition. Not so different to his predecessor, then ( Tariq Ali, 10/28/10, guardian.co.uk)

[B]oth at home and abroad, the continuities between Obama's administration and that of Bush-Cheney far outweigh any differences.

Whenever vested interests resisted, Obama caved. On the economy, despite the advice of Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz, the president defended the very orthodoxy that led to the Wall Street crash. And this at a time when inequality in the US was much higher than it had been 40 years ago.

The healthcare "reforms" also saw a total capitulation to the corporations: the insurance companies, the pharmaceuticals, the for-profit hospitals and the top of the range specialists will benefit. Even the loyal Los Angeles Times felt compelled to complain: "As a candidate for president, Barack Obama lambasted drug companies and the influence they wielded in Washington. He even ran a television ad targeting the industry's chief lobbyist, former Louisiana congressman, Billy Tauzin … [for] preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices … Tauzin has morphed into the president's partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months."

Vested interests resisted. Obama caved. The healthcare "reform" was actually crafted by Liz Fowler, former executive for a private health insurer and an employee of Senator Max Baucus, who presides over the Senate finance committee and is, according to John R MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's Magazine, "a beneficiary of millions of dollars in contributions from insurance and health care companies".

To dissociate politicians from capitalists is slightly disingenuous, to put it mildly. US lawmakers are competitive and auction themselves to the highest bidder via the lobby system. As a result, the story of the healthcare reforms is replicated in numerous other spheres. The "new" education policies based on privatisation and charter schools that have been a disaster in parts of the country are to be continued as managers replace educationalists. Guantánamo remains open. Obama's legal guru now embedded in the state department, Harold Koh, publicly insists the drone attacks in Pakistan that kill more civilians than "terrorists" are perfectly legal. Elena Kagan, Obama's offering to the supreme court, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo, a Bushman who served as an assistant attorney general, that a "terrorist" captured anywhere was subject to "battlefield law". Like his Republican predecessor, the new attorney general, Eric Holder, happily invoked "state secrets" to stop a trial, while Obama's CIA boss (a former Clinton employee), Leon Panetta, was in feisty mood after he got the job, boasting that he fully intended to preserve "extraordinary rendition", that is, sending prisoners to be tortured in Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan or Pakistan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


Beyond Keynes and Hayek: To speed up the recovery, look beyond the economic theories of Hayek and Keynes. There is a third, and fourth, way (Meghnad Desai and Robert Skidelsky, 10/29/10, guardian.co.uk)

The essential point is that both Hayekians and Keynesians believe that once the economy has collapsed, recovery takes a long time. Hayek believed that recovery from the crisis caused by over-consumption and under-saving has to run its course, and cannot be speeded up by a Keynesian fiscal or monetary stimulus. It requires time before consumers recover from their undersaving and business gains confidence that profitability has been restored. Keynesians believe that, once aggregate demand has subsided, a fiscal and monetary boost is the only way to get the economy growing again.

If we don't want to wait for Hayekian "natural forces", but at the same time recognise that orthodox Keynesian fiscal policy and monetary stimulus (if it works) will only recreate the old unsound structure of production, is there a way of speeding up recovery?

Two unorthodox policy moves to revive the economy are worth considering. First, in order to make consumers spend rather than save we could adopt Silvio Gesell's idea of stamped money. This money loses purchasing power if not spent immediately. The easiest way to put money in consumers' pockets would be to give them a shopping voucher valid for one month after issue.

Second, a recovery loan that will mop up money in banks, firms and households for which there is no present use – and use it for infrastructure projects: the high-speed rail link, road building and repairs, and house construction by local authorities; or projects to do with carbon emissions - insulating houses, and solar panels. A company could be set up to raise money for these projects that would not add to the deficit.

The idea is to do things that would boost spending immediately, with the aim of reviving private investment by changing business expectations.

....but that they should have passed a better one, returning money directly to consumers in the form of expiring debit cards.

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October 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear (Bob Smietana, 10/24/10, THE TENNESSEAN)

Steven Emerson has 3,390,000 reasons to fear Muslims.

That's how many dollars Emerson's for-profit company — Washington-based SAE Productions — collected in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. The payment came from the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a nonprofit charity Emerson also founded, which solicits money by telling donors they're in imminent danger from Muslims.

Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances. [...]

Emerson incorporated his for-profit company, SAE Productions, in Delaware in 1995. He launched the nonprofit Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation in Washington, D.C., in 2006.

But he doesn't make that distinction on his website, www.investigativeproject.
org, which describes the Investigative Project on Terrorism as "a non-profit research group founded by Steven Emerson in 1995." And today, the two groups share the same Washington street address, which is published on Emerson's personal website.

In 2002 and 2003, despite lacking nonprofit status, Emerson received a total of $600,000 in grants from the Smith Richardson Foundation, a conservative public-policy shaper based in Connecticut. The foundation declined to comment on the grants but said it gives money only to tax-exempt charitable groups.

Giving money to a for-profit is extremely rare for foundations, said Peter Bird, president of the Nashville-based Frist Foundation. It can happen only when the foundation keeps meticulous records on how the money was spent by the group that received it.
"It almost never happens," he said. [...]

The Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation's 1023 application for tax-exempt status stated that all of the money raised by the Washington, D.C.-based charity would go to a nonprofit subcontractor with no ties to Emerson or any board members. The application also said the charity would buy no services from board members. Emerson ended up being the only board member.

In a letter dated Dec. 8, 2006, the IRS asked if there would be any ties between the subcontractor and the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation. On Dec. 29, 2006, Emerson wrote back: "There are and will be no financial/business transactions between officers, board members or relatives of the aforementioned and applicant organization."
In 2008, however, the charity paid $3,390,000 to SAE Productions for "management services." Emerson is SAE's sole officer.

Because of its unusual arrangement with Emerson's company, the Investigative Project's tax returns show no details, such as salaries of staff.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Can Israel Be Jewish and Democratic? (DOUGLAS J. FEITH, 10/27/10, WSJ)

[T]he larger question of Israel's identity as a Jewish state does not hinge on the particulars of its Arab citizens' current status. Rather, it is whether democratic principles are necessarily violated when Israel asserts a Jewish identity based on the ethnic and religious heritage of its majority group. That is a matter of interest to everyone who thinks seriously about self-government.

Israel is by no means unique among democracies in considering itself the embodiment of the national existence of a specific people. In fact, most democracies see themselves that way. Most have laws and practices that specially recognize a particular people's history, language, culture, religion and group symbols, even though they also have minorities from other groups.

The United States is unusual in this regard. It is among the most liberal of democracies, in the sense that it is committed to the principle that laws should, in general, ignore group identities (ethnic, religious or regional) and treat citizens equally as individuals. Canada, Australia and New Zealand—likewise lands of new settlement—are among the other countries on this liberal end of the democratic spectrum.

The democracies of Europe and East Asia and those in the former republics of the Soviet Union, meanwhile, tend to cluster on the ethnic side of the spectrum. Numerous laws and institutions in those nations favor a country's principal ethnic group but are nevertheless accepted as compatible with democratic principles.

...lies in exactly that divergence from the Anglosphere in favor of the racialism/nationalism of those states that pursued extermination of the Jewish people on the basis that they are such a race.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


A sideways step from climate panic to Malthus: Recent statements by the Royal Society shows that it has turned from a scientific institution into a nakedly ideological one. (Ben Pile, 10/27/10, spiked)

the introduction to the Society’s latest report reveals: ‘Changes in climate have significant implications for present lives, for future generations and for ecosystems on which humanity depends.’ This claim exists prior to anything which emerges from climate science. It stresses society’s dependence on natural processes at the expense of an understanding of our capacity creatively to respond to our circumstances. And it is from this that many of the subsequent claims made in the climate debate draw their moral authority. For instance, it makes a political priority out of finding some relationship of ‘balance’ between nature and the human world, rather than addressing the problems caused by inequality within it. And it is this scepticism in relation to our capacity to deal with present and future problems which is also the basis of neo-Malthusian ideas about overpopulation and resource-depletion.

It is no coincidence that, as it was preparing to moderate its statements on climate change, the Society has been seeking to intervene in the debate about population. In July this year, it announced that it would be ‘undertaking a major study to investigate how population variables will affect and be affected by economies, environments, societies and cultures’ (see A prejudice in search of a scientific disguise, by Brendan O’Neill).

Climate change has served as the encompassing environmental narrative. It was used to connect the human and natural worlds, and to provide a basis for many political institutions that, without a climate crisis, would simply lack legitimacy. The forcefulness with which claims about climate change were presented and their abstract nature made climate-centric politics ever less plausible. However, if players in the climate debate are beginning to sense the exhaustion of the climate issue, they are able simply to slide into the population debate.

The perspectives of environmentalism do not begin with science, but with the anti-human and unscientific premise of our dependence on the natural world. This outlook goes unchallenged because of a perception that environmentalism is a pragmatic solution to purely scientifically-defined problems, and a belief that it can be answered in purely scientific terms. This encourages a sense of passivity, a sense of ‘leave it to the experts’.

But experts are rarely interested in allowing debate. Rather than passing a sceptical eye over the wildly exaggerated claims about climate change that led to the events of the last year – or even answering its critics – the scientific academy was busy fulfilling a new political function. It provided the basis for new and powerful political institutions in the place of a public contest about the values and ideas that inform them. This gap was hidden behind ‘science’.

It will likely be the same with the debate about population. Instead of finding solutions, today’s scientists seem to thrive and find new purpose in the atmosphere of doom and catastrophe created by the environmentalists’ narrative, and seem keen to emphasise the impossibility of progress beyond natural limits.

...is that the singular shift effected by Darwinism was to treat man (conspicuously small "m") as just another part of Nature no different than all the others, yet the essence of environmentalism is that Man exists entirely outside of and in opposition to nature. It insists on the obvious inanity that climate is static in the absence of human effects and portrays humankind as a malignancy upon an otherwise benign form.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The tea party warns of a New Elite. They're right. (Charles Murray, October 24, 2010, Washington Post)

That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial. What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

Let me propose that those allegations have merit.

One of the easiest ways to make the point is to start with the principal gateway to membership in the New Elite, the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities. In the idealized view of the meritocrats, those schools were once the bastion of the Northeastern Establishment, favoring bluebloods and the wealthy, but now they are peopled by youth from all backgrounds who have gained admittance through talent, pluck and hard work.

That idealized view is only half-right. Over the past several decades, elite schools have indeed sought out academically talented students from all backgrounds. But the skyrocketing test scores of the freshman classes at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other elite schools in the 1950s and 1960s were not accompanied by socioeconomic democratization.

On the surface, it looks as if things have changed. Compared with 50 years ago, the proportion of students coming from old-money families and exclusive prep schools has dropped. The representation of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans has increased. Yet the student bodies of the elite colleges are still drawn overwhelmingly from the upper middle class. According to sociologist Joseph Soares's book "The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges," about four out of five students in the top tier of colleges have parents whose income, education and occupations put them in the top quarter of American families, according to Soares's measure of socioeconomic status. Only about one out of 20 such students come from the bottom half of families.

The discomfiting explanation is that despite need-blind admissions policies, the stellar applicants still hail overwhelmingly from the upper middle class and above. Students who have a parent with a college degree accounted for only 55 percent of SAT-takers this year but got 87 percent of all the verbal and math scores above 700, according to unpublished data provided to me by the College Board. This is not a function of SAT prep courses available to the affluent -- such coaching buys only a few dozen points -- but of the ability of these students to do well in a challenging academic setting.

Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them -- which might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.

When they leave college, the New Elite remain in the bubble. Harvard seniors surveyed in 2007 were headed toward a small number of elite graduate schools (Harvard and Cambridge in the lead) and a small number of elite professional fields (finance and consulting were tied for top choice). Jobs in businesses that provide bread-and-butter goods and services to individual Americans, which make up the overwhelming majority of entry-level openings for aspiring managers, attracted just 1.7 percent of the Harvard students who went to work right after graduation.

...it's hardly surprising that they know so little about their own country, Is America Really A 50-50 Nation? Not Even Close, New Polling Finds (JASON JONES, 10/27/10, IBD)
We are told that in America today, partisanship has never been so bad, that it threatens our nation's unity. At the same time, we've been told we should keep our faith, our values and our morality to ourselves, and that our public spaces, traditions and celebrations must remain devoid of God and Christianity.

Now there's proof that the truth is actually quite different. That proof is in the form of a new book being released on Nov. 2 by Doubleday. In "Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media," the leader of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, shows how recent polling conclusively reveals that the culture wars are being won by those with traditional values.

Those of us who believe in God, have successful marriages, oppose abortions in most instances, want less government than more, think the government and media are part of the problem, and are supportive of religion in the public square are not a minority.

We're not just a majority either. We are part of the quiet consensus at work in this country — if only those in the media and Washington, D.C., were paying attention.

The truth is that Americans are a people guided and sustained by morality and faith, and want those values reflected both in their institutions and political leadership.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Obama Finds Little To Laugh About On 'Daily Show' (The Associated Press, October 27, 2010)

President Obama apparently thinks politics is no laughing matter, even when he's staring down a comedian.

Obama barely cracked any jokes during an appearance Wednesday on the Daily Show despite host Jon Stewart's many attempts to draw the president out with a few of his own snarky wisecracks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The Nobel Case for Immigration (Ryan Young & Alex Nowrasteh, 10.26.10, American Spectator)

Only 1 in 20 people on earth live in America. But Americans won 4 of 11 Nobel prizes this year. Last year, it was 8 of 9. Many of those American laureates are immigrants. Today, about 1 in 8 Americans are foreign-born, but 1 in 4 American Nobel laureates since 1901 are foreign-born. Immigrants, it seems, are chronic overachievers. America would benefit by letting more in.

A third of Silicon Valley's scientists and engineers are immigrants. Forty percent of Ph.D. scientists working in the U.S. are foreign-born. They are sources of innovation, progress, and -- not to be ignored -- jobs. If our immigration laws allowed more high-skilled workers into the country, the result would be faster growth and higher employment.

America has a long waiting list of eager high-skilled immigrants. Some of them may be future Nobel laureates.

But current immigration laws are keeping them out the country. The H-1B visa for skilled immigrants is capped at 85,000. Demand is far higher than that in most years. In non-recession years, those 85,000 spots are typically filled in a single day. [...]

Fortunately for America, some of these high achievers are willing to break the law to be here. According to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics, there are almost 300,000 illegal Indian immigrants in the U.S. Many of them arrived here on H-1B or student visas and have overstayed their legal residency in hopes of getting a green card.

The non-partisan National Foundation for American Policy reports that for every H-1B visa issued, U.S. technology firms increase their employment by five workers. It is a remarkable policy failure that almost 300,000 Indian immigrants live in legal limbo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


To judge Britain's experiment, hold your breath and ignore the slogans: An economic gamble, yes. But our cut-back state will still end up as something between Sweden and America (Timothy Garton Ash, 10/27/10, guardian.co.uk)

No one knows whether Britain's private sector can lift the economy back to vigorous growth, despite this reduction of public sector demand and jobs. That will depend on factors beyond the government's control, and beyond these shores. If it does not succeed, we shall be in an even worse mess, having experienced much pain for little gain. Then plug in your iPod and listen to Joan Baez singing Heaven Help Us All.

If it does work, our public finances will be back under control. A lot of people, particularly among the poorer sections of society, and those directly dependent on the state, will have had a very rough time. With luck, some distortions, abuses and unfairnesses will have been removed. (It's surely not right that people can be worse off if they choose to work than they would be on welfare; or that people on inflated housing benefits make rented accommodation in some areas unaffordable for the working poor.) Following the universal law of unintended consequences, other unfairnesses will probably be created in their place.

The British state will be a little bit smaller, and a slightly different shape, from what it is today. Public spending will be hovering somewhere around 40% of GDP, plus or minus a few percentage points, as it has for most of the last 60 years. Most of that spending will go on health, education, welfare and pensions. The old will be a greater burden. Britain will be another variant in the extended family of advanced capitalist democracies, perhaps doing a little better than, say, Japan or America, perhaps a little worse than Germany or Sweden; or, more likely, doing better in some respects, worse in others.

Discount the hyperbole. This is the underlying reality of our time. The differences between countries in this extended family of the OECD world are much smaller than it is customary to pretend. In his book The Narcissism of Minor Differences, the historian Peter Baldwin shows with overwhelming empirical detail how this is true even of the much trumpeted contrast between Europe and America.

Forget the party rhetoric. The ideological distance between the British political parties is shorter than they will publicly admit; incomparably shorter than it was between the Conservative party of Margaret Thatcher and the Labour party of Michael Foot – who was elected Labour leader 30 years ago next Thursday.

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October 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


The McRib is back, and it’s McWonderful: Lucky for us, the McRib has turned out to be the Cher of sandwiches (ASHLEY RIGAZIO, October 27, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

For the cult of McRib, to which I belong, things are different. For us, McRibs are lusted after and devoured openly, with pride. We embrace our inner fatty-fatty-bo-batty and track the availability of the limited-time-only "barbeque pork" sandwich using an online McRib locator. It is that good.

Feeding the frenzy is the fact that the McRib has never enjoyed full-time status on the McDonald's menu. This makes us want it even more, and executives at the Golden Arches know this, teasing fans with back-to-back "Farewell Tours" in 2005 and 2006.

Luckily, the McRib has turned out to be the Cher of sandwiches. Earlier this month, McDonald's announced that, on November 2, the mythical pork-product sandwich will come out of retirement and return to the Golden Arches for a six-week run at 14,000 slop-food outlets.

Then a delicious rumor hit the Phoenix office — some Massachusetts locations had McRibs early. I dropped everything. Knowing that the McRib is often elusive, I headed to Saugus, where a McDonald's sign had changed its McRib status from COMING to HERE overnight. Oh, McJoy!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Holy card! Nuns auctioning rare Honus Wagner (BEN NUCKOLS, 10/27/10, Associated Press)

Sister Virginia Muller had never heard of shortstop Honus Wagner. But she quickly learned the baseball great is a revered figure among collectors, and the most sought-after baseball card in history. And thanks to an unexpected donation, one of the century-old cards belongs to Muller and her order, the Baltimore-based School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The Roman Catholic nuns are auctioning off the card, which despite its poor condition is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. The proceeds will go to their ministries in 35 countries around the world. [...]

The brother of a nun who died in 1999 left all his possessions to the order when he died earlier this year. The man's lawyer told Muller he had a Honus Wagner card in a safe-deposit box.

When they opened the box, they found the card, with a typewritten note: "Although damaged, the value of this baseball card should increase exponentially throughout the 21st century!"

The card was unknown to the sports-memorabilia marketplace because the nuns' benefactor had owned it since 1936.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Comment: Democrats in deep danger (The Hill Editors, 10/26/10)

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, conducted over the past four weeks in 42 toss-up House districts, paints a clear picture of danger for Democrats.

In those races, all but two of which are currently in Democratic hands, Republican challengers were found to be ahead in 31. The Dems still held the edge in seven, and four were tied.

That 31, added to some 15 Dem seats that are so lost they weren’t even worth polling, would put the GOP pickup at 46 if voter sentiment does not change.

But 46 may lowball the Nov. 2 result by a considerable margin, too, because there are another 40 or 50 seats many experts say are in play. Republicans need to win only a handful of these to put their gains above the 50-seat threshold, and few would argue that 60 is impossible.

A margin of that size would be historic; the 54 seats Republicans won in 1994 to take control of the House for the first time in 40 years is still cited as a blowout, a revolution and other locutions suggesting massive importance.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Not Presidential? Ingraham Blasts Obama for 'Enemies' Comment (October 27, 201, ABC NEWS)

Laura Ingraham said Obama’s comments about "punishing our enemies" was not something the man occupying the Oval Office should say and called it un-presidential on "GMA" this morning.

“He is the president, George. He is the president of all the people,” she told me.

President Obama told Univision recently,“If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,' if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it's going to be harder."

That's some enemies list the UR has.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


W. Virginia Senate race shifts hard to the right (Michael Kranish, October 27, 2010, Boston Globe)

Governor Joe Manchin is running what seems to be a classic Republican campaign for the US Senate in West Virginia.

He blasts “Obamacare,’’ files a lawsuit against environmental laws, and — literally — fires a bullet at a mock-up of climate-change legislation. He boasts of his endorsement by the US Chamber of Commerce, his A rating from the libertarian Cato Institute, and his conservative fiscal credentials.

The catch: Manchin is the Democratic nominee. And even this effort to distance himself from President Obama and his own party hasn’t assured him of victory in the Mountain State.

Republican nominee John Raese, meanwhile, is so determined to be seen as the most conservative candidate that he has said he is running to the political right of the Tea Party movement. The businessman and former state party chairman wants to eliminate the minimum wage, calls global warming a myth, and says the health care bill is the worst piece of legislation ever passed by Congress.

...when you're running to replace a Klansman?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Dems Make Last Ditch Effort For House (Jeremy P. Jacobs, October 26, 2010, Hotline)

The ad buys represent the breadth of the GOP 's momentum. Among those 66 districts, many were once considered safe Democratic seats, including those held by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Only three of the seats in which Democrats are advertising are held by Republicans.

The DCCC's financial priorities are as revealing as where the committee didn't spend. In most cases indicates that Democrats are trailing their Republican challengers by insurmountable deficits. Those Democrats include Reps. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


Democrats Retain Edge in Campaign Spending (MICHAEL LUO and GRIFF PALMER, 10/27/10, NY Times)

Lost in all of the attention paid to the heavy spending by Republican-oriented independent groups in this year’s midterm elections is that Democratic candidates have generally wielded a significant head-to-head financial advantage over their Republican opponents in individual competitive races.

Even with a recent surge in fund-raising for Republican candidates, Democratic candidates have outraised their opponents over all by more than 30 percent in the 109 House races The New York Times has identified as in play. And Democratic candidates have significantly outspent their Republican counterparts over the last few months in those contests, $119 million to $79 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


French strikers begin to retrench after Senate finalized pension bill: France's Senate finalized a bill raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 today as oil workers and students begin to back away from protests over pension reforms. (Robert Marquand, October 26, 2010, CS Monitor)

The French Senate today finalized a vote on pension reform, a college students' strike barely materialized, and workers at five of France’s 12 oil refineries voted to start work again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM

Raul Midon On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, October 26, 2010)

Raul Midon is American singer-songwriter and guitarist originally from New Mexico. Blind since an incubator accident at birth, Midon creates a cascading sound with his guitar technique, mouth trumpet and Stevie Wonder-like voice. He even incorporates bongos during one piece, much to the delight of the audience gathered in Morgantown, W. Va., for this episode of Mountain Stage.

VIDEO: Raul Midon at the Kennedy Center

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Stranger Danger' and the Decline of Halloween (LENORE SKENAZY, 10/27/10, WSJ)

Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it's probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.

Take "stranger danger," the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the "Bewitched" and "Brady Bunch" costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger's Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Has there ever been a little kid who didn't laugh at the mom who wouldn't let him eat the fruit the one health conscious neighbor handed out?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


How Obama Lost His Magic (and How He Can Get It Back) (Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, 10/26/10, AOL News)

The real story of campaign 2010 is how boring Obama has become.

Obama, who had never run anything except a campaign in his entire life, performed an almost unprecedented conjuring act in 2008, getting the electorate to embrace him regardless of the utter absence of managerial skills.

They believed not necessarily in Obama's capacity to fix America's transient problems but in his ability to focus us on more eternal, upbeat themes like hope, faith and the future. Yet, this time his very presence seems irritating. A man whose oratory lifted him to earth's highest office can't seem to deliver a single uplifting speech.

As a connoisseur of great oratory, I used to love hearing Obama's staccato delivery, perfect timing and mesmeric self-confidence -- the mark of any great speaker -- even as I disagreed with him on many of the issues. But Obama's speeches have now become insufferable, devoid of charisma and personal magnetism.

Just as you aren't actually a chicken during the time a hypnotist has you mesmerized, nor was the UR a great orator while you were bamboozled.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM

Baked macaroni and cheese with panko crust (Katie Workman, 10/27/10 The Boston Globe)

Butter (for the dish)
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
3 cups grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne
1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the panko.

3. In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour, and continue whisking for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Simmer for 4 minutes. Stir in the cream, hot sauce, cheddar, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

4. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until it is tender. Remove 1 cup of the pasta water and stir it into the sauce.

5. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and stir well. Transfer to the baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko mixture.

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden and bubbling at the edges. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


India eyes Typhoons in air drill with U.K. (UPI, 10/27/10)

India and the United Kingdom have taken to aerial war-games expected to assess India's first participation of airborne early warning and control system aircraft and interest in Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters. [...]

The joint exercise, due to be concluded Nov. 3, opts to include combined maneuvers intended to help pilots improve their skills.

Emphasis will also be given to "exposing the controllers of AWACS aircraft to large-scale engagements and protection of high-value assets in addition to management of logistical needs," the Sify Web site reported.

It is an opportunity, Indian Air Marshal K.K. Nohwar was reported saying, "for both the air forces to get an insight into each others' operational philosophies and work cultures. This will greatly enhance the understanding of our air force to operate in scenario involving state-of-the-art technologies."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


The politics of Egypt's feeble statistics: In Egypt the state has a virtual monopoly on data, which effectively stops public debate about government decisions (Brian Whitaker, 10/26/10, guardian.co.uk)

The lack of basic information in Egypt is an obvious barrier to economic and social development, as prime minister Ahmed Nazif (one of the more technocratic members of the regime) clearly recognises. Doing something about it, though, is not so easy.

For a start, there are various practical difficulties in countries such as Egypt. Having a vast, inefficient and largely paper-based bureaucracy doesn't help. Nor does the rampant corruption, where officials may have their own reasons for not keeping accurate records.

But there's more to the problem than that. One important factor is a general aversion to transparency, especially among authoritarian regimes such as the one running Egypt. Transparency leads to public debate and gives people the informational tools to question government decisions – an unwelcome state of affairs for those in power.

At the same time, a regime that can't be held accountable for its decisions doesn't necessarily see a need for accurate information on which to base its decisions: witness the Egyptian regime's irrational and unnecessary slaughter of all the country's pigs at the height of the swine flu panic, in spite of all the evidence that pigs were not to blame.

There are also some issues the Egyptian government (and others like it) would rather not talk about – and having no statistics is as good an excuse as any for shuffling them under the carpet. Sectarian tensions are one example that is considered too sensitive for thorough analysis. Egypt has no official statistics for the number of Christians among its citizens, though the total plainly runs into the millions. There is also a lack of government data on sectarian hotspots (though one Egyptian website has recently taken on the task itself).

Similarly, there has been no official census in Lebanon since 1932 – for fear of what it might reveal about changes in the sectarian balance.

...but recall Saddam's Iraq--or current Lebanon--where regimes could not afford to reveal that Shi'a are a majority.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


Private Social Security Accounts: Still a Good Idea: A couple who worked from 1965 to 2009 would have beat the government payout by 75%. (WILLIAM G. SHIPMAN AND PETER FERRARA , 10/26/10, WSJ)

Suppose a senior citizen—let's call him "Joe the Plumber"—who retired at the end of 2009, at age 66, had been able to set up a personal account when he entered the work force in 1965, at the age of 21. Suppose that, paying into his personal account what he and his employer would have paid into Social Security, Joe was foolish enough to invest his entire portfolio in the stock market for all 45 years of his working career. How would he have fared in the recent financial crisis?

While working, Joe had earned the average income for full-time male workers. His wife Mary, also age 66, had earned the average income for full-time female workers. They invested together in an indexed portfolio of 90% large-cap stocks and 10% small-cap stocks, which earned the returns reported each year since 1965.

By the time of their retirement in 2009, Joe and Mary would have accumulated account funds, after administrative costs, of $855,175. Indeed, they would have been millionaires a few years earlier, but the financial crisis lost them 37% in 2008. They were unfortunate to retire just one year after the worst 10-year stock market performance since 1926. Yet their account, having earned a 6.75% return annually from 1965 to 2009, would still pay them about 75% more than Social Security would have.

What's more, this model assumes that in retirement Joe and Mary switch to a lower-risk, conservative portfolio that averages a return of just 3%. Of course for young workers today, Social Security promises even lower returns of only 1.5% or less, given the actuarial value of all promised benefits. For many, the promised returns are zero or negative. And if Congress raises taxes or cuts benefits in order to close financial gaps—as everyone who rejects personal accounts effectively advocates—the eventual returns for young workers will be even lower.

It is a mathematical fact that the least expensive way to provide for an almost certain future liability is to save and invest in capital markets prior to the onset of the liability. That's why state and local pension funds, corporate pension plans, federal employee retirement plans and Chile's successful Social Security personal accounts (since copied by other countries) do so. It is sound practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Univision set to become top U.S. broadcast network (Steve Mcclellan, Oct 26, 2010, Adweek)

The new census is expected to show a nearly 45% increase in the number of Hispanic Americans since 2000, to a total of 50 million. This couples with continuing audience erosion at the major networks and Univision's recent deal with Mexican programer Grupo Televisa, which locks up the source of much the network's popular programing for at least another decade.

Just a few years ago, the notion of Univision catching and surpassing them would have had mainstream network executives rolling with laughter. They're not laughing now.

And they're not talking publicly about it either: When asked to comment, the Big Four nets refused. But a couple of executives talked on background and indicated that they take the threat from Univision seriously.

"They're already No. 5," as one put it, having eclipsed the CW.

One top network researcher's calculations concluded that Univision could surpass the Anglo networks in seven years, even without the boost provided by growth in the Hispanic population.

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October 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Washington City Paper Staff Memo on Stewart/Colbert Rallies (Michael Schaffer, Oct. 26, 2010, Washington City Paper)




Colleagues— [....]
At a time of grave concerns about our economy and our national security—not to mention a period of tumult in our industry—it is obviously crucial that all media organizations develop appropriate guidelines for staff attendance at mock-political public appearances by cable-television celebrities. After significant consultation with Washington City Paper’s expensive outside team of professional ethicists, we’ve settled on the following guidelines. Please read and follow them closely:

1. You may attend the rallies in a non-participatory fashion.
2. However, because the rallies are comic events, you may not laugh.
3. The act of not laughing, though, can be just as politically loaded as the act of laughing. Therefore, staffers are advised to politely chuckle, in a non-genuine manner, after each joke.
4. To avoid any perception of bias, please make sure to chuckle at all jokes, whether or not you find them funny. As journalists, we must make sure to not allow our personal views of “humorous” or “non-humorous” to affect our public demeanor.
5. Likewise, it could be devastating to our impartial reputation if our staffers were seen laughing at something that was not intended as a joke, thereby appearing to mock the entire event. If we are lucky, the comedians will have a drummer on hand whose rim-shots may be used as a cue for when to politely chuckle.

...they won't be laughing, they'll be crying for their lost country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


UN backs Palestinians plans for statehood by August (TOVAH LAZAROFF, 10/26/2010, Jerusalem Post)

The United Nations Security Council could support the Palestinians' unilateral bid for statehood if Israel does not renew its freeze on new settlement construction, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry warned Israel on Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Sheikhs on a Plane: Don't fire people for confessing fear of Muslims. (William Saletan, Oct. 25, 2010, Slate)

O'Reilly, Williams, and another guest went on to have an extended conversation about Islamic terrorism and Islamophobia. Williams argued that the problem is extremism rather than Islam, that we aren't at war with a religion, that it would be wrong to generalize about Christians from Christian terrorism, and that anti-Muslim rhetoric might encourage anti-Muslim violence. O'Reilly replied that "we are smart enough to understand who the good Muslims are and who the bad Muslims are." But he chafed at the suggestion that he shouldn't associate Islam with terrorism: "I'm not going to say, 'Oh, it's only a few, it's only a tiny bit.' It's not, Juan. It's whole nations: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, whole nations."

The O'Reilly-Williams conversation wasn't just a TV shouting match. It's the conversation many Americans have been having with each other and in their own heads since 9/11. Islamic terrorism is real. Jihad is a global threat. The people who killed us on 9/11 were Muslims. Yet we know there are many good Muslims, and we don't want a war with them, nor do we want violence against minorities in our country. We're a nation of immigrants. Our Constitution respects religious freedom. We want to be fair. But some of us are angry. And sometimes, we're afraid.

Today, many liberals are celebrating NPR's decision to fire Williams over his comments on O'Reilly's show. They equate his confession of fear with bigotry. They're making a terrible mistake. Bigotry is when you treat others as members of a group rather than as individuals. It's when you let your fear run your life. Acknowledging your fear, while at the same time recognizing its irrationality and danger, isn't how you succumb to bigotry. It's how you transcend it.

Americans' discomfort with Islam will take decades to dissolve. The task before us today is more urgent: to separate discomfort from discrimination. Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and many other politicians think the former justifies the latter. In the words of Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, the "anguish" of the 9/11 families "entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted." From this, the ADL concludes that "building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right."

But pain doesn't settle what's right.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


How Obama Lost the Narrative (David Corn, November/December, Mother Jones)

That brings us to perhaps the sharpest weapon in the presidential arsenal: telling the nation's story—framing the big political and policy debates. Democratic consultant Paul Begala points out that in 1982, when the country was in a recession and President Reagan was facing his first midterm election, Reagan "didn't blame President Carter or the Democrats. He indicted liberalism: too much government, too much taxation. To fix this mess, he said, we have to stay the course. That was his narrative. It was ideological; it was philosophical. It had sides. He had a story."

Had he just adopted the Gipper's narrative and ideology for his own Administration he'd be in far better shape today, as would the economy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Would He Rather Fight Than Switch?: If President Obama faces a Republican House, he will have two models to choose between: Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. (Jay Cost, November 1, 2010, Weekly Standard)

[1946] and 1994 were very different midterm elections. In 1946, a still essentially liberal country voiced its frustration and exasperation with the painful readjustment to peacetime. Once balance was restored to the economy, the country was prepared to move back to the left. In 1994, the country was no longer liberal at its core, and the 1994 midterms were an ideological correction of the leftward bent of the early Clinton administration. Thus, the strategies of Truman and Clinton made sense in their respective political contexts. Each president made an accurate judgment of what his midterm rebuke meant in the broader scheme, and thus was able to respond in an effective way.

It follows that the success or failure of President Obama’s response to a new Republican Congress will depend very much on whether he accurately reads the public’s mind. If he thinks the country is center-right, he will accommodate, as Clinton did. If he thinks it is center-left, he will “give ’em hell,” as Truman did.

So far, the president has telegraphed that he intends to fight. He has warned that a Republican victory would mean “hand-to-hand combat.” A comment the president made in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine suggests he expects Republicans to move his way, not vice versa:

It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible .  .  . either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.

What is animating this sentiment? Part of the answer appears to be Obama’s belief that, deep down, the country is with him. He seems to think that Republicans—much like their forebears in 1946—have made political hay out of economic uncertainty, but that when it comes time to govern they will have to come to the table, his table, or suffer a rebuke in 2012.

Ever since the conservative wing of the Republican party triumphed in 1980, liberal analysts have been warning the GOP that it must moderate if it is to survive. The most recent iteration of this argument is the “emerging Democratic majority” theory, long promulgated by John Judis of the New Republic and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, which has ties to the Obama administration. In essence, their theory holds that demographic, social, and economic changes will move the country back to the center-left. They saw the 2008 presidential election as the first of many victories for this new majority.

The president’s apparent plan to fight the GOP makes sense in light of this theory. If he thinks his election really was a leftward realignment, it follows that he will hold the new line against the conservatives, who in this view cannot sustain their coalition into 2012.

If this is what President Obama is thinking, I believe he has bet wrong. There are two glaring problems with the notion that 2008 was a realigning election that brought forth a new Democratic majority, which has only to be revived in 2012. First, while the exit polls confirm that President Obama brought new voters into his coalition, they also show that his decisive advantage was the 17 percent of Bush 2004 voters who bolted the GOP coalition in 2008. If John McCain had managed to keep these Bush voters in his camp, he would have won the White House. What’s more, for all the new voters President Obama brought into the Democratic coalition, he lost almost as many Hillary Clinton primary voters, 15 percent of whom backed John McCain. Indeed, the exit polls indicate that, had Hillary Clinton been the nominee, she would have won by 11 points, while Obama won by 7 points.

...just look at the rest of the Anglosphere. The English Speaking world is pretty conservative these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues: Why can't we have a civil conversation about climate? (Michael D. Lemonick, October 25, 2010, Scientific American)

For most of her career, Curry, who heads the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been known for her work on hurricanes, Arctic ice dynamics and other climate-related topics. But over the past year or so she has become better known for something that annoys, even infuriates, many of her scientific colleagues. Curry has been engaging actively with the climate change skeptic community, largely by participating on outsider blogs such as Climate Audit, the Air Vent and the Black­board. Along the way, she has come to question how climatologists react to those who question the science, no matter how well established it is. Although many of the skeptics recycle critiques that have long since been disproved, others, she believes, bring up valid points—and by lumping the good with the bad, climate researchers not only miss out on a chance to improve their science, they come across to the public as haughty. “Yes, there’s a lot of crankology out there,” Curry says. “But not all of it is. If only 1 percent of it or 10 percent of what the skeptics say is right, that is time well spent because we have just been too encumbered by groupthink.”

She reserves her harshest criticism for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For most climate scientists the major reports issued by the United Nations–sponsored body every five years or so constitute the consensus on climate science. Few scientists would claim the IPCC is perfect, but Curry thinks it needs thoroughgoing reform. She accuses it of “corruption.” “I’m not going to just spout off and endorse the IPCC,” she says, “because I think I don’t have confidence in the process.”

Whispered discreetly at conferences or in meeting rooms, these claims might be accepted as part of the frequently contentious process of a still evolving area of science. Stated publicly on some of the same Web sites that broke the so-called Climategate e-mails last fall, they are considered by many to be a betrayal, earning Curry epithets from her colleagues ranging from “naive” to “bizarre” to “nasty” to worse. [...]

Curry’s saga began with a Science paper she co-authored in 2005, which linked an increase in powerful tropical cyclones to global warming. It earned her scathing attacks on skeptical climate blogs. They claimed there were serious problems with the hurricane statistics the paper relied on, particularly from before the 1970s, and that she and her co-authors had failed to take natural variability sufficiently into account. “We were generally aware of these problems when we wrote the paper,” Curry says, “but the critics argued that these issues were much more significant than we had acknowledged.”

She did not necessarily agree with the criticisms, but rather than dismissing them, as many scientists might have done, she began to engage with the critics. “The lead author on the paper, Peter J. Webster, supports me in speaking with skeptics,” Curry says, “and we now have very cordial interactions with Chris Landsea (whom we were at loggerheads with in 2005/2006), and we have had discussions with Pat Michaels on this subject.” In the course of engaging with the skeptics, Curry ventured onto a blog run by Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado who is often critical of the climate science establishment, and onto Climate Audit, run by statistician Steve McIntyre. The latter, Curry adds, “became my blog of choice, because I found the discussions very interesting and I thought, ‘Well, these are the people I want to reach rather than preaching to the converted over at [the mainstream climate science blog] RealClimate.’”

It was here that Curry began to develop respect for climate outsiders—or at least, some of them. And it made her reconsider her uncritical defense of the IPCC over the years. Curry says, “I realize I engaged in groupthink myself”—not on the hurricane paper per se but more broadly in her unquestioning acceptance of the idea that IPCC reports represent the best available thinking about climate change. [...]

[O]nce Curry ventured out onto the skeptic blogs, the questions she saw coming from the most technically savvy of the outsiders—including statisticians, mechanical engineers and computer modelers from industry—helped to solidify her own uneasiness. “Not to say that the IPCC science was wrong, but I no longer felt obligated in substituting the IPCC for my own personal judgment,” she said in a recent interview posted on the Collide-a-Scape climate blog.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Job-based health plans' future still uncertain (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, October 25, 2010, Washington Post)

The new health-care law wasn't supposed to undercut employer plans that have provided most people in the United States with coverage for generations.

But last week, a manufacturer told its workers that their costs will jump partly because of the law. Also, a governor laid out a plan for employers to get out of health care by shifting workers into taxpayer-subsidized insurance markets that open in 2014.

While it's too early to proclaim the demise of job-based coverage, corporate number crunchers are looking at options that could lead to major changes.

"The economics of dropping existing coverage is about to become attractive to many employers, both public and private," said Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.).

As if it weren't bad enough that the law as written just transfers money from the healthy young to the insurance industry, it also gives employers an excuse to get rid of a benefit. The eventual conservative bill will be far more consumer-oriented and restrictive of business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Hacker’s challenge (James Garvey, The Philosophers' Magazine)

So long as people read Wittgenstein, people will read Peter Hacker. It’s hard to imagine how his work on the monumental Analytical Commentary on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations could possibly be superseded. He spent nearly twenty years on that project (ten of them in cooperation with his friend and colleague Gordon Baker), following in Wittgenstein’s footsteps, and producing a large number of important articles and books on topics in the philosophy of mind and language along the way. Nearer the end than the beginning of a distinguished career as an Oxford don, at a time of life when most academics would be happy to leave the lectern behind and collapse somewhere with a nice glass of wine, Hacker is in the middle of another huge project, this time on human nature. He also seems keen to pick a fight with almost anyone doing the philosophy of mind.

This has a much to do with his view of philosophy as a contribution to human understanding, not knowledge. One might think that philosophy has the same general aim as science – securing knowledge of ourselves and the world we live in – even if its subject matter is more abstract and its methods more armchair. What is philosophy if not an attempt to secure new knowledge about the mind or events or beauty or right conduct or what have you? According to Hacker, philosophy is not a cognitive discipline. It’s something else entirely.

“Philosophy does not contribute to our knowledge of the world we live in after the manner of any of the natural sciences. You can ask any scientist to show you the achievements of science over the past millennium, and they have much to show: libraries full of well-established facts and well-confirmed theories. If you ask a philosopher to produce a handbook of well-established and unchallengeable philosophical truths, there’s nothing to show. I think that is because philosophy is not a quest for knowledge about the world, but rather a quest for understanding the conceptual scheme in terms of which we conceive of the knowledge we achieve about the world. One of the rewards of doing philosophy is a clearer understanding of the way we think about ourselves and about the world we live in, not fresh facts about reality.”

That's all natural science does as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


White House Goes Into Bunker Mode :As the GOP prepares for a rout in November (The Daily Beast’s Election Oracle forecasts a 50/50 split in the Senate and a substantial Republican lead in the House), the Obama team seems powerless to stop it. Howard Kurtz on its fascinating belief that the bully pulpit has been downsized, forcing the leader of the free world to shout for attention. (Howard Kurtz, 10/25/10, Daily Beast)

Obama certainly bears responsibility for a wide range of missteps and a perverse talent for turning winning (on the Hill) into losing (in the court of public opinion). But what’s fascinating is the belief that the bully pulpit has been permanently downsized, forcing the leader of the free world to shout for attention in a cacophonous world.

It sounds absurd: Obama can instantly command attention any time he wants. He can pop onto the Today show, plop himself on Jay Leno’s couch, get himself on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, chat up the kids on MTV, diagram basketball brackets on ESPN. This week he’ll drop by The Daily Show and match wits with Jon Stewart. Everything he says is news.

But he has to compete with the din created by Gawker, Glenn Beck, baseball, Hardball, Oprah, Olbermann, O’Reilly, SNL, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Huh? Why did they decide to make those trifles his peers? Had the Administration not trotted him out at the drop of a hat then the bully pulpit would still have its value, as it did when W announced his stem cell decision and in his series of post-911 speeches.

It's an open question whether Mr. Obama ever had it in him to be a significant personage, but in treating his office like a Twitterfeed he certainly helped make himself even more insignificant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Is the judicious use of force really torture?: Wikileaks fails to note that 'cruel' treatment can often be key to saving lives (Praveen Swami, 25 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The effect of the Wikileaks disclosures has been to feed a narrative where western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as embodiments of evil and moral hypocrisy. It is worth asking, though, if the moral certitudes that underpin the outrage over the Wikileaks documents in fact help us understand what the problem actually is – and therefore enable us to do something about it.

Much of the torture the leaks detail does not appear to have been driven by sadism. It was carried out in the hope of ending the depredations of terrorists who have killed tens of thousands. The commanders who condoned it didn't have either the time or resources for the kinds of criminal justice procedures that would meet human rights standards in London, and were operating in environments that were considerably more hazardous. [...]

No one ought to condone barbarism against individuals or the indiscriminate use of force against civilians. Few military commanders would do so, for the good reason that it alienates the very population whose support is essential to defeating insurgencies. But we do need an honest discussion of why soldiers sometimes torture – and what kinds of legal frameworks are needed to proscribe barbarism but allow the reasonable use of force in extraordinary circumstances.

...is whether it is effective. Oddly enough, by their extravagant complaints about how uniquely awful it is, opponents of torture make it seem that torture must work. After all, if torture isn't even coercive enough that it can force terrorists to reveal the intelligence we seek then how bad can it really be?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Stile Antico: Tiny Desk Concert (Ashalen Sims, 10/25/10, NPR: Tiny Desk Concerts)

[I]t's no wonder they've been called "the jewel of English a cappella singing." You would think the strength of a dozen singers would blow away everyone in our small office space, but Stile Antico's music had the opposite effect. The pure, ethereal sound drew our audience in completely.

For hard-core fans, their selection of pieces was a delectable treat. They sang a sample from their new album Puer Natus Est. Then they took choral acrobatics to the next level with their last tune, ''Tota pulchra es'' by Praetorius, which weaves together 12 independent voices. It's not flashy, but it takes a seriously talented group to pull it off, and the deadly accuracy of the singers' interlocking lines gave me chills.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


October 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


House committees battle in final campaign ads spending blitz (Shane D'Aprile, 10/25/10, The Hill)

As the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pours another $10 million into independent expenditure (IE) ads targeting vulnerable House Democrats, the committee is upping its presence in a handful of districts where its Democratic counterpart has yet to spend or has spent only marginally to defend its incumbents.

One spot where the NRCC has spent big while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has remained on the sidelines to this point: New Hampshire's 1st congressional district, where Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) was the target of another major IE buy from the NRCC over the weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Obama’s Playbook After Nov. 2 (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 10/25/10, NY Times)

It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat. Their Aug. 4 session in the Oval Office — 30 minutes of private time, interrupted only when the president’s daughter Malia called from summer camp to wish her father a happy 49th birthday — was remarkable, not for what was said, but for what it took to make it happen.

Not long before the meeting, Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader, lamented to his onetime Democratic counterpart, Tom Daschle, that Mr. Obama would never get an important nuclear arms treaty with Russia ratified until he consulted top Republicans. Mr. Lott, who recounted the exchange in an interview, was counting on Mr. Daschle, a close Obama ally, to convey the message; lo and behold, Mr. McConnell soon had an audience with the president.

The White House says the meeting was about stalled judicial nominations, not arms control. But the fact that a former Senate leader found it necessary to work back channels to put Mr. Obama and Mr. McConnell in touch suggests the difficult road the president will face if Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress on Election Day.

...and managed to pass major bipartisan legislation: NCLB, CFR, the prescription drug benefit, etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


...the degree to which their loathing of Sarah Palin is tied up with their sexualization of her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


An Interview With Garry Trudeau: The Doonesbury creator on his stamina, the difficulty of satirizing Obama, and the most bizarre attack on his strip ever. (David Plotz, Oct. 25, 2010, Slate)

Slate: Who's the hardest politician to satirize, and why?

Trudeau: Believe it or not, Obama's very tough for business. The contradictory characterizations of him as fascist or socialist only serve to confirm the truth—he's a raging moderate. And satirists don't do well with moderates, especially thoughtful ones. In addition, Obama rarely makes gaffes and has no salient physical or temperamental features. And sinking popularity isn't a critique. Even SNL's main rap on him is his unflappability, hardly a vice in a world leader.

That's self-parody lifted to the level of sublimity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


The Roots of Lunacy: How not to understand Obama: a review of The Roots of Obama’s Rage by Dinesh D’Souza (Andrew Ferguson, 10/25/10, Weekly Standard)

I remember a press conference in 1993 got up by Empower America, a now-forgotten Republican think tank. The purpose was to mark the end of the first year of the Clinton administration. A murderers row of famous-for-Washington conservatives took turns denouncing the Democrats who had seized the White House after a dozen years of Republican benevolence. The upshot of the press conference was tersely summarized by Jack Kemp, a man not known for terseness: President Clinton, Kemp said, had brought to Washington something it had never seen before, the “first frankly left-wing administration in history.”

In retrospect, of course, the charge looks nuts. We know now that within another 18 months, playing defense against a newly elected Republican Congress, Clinton was triangulating his way to the most conservative Democratic administration since the great Cleveland was trundled back to New Jersey. Yet even then, in 1993, a few wise and dispassionate observers saw that Kemp’s alarm was wildly overdone. In that first year, Clinton had embraced economic policies that made him, as he privately lamented, an “Eisenhower Republican.” Inevitably he made a few wacky appointments (Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders) but overbalanced each with much saner and more significant choices (Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen). He modified but didn’t eliminate the ban on gays in the military. After a brief hesitation, he worked hard for the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

His most “frankly left-wing” idea, a nationalized health care system, was no more outlandish than the plan Harry Truman had pushed in the late 1940s. And by 1993 Truman was being lionized by Republicans as a tough-minded man of the people, far preferable, professional conservatives said, to the Clinton radicals who had lately made his once-noble party a crash pad for ex-hippies.

Now it’s 2010, and among his former enemies, Clinton is enjoying a Truman-like renaissance. Even such sweaty anti-Clinton paranoiacs as the investigative journalist Christopher Ruddy and the newspaper proprietor Richard Mellon Scaife have decided he wasn’t so bad after all. It’s almost enough to make you forget the insanity that gripped Clinton’s political opponents. Kemp didn’t know the half of it! Throughout the nineties I heard mainstream Republicans describe the president as a shameless womanizer and a closeted homosexual, a cokehead and a drunk, a wife beater and a wimp, a hick and a Machiavel, a committed pacifist and a reckless militarist who launched unnecessary airstrikes in faraway lands to distract the public’s attention from all of the above.

At gatherings of conservative activists the president was referred to, seriously, as a “Manchurian candidate.” Capitol Hill staffers speculated darkly about the “missing five days” on a trip Clinton had taken to Moscow as a graduate student. Respectable conservatives in the media—William Safire, Robert Novak, Rush Limbaugh—encouraged the suspicion that Clinton’s White House attorney, a manic depressive named Vincent Foster, did not commit suicide, as all available evidence suggested, but had been murdered by parties unknown, to hush up an unspeakable secret from the president’s past.

So what happened? How did the left-wing, coke-snorting Manchurian candidate become the fondly remembered Democrat-you-could-do-business-with—“good old Bill,” in Sean Hannity’s phrase?

Barack Obama is what happened. The partisan mind—left-wing or right-wing, Republican or Democrat—is incapable of maintaining more than one oversized object of irrational contempt at a time. When Obama took his place in the Republican imagination, his titanic awfulness crowded out the horrors of Bad Old Bill; Clinton’s five days in Moscow were replaced by Obama’s three years in that mysterious Indonesian “madrassa.”

We should probably be grateful for this psychological limitation. Without it the negativity of our politics would be relentless. [...]

“Wonder why Obama went to Harvard?” D’Souza slyly asks. “Here is a clue: It is the leading academic institution in America. And here’s another: His father went there.” Forget that neither of these facts is a clue, technically. Surely the first assertion is enough to adequately answer the question without recourse to the second, which is simply gratuitous as well as conjectural. But D’Souza always sees absence of evidence as evidence of something or other.

Let’s linger at Harvard a moment longer. “At Harvard,” D’Souza writes, “his real mentor was Roberto Mangabeira Unger.” Unger is a brilliant crackpot who championed critical legal studies, a left-wing academic fad of the 1980s. I’ve never heard before that Unger served as the president’s mentor. How does D’Souza know it? “Obama took two of Unger’s courses,” he writes. Well, then. “Obama’s attraction to Unger’s work is obvious.” Obvious, but undemonstrated. “So what does Obama say about Unger in his speeches and writings? Nothing.” Aha! “Unger has simply disappeared from Obama’s official record, and not because his influence was minor; in fact, quite the opposite.” QED.

In this respect it’s worth mentioning the just-released Radical-in-Chief, a long, elaborately annotated study in which the writer Stanley Kurtz aims to prove that Obama is a socialist—a term that D’Souza, in his much less careful book, explicitly rejects in favor of “anticolonialist.” Yet Kurtz, in 485 pages tracing Obama’s intellectual geneology, never once mentions Unger. These guys have got to get on the same page.

There have been two great anticolonialists in American history: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Guardian/ICM poll: Cuts seen as unfair but Tories three points ahead: Labour slip behind the Conservatives in Guardian poll for first time since July, but opposition to cuts is deepening (Julian Glover, 10/25/10, guardian.co.uk)

A majority of voters are convinced that the consequences of spending cuts will be unfair, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

But the poll suggests there is no full-scale revolt against the coalition measures after last week's comprehensive spending review, with Labour slipping behind the Conservatives for the first time in the Guardian polling series since July.

The Conservatives have turned a two-point deficit in the Guardian's last ICM poll into a three-point lead, 39% to 36%. The government also retains a strong lead on economic competence.

Political correctness requires us to pretend we care that cuts impact the poor. But we aren't poor, so we support cuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


GOP poised to win redistricting supremacy, too (JENNIFER C. KERR, 10/25/2010, AP)

While most of the attention in next week’s midterm elections is focused on races for Congress and governor, results in scores of local, down-ticket races carry far-reaching implications, likely to dilute Democrats’ dominance in the once-every-10-years redrawing of political district boundaries for the U.S. House.

In most states, redistricting falls to the Legislature, which will draw new boundaries based on the 2010 census. The party in control has a huge advantage and can draw district lines that could determine whether Republicans or Democrats dominate a state’s congressional delegation for an entire decade, and possibly even control of the U.S. House itself.

“There’s a big historic trend that points to this being a Republican election,” said Tim Storey, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s tough for the party in the White House to win in midterm elections at the state legislative level, and Democrats are really at a peak of seats right now.”

If Republicans pull off a landslide next week, Storey sees the GOP taking majorities away from Democrats in as many as 18 legislative chambers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


Rangers’ Molina gets a ring no matter what (Steve Henson, 10/24/10, Yahoo)

Molina also was the Giants’ catcher from 2007 until July 1 of this year, when he was traded to Texas for reliever Chris Ray(notes) and minor leaguer Michael Main. Ray, a reliever who pitched credibly for both teams, also could end up with a ring regardless who wins, although the Giants haven’t put him on their playoff rosters.

Molina played 61 games for San Francisco and 57 games for Texas during the regular season. He has sparkled during the postseason, batting .333 with two homers and seven RBIs in nine games.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Rhode Island Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Frank Caprio Says Obama Can ‘Shove It’ (Kenneth R. Bazinet, 10/25/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

President Obama may have to eat some humble pie and do some fence-mending Monday with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Rhode Island he previously shunned.

Obama refused to endorse the Dem as a favor to the independent candidate in the race.

The Democrat, Frank Caprio, says Obama can "shove it."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Scalia takes Kagan to gun range, sources say (Alexis Levinson, 10/25/10, The Daily Caller)

According to two witnesses, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia took fellow Justice Elena Kagan out for a lesson in skeet shooting at his shooting club in Virginia last week.

The witnesses saw Scalia at the Fairfax Rod and Gun Club, where he is a member, around noon on Wednesday of last week. He was with a woman who was noticeably diminutive in height, like Kagan, who stands at about five feet three inches. The witnesses, who got a very close look at the pair, say that the woman was the newest Supreme Court Justice.

Scalia was bending down in order to teach Kagan how to hold the shotgun, the witnesses say, and the pair were shooting skeet.

Appointing two justices who have no friends or family was very risky if the Administration wanted them to stay liberal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Obama likely to focus on deficit in next 2 years (BEN FELLER, 10/25/10, AP)

Preparing for political life after a bruising election, President Barack Obama will put greater emphasis on fiscal discipline, a nod to a nation sick of spending and to a Congress poised to become more Republican, conservative and determined to stop him.

If he gets out front with some serious cuts--including ones the GOP wants--he can make the inevitable look bipartisan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Barack Obama's Indian delegation 'books 800 rooms in Mumbai' (Philip Sherwell, 24 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Barack Obama and his travelling delegation have book at least 800 rooms for the president's trip to Mumbai, according to reports, including the entire Taj Mahal hotel. [...]

"Obama's contingent is huge," a senior Indian security official told the newspaper. "There are two jumbo jets coming along with Air Force One, which will be flanked by security jets. The President's convoy has 45 cars."

The Economic Times also reported that Mr Obama's delegation is so large that another 300 rooms have reportedly been booked in other luxury Mumbai hotels.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Album review: Buddy Guy, 'Living Proof' (Greg Kot, 10/24/10, Chicago Tribune)

Buddy Guy, no stranger to songs dealing with chilling realities, addresses his 74 years with a mixture of drama and bravado on “Living Proof” (Silvertone) aided by producer, drummer and co-songwriter Tom Hambridge. Loosely tracing Guy’s life story from his boyhood on a Louisiana sharecropping farm to his current status as a septuagenarian blues icon, the album is free of the guest stars that have occasionally diluted the artist’s past efforts. The exceptions are cameos by Carlos Santana and B.B. King, with whom Guy sings an affectionate, low-key duet.

The production is a bit slick, the Chicago-style blues vamps fairly predictable. But Guy is still a menacing guitarist. On “74 Years Young,” he starts out acoustic, almost muted, as the singer measures how much time he’s got left. Then, about 90 seconds in, he cuts loose on electric guitar, not so much a solo as a bazooka blast of clustered notes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Darwin, Scientism, and the Misguided Quest for Darwinian Conservatism (John G. West , Fall 2010, Intercollegiate Review)

It should be made clear from the outset that the term “Darwinism” does not refer merely to “change over time” or even to the idea that all living things share a common ancestor. Instead, in its modern formulation, Darwinism refers primarily to the claim that the mechanism of evolution is an undirected material process of natural selection acting on random mutations, and furthermore to the reductionist corollary of this view that seeks to understand mind, morality, and religion as fully explicable by such a blind material process.

Charles Darwin thought he had explained the origin of the appearance of design throughout nature through a process that did not have the design of particular organisms or biological structures in mind. The only “purpose” of natural selection is immediate survival. Natural selection is blind to the future, and thus in no sense are particular organisms or biological features—say the wings of a butterfly—to be considered the “purposeful” result of evolution. This truth applies even to the development of human beings. In the famous words of Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”3

It is important to understand that the rejection of teleological evolution was Darwin's own view, not something grafted onto his theory by others. As Darwin himself emphasized: “No shadow of reason can be assigned for the belief that variations . . . were intentionally and specially guided.”4 It is equally important to understand that Darwin thought his theory provided a reductionist explanation for the development of mind, morality, and religion, and that he believed his theory had implications for social policy.

Having clarified the meaning of Darwinism, we are ready to scrutinize the claims of Darwinian conservatives in five key areas: Does Darwinism support or subvert traditional morality? Does it erode or reinforce the basis of capitalism? Does it promote or undermine limited government? Does it nurture or weaken religious faith? Finally, is the evidence for Darwinism so overwhelming that all rational people must accept it?

The question of whether Darwinian evolution supports traditional morality is an old one. In a famous essay on “Evolution and Ethics,” Darwin's “bulldog,” Thomas Huxley, vigorously argued the opposite: “The practice of that which is ethically best—what we call goodness or virtue—involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence.”5 In Huxley's view, “The ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process [of evolution] . . . but in combating it.”6

Larry Arnhart disagrees, arguing that Darwinism provides a biological grounding for universal moral standards.7 But it is hard to see how this is the case. According to Darwin, specific moral precepts develop because under certain environmental conditions they promote survival. Once those conditions for survival change, however, so too do the dictates of morality. That is why we find in nature both the maternal instinct and infanticide, both honoring one's parents and killing them when they become feeble. In short, natural selection “chooses” whatever traits best promote survival under the existing circumstances. Sometimes that may include traits we consider “moral,” but other times it will include shocking immoralities.

The Darwinian view makes it very difficult to condemn as evil any human behavior that has persisted among human beings, because every trait that continues to exist even among a subpopulation has an equal right to claim nature's sanction. Presumably even antisocial behaviors such as fraud and pedophilia and rape must continue to exist among human beings because they were favored at some point by natural selection and therefore have some sort of biological basis. Of course, one could still justly condemn such behaviors if there existed a permanent moral standard independent of natural selection. But the existence of such a standard is precisely what Darwinism denies.

...not both.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


A Zombie Invasion From Across the Atlantic (MIKE HALE, 10/24/10, NY Times)

“Dead Set,” a five-hour, five-night broadcast beginning on Monday night, imagines the end of the world as seen from inside the set of the British version of “Big Brother.” As disturbing bulletins begin to pop up on the news about strange behavior and uncontrollable crowds, the reality show’s cast, locked inside its “house,” remains oblivious.

The satirical possibilities are abundant, and “Dead Set,” which was nominated for a Bafta (British Academy) award for best drama serial, deftly makes the connections between reality television and zombification. The screaming crowds that gather for the show’s “eviction” episode, waiting to taunt whichever cast member is voted out, become the zombies desperate to eat the housemates’ flesh. The show’s hateful producer (Andy Nyman) uses “Big Brother” psychology to manipulate a cast member into joining his escape plan. (“Do you know what they call you when you’re out of the room? Gollum.”)

That might make “Dead Set” sound like a comedy, but on balance it plays like a well-made and increasingly grim horror picture, with a crispness of execution and a graphic level of intestine-pulling, throat-ripping violence that are both beyond the American norm.

...and a tad long for a show that's really just calling reality tv viewers mindless zombies, but worth a watch on style alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


The early vote: Signs of GOP passion (MOLLY BALL, 10/24/10, Politico)

POLITICO surveyed early voting through Saturday in 20 states, and in 14 of the 15 that have voter registration by party, the GOP's early turnout percentage is running ahead of the party's share of statewide voter registration — whether measured against 2006 or 2008, when President Barack Obama's campaign led to a surge in Democratic voter registration. As a result, Republicans say they're turning the tables on the Democratic dominance of early voting that paved the way for Obama's victory in 2008 — and that independents' lean toward the GOP this year will do the rest.

In Florida, in addition to having a lead in absentee ballots, "incredibly, we are also leading early voting so far, the first time that has ever happened," the state GOP's Daniel Conston said. "We don't expect to win early voting, but any lead at all is shocking at this point and a testament to the incredible enthusiasm amongst Republicans."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


New York Democrats anxious as Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, other pols face barrage (Kenneth R. Bazinet, 10/25/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

New York Democrats are more stressed about House races involving veterans like Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy than about contests with newbie local lawmakers , insiders say.

"It's not the rookies we're worried about as much as some of the people who have been around a while," lamented a senior New York City congressman, who spoke about strategy on the condition of anonymity. [...]

Local party officials and lawmakers are urging the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to pay attention to races like McCarthy's and those of upstate Reps. John Hall and Maurice Hinchey.

Hall, whose district includes Orange County, is locked in a surprisingly tough race with GOP challenger Nan Hayworth, while Hinchey, who represents part of the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes, is up against surging schoolteacher George Phillips.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Even when I loved it, I secretly knew Beat poetry was rubbish (Lucy Jones, 25 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

When I was a teenager, I spent hours loafing around my patchouli-soaked bedroom reading Beat poetry, listening to Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg's benzedrine-fuelled babbling on CD, pinning pictures of Neal Cassady to my wall. I felt that these were my people and cursed my Eighties birth for being too late. My friends and I bought into the lifestyles of the Beat Generation, their libertarian values, their coffee and cigarettes, their berets and black turtlenecks. We dreamed of swapping Chelsea for San Francisco and felt our tortured middle-class souls were matched by their world-weary, anti-conformist cynicism. We traded dog-eared editions, scrawled quotes on to our exercise books and adopted Howl as our creed. In short, we thought we were extremely cool.

I have a confession to make: I could never actually finish Kerouac's On the Road. I found it unreadable and shallow, but continued to cite it as the best book of all time and carry it around in my pocket to keep up my beatnik image.

The end, as in Hunter Thompson's Hells Angels, is the only good thing about the book.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Suharto the "hero"?: Can this monster really be about to be rehabilitated so quickly? (Sholto Byrnes, 25 October 2010, New Statesman)

Amnesia has its uses. There is no doubt that Muslim groups, long vying for power pre-1965, were happy to take revenge for earlier Communist-wrought massacres when hundreds of thousands died at the beginning of Suharto's takeover. Many now at the top of politics served under the New Order regime - Gerindra's nominee for the presidency was Prabowo Subianto, a former general married to Suharto's daughter, while Golkar's vice presidential candidate in last year's elections was General Wiranto, who also served under Suharto and has, like Prabowo, been accused of human rights violations while in uniform.

And compared to dictatorship, democracy can be messy and disorganised. Certainly, it can appear that way to the many millions of Indonesia's poor, for whom the freedom of the ballot may seem scant compensation for the disruption of their previous lives under Suharto. A ridiculously rosy rewriting of the past? Perhaps. But it is true that for much of Suharto's rule, by contrast, Indonesia appeared to be on an upward trajectory. As the novelist and poet Laksmi Pamuntjak puts it:

Suharto's role in creating rapid economic growth in Indonesia is indisputable. For most of his 30-year rule, our country experienced a significant growth and industrialization, and there was remarkable progress in people's welfare. Infant mortality declined, public infrastructure was overhauled. Education, health care and living standards improved greatly. Despite the systemic corruption, economic inefficiencies and the hubris of Suharto's children and cronies, poverty was reduced dramatically.

Laksmi, whose novel The Blue Widow concerns the prison island of Buru where thousands of Communists and suspected sympathisers were held without trial or charge for over a decade under Suharto, is being admirably fair in conceding this.

The uncomfortable fact is that as is roiutinely the case, the fascist interlude did them much good, particularly by contrast to neighbors who succumbed to communism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Hogan’s holometer: Testing the hypothesis of a holographic universe (Sara Reardon, October 20, 2010, Symmetry)

In 2008, Fermilab particle astrophysicist Craig Hogan made waves with a mind-boggling proposition: The 3D universe in which we appear to live is no more than a hologram.

Now he is building the most precise clock of all time to directly measure whether our reality is an illusion. [...]

Black hole physics, in which space and time become compressed, provides a basis for math showing that the third dimension may not exist at all. In this two-dimensional cartoon of a universe, what we perceive as a third dimension would actually be a projection of time intertwined with depth. If this is true, the illusion can only be maintained until equipment becomes sensitive enough to find its limits.[...]

“People trying to tie reality together don’t have any data, just a lot of beautiful math,” said Hogan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


Top Kremlin ideologue visits Chechnya as violence mounts (Agence France-Presse, 10/25/10)

Russian authorities are battling a Muslim insurgency in the North Caucasus where attacks on officials have become daily occurrences as security analysts say the Kremlin is losing its grip over the region.

Surkov, the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff, said on Friday during a visit to Chechnya, site of two wars with separatists in the 90s, that the country's political leadership would never agree to let the Caucasus become independent.

"The Caucasus is the foundation on which the whole of Russia stands," Surkov told youth activists in comments released by the Chechen government.

As America was the foundation of Britain....

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October 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


Equally Not Nothing: a review of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2010, Intercollegiate Review)

This brilliant, stunningly erudite, and powerfully provocative work begins as a tough criticism of the naive stupidity of the books of our popularizing “new atheists”—the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Those best-selling authors have made atheism newly fashionable by spinning it shamelessly to appeal to our “sophisticated” prejudices. They criticize the immoral effects of Christianity from an anti-cruelty, pro-freedom, pro-Enlightenment perspective. They paint a historical picture of the scientifically advanced civilizations of the ancient Greeks and Romans, reasonably adorned with an easygoing polytheism. That admirable world was ruined, they explain, by the repressive disruption occasioned by the superstitious belief that there is only one, true, personal God.

Hart's “governing conviction” is that what our new atheists regard as modern progress in the direction of rational liberation is itself a reactionary superstition. The modern Enlightenment has actually been a rebellion against the whole truth about our natures, about who we are, and about the true source of our freedom and dignity. And that rebellion has been not so much radical as selective and self-indulgent. By compassionately privileging personal freedom and human rights over what they believe they know through science, the new atheists remain parasitic on the key Christian insight about who we are. Their attachment to the humane virtues makes no sense outside the Christian claim for the unique and irreplaceable dignity of every human person. That claim is completely unsupported by either ancient (Aristotelian) or modern (Darwinian) science. The sentimental preferences of our atheists are really those of a Christianity without Christ. [...]

It is barely too strong to say that, for Hart, Christ transformed each of us from being nobody to being somebody—indeed, a somebody of infinite value. None of us is destined to be a slave, and death has been overcome. We are no longer defined by our merely biological natures, because our nature is now to be both human and divine.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


West Bank olive groves become battleground (Harriet Sherwood, 10/24/10, guardian.co.uk)

Eighty-year-old Rasmia Awase had left the best olive trees until last. She and her family had already harvested most of their crop when they went to a small plot near their home in Luban a-Sharqiya on Saturday morning.

Here were 40 trees that Awase had planted and tended herself, and they were now, two decades later, at their peak – the most productive of all the trees, which support 37 members of the extended family.

But Awase found that someone had got there before them and had chopped down the trees, leaving stumps in the ground and branches scattered about the plot. The family blame hardline Jewish settlers from the nearby Eli settlement.

"I was in shock, I lost my mind," she said. "I planted these trees with my bare hands, I gave them 20 years of hard work – and they are all gone." Each day of her long life was worse than the one before, she said with her eyes watering.

The Awase family are not alone in their experience. Among the tactics used by Jewish settlers this harvesting season are cutting down and torching trees, stealing fruit and attacking farmers trying to pick their crops, according to human rights organisations.

"It has reached a crescendo," said a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, one Israeli group monitoring incidents in the West Bank. "What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


They Hate Our Guts: And they’re drunk on power. (PJ O'Rourke, November 1, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Perhaps you’re having a tiny last minute qualm about voting Republican. Take heart. And take the House and the Senate. Yes, there are a few flakes of dander in the fair tresses of the GOP’s crowning glory—an isolated isolationist or two, a hint of gold buggery, and Christine O’Donnell announcing that she’s not a witch. (I ask you, has Hillary Clinton ever cleared this up?) Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn’t poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.

I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren’t. They don’t. The reason is simple. They hate our guts.

They don’t just hate our Republican, conservative, libertarian, strict constructionist, family values guts. They hate everybody’s guts. And they hate everybody who has any. Democrats hate men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, gays, straights, the rich, the poor, and the middle class.

Democrats hate Democrats most of all. Witness the policies that Democrats have inflicted on their core constituencies, resulting in vile schools, lawless slums, economic stagnation, and social immobility. Democrats will do anything to make sure that Democratic voters stay helpless and hopeless enough to vote for Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Did Americans have less freedom after the Revolution? (Thomas S. Kidd, 10/22/2010, Books & Culture)

In her provocative The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America, Barbara Clark Smith shows that these kinds of crowd actions were integral to the rough, local world of colonial politics, where common folk had the power to both enable and oppose laws. For the Revolution to succeed, then, Patriot élites had to lock arms with the people. But, with the war won, the élites abandoned them.

In this sense, Smith asserts, common Americans had less freedom after the American Revolution than before it.

After the Revolution common Americans were "governed" under the Articles of Confederation. It was the adoption of the Constitution that really brought "freedom" under control.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Pentagon Mostly Gets a Pass From Deficit Hawks (NATHAN HODGE, 10/23/10, WSJ)

Defense spending, the largest discretionary portion of the federal budget, is expected to top $700 billion in fiscal-year 2011. In a new analysis of defense-spending trends, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said Mr. Gates's efficiency drive "will at most buy time" for the Pentagon as pressure mounts on the budget.

Efforts are now under way in Washington to set the terms of the debate on defense spending. Recently, more than 50 lawmakers—led by Reps. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Ron Paul (R., Texas) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.)—sent a letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan panel tasked with delivering recommendations on the federal debt, urging its members to consider reductions to military spending. In a conference call, Mr. Frank said it was time to rein in "America's excessive military engagement with the world."

Conservative groups, however, have pushed back. The American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Heritage Foundation issued a report titled "Defending Defense" that argues for preserving investment in the military.

The Long War is over, time to return to normal defense spending...meaning hardly any.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region (CARLOTTA GALL, 10/20/10, NY Times)

American and Afghan forces have been routing the Taliban in much of Kandahar Province in recent weeks, forcing many hardened fighters, faced with the buildup of American forces, to flee strongholds they have held for years, NATO commanders, local Afghan officials and residents of the region said.

A series of civilian and military operations around the strategic southern province, made possible after a force of 12,000 American and NATO troops reached full strength here in the late summer, has persuaded Afghan and Western officials that the Taliban will have a hard time returning to areas they had controlled in the province that was their base.

Some of the gains seem to have come from a new mobile rocket that has pinpoint accuracy — like a small cruise missile — and has been used against the hideouts of insurgent commanders around Kandahar. That has forced many of them to retreat across the border into Pakistan. Disruption of their supply lines has made it harder for them to stage retaliatory strikes or suicide bombings, at least for the moment, officials and residents said. [...]

Apparently surprised by the intensity of the strikes on their supply routes, bomb factories and command compounds, many Taliban commanders pulled out to Pakistan, and most of the fighters have also slipped away or hidden their weapons, NATO commanders, local residents and the Taliban themselves say.

Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, commanding Task Force 1-66 in Arghandab, said he had seen insurgent attacks drop from 50 a week in August to 15 a week two months later. That may be because of the onset of colder weather, when fighting tends to drop off, but Colonel Lemons said he felt the Taliban was losing heart.

“A lot are getting killed,” he said. “They are not receiving support from the local population, they are complaining that the local people are not burying their dead, and they are saying: ‘We are losing so many we want to go back home.’ ”

Military and civilian officials say there are also signs of a crisis in command as Taliban leaders have struggled to maintain logistics and supply routes, suicide bombers have failed to turn up for attacks, and even senior commanders were showing reluctance to follow orders from their leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to go in to fight the NATO onslaught in Panjwai. [...]

[R]esidents say that the Taliban have been stunned by fast-paced raids on their leaders and bases. In particular they talk with awe of a powerful new rocket that has been fired from the Kandahar air base into Panjwai and other areas for the last two or three weeks, hitting Taliban compounds with remarkable accuracy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Ground War More Intense Than 2006, Early Voting More Prevalent (Pew Research, 10/21/10)

[A] considerably greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats still fall into the likely voter category. Moreover, the new survey shows that Democrats have lost ground among all voters: Currently, 46% of registered voters favor the Republican candidate in their district or lean Republican, while 42% favor the Democratic candidate or lean Democratic. In early September, 44% backed the Republican while 47% supported the Democratic candidate.

When the current survey is narrowed to those most likely to vote, the GOP holds a double-digit advantage – 50% to 40%. In early September, Republicans held a seven-point lead among likely voters (50% to 43%).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 13-18 among 1,797 registered voters, including 1,354 likely voters, finds more ominous signs for Democrats. First, the growing popularity of early voting means that Democrats have less time to make up ground. The survey finds that about a quarter (27%) of voters nationally, including 52% of voters in the West, say they plan to vote before Election Day or have already voted. Republicans (29%) and Democrats (28%) are equally likely to say they plan to vote early or have already voted. At a comparable point in the 2006 midterm, 18% said they would be early voters.

Second, while the parties’ voter mobilization efforts are well underway at this stage of the campaign, there is no indication that Democrats are making more headway on these efforts than are Republicans. [...]

Republicans hold a 12-point edge among likely voters in the most competitive districts in the nation, and have a bigger lead in safe Republican districts (27 points) than Democrats have in safe Democratic districts (10 points).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Black Panther case reveals schism (Jerry Markon and Krissah Thompson, 10/23/10, Washington Post)

On Election Day 2008, Maruse Heath, the leader of Philadelphia's New Black Panther Party, stood in front of a neighborhood polling place, dressed in a paramilitary uniform.

Within hours, an amateur video showing Heath, slapping a black nightstick and exchanging words with the videographer, had aired on TV and ricocheted across the nation.

Among those who saw the footage was J. Christian Adams, who was in his office in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington.

"I thought, 'This is wrong, this is not supposed to happen in this country,' " Adams said. [...]

Two months after Election Day, Adams and his supervisors in the George W. Bush administration filed a voter-intimidation lawsuit against Heath and his colleagues, even though no voters had complained. [...]

The dispute over the Panthers, and the Justice Department's handling of it, was politicized from the start, documents and interviews show. On that Election Day, the issue was driven by Republican poll-watchers and officials and a conservative Web site.

At the department, Adams and his colleagues pushed a case that other career lawyers concluded had major evidentiary weaknesses.

Like the lack of a crime?

In the American political system, realize that motives matter (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 10/23/10, WASHINGTON POST)

Voter suppression efforts are a lot sneakier than they used to be. Who needs poll workers asking folks to guess the number of beans in a jar or how many bubbles are on a bar of soap when you can just produce and try to air a phony Spanish-language ad intended to fool Hispanics into staying home.

The organization Latinos for Reform — directed by Robert de Posada, former head of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee — prepared a 90-second spot urging Hispanics to punish elected officials for not passing immigration reform. The ad goes like this:

"This November we need to send a message to all politicians: If they didn't keep their promise on immigration reform, then they can't count on our vote. ... Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message: You can no longer take us for granted. Don't vote."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Radical Shriek: Lefty academics convene in Berkeley to try to make sense of the Tea Party movement. (David Weigel, Oct. 23, 2010, Slate)

On Friday morning we file in for the conference. Just outside are giant tubs of coffee and tea, and abstracts for papers that are in progress or completed.

Prospects for an American Neofascism. Initially the project would consist of a review of recent research on American right wing groups (including the Tea Party movement, the Minutemen, and the Christian right); and of trends in national and transnational political economy that bear on our subject (such as cyclical and structural economic crises, corporate/government interpenetration, and the explosive growth of the military/industrial/security complex).

A Macro-Micro Model of Participation in Political Action: The Tea Party and Cognitive Biases in Information Consumption and Processing. Hypotheses were tested using qualitative data obtained from interviews with two groups: protest participants from various Tea Party protests (protesting group, N-15) and non-protesting Tea Party "supporters" (supporting group, N=3). Results show that strongly held pre-existing beliefs (particularly economic and political individualist ideology) heavily impacted levels of dissatisfaction with government policy and choices of information consumed.

The research and analysis from the panelists is along those same lines. Why are people joining the Tea Party? Perlstein kicks off the conference with an analysis of conservative anger, tracing its history and discussing the "sluicing" that conservatives do to keep people angry by giving them stories that reinforce their fears. The audience, mostly academics and activists but some students, respond to quotes from Newt Gingrich and other Republicans with nervous laughter and gasps, the air-rushing-through-teeth kind that you only hear from audiences reacting to speeches. The plaintive questions start in.

"How is it that [the Tea Party has] read the Saul Alinsky handbook and progressives haven't?" gripes one activist. "It seems like a natural thing for progressives to take the lead here and say, look, this is in your interest. Especially when jobs and homes are being lost, that seems like a cakewalk." [...]

[Rick] Perlstein moves around the question. "The thing that makes America different, and this is a very dialectical, paradoxical concept, is that we have a lot of democracy," he says. "The idea that everyone has an opinion of about what they're hearing is both the glory and the tragedy of American democracy."

But the social scientists are more ready than the historians to crunch numbers and prove that racial animosity is key to the Tea Party. It's cold comfort for people like Hardy Frye, but it does suggest that Obama's ability to form some grand populist coalition was always limited.

...that only the party advancing popular positions can be populist, no?

If Friend Perlstein and company paid any attention to the world beyond their own neuroses, they might notice that in Britain the Liberal Democrats are celebrating their unusual moment of popularity by advancing massive cuts in government too. Presumably none of these academics connect Nicholas Clegg to John Birch and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

What America might learn from the British austerity model (David S. Broder, October 24, 2010, Washington Post)

The most important political news last week came from across the Atlantic, where the coalition government of British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an austerity budget that radically reduces government spending on the welfare state. Both the policy and the political circumstances that brought it about have profound implications for the United States.

This country has wandered far -- not quite as far as Britain has -- toward the pending fiasco that threatens leftist regimes worldwide, and the reaction here in the Nov. 2 midterm elections is likely to be as painful for President Obama and the Democrats as the May 6 election was for Labor's Gordon Brown.

George Osborne, Cameron's chancellor of the exchequer, did not mince words. He told Parliament, "Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink, when we confront the bills from a decade of debt." Britain's budget deficit, now 11.4 percent of the size of its overall economy, is not that much larger than the United States' -- 8.9 percent -- but the debate has been similar in both countries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Would President Obama Be Better Off If Democrats Lose Control of Congress?: Some Say President Would Get Re-Election Boost if Republicans Control Capitol Hill (MATTHEW JAFFE, Oct. 22, 2010, ABC News)

[L]osing the House and Senate could lead to numerous political benefits for the president in two years time.

For starters, the White House might gain a political boost on issue number one in the minds of voters: the economy. The party that controls the government in turn takes ownership of the economy. If the government is divided -- with Democrats controlling the White House but Republicans at the helm in Congress -- then the president might not have to take all the blame for a sluggish economic recovery, should it not turn around in the next 24 months.

In addition, the White House would have an easier time contrasting its agenda with the GOP's. If Republicans are in control on Capitol Hill, then they will have to propose specific legislation, rather than only blasting the Democrats' proposals.

...all he cares about is himself.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Abbas rebuffs Syria call to continue Palestinian 'resistance': The recent Arab League meeting in Libya was marked by friction between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian President Bashar Assad over peace talks. (Zvi Bar'el, 10/2/10, Ha'aretz)

Assad called on the Palestinians to continue the resistance against Israel instead of discussing the settlement freeze, but was rebuffed by Abbas who said that if he did not insist on a settlement freeze there will be no land left on which to build a Palestinian state.

The friction between the two leaders began a day before the summit, over the agreements reached by Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman and with representatives of Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Meshal, who met with Suleiman last month in Saudi Arabia, announced that he agreed to sign the reconciliation agreement with Fatah that had been proposed by Egypt, and with no reservations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Trailed by Notoriety (JOHN F. BURNS and RAVI SOMAIYA, 10/23/10, NY Times)

In his remarkable journey to notoriety, Mr. Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowers’ Web site, sees the next few weeks as his most hazardous. Now he is making his most brazen disclosure yet: 391,832 secret documents on the Iraqi war. He held a news conference in London on Saturday, saying that the release “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.”

Twelve weeks ago, he posted on his organization’s Web site some 77,000 classified Pentagon documents on the Afghan conflict.

Much has changed since 2006, when Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, used years of computer hacking and what friends call a near genius I.Q. to establish WikiLeaks, redefining whistle-blowing by gathering secrets in bulk, storing them beyond the reach of governments and others determined to retrieve them, then releasing them instantly, and globally.

Now it is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood.

...is assessments of any of the topics about which he's leaked, making the point that none of the stuff should be secret in the first place.

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October 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


Penguins are not gay, they are just lonely: Penguins are not gay, despite new evidence of homosexual behaviour in the wild, they are just "same sex flirting" until they find a mate, according to a new study. (Louise Gray, 21 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

[T]he new study by the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France found that the penguins are only pairing up with other males because they are “lonely”.

There are not enough females in the colony and the males have high levels of testosterone, which drives them to engage in mating displays - even if it is with other males.

During the mating season king penguins “flirt” with potential partners by closing their eyes, stretching their heads skyward and moving them in a half-circle to "take peeks" at one another.

The male pairs engaged in the displays for short periods of time but did not bond in the same way as a heterosexual pair would, by learning each other’s calls or caring for eggs.

Professor F Stephen Dobson, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Ethology, said the number of same sex pairs was actually lower than expected. When the colony was studied over time he found all the ‘gay’ penguins chose a heterosexual partner. A female pair also ‘split up’ to raise an egg with male partner.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Rangers Overpower Yankees to Gain Series Berth (BEN SHPIGEL, 10/23/10, NY Times)

The Yankees lavished $243.5 million on starting pitching two winters ago, and the splurge returned them to glory. It restored that fall ritual in New York, the championship parade, but it might have had an expiration date. The rotation started to splinter in the second half this year, and it toppled an overmatched playoff opponent in the first round, but it was no match for the Texas Rangers, who outpitched, outhit and outplayed the Yankees all the way to the World Series.

There will be a new champion after the Yankees lost, 6-1, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, their season expiring when Neftali Feliz froze Alex Rodriguez on a wicked curveball. A frothy, pompom-waving crowd of 51,404 attended the clincher at Rangers Ballpark, but thousands more will say they were there to see Colby Lewis, pitching in Japan a year ago, work eight dazzling innings to send the Rangers to their first World Series in the franchise’s 39 years in Texas. Next up is a date with Philadelphia or San Francisco in the World Series, which begins Wednesday at the home park of the National League champion. Cliff Lee, a Phillie last year and now the Rangers’ ace, is a lock to pitch Game 1 for a second straight year.

“This is going to hurt,” said Rodriguez, one of the last Yankees players to leave, more than an hour after the game ended. “And it’s going to hurt for a while. And it should.”

If CC wasn't going to win them games 1, 4 and 7 they had no shot. And how long can his knees carry him at an elite level?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Bahrainis go to polls amid sectarian tension (Frederik Richter, 10/22/10, Reuters)

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has a Shi'ite Muslim majority population but is governed by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, which allies Saudi Arabia and the United States see as a bulwark against the regional influence of Shi'ite power Iran.

Saturday's election was the third since the creation of the current parliament, which has limited powers since bills need to pass an upper house whose members are appointed by the king. [...]

The run-up to the vote was overshadowed by a broad security crackdown against some Shi'ite opposition groups in August that also targeted bloggers and human rights activists. Next week, 23 men charged with plotting to overthrow the political system will appear in court for the first hearing in their trial.

Observers said the level of participation and any increase in street protests after the elections would be more telling than the actual results, where few changes were expected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Slashing the state (SALLY McNAMARA, October 22, 2010, NY Post)

The CSR announces $127 billion (81 billion pounds) in cuts -- enough to slash government spending by nearly a fifth. With a few exceptions, the CSR represents a largely conservative agenda -- lowering government spending, cutting welfare, making work pay and reducing the eye-watering $68 billion a year spent servicing British debt.

Part one of the plan can be neatly summed up as "rolling back the state." After 13 years of Labor government, government has grown to the point of bursting. The number of pointless and meddlesome "quangos" (quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations) has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous: British taxpayers fund (among others) an Advisory Committee on Organic Standards, a Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee and a Zoos Forum. Not anymore: Some 192 quangos got the ax.

The CSR also slices Britain's bloated welfare bill. A Byzantine complex of work-tax credits and overly generous welfare payments left many Brits wondering whether it was more profitable to get a job or get on the dole line. The savvy Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, set out early on to answer the question once and for all: The state won't be an ATM for the work-shy.

By declaring that "there's no Plan B" after Wednesday's announcements, Osborne sent a message to the markets that Britain is back in business. Hanging the open sign on the shop door and restoring predictability to the UK economy are critical to the second part of Osborne's plan -- private-sector-led growth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Xenophobia: the Democrats’ closing argument (Adam Radman, 10/22/10, Daily Caller)

With Election Day fast approaching, Democrats have revealed their strategy for retaining the majority in Congress: xenophobia. For all their talk of being true cosmopolitans, President Obama and the Democrat campaign committees have hitched their success to talk of foreign influence in American elections and the belief that foreigners are somehow responsible for stealing American jobs.

...that the UR is, in practice, nativist, isolationist and protectionist.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


The risk of being too aware: There have been many advances in the fight against breast cancer. But don't forget that too much disease awareness may not be good for your health either. (H. Gilbert Welch, October 20, 2010, LA Times)

Breast Cancer Awareness Month serves as a prototype for "disease awareness" campaigns. Too often these morph into campaigns to find things wrong with healthy people. Our medical care system is extremely capable in this regard. We can detect miniscule abnormalities in the body's anatomy and its chemical milieu. And, as if that's not enough, we increasingly change the rules to narrow the definition of "normal": Lower blood pressures have become hypertension, lower blood sugars have become diabetes.

Many interests are served by this behavior. But that may not include yours. That's because health means more than the absence of abnormality. Health is also about how people feel; it's also a state of mind. And it's hard to feel good when things are constantly being found wrong. Pursuing health, ironically, may require that we not pay too much attention to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Amid anger, regret over Williams's firing, NPR staffers fear financial backlash (Paul Farhi, 10/23/10, Washington Post)

While NPR receives only about 2 percent of its $154 million annual budget from federal sources, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts, its 800-plus member stations are much more reliant on tax subsidies. Some smaller stations receive as much as a third of their operating revenue from federal sources.

The firing drew thousands of e-mails and phone calls to NPR's downtown Washington headquarters, the majority of them expressing outrage. The deluge crashed the "Contact Us" form on NPR's Web site by Thursday afternoon, according to NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard.

"They want NPR to hire him back immediately," Shepard wrote on NPR's site. "If NPR doesn't, they want all public funding of public radio to stop. They promise to never donate again. . . . It was daunting to answer the phone and hear so much unrestrained anger."

Especially with the demise of for-profit news organizations, public media is invaluable to the public. But, as with religion, an institution dependent on government largesse risks being a tool of that government and the parties temporarily charged with running it. NPR and its state affiliates should be given a massive payment to set up a permanent trust and they should be encouraged to run more advertising, in order to pay for themselves, but they should also retain their uniquely public nature.

Meanwhile, Ms Shepard provided what was certainly the high comedic point of this whole kerfuffle when she fretted: "I fear some will look for racial motivations in NPR's decision to fire Williams, who is African-American and one of the few black male NPR voices."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Murkowski Confirms Plans to Caucus With GOP (David M. Drucker, 10/22/10, Roll Call)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) confirmed Friday that she will caucus with the Republicans should she win her write-in bid for a second full term on Nov. 2.

“That’s something that Sen. Murkowski has not made secret. Sen. Murkowski has been a Republican her entire life,” her campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski said, confirming a story published earlier by the Associated Press.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Shorn Identity: Going bald has never been so beautiful (CHRISTINA BINKLEY, 10/23/10, WSJ)

A man's shaved head—whether it's to-the-skin or with slight stubble—can suggest a sigh-inspiring combination of intellectual depth and machismo. This may be because early adopters included both artists and Marines. When Levi Pharaoh shaved his curly locks down to stubble last month, the 31-year-old marketing executive at apothecary MiN New York says "women in particular found it sexy." They told him he finally looked like a real man.

Hairlessness also turns back the clock, making it difficult to tell a man's age. And it highlights a fellow's bone structure and eyes. Frederick Blacksher, a 22-year-old aspiring actor in Los Angeles, cut his thick black hair (no thinning in sight) to a few millimeters because "it makes my features stand out." But for most men, a head shave is a white flag in the battle against male-pattern baldness.

Receding hairlines spur otherwise sane men to torture themselves cosmetically, often with unfortunate results. These include the dreaded comb-over, Rogaine fuzz and the crop-like appearance of hair plugs. Compared with this, a Gillette razor and a pot of shaving cream should seem like a walk in the park.

Yet when I recently tried talking my husband into shearing his receding locks, I learned that even balding men can be timid about taking the plunge. Mr. Pharaoh says taking it (nearly) all off took some getting used to: "It's like going out in the world naked."

When the local barber retired the guy who took over the shop started hiking prices, so you can't get a clipper cut under $10 anymore. Happily, BJ's carries the Remington Shortcut for under $20. Using it you can do the cut yourself, and/or dragoon a family member into helping. (It is hard to trim back hair to below collar level yourself.)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


What would Americans think of the French strike? (Matthew Price, 10/23/10, BBC News)

I am going through a little bit of culture shock.

For the last three years I have been based in the US. And the only protests I have covered, the only ones vocal enough to have been worth reporting on, have been angry mobs demanding the government stop spending and get out of their lives.

Now, just one week into my new role as Europe correspondent, I am faced with angry mobs demanding the exact opposite - an end to government cut backs and a promise that the state will continue to provide for them.

Talk about a change of scene.

The Americans could never stomach - or indeed even understand - what has been happening in Marseille.

The stench of rotting oranges, old coffee grounds and the occasional soiled nappy, sticks in the nose as you walk through the narrow lanes of the old city.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


How much math do we really need? (G.V. Ramanathan, October 23, 2010, Washington Post)

Unfortunately, the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body.

There are three steps to this kind of aggressive marketing. The first is to convince people that white teeth, a full head of hair and a sculpted physique are essential to a good life. The second is to embarrass those who do not possess them. The third is to make people think that, since a good life is their right, they must buy these products.

So it is with math education. A lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential to everybody's daily life. There are even calculus textbooks showing how to calculate -- I am not making this up and in fact I taught from such a book -- the rate at which the fluid level in a martini glass will go down, assuming, of course, that one sips differentiably. Elementary math books have to be stuffed with such contrived applications; otherwise they won't be published. [...]

[H]ow much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that -- and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

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October 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


In two years, a fearful turn in Obama's speeches: The message in Portland in 2008 was hope. The president returns to talk about mistrust and threats. (Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons, October 22, 2010, LA Times)

Obama returned to Portland on Wednesday night and delivered a different sort of speech. His message of national unity and reconciliation had been replaced by a stark warning against cynical Republican tactics, vague threats to America's political system and the urgent need to keep the GOP marginalized.

There was less hope, more fear.

Obama conveyed much the same message Thursday during a rally in Seattle, and the appeal is not expected to vary significantly as he campaigns in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Minneapolis over the next two days.

Obama in Portland suggested that "foreign-controlled corporations" were bankrolling a "misleading, negative" ad campaign that serves Republicans, but offered no evidence.

"We don't know," he said.

Whereas his 2008 speech said that Americans needed to "start trusting each other again, start working together again," he said at the Oregon Convention Center rally this week that even if Republicans cooperate more with the White House, they would be forced to "sit in the back seat."

Two years ago, he said Americans are "tired of a politics that's all about tearing each other down." On Wednesday, he painted a grim picture of life under Republican leadership: The chronically ill, the unemployed, the student who can't afford college tuition — all would be cut "loose to fend for themselves."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Obama's Turban Anxiety
: That the president would cancel a Sikh temple visit over a knotted handkerchief shows the old, bold Obama is gone—he now governs in fear. Tunku Varadarajan laments his gutlessness. (Tunku Varadarajan, 10/22/10, Daily Beast)

Barack Obama has become a Sikh joke. The 44th president of the United States, a man who offered himself up to the world as the cosmopolitan alternative to the Little Americanism of the Bush years, has dropped plans to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar—the Vatican, as it were, of the Sikh religion—on his state visit to India in early November. As The New York Times reports, the president would have had to cover his head with a knotted handkerchief on his visit to the shrine, in keeping with Sikh religious tradition, so the White House invertebrates scuttled plans to go there out of fear that images of Obama with a cloth on his head would reignite rumors that he is a Muslim.

The president is frightened of shadows. As a critic once said of a famous actor's portrayal of Lear, "He played the king as if someone else was about to play the ace." The White House's decision to skip the Sikh temple is not proof so much of paranoia, though it has that in abundance, but of cowardice. This is one of those rare episodes that have the ability to distill a political essence, rather like Jimmy Carter being jumped by a rabbit. The old, bold Obama is gone: He now governs in fear, with a keenly pusillanimous regard for birthers and other boo-birds, the noisy, self-regarding elements of the American political fringe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


What triggers the suicide bomber : Foreign occupation, not religious fervor, is the primary motivation behind this form of terrorism. (Robert Pape, October 22, 2010, LA Times)

Research I and my colleagues conducted at the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, in which we analyzed each of the more than 2,200 suicide attacks that have taken place throughout the world since 1980, shows that though other factors matter, the primary driver of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation.

In Lebanon, for example, of the 32 successful suicide attackers from 1982 through 1989 whose ideology was identifiable, 22 were communists and socialists with no commitment to religious extremism; five were Christian. Religion served as an auxiliary recruiting tool, but the root cause of the attacks was foreign occupation, and the attacks were designed to coerce the occupying forces — Israel, France and the United States — to withdraw.

The United States has not learned the lessons from Lebanon and is failing to realize that prolonged troop deployments abroad are leading to an increase in suicide attacks and violence against troops and civilians.

What we should be doing is asking whether our military presence in Afghanistan and continued campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan are making us safer. Unfortunately, our research suggests just the opposite.

A more effective approach would be to revert to a policy of working with local governments and institutions and selectively using air power and special forces to accomplish important military objectives. This is an intermediate approach that is neither "cutting and running" nor "staying and dying." It is a way to achieve political objectives without subjecting U.S. forces to unnecessary harm and without further inflaming local passions that in turn lead to a rise of hatred and violence against an occupying power.

Many worry that shifting to such a policy would embolden the terrorists. However, Hezbollah suicide attackers did not follow the Americans to New York, or the French to Paris or even the Israelis to Tel Aviv after those nations left Lebanon. Since the last Israeli ground forces left in May 2000, there has not been a single Hezbollah suicide attack, not even in the summer of 2006, during the three-week air war between Israel and Hezbollah. To be sure, ordinary terrorism has continued, but causing far fewer deaths than suicide attacks.

...the fact is we did withdraw all our forces from Saudi Arabia after 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


George W. Bush regrets not reforming Social Security (SIMMI AUJLA, 10/22/10, Politico)

Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that his biggest failure in office was not reforming Social Security.

Speaking to a trade association in Chicago, Bush said that he “would like to be remembered as a guy who had a set of priorities and was willing to live by those priorities,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

The president aggressively pushed a plan in 2005 that would have allowed younger workers to invest part of their Social Security tax payment in private accounts that would make money off stocks, bonds and other investments. But his proposal never gained traction even in his own party, with Congress never bringing his plan to the floor for a vote.

...when you just wish you'd gone even further.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


REVIEW: of Strange Weather, Isn’t It? by !!! (Noel Murray August 24, 2010, AV Club)

With 2007’s Myth Takes, the ecstatic dance-punk collective !!! came up with an album almost as strong as its best singles and live shows. The group largely holds that stride with its fourth LP, Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, a nine-song, 40-minute set that functions as a celebration of rhythm, movement, and macking. The opening song, “AM/FM,” warns, “You can turn up the radio, but you can’t drown out the wind,” and employs a shimmery guitar—halfway between The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” and Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed And Painless”—to evoke the sound of static and hot gusts, both of which propel the song’s protagonist forward

Early Listening: !!! - Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Michael Lopez, Jun. 24 2010, Phoenix New Times)
Strange Weather continues the tried and true !!! tradition of crafting an insanely catchy chorus that is easily memorizable and, thus, repeatable before a song's end. Take for instance the album's second track, "The Most Certain Sure." In it, frontman Nic Offer sings "And it's a good thing / It's a good thing," demanding that listeners get this line stuck in their head, gleefully repeating it before the end of the song's five-plus minutes. The same thing goes for the interestingly-titled "Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass," as the titular line will, in fact, become easily repeatable.

Absent from Strange Weather is an eight-minute opus the likes of "Bend Over Beethoven," perhaps the band's finest track, yet there is still a down-home, vintage !!! feel to Strange Weather. There are the brash, raw musical elements of !!! ("Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks") mixed in with the heavy-handed lyrical content of Louden Up Now ("Even Judas Gave Jesus A Kiss") all drizzled a nice, light-hearted Myth Takes funk ganache ("Jump Back"). Now, if it sounds lame of me to say a band's fourth album sounds like a mixture of their previous three, then so be it -- but that's really the best way to describe Strange Weather. The album sounds like the band went back, did their homework and emerged with the best elements from their previous albums -- all of which had their own, unique charm.

One thing is for sure -- the funk-driven bass and rapturous drums of Strange Weather have an early, 2001-era !!! feel to them. That's what has kept the band in business, their knack for creating a pulsating, crescendo-driving funk jam -- one that builds to a throbbing apex that is insanely satisfying more than most things in life. Fans of !!! will be pleased with Strange Weather, given the band's many lineup changes throughout the years. Strange Weather, Isn't It? is an album for those diehard, original !!! fans that also has an appeal to those listeners not so familiar with the uniqueness of !!!'s style.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Sun Co-Founder Uses Capitalism to Help Poor (VIKAS BAJAJ, 10/05/10, NY Times)

Vinod Khosla, the billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, was already among the world’s richest men when he invested a few years ago in SKS Microfinance, a lender to poor women in India.

But the roaring success of SKS’s recent initial public stock offering in Mumbai has made him richer by about $117 million — money he says he plans to plow back into other ventures that aim to fight poverty while also trying to turn a profit.

And he says he wants to challenge other rich Indians to do more to help their country’s poor.

An Indian transplant to Silicon Valley, Mr. Khosla plans to start a venture capital fund to invest in companies that focus on the poor in India, Africa and elsewhere by providing services like health, energy and education.

By backing businesses that provide education loans or distribute solar panels in villages, he says, he wants to show that commercial entities can better help people in poverty than most nonprofit charitable organizations.

“There needs to be more experiments in building sustainable businesses going after the market for the poor,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Menlo Park, Calif. “It has to be done in a sustainable way. There is not enough money to be given away in the world to make the poor well off.”

Mr. Khosla’s advocacy of the bootstrap powers of capitalism is part of an increasingly popular school of thought: businesses, not governments or nonprofit groups, should lead the effort to eradicate global poverty.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Debating the Depression: An Interview with Amity Shlaes (Ray Nothstine, Religion & Liberty)

In The Forgotten Man, you talk about the Depression within the Depression, especially in the years of 1937 and 1938. What happened?

The Forgotten Man starts with the story of a boy named William Troeller who hangs himself rather than asking for food. In some of the accounts it even says that he ate two grapes and then he hung himself, rather than ask for food. And the striking thing was that this did not happen early in the depression. This did not happen in the England of Dickens, or in the United States at the beginning of the Great Depression. This happened rather in 1937 or 1938. So that was news, that the Depression within the Depression was so bad, and it seemed important. The recovery disappeared or, to put it more precisely, the recovery chose to stay away. Industrial production went down more than 60 percent. Non-durable production slowed. The stock market dropped. The stock market prices fell 40 percent, and then they fell another 10 percent. The unemployment rate went way up. By some measures it went from around 12 percent up towards 20 percent. So what's happening? Gene Smiley, who was a professor at Marquette, details this factually in his crucial book, Rethinking the Great Depression. Some of these factors had to do with a new sense of a caution. The government was afraid of inflation. So policy was often "too tight." Washington was also afraid that banks would fail. So it said banks especially should have more reserve so that they'll pass all the stress tests, to put it in modern language. And the banking act of 1935 gave the feds the authority to raise reserve requirements. Federal authorities said, this won't matter, and it won't be contraction because the banks have already accumulated lots of reserves now—they are concerned about a repeat of the early 1930s. The point is they wanted a great cushion between them and failure. But what did the banks do when the government increased requirements? They took it as a signal to accumulate yet more reserves. So it's like you pay someone to put their seatbelt on and they already have their seatbelt on. Well they put on a second seatbelt. What else kept recovery away? High labor costs. This was a fact that was discussed thoroughly at the time, but less since. We think that the Wagner Act, which is our great labor law of 1935, is benign and good. But in fact, it gave John L. Lewis, the great labor leader, the authority to bully, which he did, and wages went up higher than companies could afford. And therefore, companies had more trouble. The Forgotten Man is a narrative book, but there are two economists who document this labor cost disadvantage thoroughly and technically. One is Harold Cole at University of Pennsylvania, and the other is his partner, Lee Ohanian at UCLA. Ohanian recently noted in Senate testimony that total hours worked per hour were 20 percent below their 1929 level at the end of the 1930s. So, wow, they made labor more expensive during a downturn and thereby increased unemployment. This was the decade that lived the phrase "nice work if you can get it."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Author Dr. Christiane Northrup says early breast cancers may vanish (Charlie Smith, October 21, 2010 , Straight.com)

Northrup, a former surgeon, said that breast and prostate cancers are very similar but the response may differ dramatically. For example, physicians practise “active surveillance” in the case of prostate cancer, where they observe what’s happening in the man’s body but don’t perform surgery unless necessary.

“It’s the way to go, because 90 percent of prostate cancers are never going to grow,” Northrup said. “A man remains—sexually and urinarily speaking—intact and gets healthier while the cancer just stays contained.”

However, she stated that a woman will undergo radical surgery after a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ—a tumour confined to the milk duct in the breast—even though 99 percent of these cancers don’t lead to death. “She has been taught that self-sacrifice is the way to go,” Northrup said. “She will go in and have a bilateral mastectomy because she can’t live with the idea that, ‘What if this becomes cancer?’ ”

She noted that when men are told that surgery may lead to sexual, urinary, or bowel problems, they are apt to consider the consequences. Men will never voluntarily submit to an orchectomy—surgical removal of the testicles—even though, she said, it is a very effective treatment for prostate cancer. Northrup suggested that women, on the other hand, can be far too eager to have their breasts removed, even though they are sexual organs.

She pointed out that cellular inflammation—which is measured as heat in a breast-thermography examination—“in the vast majority of breast cancers…is a precursor”. However, she said that this inflammation doesn’t necessarily indicate the existence of precancerous cells. And even when these cells are detected early, she said, they are usually slow-growing.

“People are under the erroneous belief that the moment you have a breast-cancer cell, the cells divide and grow over time in a linear fashion,” Northrup said. “Therefore, if you get it early, you’re going to prevent a death from breast cancer. There is some serious problems with that belief system, which is held by almost every doctor, by the way.”

To support this point, Northrup cited a book called Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here’s Why (University of California Press, 2004), which was written by Dartmouth medical school professor Dr. H. Gilbert Welch. “He goes through the biology of cancer,” Northrup said. “The fact is we have some studies—one big one out of Norway—showing that women who had the fewest number of mammograms had the fewest amounts of breast cancer. The end result of that study was that early breast cancers actually go away. Isn’t that amazing? It happens more than you would think.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Categorical Imperatives Impair Christianity in Culture (Douglas A. Ollivant, Religion & Liberty)

In his must-read Christian Faith and Modern Democracy, Robert Kraynak introduces us to the concept of “Kantian Christianity.” Kraynak claims that the “Kantian influence on modern Christianity is … deep and pervasive.” What he means is that Christian thinkers no longer speak about culture and politics in terms of the more enduring principles of moral virtue, law, and the common good but now focus on social justice, understood as solely the immediate, material rights and dignity of the human person. Moreover, they have drastically reduced the role of prudence in politics accepted under the historical Christian anthropological understanding, which has recognized a variety of political regimes depending on the circumstances. This historical understanding also acknowledged the harsh realities of the political realm in a fallen (albeit redeemed) world, and the difficulties and agonies involved in fashioning a just or moral response to contingent events. Instead of prudential judgments, Kraynak maintains that we now hear only moralistic pronouncements about peace and justice that severely limit the range of (legitimately recognized) political options.

Kraynak maintains that Kantian Christianity has seeped into the language of contemporary Christians even though contemporary Christians do not seem to have a full understanding of the underlying anthropology that comes with it. The rights and dignity of each person replaces moral and theological virtues—rational and spiritual perfection. Further, an emphasis on personal autonomy or personal identity diminishes long-established Christian teachings about the dependence of the Creature on the Creator, original sin, grace, and a natural law through which human beings may share or “participate” in eternal law.

Following Kraynak, it is clear to see that in our public life and culture, this language of rights and dignity tends to lead to absolutes in morality, or “categorical imperatives.” Now, Christianity has no problem with moral absolutes (and in fact dictates several), provided they are properly stated. But a proper statement of a moral absolute is made difficult by the anthropology lingering in Kant’s legacy.

Kant’s original categorical imperative, of course, states that one must live in such a manner that one’s actions could form the basis of a universal law. It is the quest for “universal laws,” exclusive of a prudent account of circumstance, that proves troubling. This universalist language is incompatible with the more prudential approaches to public life articulated by Augustine and Aquinas, which was driven by their much richer understandings of the human person and his or her relation to the physical world and the divine. Examples of this Kantian, univocal language can be seen in many uses of our three most cherished “rights”—life, liberty, and property. Let us address these in reverse order, dealing briefly with property and liberty before examining life questions in some detail.

The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate About Human Dignity and Christian Personalism (Derek S. Jeffreys, Fall 2004, Journal of Markets and Morality)
In recent writings, Robert Kraynak indicts modern liberalism, arguing that it is incompatible with the Christian faith. The modern language of human rights, he believes, undermines Christian virtues, producing a dangerous individualism. Kraynak suggests that constitutional monarchy comports best with Christianity but recognizes that it is unlikely to reappear on the historical scene anytime soon. He advises us, therefore, to embrace democracy on prudential grounds, tempering it by firmly distinguishing between spiritual and temporal realms.

Many scholars today raise challenges to democracy and question whether we ought to use human-rights language. I disagree with some of Kraynak’s prudential judgments about these two issues, but they do not surprise me. What disturbs me is how he uses Kantianism to caricature and undermine personalism. In this article, I argue that what he says about personalism is historically and philosophically simplistic. First, I outline Kraynak’s account of Kantianism, noting how he ascribes it to personalists. Second, I show how important twentieth-century personalists explicitly reject Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology. Third, I discuss how personalists use Kant’s ethic carefully, fully aware of its dangers. Fourth, I argue that personalism originates notin Kantianism but in a metaphysic of being, which Kraynak never philo-sophically engages. By presenting it crudely, he is able to evade its powerful metaphysical and ethical challenge. Dismissing personalism, he develops a troubling argument about hierarchies of value within the human race that is metaphysically and ethically untenable.

A Response to Derek S. Jeffreys (Robert P. Kraynak, Fall 2004, Journal of Markets and Morality)
Let me begin by stating as precisely as possible the disagreement between Professor Jeffreys and me. We both acknowledge that there is something new about Christian theology in the modern age and that the label most commonly used for the new school is “Christian personalism.” This label refers to the “human person,” which modern theologians present as a new way of talking about man or human nature—a new Christian anthropology—that builds upon and expands older notions.

Traditional Christian anthropology viewed man as a type of substance—a created being with a specific nature that is spiritual, rational, and social. In this view, man has a spiritual nature made in the image of God with an eternal destiny, a rational nature with intellect and free will as well as an inherited propensity to sin, and a social nature directed to family and political life that achieves its perfection in charity or love. While retaining many of these features, Christian personalism adds new dimensions to Christian anthropology—a greater awareness of man as a “subject” or possessor of subjective consciousness; a new emphasis on self-determination in action; a greater appreciation of personal identity, the irreplaceable uniqueness of everyone, and the interiority of spiritual life. Above all, personalism brings a new and heightened awareness of human dignity and human rights. Formulating these new features into a grand moral principle, Christian personalists refer to “the dignity of the human person” as the new standard for Christian ethics and natural law. From the dignity of the human person, a new political orientation also follows—an affirmation of the rights of the human person as a basis for supporting modern liberal democracy. Both Professor Jeffreys and I agree that Christian personalism as such has become the dominant school among theologians and church leaders over the last century.

To give a sense of its widespread appeal, I would list the following figures as Christian personalists: (among Catholics), Jacques Maritain; Gabriel Mar-cel; Emmanuel Mounier; Heinrich Rommen; John Courtney Murray; Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger; Karl Rah-ner; John Finnis; Michael Novak; and W. Norris Clarke; (among Protestants), Walter Rauschenbusch; Reinhold Niebuhr; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Martin Luther King Jr.; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and Glenn Tinder; (among Eastern Orthodox), Nicolai Berdyaev and Alexander Schmemann. Beyond individual figures, personalism is especially influential in the Catholic Church. It can be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says, “the human person … ought to be the principle, the subject, and the end of all social institutions” and “public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person.” These statements give some sense of the significance of Christian personalism, a fact that Professor Jeffreys and I both recognize.

Our disagreement arises over how to understand the origins of Christian personalism and how to judge its effects. I claim that Christian personalism cannot be understood without acknowledging the influence of Kant on its central principles. Let me be clear about what I am claiming here, because, at one point, Professor Jeffreys misstates my position. I distinguish Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology from Kant’s ethics and politics. In addition, I claim that Christian personalism is a combination of Thomistic metaphysics and Kantian ethics—a combination of the metaphysical realism of Thomas’ philosophy of being (which affirms the reality of man as a rational being in the created order and the reality of objects of knowledge) and Kant’s ethical idealism (its moral imperative of respecting people as ends-in-themselves and its political philosophy of freedom and human rights). Professor Jeffreys is therefore unfair in citing certain European personalists who reject the epistemology and metaphysics of Kant; I acknowledge this point. I clearly state that most personalists embrace Thomistic metaphysical realism and try to combine it with a new ethical orientation that reflects Kantian liberalism (of course, there are “transcendental Thomists,” such as Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner, who seek to incorporate Kant’s epistemology as well as Kant’s ethics into a Christian framework).

My precise claim, therefore, is that most Christian personalists have preserved Thomistic metaphysics while adopting Kantian liberalism in their ethics and politics. In particular, they have been profoundly influenced by Kant’s distinction between “persons” and “things” in the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and Kant’s command to treat persons as ends, never merely as means for profit, pleasure, or exploitation (Kant’s famous second formulation of the categorical imperative). I would even say that “the human person” in Christian personalism is primarily Kant’s moral personality rather than Scholasticism’s metaphysical notion of the person, either as substance or relation.

I further claim that the political views of Christian personalists are mainly a reflection of Kant’s views, especially as found in the Metaphysical Element of Justice (where Kant says “the one and only legitimate constitution is a pure republic,” meaning a representative democracy that protects human rights) and in Perpetual Peace (where Kant says we have a moral duty to work for world peace under international organizations such as a League of Nations). Christian personalists reflect Kantian liberalism in their the views that liberal democracy or republicanism is the only legitimate political regime because it alone accords with the rights and dignity of people, that social justice requires social structures based on the equality of people, and that working for world peace under the League of Nations or United Nations is a moral, even a religious, duty. I also make the judgment that Christian personalism is flawed for the same reasons that Kantian liberalism is flawed: Its categorical character lacks the prudential wisdom of traditional Christianity, and it needs to be reconsidered in the light of a sober, “politics of prudence” that aims at approximating the temporal common good in the conditions of the fallen world.

Professor Jeffreys, by contrast, is an ardent defender of Christian personalism and asserts that “personalism originates not in Kantianism, but in a metaphysics of being”— meaning, personalism emerges through developments within Thomism alone. In making this claim, Professor Jeffreys suffers from the same delusion as other Christian personalists, such as Jacques Maritain and John Finnis, who also believe that the rights and dignity of the human person can be derived simply by a development of Thomism. The problem is that none of them offers a convincing account of how the political principles of Christian personalism—human rights, liberal democracy, and support for the United Nations—flow from developments of Thomistic metaphysics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Osborne will be the most hated man in Britain. But history tells us unpopular Chancellors are the best (Dominic Sandbrook, 21st October 2010, Daily Mail)

[I]nstead of making deep cuts, [Denis Healey] threw even more money around, with spending going up in cash terms by a staggering 35 per cent in just 12 months.

For a few months, Healey basked in the glow of national popularity. Labour won a ­second election in October 1974, and all seemed rosy. But what happened next is a ­chilling reminder of what could have been our fate if George Osborne had not had the ­courage to start cutting.

By 1975, inflation had reached an eye-watering 25 per cent, while public borrowing had more than doubled in just two years. Twelve months later, with Britain on the brink of bankruptcy, Healey had to go cap in hand to the IMF for a bail-out.

Britain had been humiliated. Our nation’s finances were in ruins, and it was not until the following decade and the courageous policies of Margaret Thatcher that we shed the shameful reputation of being the Sick Man of Europe.

Thankfully, Osborne seems to be following the example of a rather different Labour ­Chancellor. In 1931, Philip Snowden confronted not merely a ­banking collapse that dwarfs anything we have ­experienced in the past few years, but a massive surge in unemployment and a projected ­deficit of £120 million (roughly £34 billion today).

As Britain’s first-ever Labour Chancellor, Snowden confronted an overwhelming challenge. But he had the courage to face up to it, defying his party critics and slashing a then-record £70 million (£20 billion today) in benefits.

Even now, many Left-wingers revile him as a flint-hearted ­villain. But in the long run, it was the right decision for the British people.

By 1935, long before almost every other Western country, Britain was heading towards a recovery built on solid and ­lasting foundations.

Reflecting on the lessons of history, even those people who stand to lose from Osborne’s brave and deep cuts ought to breathe a sigh of relief that he has learned from his predecessor’s example.

Yet with many departmental budgets slashed by 25 per cent, with public spending slashed by £83 billion by 2015 and with an estimated 500,000 jobs set to go in the public sector, the Chancellor can be under no illusions.

For the next few months, even years, he will probably be the most hated man in Britain.

But the truth is that when a ­Chancellor is hated, as Sir Geoffrey Howe was during the early years of the Thatcher ­revolution, he is usually doing something right.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Obama Underappreciation Syndrome (Charles Krauthammer, October 22, 2010, Washington Post)

Opening a whole new branch of cognitive science -- liberal psychology -- Obama has discovered a new principle: The fearful brain is hard-wired to act befuddled, i.e., vote Republican.

But of course. Here Obama has spent two years bestowing upon the peasantry the "New Foundation" of a more regulated, socially engineered and therefore more humane society, and they repay him with recalcitrance and outright opposition. Here he gave them Obamacare, the stimulus, financial regulation and a shot at cap-and-trade -- and the electorate remains not just unmoved but ungrateful.

Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the "facts and science" undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.

I have a better explanation. Better because it adheres to the ultimate scientific principle, Occam's Razor, by which the preferred explanation for any phenomenon is the one with the most economy and simplicity. And there is nothing simpler than the Gallup findings on the ideological inclinations of the American people. Conservative: 42 percent. Moderate: 35 percent. Liberal: 20 percent. No fanciful new syndromes or other elaborate fictions are required to understand that if you try to impose a liberal agenda on such a demonstrably center-right country -- a country that is 80 percent non-liberal -- you get a massive backlash.

In the UR's defense, plenty of conservatives had forgotten this as recently as two years ago too and feared the Obama presidency would be significant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


New political map takes old shape (JONATHAN MARTIN & ALEX ISENSTADT | 10/22/10, Politico)

After consecutive elections marked by big gains in Republican territory, the Democratic Party of 2011 is poised to shrink back to its form before the GOP’s downward spiral: more coastal and urban, and less Southern, Midwestern and rural.

Based on the state of the political map two weeks out from the election, the famed red vs. blue model that followed the 2004 presidential race appears to be returning to shape, with enough grave threats to Democratic officeholders to suggest that the party—as it is expressed in Congress, at least—could end up even narrower than that.

...is only exposed when the Party has enough power that you have to vote for its legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 AM


NPR's Juan Williams Disaster (Howard Kurtz, 10/22/10, Daily Beast)

This was a blunder of enormous proportions. Even many liberals—Donna Brazile, Joan Walsh, Whoopi Goldberg—are castigating National Public Radio for throwing Williams overboard.

NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller—dubbed a “pinhead” by O’Reilly—made matters worse by suggesting that Williams needs psychiatric attention. She later apologized. [...]

To make matters worse, Williams says that after more than a decade at NPR, he was fired in a cellphone call by NPR Vice President Ellen Weiss, who declined his request for an in-person conversation.

Again, I’m not endorsing what Juan Williams said. The remarks contain a strong hint of intolerance. But it’s not quite like saying that Jews control the networks, part of the rant that prompted CNN to fire Rick Sanchez.

...because he feels exactly the same way himself. We all do.

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October 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


Comedy Right-of-Central: What the Tea Party learned from The Daily Show (Lee Siegel, October 19, 2010, NY Observer)

Consider the affinity between Tea Party laughter and Comedy Central laughter.

Invented by Jon Stewart and refined into its purest form by Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central laughter attains its peak of perfection when it encounters a figure representing authority or expertise. The premise of both comedians' shows is that such figures are responsible for most of the world's folly. The worst authority figures are the politicians, who by definition are stupid and venal in proportion to the amount of power they possess. Right behind them are the experts, who are almost always the authors of books, and whose theories about life woefully pale when playfully pushed. Confronted by such asses, who are pompous enough to expect other people to abide by their ideas, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert mock, taunt, outrage and ironize until the expert or authoritative guest liquefies like metal in a forge. Of course, liberal guests get a kind of complicitous wink at the end of their ordeal, but only after they've been de-expertized and un-authoritied and returned to the common mass of couch-dwelling humanity.

Returned, in other words, to the couch alongside Carl Paladino, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and all the other Tea Party candidates who publicly excoriate the United Nations, the Department of Education, any type of tax legislation and the entire collection of experts and authority figures who, together, make up what is known as modern-day "government."

Yes, yes, I know, the comedians ultimately rely on rationality to expose the irrational ideas and sentiments that influence public mores, while the mad Tea Partiers are themselves the very spirit of irrationality. But a single fact remains. Both cultural forces spring from democracy's latent pathology, which is the belief that in the name of democracy, expertise and authority must not be allowed to serve as social levers elevating certain individuals over others.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


The Latest Sherlock Hears a ‘Who’ (MIKE HALE, 10/21/10, NY Times)

Anglophilic television fans, however, will sense another character lurking in the bounding physicality and hyperverbal outbursts of this contemporary Holmes. Mr. Cumberbatch’s performance feels like a slightly dialed-down homage to David Tennant’s portrayal of the title role in the modern “Doctor Who.” And it’s sufficiently enjoyable that fans of that legendary science-fiction show might wish Mr. Cumberbatch had auditioned to play the Doctor when Mr. Tennant left a season ago.

This connection is not simply fanciful: “Sherlock” was created by Steven Moffat, now the head writer and lead producer of “Doctor Who,” and by Mark Gatiss, another writer for that show. In updating Arthur Conan Doyle’s foundational detective stories, they have imported some of the boy’s-adventure, can-do spirit that informs “Who.”

American viewers — those who have aged into the less desirable demographics, anyway — will also notice the family resemblance of this Holmes to our own eccentric-genius police consultants in shows like “Monk” and “The Mentalist.” Of course, those characters were based on Sherlock Holmes in the first place.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


In wake of NPR controversy, Fox News gives Juan Williams an expanded role (Matea Gold, 10/21/10, Chicago Tribune)

Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes handed Williams a new three-year contract Thursday morning, in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million, a considerable bump up from his previous salary, the Tribune Washington Bureau has learned. The Fox News contributor will now appear exclusively and more frequently on the cable news network and have a regular column on FoxNews.com.

"Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997," Ailes said in a statement, adding a jab at NPR: “He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Right-wing publisher rehabilitates Lindbergh: A new book argues that Charles Lindbergh was not an anti-Semite, but rather a victim of smears by FDR and the left (Justin Elliott, 10/21/10, Salon)

The influential conservative publishing house Regnery has just released a book that argues, contrary to popular belief, that aviator and political leader Charles Lindbergh was neither anti-semitic nor pro-German, but rather was the victim of an unfounded smear campaign by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

According to promotional material, the book, "Lindbergh vs. Roosevelt: The Rivalry That Divided America" by James Duffy, argues that Lindbergh was the target of a "vicious personal vendetta by President Roosevelt" that "blighted his reputation forever." FDR's campaign, the book argues, also amounted to a "modern-day playbook for the Left and their attack on those who speak out against them."

A. Scott Berg's deservedly praised biography made essentially the same argument.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Blog Friend Ted Welter tears it up on the harp:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Best Coast On World Cafe (WXPN, 10/21/10)

Los Angeles is booming with artists specializing in lo-fi surf-rock and Best Coast is the trend's sweetheart. The trio's hazy and heavily distorted sound began with a collaboration between frontwoman Bethany Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. With several 7" singles and EPs to its name, Best Coast officially became a functioning trio in 2010 when drummer Ali Koehler left Vivian Girls.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


NPR fires Juan Williams over remark on Muslims (Jennifer Harper, 10/21/10, The Washington Times)

In a segment with Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly, Mr. Williams admitted to feeling "nervous" in the wake of the September 11 attacks when he sees Muslims board a plane on which he is traveling.

"Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous," Mr. Williams said.

He went on to argue to Mr. O'Reilly that such individual fears, however real, did not justify a more general prejudice or discrimination against Muslims as a group.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


GOP Is Poised to Reap a Redistricting Bonus (PETER A. BROWN, 10/20/10, WSJ)

Here's a state-by-state look that shows the GOP advantage, starting with the gainers:

• Texas, which gains four congressional seats, is the biggest GOP prize. Republican Gov. Rick Perry's high-single-digit/low-double-digit lead over Democrat Bill White in a variety of polls is smaller than many anticipated. But a Perry loss would be an enormous surprise in this heavily anti-incumbent, GOP-leaning year, even if he has already been governor for 10 years. The best Democratic hope might be picking up a net two seats to take control of the state's House, where the GOP now holds a 76-73 edge. Otherwise, the Lone Star State will be a Republican mapmaker's dream.

• Florida picks up two congressional seats, and Republicans already have 76-44 and 26-13 majorities in the state House and Senate, respectively. Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink are locked in a virtual dead heat, with late polls showing one, then the other, in the lead. If Mr. Scott wins, Florida, like Texas, is the kind of place where the GOP pickup in the U.S. House might be larger than just the number of new seats. Democrats need Ms. Sink to win to get a seat at the table.

• In Georgia, Republican Nathan Deal appears to be pulling away from former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes with five public surveys in the past month reporting leads of four to 11 points. Republicans also have majorities of 34-22 and 105-74 in Georgia's Senate and House, respectively.

• Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer is in even better shape than Mr. Deal. She holds a solid double-digit lead over Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard and both legislative chambers are 60% Republican.

• In South Carolina, Republican Nikki Haley has a five-point lead over Democrat Vincent Sheheen in one gubernatorial poll, and two points in a Democratic survey Wednesday, but margins of 10 and 17 points in two other recent polls. The GOP also enjoys a 27-19 edge in the Senate and a 72-52 House majority.

• Nevada's legislative chambers both are controlled by Democrats, but the party's candidate for governor, Roy Reid—son of the U.S. Senate majority leader—trails by double digits in a variety of polls to Republican Brian Sandoval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science: Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science. (David H. Freedman, November 2010, Atlantic)

In 2001, rumors were circulating in Greek hospitals that surgery residents, eager to rack up scalpel time, were falsely diagnosing hapless Albanian immigrants with appendicitis. At the University of Ioannina medical school’s teaching hospital, a newly minted doctor named Athina Tatsioni was discussing the rumors with colleagues when a professor who had overheard asked her if she’d like to try to prove whether they were true—he seemed to be almost daring her. She accepted the challenge and, with the professor’s and other colleagues’ help, eventually produced a formal study showing that, for whatever reason, the appendices removed from patients with Albanian names in six Greek hospitals were more than three times as likely to be perfectly healthy as those removed from patients with Greek names. “It was hard to find a journal willing to publish it, but we did,” recalls Tatsioni. “I also discovered that I really liked research.” Good thing, because the study had actually been a sort of audition. The professor, it turned out, had been putting together a team of exceptionally brash and curious young clinicians and Ph.D.s to join him in tackling an unusual and controversial agenda.

Last spring, I sat in on one of the team’s weekly meetings on the medical school’s campus, which is plunked crazily across a series of sharp hills. The building in which we met, like most at the school, had the look of a barracks and was festooned with political graffiti. But the group convened in a spacious conference room that would have been at home at a Silicon Valley start-up. Sprawled around a large table were Tatsioni and eight other youngish Greek researchers and physicians who, in contrast to the pasty younger staff frequently seen in U.S. hospitals, looked like the casually glamorous cast of a television medical drama. The professor, a dapper and soft-spoken man named John Ioannidis, loosely presided.

One of the researchers, a biostatistician named Georgia Salanti, fired up a laptop and projector and started to take the group through a study she and a few colleagues were completing that asked this question: were drug companies manipulating published research to make their drugs look good? Salanti ticked off data that seemed to indicate they were, but the other team members almost immediately started interrupting. One noted that Salanti’s study didn’t address the fact that drug-company research wasn’t measuring critically important “hard” outcomes for patients, such as survival versus death, and instead tended to measure “softer” outcomes, such as self-reported symptoms (“my chest doesn’t hurt as much today”). Another pointed out that Salanti’s study ignored the fact that when drug-company data seemed to show patients’ health improving, the data often failed to show that the drug was responsible, or that the improvement was more than marginal.

Salanti remained poised, as if the grilling were par for the course, and gamely acknowledged that the suggestions were all good—but a single study can’t prove everything, she said. Just as I was getting the sense that the data in drug studies were endlessly malleable, Ioannidis, who had mostly been listening, delivered what felt like a coup de grâce: wasn’t it possible, he asked, that drug companies were carefully selecting the topics of their studies—for example, comparing their new drugs against those already known to be inferior to others on the market—so that they were ahead of the game even before the data juggling began? “Maybe sometimes it’s the questions that are biased, not the answers,” he said, flashing a friendly smile. Everyone nodded. Though the results of drug studies often make newspaper headlines, you have to wonder whether they prove anything at all. Indeed, given the breadth of the potential problems raised at the meeting, can any medical-research studies be trusted?

That question has been central to Ioannidis’s career. He’s what’s known as a meta-researcher, and he’s become one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Who Decides What's 'Beyond the Pale' of the Republican Party? (Peter Wehner, October 20, 2010, Commentary Magazine's Contentions Blog)

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn's 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): "It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction." Daniels went on to add: "That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon's line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose."

Governor Daniels's statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is "outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought." What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is "disqualifying."

Any tent that fits more than one person is too big, eh?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Hispanic media influence grows in election year (LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ, 10/20/2010, AP)

Even those who toe a hard line on immigration are seeking to make their case in Spanish-language media, recognizing that they need some Hispanic votes to win and that Hispanics — who account for 9 percent of registered voters nationwide — are concerned about more than that one issue.

During Florida’s primary season, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum had their first debate on Univision, even as they competed to see who could stake out the harshest stance against illegal immigrants.

“The tighter the race — and there are many this year — the more you reach out to niche constituents, and Latinos are niche constituents,” said Texas State University Professor Federico Subervi and author of the “The Mass Media and Latino Politics.

Subervi believes the interest in Hispanic media is particularly high for a midterm election because the Arizona immigration law has become such a hot topic.

“People want to know what are Latinos going to do given all this rhetoric,” he said.

But it’s also the result of a concerted effort by companies like Univision to “plant the flag and reach out to mainstream political figures,” said Jose Cancela, head of the Miami-based marketing firm Hispanic USA.

Once Latin American presidents were top among Ramos’ guests, but last Sunday, his list included Delaware Governor Jack Markell, whose state is hardly known for its Hispanic population.

Univision Networks President Cesar Conde has made political coverage a top priority, beginning with the company’s first presidential debate in 2008. He sees 2010 as something of a curtain raiser. The network is airing debates hosted by English-language media in New York and Illinois.

“We need to step up our efforts to ensure that the Hispanic swing vote is best equipped to make responsible and informed decisions,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Satan, the great motivator: The curious economic effects of religion (Michael Fitzgerald, November 15, 2009, bOSTON gLOBE)

What makes economies grow? It’s a question that has occupied thinkers for centuries. Most of us would tick off things like education levels, openness to trade, natural resources, and political systems.

Here’s one you might not have considered: hell.

A pair of Harvard researchers recently examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies - and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell. [...]

[O]ver the last several decades, better sets of statistics on religion have become available, and improvements in computing power and mathematical techniques have made it easier for economists to run very large statistical analyses, with hundreds of variables.

Among the most provocative findings have come from Robert Barro, a renowned economist at Harvard, and his wife, Rachel McCleary, a researcher at Harvard’s Taubman Center. McCleary, the daughter of a Methodist missionary, felt that she had seen religion change people’s economic behavior, and wondered why economists didn’t look at it as a potential factor in economic development. Barro found the idea intriguing.

The two collected data from 59 countries where a majority of the population followed one of the four major religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. They ran this data - which covered slices of years from 1981 to 2000, measuring things like levels of belief in God, afterlife beliefs, and worship attendance - through statistical models. Their results show a strong correlation between economic growth and certain shifts in beliefs, though only in developing countries. Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Belief in heaven also has a similar effect, though less pronounced. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.

McCleary says this makes sense from a strictly economic standpoint - as economies develop and people can earn more money, their time becomes more valuable. For economic growth, she says, “What you want is to have people have their children grow up in a faith, but then they should become productive members of society. They shouldn’t be spending all their time in religious services.”

After Barro and McCleary’s initial work was published in 2003, other economists started looking more seriously at the impact of religious beliefs. Researchers based at the New University of Lisbon and the University of Illinois used a model that showed European industrial development between 1645 and 1850 took place roughly 35 years earlier in Protestant countries than Catholic ones. (The researchers posited that Protestant beliefs in economic success as a sign one might get to heaven inspired people to work harder and invest.) The German economist Sascha O. Becker looked at Prussia’s economic development and found that, at least for Germany, Weber was right about the Protestant work ethic: Protestants were more likely to be entrepreneurs than Catholics, and more likely to create bigger firms. (Becker argues the cause isn’t religious belief itself, but an accidental offshoot of Protestants needing to be literate enough to read the Bible.)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


A Song Grows in Brooklyn: Inspired by community, biblical truth, and good music, a Brooklyn couple makes music in their living room—as The Welcome Wagon. (Alissa Wilkinson, 6/29/2009, Christianity Today)

It's not hard to find good music any night of the week in Brooklyn. What's less common is a packed-out crowd of hip twenty-somethings alternately stomping, clapping, and whistling while the band onstage sings from Malachi 4:2:

But for you who fear my name
The Son of Righteousness will rise
With healing in his wings

And you shall go forth again
Skip about like calves
Coming from their stalls at last …

It's a Thursday night at Southpaw, a cavernous venue in an old dollar-store space, plastered with concert photos and lined by a long bar. And the band onstage is The Welcome Wagon, fronted by Vito and Monique Aiuto, a Presbyterian pastor and his wife.

Whoever said New York is a godless town should probably drop by.

Despite their audience and appearance—Vito is in a tweed suit and brimmed knit cap, and Monique wears a demure pencil skirt and tights with her vintagesque vest—the Aiutos aren't trying to be ironic or cool. They cheerily hand out a Polish poppy seed strudel from the stage as a "welcome wagon" gift. Their church, Resurrection Presbyterian (PCA), which Vito pastors, meets in Williamsburg, the epicenter of postmodern hipsterdom, and their congregation is top-heavy with zeitgeisty artists and musicians.

The Aiutos recently released their first album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, on the Asthmatic Kitty label, with album art by Monique. Produced by their longtime friend and indie poster boy, Sufjan Stevens, the music has Stevens' unmistakable fingerprints all over it—so much so that one might be tempted to assume that this is really his music, and that the Aiutos are an alter ego for the musician who has worked hard to distance himself from the Christian mainstream.

But it's just not true; all insist that this is really the Aiutos' music, and what Stevens mostly contributed was orchestration and arrangement—and a theologically perceptive liner-note commentary on the Asthmatic Kitty website.

The Aiutos' met Stevens at a quirky event called "Christ-a-Go-Go," a kind of Christian arts extravaganza that Stevens helped organize. Monique helped curate and Vito made the food. "We didn't even know [Stevens] played music at the time," says Vito.

Sufjan later asked Vito to play in some early iterations of his band. "It was really ridiculous," says Vito, "because I don't know how to play the guitar. I still don't know how to play that well." Still, a friendship was born. [...]

Vito and Monique are equally inviting—fitting for a couple with a band called The Welcome Wagon. In fact, hospitable strikes me as a prevailing characteristic of their lives, music, and ministry. Both raised in the same town in a farming community in Michigan, the Aiutos count their friends and parishioners as family. It's an unabashedly Midwestern frame of mind, in many ways; whereas the typical urbanite has a more transient mindset, the Aiutos have purposefully planted their lives in north Brooklyn in order to minister to that diverse community.

Monique arrived in New York City in 1992, to attend college at the prestigious Cooper Union. Two years later, after meeting again in Michigan, Vito and Monique began to deepen their acquaintance into a relationship. Vito moved to attend Princeton Theological Seminary in 1995, and the pair married three years later. In 2001, Vito began ministering with Reformed University Fellowship at New York University.

While Monique grew up in a family that went to church and prayed together, she first began to own her faith as an adult while attending Times Square Church during college. Vito, on the other hand, was an agnostic when he began college. By his junior year, he realized that the life he had constructed—one that was built around his own happiness and pleasure at the expense of those around him—was bringing him to his knees. "I can see that God's grace was such that it would not allow me to pursue my own destruction." Though he had considered prayer to be primitive or intellectually weak, he realized one day that it was his only hope—that only God could save him and order his life.

He decided to go to seminary because he felt called to study, but he says, "I don't think I realized that ministry was my vocation until after I left seminary; the calling emerged as I first worked in the church." The call to New York City as a place to raise a family and pursue ministry was also a surprise—but the Aiutos have come to love the city. "We plan on being here a long time, if the Lord wills," Vito says.

In late 2004, Vito began work on planting Resurrection Presbyterian Church in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. Whereas his ministry experience at NYU had been mainly limited to undergraduates, who lived in the same place as students and were at roughly the same place in life, he has found that as a pastor, his experience is much more broad. "I deal with people at various stations of life: married, single, older, younger, children; baptisms, sicknesses, and weddings."

From the start, the Aiutos' inspiration for creating music has been family and home. In the early 1990s, a friend of Monique's introduced them to Dan Smith of the alt-Christian band Danielson Famile. The couple went to a Danielson concert at the legendary Knitting Factory—an experience they both term "the most incredible show I've ever been to."

"It was like he had honed in on something that was wholly his own voice, and I realized that part of the reason he could do that was because he grew up in a family with music," says Vito. "I realized I couldn't really be him, but maybe I could foster that kind of thing."

The Aiutos are well-acquainted with the rootlessness that often afflicts young New Yorkers. In contrast, they have set down roots and begun raising a family—both in their own home, and in their church. And that family is nurtured through playing music together.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM

Caramelized-Onion Lasagna With Gorgonzola Sauce (The Denver Post 10/20/2010)

3 tablespoons butter, divided
8 cups thinly sliced onion (about 2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 (1 2-ounce) cans evaporated fat-free milk
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cooking spray
12 cooked lasagna noodles
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt 2 teaspoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and pepper; cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine; cook 2 minutes or until wine evaporates. Spoon into a bowl; cool.

Melt 1 teaspoon butter in pan over medium- high heat. Add half of the zucchini; cook 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from pan. Add remaining zucchini; cook 2 minutes or until crisp- tender. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add gorgonzola and nutmeg; stir until cheese melts.

Spread 1/4 cup cheese sauce in the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles slightly overlapping over cheese sauce; top with half of onion mixture, half of zucchini and 1 cup cheese sauce. Repeat layers, ending with noodles. Spread the remaining cheese sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes.

October 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Unions threaten French-style riots as the axe falls on 500,000 public sector jobs (Becky Barrow and Tim Shipman, 21st October 2010, Daily Mail)

Unions told the Government to brace itself for French-style street protests last night after the Chancellor confirmed that half a million public sector jobs will be axed.

Militant bosses said the paring back of the state payroll would spark the kind of ‘resistance’ that has led to outbreaks of violence across the Channel.

Public sector strikes are the Left's gift to governments of the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


Bush defends bailout of financial firms (Vicki Needham - 10/20/10, The Hill)

Former President George W. Bush said a decision to use taxpayer money to bolster the financial system in 2008 wasn't difficult and was needed to avoid an economic collapse.

"Depression, no depression," Bush told about 2,000 people during The University of Texas at Tyler's Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday night. "It wasn't that hard for me, just so you know. I made the decision to use your money to prevent the collapse from happening."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


OPPORTUNITY TO INTERVIEW PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (George W. Bush, October 16, 2010, Facebook)

President Bush will invite one Facebook fan to Dallas for an in-person interview about his upcoming memoir, Decision Points, which hits the shelves on November 9, 2010. To be considered, submit five questions that you would like to ask President Bush about Decision Points by posting one comment below this note by 5pm (CDT) on October 21, 2010. 100 finalists will be asked to submit a two-minute video. The top five videos will be posted on President Bush's Facebook wall, and YOU will vote for the winner! The favorite fan will receive round-trip airfare to Dallas, Texas; the opportunity to interview President Bush about his book; and a personalized, signed copy of Decision Points.

Official Contest Rules:

1. Contest and Sponsor: Participation in the George W. Bush Interview Contest (the “Contest”) constitutes Contestant’s full and unconditional agreement to these Official Rules. The Sponsor is the Office of George W. Bush, Post Office Box 259000, Dallas, TX, 75225-9000 (“Sponsor”). All decisions related to, as well as all interpretations of, these Official Rules by Sponsor shall be final and binding. The Contest is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.

2. Eligibility: The Contest is open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (and the District of Columbia) who are at least the age of majority for their respective state of residence at the time of entry (at least 18 in most states, some states such as AL, NE and MS have higher ages, other states have high-school graduation requirements). Employees of the Office of George W. Bush and its affiliate companies and suppliers, as well as the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and children) and household members of each such employee are not eligible. Eligibility is also contingent upon compliance with these Official Rules and fulfilling all requirements set forth herein. Contest is void where prohibited or restricted by law.

3. How to Enter: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Submit exactly five (5) questions in a single Facebook comment below this note. To be eligible, questions must be received by the Sponsor between 3:00 P.M. (CDT) on October 15, 2010 and 4:59 P.M. (CDT) on October 21, 2010 (the “Contest Period”). All entries and submissions, once submitted, become the property of the Sponsor and shall not be returned. Any incomplete entries will not be eligible. Only one entry is allowed per person.

4. Winner Determination and Verification: Sponsor in its sole discretion will choose one hundred (100) contestants from among all entries received during the Contest Period based on review and analysis of the questions included in each Contestant’s comment. These 100 Contestants will then be required to submit a two minute video (+ or – 15 seconds) within 5 days of being contacted explaining why they should be selected to interview former President George W. Bush. The sponsor in its sole discretion will choose five (5) finalists and post the videos on a tab of the official page’s wall. The Facebook community will then be allowed to vote on the finalists, and the finalist receiving the most votes will win. In the event of a tie, winner will be chosen by Sponsor. Any contestant who fails to submit a video within the required time will be disqualified, and a replacement may be named at Sponsor’s sole discretion. All potential finalists and the winner are subject to verification by Sponsor. A Contestant is not a winner of any prize, even if notified of being a winner unless and until the Contestant’s eligibility has been verified. Potential winners must continue to comply with all terms and conditions of these Official Rules, and eligibility is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements. Each potential winner will be notified by email or Facebook after selection. If a potential winner of any prize cannot be contacted, fails to sign and return the Affidavit of Eligibility, Liability and Publicity Release within the required time period (if applicable), or prize is deemed undeliverable, the potential winner is disqualified and forfeits the prize. In the event that a Prize winner is disqualified for any reason, the video receiving the second most votes will be deemed the winner. If for any reason the second winner is disqualified, then the video receiving the third highest votes will be deemed winner. This process will be continued until the prize is awarded, or Contestant submissions are exhausted. In the event of a tie, winner will be chosen by Sponsor. Winners will be announced via the official George W. Bush Facebook page.

5. Prizes:

a. ONE (1) GRAND PRIZE: An interview with former President George W. Bush, airfare to Dallas if the selected winner does not live in North Texas, and a personalized, signed copy of the book Decision Points. Airfare includes roundtrip, coach-class air transportation for the winner from a major airport near winner’s home (determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion) to Dallas, Texas. At Sponsor’s sole discretion, accommodations at a Dallas-area hotel (single room) and transportation to and from the airport of arrival may be included. Winner must provide own transportation to major airport near home selected by Sponsor. Winner must complete the trip no later than December 10, 2010. Sponsor will determine airline and flight itinerary in its sole discretion. No refund or compensation will be made in the event of the cancellation or delay of any flight. Travel and accommodations are subject to availability. Travel is subject to the terms and conditions set forth in this Contest, and those set forth by the Sponsor’s airline carrier of choice as detailed in the passenger ticket contract. All expenses and incidental travel costs not expressly stated in the package description above, including but not limited to, ground transportation, meals, incidentals, passenger tariffs or duties, airline fees, surcharges, airport fees, service charges or facility charges, personal charges at lodging, security fees, taxes or other expenses are the responsibility solely of winner. Travel restrictions, conditions and limitations may apply. If in the judgment of Sponsor air travel is not required due to winner’s proximity to prize location, ground transportation may be substituted for roundtrip air travel at Sponsor’s sole discretion. Sponsor will not replace any lost, mutilated, or stolen tickets, travel vouchers or certificates. Sponsor is not responsible if any prize-related event is delayed, postponed or cancelled for any reason, in which event that portion of prize is forfeited in its entirety and no substitution will be provided except as in Sponsor’s sole discretion.

b. Four Runner-Up Prizes: The four Contestants who submitted videos that were not selected for the Grand Prize will each receive a personalized, signed copy of Decision Points.

Here are our 5:
Mr. Bush:

(1) Various media reports suggest that it was Tony Blair and Colin Powell who prevailed on you to allow them to frame the case for the Iraq War as primarily about WMD, whereas you'd presented a more international law enforcement and human rights based case to the UN. Was it a mistake to let them change the emphasis?

(2) With Congress unwilling to pass comprehensive immigration reform, did you ever consider issuing a blanket presidential amnesty for those who've entered the States illegally?

(3) Given how mightily your successor has struggled--with an administration that has almost no executive experience--and how successful you and the cast of governors and former chiefs-of-staff who made up your first cabinet were, can you discuss what advantages you think you brought to office because you had been a governor?

(4) During the 2000 campaign you spoke often about reducing partisanship in Washington, but after the animosity surrounding Florida and Gore v. Bush it was seemingly impossible for you to get prominent Democrats to serve in your Administration and the well generally seemed to have been poisoned. How do you think things might have been different had you been declared the victor on Election Night?

(5) While you did manage to get measures like public school vouchers included in the NCLB legislation and HSAs in the prescription drug bill, other elements of the Ownership Society--like personal accounts in Social Security--proved more elusive. Do you think it's just a matter of time before your vision prevails or are there other alternatives to such market based social welfare programs?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


GOP in Lead in Final Lap (JONATHAN WEISMAN , 10/20/10, WSJ)

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP's lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats' challenge in maintaining their hold on the House. The poll of 1,000 registered voters was taken Oct. 14-18.

"It's hard to say Democrats are facing anything less than a category four hurricane," said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the Journal poll with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "And it's unlikely the Democratic House will be left standing."

...a figurative one takes them out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Wake-Up Call in Pennsylvania (JOHN MCCORMACK, 10/20/10, Weekly Standard)

After some initial skepticism at a PPP poll that showed Democrat Joe Sestak one point ahead of Republican Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race (46% to 45%), another poll by Muhlenberg showed Sestak up three, 44% to 41%.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Crash Test Dummies On World Cafe (WXPN, 10/20/10)

Now in their mid-40s, the members of Crash Test Dummies have come a long way since the release of The Ghosts That Haunt Me and God Shuffled His Feet. After several years of hiatus, the group got back together with fresh ideas and a slew of new songs. After becoming infatuated with a vintage musical toy called the Optigan, Roberts and Stewart Lerman decided to have their comeback album, Ooh La-La, revolve around the electric organ's distinct sound.

In contrast to some of the band's earlier work, Ooh La-La is a generally optimistic and youthful album.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Diary (Karma Nabulsi, 10/21/10, London Review of Books)

The way Palestinians see things, the fragmentation of the body politic – externally engineered, and increasingly internally driven – has now been achieved. This summer, even the liberal Israeli press began to notice that the key people in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s capital in the West Bank, no longer discuss strategies of liberation but rather the huge business deals that prey on the public imagination. Every institution or overarching structure that once united Palestinians has now crumbled and been swept away. The gulf between Gaza and the West Bank, between Hamas and Fatah, between Palestinians inside Palestine and the millions of refugees outside it, between city and village, town and refugee camp, now seems unbridgeable. The elites are tiny and the numbers of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised increase every day. There is, at this moment, no single body able to claim legitimately to represent all Palestinians; no body able to set out a collective policy or national programme of liberation. There is no plan.

The feeling of paralysis doesn’t only affect the Palestinians. It is found too among the hundreds of international institutions and less formal groups involved in the thriving carpet-bagging industry of the Middle East Peace Process. The US, the UN, the EU, their special envoys and fact-finding commissions, their human rights monitors, lawyers and NGOs, the policy think tanks, the growing legion of international humanitarian agencies, the dialogue groups and peace groups, all came to the same conclusion shortly after the start of the second Intifada in the autumn of 2000. Over the last decade, these bodies have produced thousands of institutional memos, governmental reports, official démarches, human rights briefings, summaries, analyses, legal inquiries into war crimes and human rights abuses, academic books and articles. And they have pretty much nailed it: Palestinians are enduring the entrenched effects not only of a military occupation, but of a colonial regime that practises apartheid.

The predicament is understood and widely accepted, yet Palestinians and non-Palestinians appear equally baffled. Protest and denunciation have achieved very little. How are we to respond in a way that will allow us to prevail? The vocabulary required to form a policy is entirely absent both nationally and internationally. Palestinians are currently trapped in a historical moment that – as the contemporary world sees it – belongs to the past. The language the situation demands had life only inside an ideology which has now disappeared.

Everyone else has moved on. In a world whose intellectual framework is derived from university courses in postcolonial or cultural studies, from the discourse of post-nationalism, or human rights, or global governance, from post-conflict and security literature, the Palestinians are stuck fast in historical amber. They can’t move on, and the language that could assist them to do so is as extinct as Aramaic. No one cares any longer for talk of liberation: in fact, people flinch at the sound of it – it is unfashionable, embarrassing, reactionary even to speak of revolution today. Twenty-first-century eyes read revolutionary engagement as the first stage on the road to the guillotine or the Gulag. Advanced now well beyond the epic and heroic stages of its history, the West views its own revolutionary roots through the decadent backward gaze of Carl Schmitt. Seen through that prism, Palestinians remain stubbornly – one could almost say, wilfully – in the anti-colonial, revolutionary phase of their history.

(1) Declaration of Independence
(2) Constitutional Convention
(3) National elections

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Nationalists Calling for 'Clean Moscow': Planned Mosque Sparks Controversy in Russia (Maxim Kireev, 10/19/10, Der Spiegel)

The leaders of Moscow's 1.5 million strong Muslim community say they desperately need more places of worship. But a plan to build a new mosque has run into local opposition which is being fuelled by nationalists calling for a "clean Moscow" without Muslims and foreigners.

Small trees are supposed to be keeping the Muslims out of Tekstilshchiki, a district in south eastern Moscow. A young man sets to work with his shovel, pushing it into the earth with a determined kick. Then he places a seedling into the hole and sprinkles earth over it. Using her watering can, Maria Sotova pours some water onto the seedling. "We want a park here and not a mosque or a church or anything else," says the mother who is here with her six-year-old son. There are about a hundred residents of Tekstilshchiki gathered on this lawn --and they want to prevent the start of construction on an Islamic religious center.

The Moscow media have already christened this patch of green "the Russian Ground Zero" in a reflection of strife over the mosque being built near Ground Zero, the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood in New York before the terror attack of 9/11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


A dramatic turn in West Virginia (Clive Crook, October 17 2010, Financial Times)

If West Virginia sends a Republican to replace Byrd in Washington, that would almost be a landslide election in itself. Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts would seem mundane by comparison. But if it does this by rejecting not just any Democrat (Mr Brown’s opponent was feeble) but an unusually popular one, something even odder is going on.

In one way, what West Virginia is saying makes sense. The state may like Mr Manchin and even prefer him to Mr Raese, but at the same time it wants to stop the Obama project. The president’s job-approval rating in West Virginia stands in sharp contrast to Mr Manchin’s: by roughly two to one, voters disapprove, a much worse showing than the national average. Mr Raese’s catchphrase is “Don’t send a rubber stamp to Washington.”

West Virginians know that Republican control of Congress would not mean Republican control of the country. That is a separate issue which does not come up until 2012. The voters’ calculations might be different then, even if nothing else changes. Next month, voters can aim to stop Barack Obama in his tracks without putting the other side in command, and that, apparently, is what they are minded to do.

At the same time, as a bonus, they would retain their popular governor. Mr Manchin did not resign to run for the Senate. West Virginians like the idea of keeping him in charge in Charleston. Byrd’s fleecing of other states’ taxpayers notwithstanding, a good governor makes a bigger difference to most US citizens than a good senator. Refusing to elect Mr Manchin to the Senate would be a kind of compliment.

Or Mr. Manchin could just caucus with the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


What the Founders knew: Faith enhances freedom (Thomas S. Kidd, 10/16/10, USA Today)

Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant French writer who toured America in the 1830s in preparation for his magnum opus, Democracy in America, was struck by the difference between American and French notions of freedom. The American Patriots viewed religion as essential to freedom, while French radicals saw religion as freedom's enemy. Yet the French Revolution descended into massive bloodletting, and concluded with military rule under Napoleon, while the Americans successfully created and sustained a republic without horrific violence (until the Civil War, of course). Tocqueville believed that Americans' friendliness to religion made all the difference, for faith kept the worst excesses of liberty in check. In America, Tocqueville wrote, "freedom sees religion as its companion."

The Founding Fathers considered faith and freedom as companions in several senses. First, they believed that religion seasoned freedom with compassion for one's fellow man. Absolute freedom would lead people into moral chaos. Founders such as James Madison and George Washington knew that people were naturally inclined to oppress their neighbor, because of what Washington called the "love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart." To Washington, the health — and liberty — of the republic depended on religion, which had a unique power to inculcate moral responsibility.

The Founders believed, secondly, that a respect for religious freedom and religious strength was one of the primary bases for American unity. Even Thomas Jefferson, personally skeptical about Christianity, saw faith as an adhesive force among the broad diversity of Americans. The Patriots had severed their historic connection to England, and the American government was far too small to create a sense of national commonality on its own. Where was a basis for their new civil society? Faith offered a solution.

Jefferson's first inaugural address in 1801 extolled Americans' "benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?"

...which depends on morality, which requires monotheism. It's a pretty simple equation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


I refused to help my father die: The chattering classes must not be allowed to drive us to suicide (Cristina Odone, 18 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

"Put me out of my misery." The words were my father's. He lay, body riddled with septicaemia, suffering horribly in a hospital ward, as the rude, rough nurses were too busy with paperwork to relieve his pain. I couldn't believe this was my father, the man who had devoted his life to keeping his son Lorenzo alive. The story of how he and my stepmother had struggled 24/7 so that Lorenzo, robbed of his faculties by adrenoleukodystrophy, should live without pain or indignity, had been so remarkable that Hollywood made a movie about it, Lorenzo's Oil.

Yet now he wanted out. I could see that what would kill him faster than any disease was the realisation that he was dependent on unsympathetic strangers, and stuck in a disorientating and unfamiliar place: he felt humiliated, vulnerable and out of control.

But I didn't want to kill him. I wanted to kill the men and women around him who were failing so manifestly in caring for him. If they had been doing their job properly, they could have controlled his pain, treated him with respect, even maybe engaged with him to raise his spirits. My father didn't need assisted suicide, he needed assistance.

That night, I pleaded with him to focus his extraordinary spirit on life, not death. He pulled through, miraculously.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM

Playing for Change

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The End of History, the End of Ideology? (Jonas Rey, 20 October 2010, ISN Blog)

When Fukuyama declared that history had ended, he meant that ideological history had seized to exist when capitalism won the fight against communism. Since then, no serious ideologies have been able to seriously question or challenge the neoliberal system.

As a result, we have become bad and inept at thinking outside the box. We no longer seriously question the system (that most of us live in), not even after one of its most serious crises. Few people seem interested in seeking out and spreading new form of thinking that promote something better than capitalism. This is a serious deficiency for our increasingly ideology-deficient societies.

We do no longer think about reforming or improving the society, we just think about fixing it. [...]

Slavoj Zizek doesn’t propose a completely a new system, but he challenges the very basis of it. He challenges the tenets and features of the capitalist system that we live in. For example, he challenges the concept of “new cultural capitalism” and the charity system. Charity is something increasingly important, but it doesn’t help the poor to live in a different condition, it just makes them survive longer, says Zizek.

He argues that instead of investing time in charity projects, we should rather start thinking about a system where poverty is no longer possible.

Which is, of course, exactly what the Third Way/Neoconomics does. It's just intolerable to ideologues on the Left, because it depends on free market mechanisms, and the Right, because it requires government mandates.

October 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


Right or Wrong, Joe Girardi's Moves Backfire in Yankees' Crushing Loss (Ed Price, 10/19/10, MLB Fanhouse)

It was a bad day Tuesday for the Yankees, and a worse day for Joe Girardi's leverage.

It started with the Cubs hiring Mike Quade as manager, meaning Girardi -- whose contract as Yankees manager expires after this season -- can't use the Cubs to get more from the Yankees.

It ended with a few questionable decisions that didn't work out as the Rangers whipped the Yankees 10-3 for a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.

"If things go right, they say, 'Well, you did the right thing,' " Girardi said. "If things go wrong, they say, 'Well, you made a mistake.' "

Always true. There are smart moves that don't work and shaky ones that do.

But in the postseason, for the Yankees, the magnification grows.
Game 4: Rangers 10, Yankees 3 | Box Score

Girardi's first key decision was how long to stick with starter A.J. Burnett, whose second-half struggles have been well-chronicled.

The first mistake was handing him the ball with your season on the line. The team is unusually dependent on its one great starter and had to get three wins from him then hope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Sarkozy Stands Firm on Pension Reform as Protests Cripple France (Der Spiegel, 10/19/10)

France was brought to a standstill again on Tuesday by another nationwide day of strikes and protests against pension reforms. President Nicolas Sarkozy said he won't back down in the dispute because raising the retirement age is "essential" for France. [...]

Sarkozy says the reform is the only way to save France's pension system. A decisive vote on it will take place in the Senate on Wednesday. Sarkozy reiterated on Tuesday that he won't back down. "The reform is essential and France is committed to it and will go ahead with it, just as our German partners did," he told journalists during a summit meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the northern city of Deauville.

Merkel backed Sarkozy in an interview with French channel France 2. "I think the population in Germany, just like in France, won't be able to avoid facing up to the truth," she said. "The truth is that people are living longer. And if we want to guarantee a decent pension, the fact that we're living longer must lead to people working longer."

It's over. The Jacobins lose.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Islamic militants raid Chechen parliament, 6 dead ( Musa Sadulayev And Simon Shuster, Associated Press)

Islamic insurgents attacked Chechnya's parliament Tuesday in a brazen suicide raid that left six people dead and 17 wounded, defying Kremlin claims of stability in the volatile southern region.

In a clear challenge to Moscow, the raid occurred just as Russia's interior minister was visiting the provincial capital of Grozny.

No nation can ever be stable and occupied.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


From Obama, the Tax Cut Nobody Heard Of (MICHAEL COOPER, 10/18/10, NY Times)

In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”

Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.

They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.

Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”

“And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it, or nine months into it,” the president said, “people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.”

He's one dang peculiar sort of Socialist...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


From Obama, the Tax Cut Nobody Heard Of (MICHAEL COOPER, 10/18/10, NY Times)

In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”

Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.

They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.

Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”

“And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it, or nine months into it,” the president said, “people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.”

He's one dang peculiar sort of Socialist...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


The First Freedom: Religious Liberty as the Foundation of Human Liberty: The freedom of the Church must be claimed and reclaimed by Christians in each new generation. (THE MOST REVEREND CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP., October 15, 2010 at a catechetical conference sponsored by the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia)

Some of you here tonight will know the name of John Courtney Murray. He's worth remembering. Father Murray was the American Jesuit who helped craft the Second Vatican Council's landmark Declaration on Religious Liberty.

A year after World War II ended, with millions dead and Europe and Japan in ruins, Murray wrote that "those who deny the sovereignty of God over human society are the most dangerous enemies of human liberty."

He wasn't speaking about National Socialism or Communism. He was talking about European Liberalism. That's Liberalism with a capital "L," the system of ideas; the kind of secularism that preached individual freedom while pushing religion out of the public square.

Murray saw that religious freedom is humanity's first and most basic freedom. Religious faith speaks to the purpose of life, the meaning of death and the nature of the human person. It's a God-given right, inherent to human nature. It precedes the state. It is not dependent in any way on any human authority for its legitimacy. And any attempt to suppress the right of people to worship, preach, teach, practice, organize and peacefully engage society because of their belief in God is an attack on the cornerstone of human dignity.

My talk tonight has a simple purpose. I want you to leave here thinking about religious freedom. [...]

This brings me to my fourth and final point:

4. In the face of growing secular hostility, we need to preach and practice a Christianity of resistance.

In the early Church, Christians said: "The Church belongs to God; therefore, she ought not to be assigned to Caesar."[9] If those words are true – and they are – then we need to actively resist efforts by government to meddle in Church teaching and internal affairs, and to interfere with the life of her faithful. Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty claims the autonomy of the Church in uncompromising language:

As the spiritual authority appointed by Christ the Lord with the duty, imposed by divine command, of going into the whole world and preaching the Gospel to every creature, the Church claims freedom for herself in human society and before every public authority. The Church also claims freedom for herself as a society of men with the right to live in civil society in accordance with the demands of the Christian faith.

The Church's freedom is never leased or bartered from Caesar. She takes part in the freedom of Jesus Christ himself. The council says that the relationship between the Church and Jesus is so intimate, that to restrict the Church's freedom of action is "to oppose the will of God."

John Courtney Murray often stressed that "the freedom of the Church" is one of the seminal ideas in Western history.

Large portions of human life exist outside the government's competence, and government has no authority to intrude on them. By insisting on her divine liberty, Murray said, the Church laid the foundations for Western notions of limited government and freedom of conscience, and made possible the emergence of a "civil society" – a sphere of public life that mediates between the individual and the state.

The freedom of the Church is never a threat to good government. It is rather a hedge against the vanity of earthly rulers and their tendency to crowd out rival authorities.

Some of you will remember from history that in 1075 Pope Gregory VII was forced to excommunicate the German King and Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. Henry had seized for himself the power to appoint or "invest" bishops.

The drama of a chastened Henry traveling to Canossa where the Pope was staying, and then waiting in the snow for three days for forgiveness, is one of the key scenes in Western history.

Today Gregory's words about the freedom of the Church sound prophetic:

We make it our business, under the inspiration of God, to provide weapons of humility for emperors, kings and other princes, so that they may be able to restrain the floods of their pride. … For we are aware that worldly glory and secular anxiety usually do draw into pride … those who rule; as a result, neglecting humility and pursuing their own glory, they perpetually yearn to dominate the brethren.

Let me close with a few simple observations.

First, don't be afraid. God never abandons the people who love him. God created each of you for a purpose. Only you can accomplish it for him. He'll never forget you, or stop loving you, or ignore the prayer of an honest heart. So claim the freedom that is already yours by right. Have the courage to preach Jesus Christ, and to teach the Catholic faith by the example of your lives.

Second, love the Church. No one can love an institution. No one can love a bureaucracy. The structures of Church life can't be "loved" – and yet they're unavoidable in doing ministry in the modern world. But the Church is vastly more than her structures. The soul of the Church is the soul of a mother; the heart of the Church is the heart of a mother – our mother, our teacher, our source of solace and strength.

Finally, remember that the Church is missionary by her nature. She cannot remain silent. She exists for just one purpose: to convert, renew and make holy the world; to carry out the mission that Jesus Christ gave her, one soul at a time. Catholics are a missionary people – engaged with the world, witnessing to the world, and struggling for the soul of the world without apologies – or our baptism means nothing at all.

The freedom of the Church must be claimed and reclaimed by Christians in each new generation. Our turn is right here, right now, tonight. So may God grant us the courage, intelligence, and energy to preach Jesus Christ and to claim our sacred liberties. And with God's help, may we turn our nations away from creating the kind of world where those liberties are denied.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Rice meets with Obama, then defends his administration's approach (Glenn Kessler, 10/15/10, Washington Post)

Rice rolled her eyes at the notion that Obama is a closet Muslim, and she defended him from criticism - led by former vice president Richard B. Cheney - that Obama had weakened the country. "Nothing in this president's methods suggests this president is other than a defender of America's interests," Rice told an audience that included presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Rice's book, a deeply personal account of growing up in segregated Alabama, doesn't touch on the foreign policy controversies of her service for President George W. Bush; that material is reserved for a future volume. But all week Rice has deftly maneuvered political minefields, refusing to join in criticism of the current administration while gently defending the decisions of the last one, including Bush's move to topple Saddam Hussein.

"I am not going to chirp at the people inside," Rice said Wednesday on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. "I know that it's a lot easier out here than it is in there, and these are patriotic people who are trying to do their best every day."

...given how closely the Administration has hewed to W's foreign policy?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Time to Talk to the Taliban (RICHARD BARRETT, 10/19/10, NY Times)

Time, rather than resources or appetite for fighting, is beginning to run out for the Taliban. Until recently, they have argued that they will continue to fight until all foreign troops leave the country. Their other conditions are that certain Taliban prisoners must be freed from detention and that the United Nations Security Council should remove the names of Taliban members from its Qaeda-Taliban sanctions list.

But as it becomes increasingly clear that there will be only a limited drawdown of United States troops starting next July, and that the current intense air campaign and other attacks on Taliban leaders are likely to continue, waiting until the foreigners leave is no longer such an attractive option.

The Taliban’s command-and-control networks have stood up relatively well since their resurgence in 2006, but the campaign against their senior and middle leadership by American, Afghan and other special forces, aided by a much-improved intelligence picture and supported by drones, has taken a huge toll. The Taliban have not just lost many key commanders; the surviving senior leaders are forced to keep out of sight and now rarely travel within Afghanistan.

This lack of face-to-face contact with their subordinates and the enemy is sapping their authority. Taliban leaders have also had to limit their telephone communications for fear of giving away their locations, and have had to find less reliable and efficient ways to discuss strategy and pass orders to the field.

Personal connections, which have been essential to the cohesion of the movement, have been broken by the deaths of many mid-ranking commanders and their replacement by younger and lesser-known successors. Regional and local commanders have become more independent and less likely to follow orders that go against their personal interests; for example, in the way that they raise and use money, often keeping it for themselves rather than passing it back to their leaders for redistribution. Following Afghan tradition, local commanders are building independent fiefs that they will be reluctant to relinquish.

Were the Taliban to try to govern Afghanistan again it would only be making itself easier to target.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Abigail Washburn On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mopuntain Stage, 10/19/10)

Abigail Washburn has appeared on Mountain Stage several times, including two appearances with The Sparrow Quartet and once with Uncle Earl. Her new CD, City of Refuge, will be released in 2011. She previews the CD in this, her second solo appearance on Mountain Stage.

She is joined here by City of Refuge producer Kai Welch on keys, guitar and trumpet, bassist Bryn Davies (heard last week with Justin Townes Earle) and fiddle player Rayna Gellert, also a member of Uncle Earl.

They begin with Washburn’s sparse arrangement of the traditional gospel song “Bright Morning Stars.” She wrote “Last Train” with Kai Welch.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Why Hizbollah is more than a proxy (Mohamad Bazzi, Oct 19, 2010, The National)

There is a long tradition of the Lebanese state leaving Shiites to fend for themselves and waiting for religious or charitable groups to fill the vacuum. This happened over decades, long before Hizbollah emerged in the early 1980s. Hizbollah's "state within a state" was possible because successive governments left a void in the Shiite-dominated areas of southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. Hizbollah did what any effective political movement would do: it created a dependency and social service network that guaranteed its dominance.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Shiites were first making the migration from the rural south and Bekaa to Beirut and other cities, the central government left their fate to the clans and feudal landlords who held sway in the agricultural hinterlands. In 1970, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) began creating bases in southern Lebanon, the Shiites were on the front line of a conflict between the PLO and Israel. More families fled their homes in the south and joined relatives who had already settled around Beirut. Around this time, a Shiite cleric named Musa al Sadr created Amal, the first major Shiite political party, which later turned into a militia. To an extent, Amal supplanted the feudal lords as protector of the Shiites.

When Israeli troops first invaded southern Lebanon in 1978 to drive out the PLO and create a "buffer zone" to prevent attacks on northern Israel, Shiites welcomed Israeli soldiers with rice and flowers. But that honeymoon did not last long, and Shiites were soon fighting the Israelis. The Shiites turned out to be more formidable enemies of Israel than the PLO.

After the wider Israeli invasion of 1982, when Israeli forces besieged Beirut and the PLO was finally forced out of Lebanon, Hizbollah emerged to fight the subsequent Israeli occupation of the south. It was more disciplined and less corrupt than Amal, although Hizbollah was always dependent on Iranian funding and support. [...]

When Hizbollah's grinding guerrilla war forced Israel to end its occupation in May 2000, the militia was hailed throughout the Muslim world for achieving what no Arab army had done before: force Israel to relinquish land without a peace agreement. With the Israeli withdrawal, Hizbollah moved into the vacuum in southern Lebanon, opening clinics and schools, and providing small-business loans. The group also expanded its military capability. [...]

To many Shiites, Hizbollah's ascendance put them on the political map. There is a word Lebanese have sometimes used to insult Shiites: mitwali, which roughly translates into "country bumpkin". It is a term freighted with meaning - of dispossession, prejudice and deprivation. But some Shiites now use it with pride.

"During the civil war, we mitwalis were insulted and put down. Hizbollah gave us a new sense of dignity, and that's the most important right we can have," a young Shiite student once told me at a Hizbollah rally. "Hizbollah made it possible for us to stand, without fear, and shout from the rooftops that we are mitwalis."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Wal-Mart Moms Breaking For GOP (Jeremy P. Jacobs, 10/19/10, Hotline)
[T]wo firms surveyed 250 Wal-Mart moms in five states -- California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania -- from October 7 to 13. Each survey had a margin of error of +/- 6.2 percent.

Some of the key findings: In 2008, Wal-Mart moms were likely to report voting for Pres. Obama and self-identified as Democrats. This year, however, they are leaning toward supporting a Republican for Congress. In all five states, more Wal-Mart Moms now identify as Republicans by statistically significant margins.

In all of these states, a plurality is also supporting Republican contenders for the Senate. A double digit percentage, however, hasn't made up their mind -- suggesting that at least some of this voting bloc is still up for grabs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Miller cites Communist East Germany as effective in dealing with border security (Anchorage Daily News, October 18th, 2010)

The scuffle between the editor of Alaska Dispatch and Joe Miller's security guards at a public forum in Anchorage late Sunday is getting much national attention today. Getting lesser but growing attention is Miller's answer at the forum to a question from the audience about how he would deal with illegal immigration. Anchorage blogger Steve Aufrecht was there and is among those today who are criticizing Miller's response that Communist East Germany is a good example of a nation achieving border security. He quotes Miller as saying: "The first thing that has to be done is secure the border. ... East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow. Now, obviously, other things were involved. We have the capacity to, as a great nation, secure the border. If East Germany could do it, we could do it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


All Roads Lead to Istanbul: Turkey is more popular now than it has been since the Ottoman Empire. But can it please all of its new friends at the same time? (JAMES TRAUB, OCTOBER 15, 2010, Foreign Policy)

It's great to be Turkey just now. The economy, barely scathed by the global recession, grew 11.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, and 10.3 percent in the second. Like the Ottoman Empire reborn, Turkey has sponsored a visa-free zone with Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and is moving toward creating a free trade zone as well. And Turkey is a force not just in its neighborhood but, increasingly, in the world. It's the next president of the Council of Europe, an observer of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and a new friend of ASEAN and Mercosur. And the world is beating a path to its doorstep: When I was in Ankara this week, the Sudanese foreign minister was in town; the French, the Austrians, and the Poles had just visited. Senior Iraqi politicians were making regular pilgrimages. Turkey has become a net exporter of diplomatic services. "For the first time," says Selim Yenel, the highly Americanized deputy undersecretary of foreign affairs responsible for relations with Washington, "they're asking us for advice."

Like its fellow emerging powers Brazil and South Africa, Turkey was once a right-wing state that the West could safely pocket during the Cold War. And like these countries, the Turks now have the self-confidence to feel that they no longer need belong to anyone. Such states are now a force unto themselves, as Turkey and Brazil demonstrated -- to Washington's chagrin -- when they reached a deal with Iran this past May to ensure that Tehran would not produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Intriguingly, Turkey, Brazil, and Nigeria currently serve on the U.N. Security Council, and South Africa and India will next year -- a murderers' row of emerging powers, and a glimpse of a post-hegemonic, polycentric world.

India and Brazil should certainly replace France and China on the UN Security Council with Australia replacing Russia. The matter of which African nation to give a seat to is vexed. It would be nice if Nigeria got its act together enough to deserve it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Thesis, antithesis, synthesis: The way diseases of the psyche are diagnosed is changing rapidly. Doctors are struggling to keep up (The Economist, Oct 14th 2010)

WHAT good is a diagnostic tool if it is too complicated for doctors to use? This is the dilemma facing psychiatry. In the United States the release back in February of a draft version of the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) has triggered a furious row over whether this tool has become too complex. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) points out that more than three-quarters of people with brain disorders in the developing world are not being treated, and on October 7th it released simplified guidelines for diagnosis and treatment designed especially for use by the front-line in medicine: primary-care doctors.

These developments highlight a revolution in psychiatry, the last bastion of symptom-based medicine. In no other medical domain is the symptom (say, anxiety) also the diagnosis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Obama the snob (Michael Gerson, October 19, 2010, Washington Post)

After a series of ineffective public messages -- leaving the political landscape dotted with dry rhetorical wells -- President Obama has hit upon a closing argument.

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now," he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, "and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared."

Let's unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents "facts and science and argument." His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader -- the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains -- the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

The neocortical presidency destroys the possibility of political dialogue. What could Obama possibly learn from voters who are embittered, confused and dominated by subconscious evolutionary fears? They have nothing to teach, nothing to offer to the superior mind. Instead of engaging in debate, Obama resorts to reductionism, explaining his opponents away.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


'Obama Has Turned Out to Be an Utter Disaster': Karl Rove was one of President George W. Bush's closest advisers. SPIEGEL spoke with the political analyst about the widespread anger against Barack Obama and the prospects of Tea Party success in the coming midterm elections. (Der Spiegel, 10/19/10)

SPIEGEL: Still, it's hard to imagine a major European party featuring a candidate like Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate in Delaware. She was forced to admit that she has experimented with witchcraft.

Rove: I know enough about European politics to know you've got a lot of crazy people who make their way onto the ballot.

SPIEGEL: You don't want to admit that O'Donnell isn't exactly a candidate that the Republicans can be proud of?

Rove: In Europe and the United States, you've got different systems to select candidates, and no system is perfect. In Germany you have a parliamentary system in which political parties weed out people. And the fact of the matter is that in Germany, on both sides of the aisle, particularly on the Social Democratic side, you have seen lousy leadership of the political parties that have allowed subpar candidates to emerge through the parliamentary system.

SPIEGEL: In what way?

Rove: You have had candidates that the country rejected in a pretty profound way. Our primary system prevents this from happening as often.

SPIEGEL: Nobody is forced to vote for the party's list.

Rove: But the advantage of our system is that it is able to react to changes in public opinion better than the European system generally is able to. And, we tend to have broadly representative parties rather than sort of multiple parties that represent more narrow slices of the electorate and lead to coalition politics.

SPIEGEL: The Republican Party used to have a broad center. All of a sudden, we have this completely new phenomenon in which outsiders like Sarah Palin play a very large role in the party. She almost seems to dominate the party.

Rove: What's unusual about that? She's a rambunctious reformist former governor from the state of Alaska. Both parties have seen relative newcomers like this emerge before.

SPIEGEL: She wasn't, though, part of the Republican Party establishment.

Rove: Ronald Reagan wasn't in the establishment of the Republican Party either, nor was Richard Nixon.

SPIEGEL: It is nevertheless striking how little experience she has. That's new.

Rove: Oh really? I believe she was the chief executive of a state. She wasn't simply a newly elected senator from the state of Illinois who had absolutely no accomplishments whatsoever.

In a prizefight, the ref would have stopped this a while ago.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


99 Dem House seats in danger (ALEX ISENSTADT, 10/19/10, Politico)

With two weeks remaining until Election Day, the political map has expanded to put Democrats on the run across the country – with 99 Democratic-held House seats now in play, according to a POLITICO analysis, and Republicans well in reach of retaking the House.

It’s a dramatic departure from the outlook one year ago – and a broader landscape than even just prior to the summer congressional recess. As recently as early September, many Republicans were hesitant to talk about winning a majority for fear of overreaching.

Today, however, the non-partisan Cook Political Report predicts a GOP net gain of at least 40 House seats, with 90 Democratic seats in total rated as competitive or likely Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


A Murder in Salem: In 1830, a brutal crime in Massachusetts riveted the nation—and inspired the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne (E.J. Wagner, November 2010, Smithsonian magazine)

On the evening of April 6, 1830, the light of a full moon stole through the windows of 128 Essex Street, one of the grandest houses in Salem, Massachusetts. Graced with a beautifully balanced red brick facade, a portico with white Corinthian columns and a roof balustrade carved of wood, the three-story edifice, built in 1804, was a symbol of prosperous and proper New England domesticity. It was owned by Capt. Joseph White, who had made his fortune as a shipmaster and trader.

A childless widower, White, then 82, lived with his niece, Mary Beckford (“a fine looking woman of forty or forty-five,” according to a contemporary account), who served as his housekeeper; Lydia Kimball, a domestic servant; and Benjamin White, a distant relative who worked as the house handyman. Beckford’s daughter, also named Mary, had once been part of the household, but three years earlier she had married young Joseph Jenkins Knapp Jr., known as Joe, and now lived with him on a farm seven miles away in Wenham. Knapp was previously the master of a sailing vessel White owned.

That night, Captain White retired a little later than was his habit, at about 9:40.

At 6 o’clock the following morning, Benjamin White arose to begin his chores. He noticed that a back window on the ground floor was open and a plank was leaning against it. Knowing that Captain White kept gold doubloons in an iron chest in his room, and that there were many other valuables in the house, he feared that burglars had gained access to it. Benjamin at once alerted Lydia Kimball and then climbed the elegant winding stairs to the second floor, where the door to the old man’s bedchamber stood open.

Captain White lay on his right side, diagonally across the bed. His left temple bore the mark of a crushing blow, although the skin was not broken. Blood had oozed onto the bedclothes from a number of wounds near his heart. The body was already growing cold. The iron chest and its contents were intact. No other valuables had been disturbed.

I first read of the Salem murder many years ago in a Greenwich Village secondhand bookshop. I’d ducked inside to escape a sudden downpour, and as I scanned the dusty shelves, I discovered a battered, coverless anthology of famous crimes, compiled in 1910 by San Francisco police captain Thomas Duke.

The chapter on Captain White’s savage killing, evocative of the golden age mystery tales of the late 19th century, riveted me at once. The famed lawyer and congressman Daniel Webster was the prosecutor at the ensuing trial. His summation for the jury—its inexorable cadence, the slow gathering of dreadful atmospheric details—tugged at my memory, reminding me of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of terror. In fact, after talking with Poe scholars, I learned that many of them agreed the famous speech had likely been the inspiration for Poe’s story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” wherein the narrator boasts of his murder of an elderly man. Moreover, I discovered, the murder case had even found its way into some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works, with its themes of tainted family fortunes, torrential guilt and ensuing retribution.

Those facts alone proved an irresistible magnet to a crime historian like me. But the setting—gloomy, staid Salem, where in the 1690s nineteen men and women were convicted of witchcraft and hanged—endowed the murder case with another layer of gothic intrigue. It almost certainly fed the widespread (and admittedly lurid) fascination with the sea captain’s death among the American public at the time. The town, according to an 1830 editorial in the Rhode Island American, was “forever...stained with blood, blood, blood.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


GOP Has Plans for Ayotte After She Wins (Jessica Brady, 10/19/10, CQ-Roll Call)

Senate Republicans view New Hampshire frontrunner Kelly Ayotte as a key political asset as the GOP looks to make inroads with female voters and independents.

Ayotte has the backing of former vice presidential candidate and tea party doyenne Sarah Palin , yet aides note that she has maintained a sense of moderate appeal in ways that other conservatives, such as Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, have not.

A 42-year-old mother of two and wife of an Iraq War veteran, Ayotte’s personal background is attractive to Senate GOP leaders who want a fresh face to help boost their message strategy next year.

“The addition of a Republican woman from New England who’s young, who’s a mom,” one senior GOP aide said, “all of these things broaden the Republican party’s appeal and say to different segments of the population, ‘This party has folks in it that are just like you.’”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Trafalgar account is rare voice from below decks
: Eyewitness account of the battle of Trafalgar has resurfaced, and demolishes the cliched view of life for ordinary sailors (Maev Kennedy, 10/19/10, guardian.co.uk)

England expected and Robert Hope did his duty: days before the 205th anniversary of one of the most famous of all naval battles, an eyewitness account of the battle of Trafalgar has resurfaced – written by an ordinary sailor who viewed history in the making from the heat, smoke and stink below decks. He writes:

What do you think of us Lads of the Sea now, I think they won't send their fleets out again in a hurry

Hope, a 28-year-old sailmaker, bragged from HMS Temeraire, which was in the thick of the battle. The letter "hoping will find you in good health as I bless god I am at present", was written to his brother John, safely ashore at Ashford in Kent. Although the National Maritime Museum has voluminous accounts of Nelson's victory and death at Trafalgar in its archives at Greenwich, it is a rare voice from below decks – reports of any battle are invariably dominated by the officers. Hope described how his ship engaged the Spanish four-decker Santa Trinadada, alongside Nelson's flagship Victory, but was soon caught in a firestorm, and surrounded by French ships.

When five more of the enemy's ships came upon us and engage us upon every quarter, for one hour and sixteen minutes, when one struck but being so closely engaged that we could not take possession of her at that time, two more seemed to be quite satisfied with what they had got so sheered off, but the other two was determined to board us. So with that intent, one dropt on our starboard side called the la Fue and the other dropt on our larboard side called the Doubtable, they kept a very hot fire for some time. But we soon cooled them for in the height of the smoke our men from the upper decks boarded them both at the same time, and soon carried the day.

Despite a few crossed out mistakes, the letter is beautifully written. Quintin Colville, curator of naval history at the museum, said: "It instantly demolishes the cliched view of life below decks as villainous and ignorant – this man was obviously highly educated, and he gives a most vivid and lively description."

...if you judge just by the surviving letters, every human has been literate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Disappointed Obama isn't FDR? Let's remember the real deal about the New Deal.: High on hope, supporters heralded Obama as the new FDR. Two years later, many feel disillusioned. But FDR's actual record puts today's gripes about Obama into perspective. (Charles Dorn, October 15, 2010, CS Monitor)

In 1941, even after the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Lend-Lease Act put Americans back to work, unemployment stood at 9.9 percent – higher than it is now. FDR's New Deal didn't restore the economy; World War II did.

Take the second claim, that FDR vanquished the fascists – the geopolitical Enemy No. 1 of their time. Well, yes, he did. However, he only succeeded in doing this by striking a deal with Joseph Stalin – a murderous dictator in his own right – and allowing the Soviet Union to absorb atrocious losses on the eastern front. By the war’s end, the United States had suffered approximately 600,000 casualties, overwhelmingly military. The Soviet Union? Over 25 million, more than half of them civilian.

And your grandmother wasn't "unemployed".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Half-Dozen N.Y. Races May Help G.O.P. Win House (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, 10/19/10, NY Times)

In the Utica area, conservative groups and the National Republican Congressional Committee have unleashed a flurry of ads attacking Representative Michael A. Arcuri, a two-term Democrat trying to fend off Richard Hanna, a mall developer.

“It’s thermonuclear,” Mr. Arcuri said, referring to the ferocity of the campaign being waged against him. He added, “It’s going to be a close election.”

On Long Island, Representative Timothy H. Bishop, a four-term Democrat who has cruised to re-election in the past, faces an aggressive challenge from Randy Altschuler, a wealthy businessman who has poured his own money into his campaign.

In suburbs north of New York City, Representative John J. Hall, a two-term Democratic incumbent, has called on former President Bill Clinton for help in his fight against the Republican nominee, Dr. Nan Hayworth, an ophthalmologist and first-time candidate.

The Democrats’ problems here underscore the degree to which Republicans have expanded the map of competitive races around the country. In addition, Republicans see opportunity in New York because many of the seats now in play were won by Democrats during the past two election cycles. [...]

The degree to which Democrats have been forced on the defensive can be seen in the 19th Congressional District, which Mr. Hall won in an upset in 2006 as Democrats took control of the House.

At a debate last week, the audience groaned loudly when Mr. Hall gave President Obama a grade of “B” for his job performance.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Will January vote bring war or peace to south Sudan? (Peter Martell, 10/19/10, BBC News)

Former south Sudanese rebel Diing Dhel stretches his T-shirt to show its slogan: "Referendum is your golden chance for total independence."

It is a common message plastered on posters and banners here in the southern capital, Juba, as the war-damaged region prepares for a historic vote due on 9 January 2011.

Excitement is high, with many believing the south will choose secession and divide Africa's largest nation in two.

Every month hundreds take to the streets in cities across the south waving flags and chanting slogans demanding the vote is held on time. But with just over 80 days to go, much preparation still needs to be done.

"We have fought and waited for years for the chance to decide our future," said Mr Dhel, whose shirt carries a logo showing chains being cut from black fists, set against a backdrop of the southern flag.

The referendum is part of the 2005 peace deal that brought to an end more than two decades of civil war fought over ethnicity, oil, religion and resources.

No one cares about Africa, so the liberation of South Sudan is one of W's least recognized legacies.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


GOP House Leaders Seek to Avoid Mistakes of '94 (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 10/19/10, WSJ)

A number of House Republicans, including some who are likely to be in the leadership, are pushing a post-election strategy aimed at securing concrete legislation, with the goal of showing they can translate general principles into specific action.

Among the ideas is to bring a series of bills to the floor, as often as once a week, designed to cut spending in some way. Longer term, GOP leaders say they recognize they may have to compromise with Democrats in tackling broader problems.

If they recapture the House, Republicans say they are wary of following the example of the class of 1994, which shut down the government in a standoff with President Bill Clinton. Top Republicans contend that passing legislation, or at least making a good faith effort to do so, will earn them more credibility with voters than refusing to waver from purist principles.

"It's pretty clear the American people expect us to use the existing gridlock to create compromise and advance their agenda," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.). "They want us to come together [with the administration] after we agree to disagree."

Cue rightwing tantrum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Almost Dying in the White Mountains (G. Tracy Mehan, III on 10.19.10, American Spectator)

Thanks to the generous hospitality of old friends, despite the taunting of my peers claiming that I was going on a senior citizen fall color tour, my wife and I journeyed to the lovely town of Jackson, New Hampshire this October.

Jackson is a place beyond the imaginings of even the most devoted viewers of the TV series Newhart (1982-1990), which, while set in Vermont, captured the imagination of this son of the Midwest and fortified my L.L. Bean fantasies of fall splendor in New England.

Neither we nor our other traveling companions, friends from St. Louis, were disappointed.

Crossing a beautiful covered bridge, we entered one of the charming towns which thrive in the shadow of the White Mountains and the towering Mount Washington.

We had arrived at the peak of the fall colors in early October which intensified every day we were there. The New England chill was invigorating and the sunlight was crystalline. The beauty was almost painful to behold.

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October 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Anti-Incumbent Mood Could Help Republicans In State Legislative Races: They Hope To Take BacHartford Courant)

With a national anti-incumbent headwind at their back and history on their side, Republicans are hoping for a political spillover into Connecticut this year to regain the legislative seats they lost in the strong Democratic years of 2006 and 2008.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley predicts that the Republicans could win back as many as 15 to 20 seats in the House and three to four in the state Senate.

If Republicans achieve those gains, the current veto-proof margins in both chambers would be broken. If that happens, passing difficult legislation — such as abolishing the death penalty — would become more difficult.

Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669.

Even if the Republicans have a banner year, Democrats are still expected to control both chambers of the legislature because they currently hold wide leads of 114-37 in the House and 24-12 in the Senate.

"This is our best chance we've had in a long time,'' said Republican State Chairman Christopher Healy. "We've got to get back the seats we lost either through bad years or lazy candidates.''

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


OBIT: Benoit Mandelbrot: Benoit Mandelbrot, who died on October 14 aged 85, was largely responsible for developing the discipline of fractal geometry – the study of rough or fragmented geometric shapes or processes that have similar properties at all levels of magnification or across all times. (Daily Telegraph, 10/17/10)

Examining coastlines, he found that while the lines on maps featured bays, they did not feature the small bays that are within the bays, or the small structures within the small bays, and so on.

In a seminal essay entitled How Long Is the Coast of Britain? (1967), Mandelbrot showed that the answer to that question depends on the scale at which one measures it: the coastline grows longer as one takes into account first every bay or inlet, then every stone, then every grain of sand.

These patterns could not be explained by existing statistical methods, so Mandelbrot set about devising a system that would. Through the years that followed, he developed the concept of fractal geometry, codifying the "self-similarity" characteristics of many fractal shapes. (He coined the word "fractal" – from the Latin verb frangere, "to break" – in 1975). Mandelbrot's eclectic research ultimately led to a great breakthrough summarised by a simple mathematical formula: z = z² + c. This formula is now named after its inventor and is called the Mandelbrot set. Computer images of fractal shapes became popular on T-shirts and album covers.

First in isolated papers and lectures, then in The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982), which has sold more copies than any other book of advanced mathematics, Mandelbrot argued that most traditional mathematical and classical geometric models were ill-suited to natural forms and processes. "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line," he wrote.

Instead these phenomena and others, including variations in stock market prices, the fluctuations in turbulent fluids, geologic activity, planetary orbits, animal group behaviour, socioeconomic patterns and even music, can be modelled using fractals. The difference between the flower heads of broccoli and cauliflower, for example, can be exactly characterised in fractal theory.

The discipline of fractals came into its own in the computer age. It is now possible to create "fractal forgeries" of mountains, coastlines, trees, clouds, cell growth and other processes which bear an uncanny resemblance to the real thing. Applications range from digital compression in computers to finding the best mix of tyre ingredients, and from modelling turbulence on aircraft wing designs to texturing medical images.

Benoit B Mandelbrot (he awarded himself a middle initial, although it stood for nothing) was born on November 20 1924 in Warsaw, Poland, into a family of Lithuanian Jewish extraction. His father made his living selling clothes while his mother was a doctor, but the family had a strong academic tradition and, as a boy, Mandelbrot was introduced to mathematics by two uncles.

In 1936 Mandelbrot's family emigrated to France where one uncle, Szolem Mandelbrot, a Professor of Mathematics at the Collège de France, took responsibility for the boy's education. Mandelbrot attended the Lycée Rolin in Paris, but was not a good student; it was said that he never learned the alphabet (he could never use a telephone directory, for example), nor his multiplication tables past five.

At the outbreak of war, his family moved to Tulle, a small town to the south of Paris. There, the war, the constant threat of poverty and the need to survive kept him away from school and, in consequence, he was largely self taught.

At this time, French mathematical training and thinking was strongly analytic and abstract, dominated by an influential group of young formalist mathematicians who wrote under the pseudonym of Nicolas Bourbaki; Mandelbrot's uncle Szolem was a member of the "Bourbaki" set. In contrast to their approach, Mandelbrot visualised problems whenever possible, preferring geometry to abstract formalism.

Despite his poor performance at school, he found that he had a quite extraordinary ability to "visualise" mathematical questions and solve problems with leaps of geometric intuition rather than the "proper" established techniques of strict logical analysis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Great Opportunist: Don't presume you know the strange truth about Henry Morton Stanley: a review of STANLEY The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer By Tim Jeal ( Jason Roberts, December 23, 2007, Washington Post)

It's hard to imagine a more intriguing -- and intimidating -- challenge to the biographer's art than the life of journalist, explorer and continental opportunist Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904). He is rare among celebrities of centuries past, in that the years have not transmuted his fame into benign augustness nor obscurity, but rather into infamy: Post-Victorian sensibilities have long since extinguished the heroic light once cast upon Stanley's expeditions into so-called "darkest Africa." The man who did more than any other Westerner to illuminate what Joseph Conrad termed "the unsolved mystery of that continent" is now less commemorated for his achievements than condemned for the ruthlessness by which he achieved them.

Even during his lifetime, exploits that once thrilled admirers began to appall. Stanley wrote casually of beating his native porters to perk up "the physical energy of the lazily inclined." He once observed that the massacre of 33 Bumbireh warriors should teach the survivors to "in future behave with some regard to the rights of strangers." Yet as Tim Jeal points out in this commanding, definitive biography, much of this was bluster, calculated to fit the public-consumption ideal of the Great White Conqueror.

The unguarded Stanley was remarkably minimal in his racism, declaring himself "prepared to admit any black man possessing the attributes of true manhood, or any good qualities, to my friendship, even to a brotherhood with myself." The violence he perpetrated was regularly exaggerated, usually by Stanley himself. It's not hard to find evidence of similarly inexcusable behavior among his contemporary explorers -- even the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, whom Stanley famously set out to "rescue" from the African interior, not only killed several natives but punitively burned their huts. None of this serves as an apology for the man, but it demonstrates that is impossible to view Henry Morton Stanley plain. One must filter his image through two distorting prisms, that of his era and of our own.

...you could do worse than Peter Forbath's great Last Hero

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


From Russia With Blood: C.J. Chivers talks with Foreign Policy about the Kalashnikov, the world's real weapon of mass destruction. (INTERVIEW BY CHARLES HOMANS, OCTOBER 15, 2010, Foreign Policy)

FP: The Gun includes a chilling account of the use of the Kalashnikov by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, where the gun's durability in a harsh environment has prolonged the guerrillas' activities and its ease of operation has enabled the deployment of child soldiers. How responsible is the weapon for the nature of the protracted, de-professionalized wars that have torn apart so much of east and central Africa over the past two decades? Are there conflicts that we likely wouldn't have seen but for the proliferation of Kalashnikovs?

CC: I like these questions, so let me riff on them. Let's be clear: Without Kalashnikovs, there would still be war, and plenty of it. It would be naive, even foolish to think otherwise. But let's also be clear about the Kalashnikov's role: It would also be naive, even foolish, to think that the costs and consequences of many wars would not be lessened if automatic Kalashnikovs were not so widely distributed, and so readily available.

Once or twice I have heard very accomplished Western soldiers say, "Hey, the AK is not very accurate, and it's not very well-used by many of the poorly trained people who fight conventional forces; therefore it's influence on war today is less than what it might seem." In this view, the improvised explosive device (aka, the IED) or the suicide bomber is the greater threat to many troops in the field, and military small arms are of less importance than they used to be. I reject this latter view, that the rise of one weapon in two wars signifies the decline of another. They are complements. What do I mean?

I won't downplay the role of the improvised bomb, which in recent years has become the dominant cause of wounding to Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a broader view is essential to understanding war and how it is waged. We need to get past the lenses of the most robust and well-equipped forces in the world because (outside the Kalashnikov's early advantage against the early variants of the M-16 in Vietnam) the experiences of Western troops against Kalashnikovs is not where this weapon is at its best, or most influential, at least if measured by body counts. The fuller and more important measure of the automatic Kalashnikov is not how its users perform in head-to-head combat against the current generation of Westernized forces, who have body armor, armored transport, updated weapons with updated optics and night sights, extensive fire support, and medical treatment both immediately (within most patrols) and beyond (via medevac helicopter crews, forward hospitals, and then the infrastructure of the home nation). Of course a network of lightly trained, lightly resourced fighters with Kalashnikovs faces material and tactical disadvantages in many head-to-head gunfights of this sort, and so they have adapted other weapons to match the fight. Thus, the IED.

Let's do the fuller measures. Casualties are not the only yardstick. A weapon can have an enormous effect without wounding anyone at all because it limits the other side's movements or the choices made each day about where and how to go. It can reduce an enemy's mobility and increase the costs of his operations by encouraging him to wear or ride in armor. It can redirect the direction and ambitions of operations -- from campaigns to patrols, in many, many ways. And even this is not enough. The fullest measure of the Kalashnikov is its effects on the vulnerable -- on civilians, on weak governments, on lower-performing government forces, like, for example, the Afghan police or, as you allude to, the Uganda People's Defense Force. Entire areas of many countries are beyond their governments' influence because local anger is coupled with automatic Kalashnikovs, which engender lawlessness and provide a means for crime, rebellion, insurgency, and human rights abuses on a grand scale. The Lord's Resistance Army provided a telling example. It descended from an insurgent organization that had few Kalashnikovs and was short-lived -- its precursor was, in a word, routed. Then came the LRA. It acquired Kalashnikovs. Almost 25 years later, it's still in the field, and the territory it operated in is a social and economic ruin. That was a different war before Joseph Kony got his AKs. And there are many other examples.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


A Literary Revolution: Kafka knew that 'to be modern is to know that some things can no longer be done.' (ERIC ORMSBY, 10/06/10, WSJ)

In Mr. Josipovici's view, Modernism is something at once vast and intimate, encompassing "nothing less than life itself." Modernism isn't a style, he says, but "the coming into awareness by art of its precarious status and responsibilities." Even more portentously, Modernism is a kind of anguished repudiation—"a response to the simplifications of the self and of life that Protestantism and the Enlightenment brought with them." Its intimacy lies in the stubborn effort, especially on the part of Modernist novelists, to render those little hesitations, those sieges of doubt, those a nxious questionings that beset us even as we attempt to construct some credible narrative of our lives. The true Modernist narrative always involves a disrupted momentum. [...]

In the mid-16th century, the old certainties, the immemorial rituals, the hierarchies of the heavens and earth seemed to crumble. As Mr. Josipovici explains, Schiller's phrase was taken up early in the 20th century by the sociologist Max Weber, who used it to explain the radical transformation of the world that occurred after the Protestant Reformation, from a divinely appointed cosmos, alive with numinous presences, to a bustling marketplace of enterprise, production and rampant individualism.

In such a disenchanted world, the world we inhabit now, it's not only pointless but dishonest to write or paint or compose in traditional ways, as though nothing had changed. The old human narrative has been fatally disrupted; it is false to pretend otherwise. Modernism is the anguished response—for Mr. Josipovici, the only valid response—to this irreparable fracture of the world and the self. [...]

Mr. Josipovici does not countenance the possibility that in the works of the Modernist writers, artists and composers he most admires there lay hidden some dimly willed element that led to their supersession. The caustic self-doubt, and doubt of the world, that drove their genius may have proved corrosive over time, diluting the severe standards they applied to art. He quotes Marcel Duchamp, for example, without acknowledging that his wry and cynical playfulness has led, decades later, to the trivial shenanigans of such poseurs as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.

Perhaps the true question raised by "What Ever Happened to Modernism?" is about the way in which art grapples with reality. The 19th-century novelists created characters and set them within a narrative; this was an "arbitrary" process: David Copperfield and Père Goriot are as contrived as the marquise who went out at five. Balzac carried a cane inscribed with the motto "I smash all obstacles." Kafka noted that he himself should have a cane inscribed "All obstacles smash me." Kafka knew that, as Mr. Josipovici puts it, "to be modern is to know that some things can no longer be done."

...you realize Modernism was over as a serious enterprise before it started.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Does the PA fulfill the criteria for an independent state? (DAN IZENBERG, 10/18/2010, Jerusalem Post)

According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which is now part of customary law and therefore binding on all countries, a state must possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and a capacity to enter into relationships with other states.

Furthermore, the convention states that “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states.”

Thus, there is nothing in international law to prevent the Palestinian Authority from unilaterally declaring itself an independent state.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


What the Tea Partiers Really Want: The passion behind the populist insurgency is less about liberty than a particularly American idea of karma. (JONATHAN HAIDT, 10/16/10, WSJ)

Because a generalized love of liberty doesn't distinguish tea partiers from other Americans, liberals have been free to speculate on the "real" motives behind the movement. Explanations so far have spanned a rather narrow range, from racism (they're all white!) to greed (they just don't want to pay taxes!) to gullibility (Glenn Beck has hypnotized them!). Such explanations allow liberals to disregard the moral claims of tea partiers. But the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion. It can be summarized in one word: not liberty, but karma. [...]

One of the biggest disagreements between the political left and right is their conflicting notions of fairness. Across many surveys and experiments, we find that liberals think about fairness in terms of equality, whereas conservatives think of it in terms of karma. In our survey for YourMorals.org, we asked Americans how much they agreed with a variety of statements about fairness and liberty, including this one: "Ideally, everyone in society would end up with roughly the same amount of money." Liberals were evenly divided on it, but conservatives and libertarians firmly rejected it.

On more karmic notions of fairness, however, conservatives and libertarians begin to split apart. Here's a statement about the positive side of karma: "Employees who work the hardest should be paid the most." Everyone agrees, but conservatives agree more enthusiastically than liberals and libertarians, whose responses were identical.

And here's a statement about the negative side of karma: "Whenever possible, a criminal should be made to suffer in the same way that his victim suffered." Liberals reject this harsh notion, and libertarians mildly reject it. But conservatives are slightly positive about it.

The tea party is often said to be a mixture of conservative and libertarian ideals. But in a study of 152,000 people who filled out surveys at YourMorals.org, led by my colleague Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California, we found that libertarians are morally a bit more similar to liberals than to conservatives.

Libertarians are closer to conservatives on two of the five main psychological "foundations" of morality that we study—concerns about care and fairness (as described above). But on the other three psychological foundations—group loyalty, respect for authority and spiritual sanctity—libertarians are indistinguishable from liberals and far apart from conservatives. We call these the three "binding" foundations because they are the psychological systems used by groups—including religious groups, the military and even college fraternities—to bind people together into tight communities of trust, cooperation and shared identity. When you think about morality as a way of binding individuals together, it's no wonder that libertarians (who prize individual liberty above all else) part company with conservatives. [...]

The tea-party movement is a blend of libertarians and conservatives, but it is far from an equal blend, and it's not clear how long it can stay blended. The movement is partially funded and trained by libertarian and pro-business groups—such as FreedomWorks, the organization run by Messrs. Armey and Kibbe—whose main concern is increasing economic liberty. They may indeed "just want to be free," particularly from regulation and taxes, but the social conservatives who make up the great bulk of the movement have much broader aims.

The rank-and-file tea partiers think that liberals turned America upside down in the 1960s and 1970s, and they want to reverse many of those changes. They are patriotic and religious, and they want to see those values woven into their children's education. Above all, they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma.

...being an oxymoron.

Name Your Link

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Democrats' brutal weekend (JAMES HOHMANN, 10/17/10, Politico)

Analyst Stu Rothenberg pegs the number of competitive seats at 100. Charlie Cook says it's 97. Virtually all of those seats are held by Democrats.

Rothenberg is predicting a likely Republican gain of 40 to 50 seats, with 60 seats possible. Republicans need a net pickup of 39 seats to take the House.

One House Democrat, reflecting widespread conversations with his colleagues, guessed Sunday that his party will lose 50 seats. Many, he said, are calling with urgent pleas for more contributions. [...]

In the House, at least 40 House Democrats were outraised by GOP opponents. In the Senate, the Republican candidate had the third-quarter fundraising edge in all but two of the top 20 races, according to a POLITICO review of campaign finance data.

Republicans in these marquee races also are sitting on stockpiles of cash for the stretch run — $50 million in all, a $16 million edge over their Democratic Senate rivals.

Entering the final two weeks, it seemed that no serious Republican hopeful would go wanting for cash — between their own fundraising, party committees and the independent conservative groups like American Crossroads, which pledged to join with other GOP groups to spend $50 million on TV ads slamming House Democrats.

Some of these groups have turned their attention to even second- and third-tier GOP candidates hoping to catch some Democrats by surprise — or at least lure some Democratic dollars away from more winnable races.

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October 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Freddy 'Sez', a Yankee Stadium staple for the last 20 years, dead at age 82 (Bill Price, 10/17/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

At almost every Yankee game, Freddy could be seen outside Yankee Stadium with his daily message for the Yanks and a frying pan he banged like a drum. He also let other fans bang it as well.

He became such an institution that his lucky frying pan and spoon, thanks to Frantz, were put into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Yogi Berra museum in 2004.

He was no Sign Guy, but NPR did a sweet story on him last year

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


The Sound of Spirit (ARTHUR LUBOW, 10/17/10, NY Times Magazine)

Emigrating from the Soviet Union to the West in January 1980 with his wife, Nora, and their two small sons, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was stopped by border police at the Brest railroad station for a luggage search. “We had only seven suitcases, full of my scores, records and tapes,” he recalled recently. “They said, ‘Let’s listen.’ It was a big station. No one else was there. We took my record player and played ‘Cantus.’ It was like liturgy. Then they played another record, ‘Missa Syllabica.’ They were so friendly to us. I think it is the first time in the history of the Soviet Union that the police are friendly.” He was joking, but not entirely. Later, when I asked Nora about that strange scene at the border, she said, “I saw the power of music to transform people.”

Most contemporary composers aim to ravish the ear or to tickle (or boggle) the mind. Pärt is playing for higher stakes. He wants to touch something that he would call the soul, and to a remarkable extent, he is succeeding. When I would mention to friends or acquaintances that I was writing about Pärt, I was surprised at how many responded, “Oh, I love Arvo Pärt!” It’s not something you often hear when you mention a contemporary composer. The enthusiasm for Pärt’s music extends beyond the circles of classical music (where he is sometimes derided as backward-looking and boring) to include admirers in the pop-music world, like Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Bjork. Many of Pärt’s pieces are settings of religious texts, and even the instrumental works bear a whiff of church incense. Yet the compositions resonate profoundly for the unconverted as well as the faithful. “It’s a cleansing of all the noise that surrounds us,” says the violinist Gidon Kremer. It is music that reveals itself gradually, with a harmonic stillness that conjures up an alternative to hectic everyday existence. “I was attracted to the unbelievable calm and brilliance of his music, and a seeming simplicity,” Stipe told me. “As a musician and an artist, you realize that within its simplicity, it’s incredibly complex. It brings one to a total meditative state. It’s amazing, amazing music.”

-ARCHIVES: Arvo Part (NPR)
-Arvo Pärt and the New Simplicity (Bill McGlaughlin, 10/11/1998, MPR: St. Paul Sunday)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened (MARTIN FACKLER, 10/17/10, NY Times)

Few nations in recent history have seen such a striking reversal of economic fortune as Japan. The original Asian success story, Japan rode one of the great speculative stock and property bubbles of all time in the 1980s to become the first Asian country to challenge the long dominance of the West.

But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed. For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.

Now, as the United States and other Western nations struggle to recover from a debt and property bubble of their own, a growing number of economists are pointing to Japan as a dark vision of the future. Even as the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, prepares a fresh round of unconventional measures to stimulate the economy, there are growing fears that the United States and many European economies could face a prolonged period of slow growth or even, in the worst case, deflation, something not seen on a sustained basis outside Japan since the Great Depression.

Many economists remain confident that the United States will avoid the stagnation of Japan, largely because of the greater responsiveness of the American political system and Americans’ greater tolerance for capitalism’s creative destruction. Japanese leaders at first denied the severity of their nation’s problems and then spent heavily on job-creating public works projects that only postponed painful but necessary structural changes, economists say.

“We’re not Japan,” said Robert E. Hall, a professor of economics at Stanford. “In America, the bet is still that we will somehow find ways to get people spending and investing again.”

Bill Emmott's Sun Also Sets did a particularly good job of predicting Japanese decline based almost entirely on cultural factors, nearly all of which distinguish it from the West. But there are three ways in which we have aped them over the last 6 years: Republicans killed W's immigration reform; Democrats have stifled free trade expansion; and the Fed has kept interest rates artificially high in the midst of structural deflation. Happily, these are all easily remedied.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


America's First Wordless Novelist: Why are Lynd Ward's amazing woodcut books so bleak? (Sarah Boxer, Oct. 17, 2010, Slate)

Call me crazy. Flipping through the first wordless novel published in America, Gods' Man by Lynd Ward, which came out the week of the Great Crash of 1929, I kept thinking about Moby-Dick, one of the wordiest novels ever, illustrated the next year by Rockwell Kent. Yes, Gods' Man is Moby-Dick without the text, the subtleties, or the whaling, if you can picture that—a silent moral tale of a man warring with his soul. [...]

Now that the Library of America has just republished six Ward novels, repulling them from the original woodblocks and packaging them in a gorgeous deluxe edition, along with Ward's essays and an excellent introduction by Art Spiegelman (who met Ward in 1970), we can ask the question: Why are wordless stories, especially the ones carved in wood, so unrelievedly moralistic and bleak?

The moralism, if you think about it, is almost comically overdetermined by the medium—part and parcel of working wood with gouges. Most woodcuts are printed with black ink on white paper, and therefore the woodworking artist must think in black-and-white terms.

Which is why--besides the King James text--Barry Moser's Penny Caxton Bible is so wonderful.

-A TERRIBLE BEAUTY: MOSER'S BIBLE (Catherine Madsen, CrossCurrents)

Within two weeks of the book's release last October -- about the time it took for the first printing of fifty thousand to sell out -- it became clear that this was a work of art of genuine importance: an unmistakably serious work which nevertheless had a wide appeal, and which bridged the usual gaps of sympathy between Christians and Jews, black and white, popular culture and high culture, right-wing and liberal Christians. No artist since Rembrandt has handled biblical subjects with such intimate confidence and such trust in the unbeautified human face; no illustrated Bible has so rooted itself in the modern sensibility.

Moser is the foremost American master of wood engraving -- a close and arduous process that uses the end grain of the wood as the printing surface -- and the first artist since Doré in 1865 to illustrate the entire Christian Bible. Even Doré did not undertake to illustrate every book, whereas Moser has produced over two hundred and thirty images and provided each book with at least one illustration. The sheer scope of the work is difficult to absorb; one keeps turning the pages and discovering new images, as if they multiplied on the sly while the book was shut. The work is as finely detailed, and as wonderfully inventive, as the illustrations of the Alice books, Frankenstein, Huckleberry Finn, The Wizard of Oz, and Moby Dick on which Moser made his reputation, but carries far greater emotional authority and moral weight. All the magnificent earlier work now appears as simply the technical apprenticeship for the emotional and moral ordeal of confronting the Bible. ("Life is more important than art, that's why art is so important," James Baldwin once said.)

The circumstances of the book's production are instructive. The project was underwritten by Bruce Kovner, chairman of the Caxton Corporation (an investment management company) and collector of Moser's and other fine bookmakers' work, who upon first meeting Moser several years ago asked, "What have you always wanted to do that you haven't done yet?" His patronage during the four years it took to do the illustrations -- one year of reading and three of twelve-hour days in the studio -- let Moser fulfill a desire of thirty years' standing. As the best patronage does, it also opened a crack in the world through which something that had not existed could escape the high pressure of oblivion on the other side and pour itself into existence.

-INTERVIEW: "The Object Is That Bloody Book":: A Conversation with Barry Moser (Anna Olswanger, 1999, Underdown)
-REVIEW: of The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible Illustrated by Barry Moser (Roger Bishop, BookPage)
Moser emphasizes that The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible is "first and foremost a reading Bible. A Bible to be enjoyed as a book as well as a sacred text." The King James Version of the Bible is used, following Frederick Scrivener's 1873 critical edition of the Cambridge Paragraph Bible. In that edition, verse numbers were eliminated as well as much of the italic which had come to be used to indicate words not in the original languages. The design and type, composition and editing, and paper and binding have all been chosen and executed with the utmost care and expertise. The engraving medium, called Resingrave, has just recently been invented, and its results are virtually indistinguishable from wood engraving. The relief engravings, as Moser refers to them, are printed directly from the blocks.

Moser's hope is that "his pictures might draw an entirely new audience [to the Bible], an audience that might not be particularly religious. Or perhaps a religious audience who might have grown tired of the piety and indexterity that is so ubiquitous in 'Bible pictures' . . . My intention is to strip away the layers of pious heavenmindedness that have been applied by centuries of devout limners and expose the flawed, human veneers underneath."

And, indeed, the engravings do seem to portray ordinary human beings either caught up in, or at the center of, extraordinary events. The individuals are not larger than life; they are life itself. They are at turns haunting, disturbing, and tragic, but they are consistently compelling and thought-provoking.

-PROFILE: Mr Moser Climbs His Everest (Doug Kessler, Fine Press Book Association)
One could walk the entire history of fine printing on the spines of great Bibles. Bibles have been the crowning achievements of many of the world’s greatest typographers and printers, from Gutenberg to Baskerville, to the Doves and Oxford Lectern Bibles of this century. Add those who have tackled the Bible in part, such as Gill’s Four Gospels, and the importance of this single text to the entire history of printing becomes evident. Today, the Bible is still the typographer’s, illustrator’s and printer’s Everest — for the stature of its past interpreters and for the size, scope and scale of the text itself.

The world is about to see the result of the most recent ascent of this typographic mountain: Barry Moser’s Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, to be published later this year in a folio edition of 450. This will be the only significant Bible of the twentieth century to be entirely illustrated by a single artist.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


President Obama’s faithful losing hope as the magic fades (Margery Eagan, October 17, 2010, Boston Herald)

Yesterday was Day 2 of Barack Obama’s pre-election, pump-up-nervous-Democrats tour. It was as much about convincing us that we’re, in fact, on the right road. Obama reminded us: He passed health care and Wall Street reform. The stimulus, supposedly, saved us from a depression.

But you know what? I read newspapers and watch the news for a living. Yet even I can’t figure out if health care or Wall Street reform are really good for us or not.

I want Barack Obama to give me something concrete to hang onto so I can hang in myself. I am trying, Mr. President. But you don’t make it easy.

So now we’re back to the car in the ditch. Obama said yesterday that even though the GOP didn’t lift a finger, he and the Democrats kept pushing, and “finally we got this car on level ground. It’s a little banged up,” he said, “It needs some body work, a tune-up.” But at least it’s finally out of the ditch. And now, Obama said, the GOP says, “Excuse me, can we have the keys back?’’

We’re not supposed to give the keys back, see. That’s Obama’s message this election season. We’re supposed to “keep moving forward between our doubts and our hopes . . . to push forward even when success (is) uncertain.”

OK, I get it. There are no guarantees. But I, for one, would feel much better with some kind of evidence that Obama’s GPS works.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


We fought for D.C. schools. Now it's up to you. (Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee, October 17, 2010, Washington Post)

When the two of us began this journey together, we made a pact with each other. We pledged that we would always put children first and make decisions that would be in their best interest, even when -- especially when -- we knew it would cause consternation among adults. This pact was our true north. In many ways, it cut through the hard choices to something clear and simple: We would fight for the right of every parent to promise and provide their children an excellent education. We would insist on a school system that backed up that promise. We would ensure that children received the skills and knowledge they needed to do anything they wanted in life.

During the 2006 mayoral campaign, everyone in the city agreed on one thing: The schools needed to be fixed. Your mandate drove us every day for the past 3½ years.

We've made tremendous strides. On the nation's gold standard, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we've gone from being the worst-performing school district in the country to a force of 46,000 children who lead the nation in gains -- with some of the greatest advances coming from our students of color, students receiving special-education services and students formally learning the English language for the first time.

On our local exam, we've increased student achievement in all subject areas and grade levels. At the secondary levels, these gains are unparalleled anywhere in the country. More students are graduating and ready to attend college, our schools are safer and our parents are more satisfied. A greater percentage of the system's taxpayer dollars are going directly to the classroom, where they belong, instead of supporting a bloated and formerly inefficient central office. The operational issues that long plagued our schools (undelivered books, late paychecks and shoddy facilities) are quickly becoming complaints of the past.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


At Fiorina event, McCain doesn't hide disdain for Boxer -- she's 'bitterly partisan' and 'anti-defense' (Maeve Reston, October 16, 2010, LA Times)

Former Republican presidential contender John McCain reunited with his onetime advisor Carly Fiorina on the campaign trail Saturday in San Diego, offering a blistering indictment of Barbara Boxer’s record on military issues and calling her the “most bitterly partisan, most anti-defense senator in the United States Senate today” -- an assessment he said he’d made while having “the unpleasant experience” of serving with her.

“When you hear her say that she supports the men and women in the military, my friends, she does not,” said McCain, a former Navy pilot who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five and half years after his plane was shot down in 1967. “Because she has never supported the mission; she has never supported victory whether it be in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world. Barbara Boxer wants to wave the white flag of surrender and endanger this nation’s national security. It’s time she went back to San Francisco with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi.”

Appearing before an audience of several hundred veterans and supporters at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park -- where McCain, his wife Cindy, and Fiorina formed a tableau of red, white and blue on stage -- the Arizona senator praised Fiorina’s business background and sought to reinforce her efforts to portray her rival’s voting record as anti-military.

Boxer has long been a hero of the anti-war movement after getting her start in politics advocating against the Vietnam War.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Hunting The Wild McRib (NPR, 10/16/10)

The McRib hasn't been on McDonald's permanent menu since the 1980s. It was never a huge hit with diners, but among hardcore followers, no other fast food inspires this kind of devotion.

Alan Klein trained as a meteorologist, but the Minnesota man's true love is the McRib. He tested out his storm-tracking abilities by creating a website that lets McRib fans track appearances of the sandwich.

Klein says he first tasted the McRib as a kid, growing up on a hog farm in rural South Dakota. "My dad and I took some hogs into town for sale, and after that, there in Winner, South Dakota, there was the McRib. It was almost as if we were supporting ourselves by buying a pork product."

For Dixon, the appeal of the McRib goes beyond its taste. "It's a sort of holy relic of the time, meaning the late '70s, early '80s, when we celebrated the fakeness of food," he says.

He says nowadays people are devotees of the "Michael Pollan cabal," referring to the author of Omnivore's Dilemma and other critiques on the modern agribusiness.

I had to buy a couple Shamrock shakes this year for folks at work who didn't believe they existed. But they still have no faith in the blue one McDonald's used to serve on the 4th of July.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


A tentative step toward the Oval Office by a GOP policy guru (David S. Broder, October 17, 2010, Washington Post)

Back in Washington, the luxury of having a thoughtful presidential contender was striking for everyone hearing Daniels. The onetime Reagan White House political director and Bush White House budget chief is not your run-of-the-mill intellectual. His style is to be down-home, but his record of accomplishment is dazzling.

The turnout was a reminder that during the Reagan and Bush years the Republican Party mustered battalions of policy wonks who were at least the equal of their Democratic counterparts. Most of them have retired to think tanks and law firms now, but they are plainly eager to get back into the battle if Daniels summons them to the 2012 campaign.

Daniels takes hit for tax talk (James Hohmann, October 16, 2010, Politico)
Daniels sought to limit the fallout caused by his Thursday speech, delivered at a dinner sponsored by the conservative Hudson Institute in his honor. Spokeswoman Jane Jankowski insists he was not officially endorsing anything when he spoke fondly and approvingly of an obscure 1982 proposal by the late nuclear theorist Herman Kahn. She also reiterated that Daniels believes a VAT would be thinkable only as a total replacement of the current tax code and in conjunction with a flat income tax, not in addition to the current tax burden.

Daniels, who was George W. Bush’s first Office of Management and Budget director, was already skating on thin ice after he recently told Newsweek that “at some stage there could well be a tax increase.” He’s been one in only a handful of prominent elected Republicans refusing to sign the No New Taxes pledge, and he’s had the temerity to support tax hikes on wealthy residents of the Hoosier State.

For Norquist, the nuance included in Daniels’ VAT speech just doesn’t cut the mustard. He compared the governor to Republican House candidate Rich Iott, who was condemned last week for dressing as a Nazi in World War II reenactments.

“Ok and the guy in Ohio wasn’t really being a Nazi either. But he was dressing up like one,” Norquist said.

Alienating the ideologues was key to making W president. The more they shrieked about compassionate conservatism the more palatable he became to the public.

Mr. Daniels can make plenty of hay running against the tax code and forcing others to defend it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Forget the Downturn; Punish the Lazybones (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 10/14/10, NY Times)

The series [“No Ordinary Family’‘] is one of a number now on television to break with a long strain of tradition by casting ambition as something healthy, positive, redemptive and even honorable, and its absence an agent of ostentatious humiliation. During the past decade the dramas that helped define television — “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Damages” — equated professional striving with dark moral deficiency, while comedies like “Sex and the City” and “Friends” imagined the urban playground as the great priority of adult life.

The recession, though, appears to have prompted a re-evaluation. In recent years the eager embrace of the capitalist impulse has largely been found in competitive reality television, where aggressive contest is thrilling and good, and the will to achieve is the lifeblood of the American way. Shows like “The Apprentice” and “Top Chef” pump this notion into us as if it were an intravenous narcotic. But during the downturn, fictional television has become an enabler of a similar spirit, administering the drug even when it doesn’t necessarily intend to.

During the bleak days of the 1970s economy, characters were mostly committed to just getting by. But today a show like “Undercovers,” a caper from J. J. Abrams on NBC, is a tribute to advanced multitasking. Here an attractive young couple who have retired from the C.I.A. to spend more time together embark on the fantasy Plan B career of so many overburdened yuppies: gourmet food. Steven and Samantha Bloom (Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) run a catering business but, quickly bored by hours of menu planning, return to jetting around the world fighting terrorism even as they continue to do inventive things with shrimp for parties of 200.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Miracles have a measure (ANDY RIGA, 10/16/10, The Montreal Gazette)

The Vatican calls on multiple outside medical experts to go over the files of people who have experienced supposed miracles.

In 1987, hematologist Jacalyn Duffin, now a medical historian at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., was hired to review the files of a woman who suffered from acute leukemia. She wasn't told anything about the case and assumed the review was related to a lawsuit.

It was only after Duffin submitted her report that she learned the Vatican had commissioned her study to verify the story of an alleged miracle attributed to Marguerite d'Youville. Founder of the Grey Nuns, d'Youville was recognized as a saint -the first born in Canada -in 1990.

"What the church was looking for from me was not to declare that it was a miracle, but to give a scientific explanation, and I didn't have a scientific explanation for why she was still alive," Duffin said. "If I could have provided a scientific explanation, then they would have moved on and looked for a different case."

Duffin went on to write a book, Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World, in which she reviewed 1,400 miracles used in canonizations from 1588 to 1999. She said she was surprised to find the church works hard to use "rigorous medical evidence" in studying apparent miracles.

"I am an atheist and I believe in miracles," Duffin said. "It all rests on how you define a miracle. The definition I have come to after studying all those miracles in the Vatican archives is that there are things that happen that we can't explain."

Some will "pretend that it didn't happen or that the people are lying," she added. "But I refuse to believe that, because the documentation is just so solid and the people are far too sincere and the evidence is really, really impressive.

"The word miracle is derived from (the Latin word) miro -to wonder. I'm left wondering, so I'm left with a miracle."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


In Quiet Revolution, Turkey Eases Headscarf Ban (Reuters, 10/17/10)

Freshman Busra Gungor won't have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey's Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country's biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf.

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country's secular constitution.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


The force is with them: Olive season is upon the West Bank, and the IDF is deployed to protect Palestinian pickers. (Avi Issacharoff, 10/08/10, Ha'aretz)

It’s olive harvest season in the West Bank. A second lieutenant in uniform, wearing a knitted skullcap, approaches one of the Palestinians picking olives in a grove within the settlement of Karnei Shomron. “Why are you picking the olives like that?” he asks, and suggests a different method, which he thinks is more efficient. The Palestinian, who is from the nearby village of Lakif, explains to the officer that his own method is faster and better.

The second lieutenant was there with three soldiers, all reservists, to guard the Jaber family, from Lakif, who this week went out every morning to harvest the olives in their grove. The soldiers were there to protect the Palestinians from the settlers.

Tuesday, midday. The soldiers are eating their packed lunch, the Palestinians are busy harvesting. But the father of the family, Suleiman Jaber, is unhappy. He says he arrives at the settlement’s gate at 7 A.M. with his three children and another eight workers, along with a tractor and additional equipment. “The army won’t show up for an another hour,” he says.

The Palestinians cannot get to the grove alone. Soldiers escort them from the guard post to the olive grove. The land belongs to Jaber, but it is situated deep inside the settlement. “It has been our land for 80 years, 32.5 dunams” − just over eight acres − he says. “But this year I was able to get to the plot for only one day, on February 15. Since then they have not let me enter. On Sunday I came to the trees in the morning and found someone already had gotten to them. All the olives on the lower branches had been picked − my harvest was partly stolen. A settler arrived with bags and I quickly called the Civil Administration and spoke to an officer named Bahajeth. He told me he could see the man. But I don’t know if they did anything with the information.”

He points to a well that was ruined − by settlers, he says − and to a tree that has been cut down. “This is how we found the plot on Sunday morning. We wanted to bring in two tractors, but the security officer of the settlement said only one was allowed. Who is he to tell me what is allowed and what is not? This is my land. They did not arrive here until 1982, and now they give me orders.”

Jaber says the road leading to the settlement of Ginot Shomron, too, was built on his land.
“They have given me five days to harvest all the olives,” he says. “How I will do that, I don’t know.”

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October 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Kyoto Fraud Revealed (Walter Russell Mead, 10/14/10, American Interest)

When the idiotic Kyoto Protocol was put before the US Senate, 95 senators voted against this confused and destructive initiative on the grounds that, as designed, the measure would simply ship American jobs to China and other countries without reducing greenhouse gasses.

For years, green activists have mourned and bemoaned the shortsightedness of the US. How could we sit out from something so noble, so planet saving, so wise as the sacred Kyoto Protocol? We have been listening to the green moral scolds for twenty years: those fat, dumb and ignorant Americans are simply too stupid and too selfish to save Planet Earth.

The EU, where disingenuous politicians are forced to demagogue green issues because addlepated proportional representation rules empower the lunatic eco-fringe in key countries, ratified Kyoto, and Americans were then treated to years of vainglorious Euro-puffery about the nobility, the wisdom and the self-sacrificial idealism of the cutting edge eco-warriors of the Green Continent.

Over the years, some of the Kyoto fairy dust had begun to wear off. Global greenhouse emissions did not in fact appear to be declining very much. Many of the EU cuts were accounting tricks; counting the closure of inefficient, money-losing industrial dinosaurs in East Germany that were doomed to close anyway towards Germany’s greenhouse targets was a fairly typical example.

But a couple of recent studies now seem to show that Kyoto was as big a fraud as the most militant enviro-skeptics ever suspected. And it looks as if the 95 American senators were 100 percent right: the much heralded Protocol was a singularly stupid piece of counterproductive social engineering that encouraged the migration of good jobs to China and other low wage countries — without helping the environment at all.

...it's best to assume fraud and then wait for the facts to come in and prove it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


The Not-So-Great Recession: Our present situation does not resemble the Great Depression. (Samuel R. Staley, 10/16/10, National Review)

True enough, the Great Recession lasted 18 months. That’s the longest recessionary period since 1929. But this fact reveals far less than the president implies. The Great Depression was a decade-long economic roller coaster. The economy fell into a 43-month abyss, grew for a while starting in 1933, and then plummeted again into recession in 1937. By some estimates, unemployment peaked at one third of the national labor force.

The Great Recession isn’t anywhere close to those numbers. While the president has accurately called the absolute numbers of jobs lost “unprecedented,” the economy is so much larger now that the official unemployment rate has barely nudged up to the 10 percent mark. In 1929, the economy generated about $977 billion in goods and services (in 2005 dollars). In 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, the economy generated $12.9 trillion (down from $13.2 trillion in 2008).

Indeed, the Great Recession is significant only when compared with the relatively mild recessions of the recent past. Most recessions have been short and shallow. The recession of 1973–75 was 16 months long, and unemployment peaked at 8.5 percent. The recession of 1981–82 was also 16 months long, and unemployment peaked at 9.7 percent — about where it stands today.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Stephen Colbert may play religion for laughs, but his thoughtful Catholicism still shows through> (Kimberly Winston, October 15, 2010, Washington Post)

"And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, and these seem like the least of our brothers right now," Colbert said, quoting Jesus. "Migrant workers suffer and have no rights."

It was a different kind of religious message than Colbert typically delivers on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," where he often pokes fun at religion - even his own Catholic Church - in pursuit of a laugh. Yet it was the kind of serious faith that some of his fellow Catholics say makes him a serious, covert and potent evangelist for their faith.

"Anytime you talk about Jesus or Christianity respectfully the way he does, it is evangelization," said the Rev. Jim Martin, associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America, who has appeared on Colbert's show four times. "He is preaching the gospel, but I think he is doing it in a very postmodern way."

It's a contrast to Glenn Beck, the kind of right-wing media icon Colbert loves to skewer. While Beck's recent Restoring Honor rally in Washington was headed by a conservative broadcaster who embraces theological patriotism, Colbert's March to Keep Fear Alive on Oct. 30 will be helmed by a man of more private faith who leaves his God-and-country religion on the set.

Colbert has said that he attends church, observes Lent and teaches Sunday school. "I love my church, and I'm a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout," he told Time Out magazine. "I was raised to believe that you could question the church and still be a Catholic."

His on-air persona, meanwhile, is a bloviating holier-than-thou conservative whose orthodox Catholicism is part of what makes him funny. On air, Colbert has chided the pope as an "ecu-menace" for his outreach to other faiths, referred to non-Catholics as "heathens and the excommunicated" and calls those who believe in evolution "monkey men."

Diane Houdek has tracked Colbert's on-air references to Catholicism on her blog, Catholic Colbert. When he recites the Nicene Creed or Bible verses from memory, as he did in 2006, it shows how foundational his faith is, she said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


A middle class thrift store: Only their retailer knows for sure: A thrift store chain attracts the middle class by redefining the secondhand experience (Nora Dunne, October 16, 2010, CS Monitor)

The thrift store – a nonprofit charity tradition for raising money and catering to the needy or the frugal – has gone upscale with the Savers national chain of for-profit outlets.

"This kind of store will change the way people look at thrift stores," suggests Sharon McLean, a nurse and mother of three who frequents the Savers store in this suburban-Boston shopping area. "Image is everything. There are more upscale customers here because of that."

If shopping generally contains a thrill of the hunt effect, shopping thrift stores and finding stuff cheap is a serious effect multiplier. Go to your local one today and you'll see it's predominantly shopped by the middle class, including your friends.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Democrats Retrench as GOP Pulls Away (LAURA MECKLER And JANET HOOK, 10/16/10, WSJ)

The emerging battlefield, two weeks before Election Day, is almost entirely in districts now held by Democrats. It includes about 40 districts where both the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms are running television ads or have reserved TV time.

Beyond those, Republicans are on the air in a dozen additional districts, while Democrats are running ads in two. Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to win a majority in the House.

"The field is essentially expanding by the day," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the GOP's House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

A survey of voters in competitive House districts released Friday reinforced the point that Democrats face a tough road. The poll, for National Public Radio, found that in 58 Democratic-held battleground districts, 47% of likely voters preferred the Republican for Congress in their district, while 44% preferred the Democrat, a three percentage-point gap. The Republican lead was larger among voters with high levels of interest in the election.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


What's the Matter with Oregon?: Why hasn't Republican law professor Jim Huffman gained traction in his race against Senator Ron Wyden? (JOHN MCCORMACK, 10/16/10, Weekly Standard)

Wyden is a pretty popular senator. According to the Rasmussen poll, his favorability rating is 55% (38% very favorable, 17% somewhat favorable), and his unfavorable rating is 38% (14% somewhat, 24% very). "It would take a significant investment in all media markets to drive those negatives to where they need to be to make Wyden vulnerable," says one GOP strategist. True enough. Money spent on a long shot in Oregon can't be spent on races that are neck-and-neck--Washington, West Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, California, Illinois.

But if you're going to compete in the next tier of states, wouldn't it make sense to throw money at Oregon? Joe DioGuardi trails Kirsten Gillibrand by 16 points in New York, but it would cost much more to go on air in the Empire State. Linda McMahon already has enough money to saturate the airwaves in Connecticut. Christine O'Donnell, down 17.6 points in the RCP average but just 11 in Rasmussen, already has high name recognition and $4 million of her own money raised online.

It's unlikely that Huffman will beat Wyden, but in a wave election, it just might be worth taking a shot on Oregon.

...Senator Wyden will be the key to the coming reform of Obamacare along more Third Way lines, Wyden's Third Way: The Oregon senator questions the wisdom of a government health insurance plan. (COLLIN LEVY , 6/22/09, WSJ)
[T]he Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act relies on the private insurance market while imposing a series of regulations to squeeze savings from the private sector. It also requires individuals to buy coverage for themselves, the controversial "individual mandate."

The idea, Mr. Wyden says, is to harness the Democratic desire to get everyone covered to the Republican interest in markets and consumer choice. "Everything I've been up to with this coalition is designed to make reconciliation irrelevant," he explains, referring to a political maneuver whereby Democrats might try to force through health reform on a bare majority of 51 votes rather than the filibuster-proof 60 votes normally required.

"People can't be tricked into fixing health care." If you want to bring the country together, he continues, you have to aim for 70 votes and the kind of bipartisan strength that the Healthy Americans Act has with 14 senators sponsoring the bill. "If you . . . just pound it through on a partisan vote, you don't have that kind of consensus. You have people practically as soon as the ink is dry looking to have it repealed."

Mr. Wyden knows he is walking a wobbly tightrope between the factions. At Oregon town-hall meetings six years ago, he remembers, "you'd have a bunch of people get up and talk about single payer, and a lot of applause." He claps to demonstrate. Then someone else would say, "We don't want that, we had a cousin who lived in Canada, they had to come to the U.S. to get treated because they couldn't get good care. And then both of these groups would look sullenly at each other."

When he first approached Bob Bennett in early 2007 about a compromise plan based on the kind of coverage members of Congress get, he got a similarly unenthused response. Mr. Wyden puts on a deep, croaky Bob Bennett voice and repeats words that Mr. Bennett would later use to characterize his reaction: "I told Ron Wyden I'd look at his proposal." Smiling, Mr. Wyden says, "As Senator Bennett describes it, that's the closest thing you get in the United States Senate to a 'no.'"

Mr. Bennett ultimately came around to the idea, but a lot of Republicans remained dubious. "People kind of looked at him like it was all a kind of big socialist plot. And he basically said, get over it, they've got a point."

"Both parties have come a long way," says Mr. Wyden. "The most conservative Republicans accept the idea that they didn't accept in '93, that you've got to cover everybody to organize the market," he says. "If you don't . . . there's too much cost-shifting, not enough prevention." And some Democrats are seeing the wisdom of a market system where people will benefit if they make wise selections about their care.

Mr. Wyden takes a long view: "Ever since the 1940s, we essentially disconnected individuals from being involved in health care. It's all about third parties, and they pay all the bills and individuals don't have the opportunities for the choices. In fact, millions of people who are lucky enough to have employer coverage don't get any choice."

Sadly, the GOP's lunatic fringe purged Senator Bennett.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The Problem With J Street (Walter Russell Mead, 10/16/10, American Interest)

With the Israeli government’s latest (and in my view, misguided) decision to start construction on housing in East Jerusalem, the struggle over the future of the peace process has grown more intense. Meanwhile, as Middle East diplomacy heats up, J Street–an organization primarily representing American Jews who disagree with the hardline policies of the current Israeli government and look for alternative negotiating strategies–has been engulfed in a scandal. It turns out that despite some repeated weaselly and disingenuous statements by the organization’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami extending over a long period of time and made to many different people –statements which at least one journalist has characterized as ‘a lie‘– J Street has received funding from George Soros and family to the tune of more than $700,000. Additional questions are being raised about the organization’s other funders; some of the money seems to come from mysterious foreign donors whose identity, so far, has been difficult to establish.

I can’t speak to the unknown foreign donors issue. The problem of wealthy individuals transferring large amounts of money around the world under a murky veil of cut outs and bank secrecy is a serious one; there is no indication, however, that either the donor or J Street has done anything wrong. Still, it is always a bad idea for the presidents of public policy institutions to repeatedly attempt to mislead the public about the sources of their funding, and that is particularly true when they are working on hot button issues like the Middle East. Resignations are normally the correct response to screw ups this big and this ugly, and the organization’s failure so far to demonstrate that it considers this breach of the public trust to be a deeply serious matter is not a good sign. [...]

J Street fundamentally misreads the politics of America’s Middle Eastern policies, and as a result it is essentially irrelevant to the real debates that will decide what America will do in the region. Globally, one of the most common (and idiotic) assumptions about American foreign policy is that “the Jews” control it. Virtually everyone in the Middle East, a deeply depressing number of Europeans (who cling to anti-Semitic myths about Jewish power and clannishness even while claiming to be completely free of prejudice), and even a handful of misguided Americans think that American gentiles are so weak and so foolish that a handful of clever, rich and unscrupulous Jews have led us around for decades with rings through our noses when it comes to the Middle East. The allegedly awesome mindbending power of Jews in the media and the allegedly irresistible power of Jewish money (through AIPAC and other organizations) bribed politicians and bamboozled the public. How else, these theorists of occult Jewish power ask, to explain America’s stubborn and stupid support of the Jewish state?

Everything I know about the history of American foreign policy, the state of American opinion, the nature of American ideology and theology, and the state of American politics tells me this is wrong. Support for the construction of a Jewish state in the Holy Land has been an important part of American Christian and political thought going back to colonial times. The ideas of Jewish exceptionalism and American exceptionalism have been bound together in the American mind for more than two hundred years. During the Cold War, Americans gradually got into the habit of considering Israel one of our most valuable and reliable allies. In recent years this longstanding association has been substantially strengthened by the widespread public belief that the same people who most hate Israel and want to bring it down are the bitter enemies of the United States and will stop at nothing to kill as many American civilians as they possibly can.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Can you give my son a job?: a review of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor (Slavoj Žižek, London Review of Books)

But China is no Singapore (neither, for that matter, is Singapore): it is not a stable country with an authoritarian regime that guarantees harmony and keeps capitalism under control. Every year, thousands of rebellions by workers, farmers and minorities have to be put down by the police and the army. No wonder official propaganda insists obsessively on the notion of the harmonious society: this very excess bears witness to the opposite, to the threat of chaos and disorder. One should bear in mind the basic rule of Stalinist hermeneutics: since the official media do not openly report trouble, the most reliable way to detect it is to look out for compensatory excesses in state propaganda: the more ‘harmony’ is celebrated, the more chaos and antagonism there is in reality. China is barely under control. It threatens to explode.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Obama looks to rally votes for Mass. governor (Julie Pace, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama has a warning for Democrats: Even in the most reliably liberal states, no candidate is guaranteed a victory in this volatile election season.

Obama was heading to Boston on Saturday to headline a rally for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, his longtime friend and political ally. Republicans have tried to use Patrick's close relationship with the president to unseat the governor, who is seeking a second term.

After 16 years of uninterrupted and uniforml;y successful GOP governorship, the voters of MA decided to take unicorn ride and it's been predictably disastrous. In giving him the heave-ho they're just reverting to recent form.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Israel Settlers Start Fires amid West Bank Harvest (AFP, 10/16/10)

Thick black smoke billows from the olive grove under the gaze of Israeli soldiers as Palestinian farmers use branches to try to beat out the fires lit by Jewish settlers.

It's olive harvest time in the occupied West Bank.

The firebombers swooped down from Havat Gilad, a wildcat Jewish settlement unauthorised even by the Israeli government.

Encircled by barbed wire, the makeshift dwellings glower down on the surrounding Palestinian olive plantations from a hilltop in the northern West Bank.

"We were gathering the olives when the settlers arrived. One of them started a fire," says olive grower Shaher Tawil.

He points to a bearded man wearing a T-shirt and a Jewish kippa or skullcap, now safely behind an Israeli military barrier.

"When we saw the flames, we called the fire service but the soldiers wouldn't let them come any closer to prevent clashes with the settlers," the old man says.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


iPhone Game "Cut the Rope" Sells 1 Million Copies in 10 Days (Christina Warren, Oct 15, 2010, Mashable)

The game is called Cut the Rope. It's available for $0.99 for the iPhone and $1.99 for the iPad. Together, both versions have already sold more than 1 million copies in just 10 days.

The game, which has dethroned Angry Birds as the number one paid app in the U.S. App Store, was released just last week. Like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope is published by Chillingo. Although it was produced by a different developer (ZeptoLab), the game shares the same deceptively simple, addictive and replayable style.

According to Chillingo, 1 million paid downloads makes Cut the Rope the fastest-selling iOS game to date.

I purchased Cut the Rope last night after seeing it as the featured "game of the week" on my iPhone. Sure enough, it's a winner. I've since purchased it for my iPad as well and the game has that great, "just one more game" pull that is always a hallmark of a great mobile game.

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October 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


Breast cancer awareness campaigns cause more harm than good (Ethan A. Huff,10/15/10, Natural News)

Groups like the American Cancer Society (ACS), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation all support breast cancer awareness initiatives, which include urging women to get annual mammograms and to undergo conventional treatments like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy at the first signs of a tumor. But many professors, scientists and health professionals now say that such programs and recommendations have not only failed to achieve positive results, but have actually put more women in harm's way.

"I don't think people understand the lack of progress (achieved by breast cancer awareness programs)," Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, is quoted as saying in a recent Los Angeles Times article. Visco referenced statistics showing that deaths from breast cancer have dropped maybe two percent since they started in 1990, which is likely a statistically insignificant figure.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice explained that breast cancer awareness campaigns have failed to keep up with developments in breast cancer research, including new research showing that most of the cancers identified with mammography are not even malignant. And as a result of continued screening, millions of women end up being treated with expensive, potentially life-threatening treatments for cancers that will never harm them.

A recent paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that for every one woman helped by a mammogram, up to 15 others are misdiagnosed and mistreated. But because of breast cancer awareness campaigns that continue to scare women and push them towards outmoded, unscientific methods of approaching the disease, many women are willing to participate in conventional screening and treatment programs anyway, even if such programs ultimately cause them needless harm and possible death.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Reid lost the debate to Angle (Jon Ralston, Oct. 15, 2010, Las Vegas Sun)

Let’s get the easy part out of the way first:

Sharron Angle won The Big Debate.

Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine O’Donnell is the good witch of the Tea Party) and scoring many more rhetorical points. And she won because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust.

Whether the debate affects the outcome — I believe very few Nevadans are undecided — it also perfectly encapsulated the race: An aging senator who has mastered the inside political game but fundamentally does not seem to care about his public role (and is terrible at it) versus an ever-smiling political climber who can deliver message points but sometimes changes her message or denies a previous one even existed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM

WORTH AT LEAST A YELLOW (via Taegan Goddard):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Nevada Senate debate fizzles (JONATHAN MARTIN, 10/15/10, Politico)

Reid was also inarticulate, frequently using the parlance of the Senate and offering kind words about former President George W. Bush and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—hardly the way to motivate his Democratic base.

...Congress keeps handing the UR bills that are essentially Republican.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


How Wall Street Hid Its Mortgage Mess (WILLIAM D. COHAN, 10/14/10, NY Times)

Consider what was revealed at one of the commission’s regional hearings, held in Sacramento on Sept. 23. Part of the hearing focused on the role that Clayton Holdings, a firm that reviews loan files on behalf of investment banks, played in the mortgage securitization process by which one home mortgage after another got packaged up into mortgage-backed securities by Wall Street and sold to investors all over the world. The banks hired Clayton to do some forensics — to examine the mortgages that went into the securities and determine if they complied with some basic level of credit underwriting guidelines and “client risk tolerances,” as well as with state and local laws. If a loan met the underwriting “guidelines,” Clayton would rate the loan “Event 1”; other ratings meant that the loan did not meet the guidelines, with varying degrees of flaws.

According to Vicki Beal, a senior vice president at Clayton who testified at the Sacramento hearing, one of the main services Wall Street paid Clayton for was a detailed examination of the loans that deviate “from seller underwriting guidelines and client tolerances.”

This is where things got interesting. Clayton provided the inquiry commission with documents that summarized its findings for the six quarters between January 2006 and June 2007, when mortgage-underwriting standards were arguably at their worst and the housing bubble was inflating rapidly. Of the 911,039 mortgages Clayton examined for its Wall Street clients — a sample of about 10 percent of the total mortgages that the banks intended to package into securities — only 54 percent were found to meet the underwriting guidelines. Standards deteriorated over time, with only 47 percent of the mortgages Clayton examined meeting the guidelines by the second quarter of 2007.

So, did Wall Street throw all those mortgages back into the pond as being too risky for securities they were going to sell to clients? Of course not — many were packaged right into their product. There were degrees of nefariousness: Some Wall Street firms were better about including higher-quality mortgages in their mortgage-backed securities than others. For instance, at Goldman Sachs, 77 percent of the nearly 112,000 mortgages reviewed met the guidelines, while at Citigroup only 58 percent did. At Lehman Brothers, which later filed for bankruptcy, 74 percent of the mortgages sampled and then packaged up as securities met underwriting guidelines.

In fact, the banks probably weren’t disappointed at all by the shaky status of many of these loans: in part because they could use the information that some of the mortgages were rotten to get a discount from the mortgage originators on the price paid for the entire portfolio. The people who should have been concerned were the investors who bought the securities from the Wall Street firms. But the amazing revelation of the Sacramento hearing was that the investment banks did not pass this very valuable information on their customers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Smothered by Settlements (MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, 10/15/10, NY Times)

On the other side is the Palestinian Authority — one that paradoxically holds little real authority, and exists as a sort of fiefdom within the Israeli matrix of control. Further debilitating the P.A. is a protracted internal Palestinian division, total dependence on foreign aid and a decline of democracy and human rights. Finally, the Palestinian Authority is constantly pressured to provide security for its occupier while failing to provide any protection whatsoever to its own people from that same occupier.

How did we get here? The answer, in large part, has to do with the continued and unabated construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 17 years since the Oslo agreement.

In this time, the number of settlers has increased by 300 percent and the number of settlements doubled. The settlements are only the front line of a complex and profitable system that includes checkpoints, road segregation, security zones, the “apartheid wall” and “natural reserves.”

This matrix has for years eaten up the land, water resources and the economic space of the independent Palestinian state supposedly being negotiated in this same period. About 60 percent of the West Bank and 80 percent of water resources have been consumed this way.

We have reached, and probably surpassed, that critical point at which any more settlements mean the death of the two-state solution.

The Israeli establishment knows this better than anybody. They also know that their hard-line positions on issues like Jerusalem and borders mean transforming the idea of Palestinian statehood into something much less: isolated clusters of land in a system of segregation.

The International Court of Justice and endless United Nations resolutions have ruled that settlements are illegal and should be removed. Even the Road Map issued by the so-called Quartet (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia) in 2003 said that all settlement activities must stop. Yet neither the United States nor the Quartet as a whole has had the guts to exert serious pressure on Israel to stop settlements.

So what is left?

The only way to save the two-state solution is for the Palestinians to declare the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to demand that the world community recognize it and its borders — as it did in the case of Kosovo.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Public Unions Step Up Spending (DANNY YADRON and JOHN D. MCKINNON, 10/15/10, WSJ)

Public-sector unions have remained a bulwark for Democrats this fall while other left-leaning donors have kept their wallets shut, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Unions have long bankrolled Democratic campaigns, but some of the biggest public unions are spending more this fall than they did during the prior midterm-campaign cycle in 2006

...but if the point of civil service reform was to make it less partisan, they obviously shouldn't be allowed to politick.

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October 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


Obama's Inconvenient Interview: Could the White House have picked a worse time to open up to the New York Times Magazine about its mistakes? (David Corn, Oct. 14, 2010, Mother Jones)

[T]he White House with this article (well executed by Baker) has demonstrated a sense of lousy political timing. There are not many days left before voters hit the polls for the critical midterm elections. Now is not the moment for a high-profile "We blew the politics" admission. The White House ought to be in full attack mode. Yet this intriguing tale of presidential second-thoughts, made possible by White House cooperation, is ready-made for endless regurgitation within the media. (Case in point: this article.)

The fallout from the Times story will compete with the message the Democrats truly need to hammer home in the next 19 days: A Republican takeover of the House and/or Senate will mark a triumph for the wealthy and such special interests as Big Oil and Big Finance. At this point, Democratic congressional candidates will not be aided by Obama acknowledging the obvious: "We neglected politics." The president could have waited a few weeks before conceding his miscalculations to the New York Times. There will be plenty of time after Election Day for such declarations.

...is that the UR sold himself as somehow above mere politics, so going into attack dog mode is not just unpresidential but unObamessiah. People now realize they have no sense of who he is, do you really want the snarling political hack to be the image they form?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Chucho Valdes And Richard Galliano On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 10/14/10, NPR)

After half an hour with the stunning accordion of Richard Galliano and his quartet of name players from Cuba, West Africa and the U.S., we check out piano wonder-of-the-world Chucho Valdés from Havana. Valdés calls his eight-piece group his "big band." [...]

Even after he lowers himself to the bench, Valdés (born 1941) is tall and direct. A glissando from Chucho makes something happen. He commands an exquisite blend of Cuban music with African roots and North American jazz. Valdés first performed in the U.S. at Carnegie Hall in the late 1970s with his Grammy-winning fusion group Irakere, with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. Though he's always photographed wearing a beret, when I saw him in Montreal in 1993, he wore a New York Yankees baseball cap (before El Duque). In 1998, Valdés invited JazzSet to cover his Havana Jazz Festival, and speaking for engineer Duke Markos and myself, we have never been the same. In the early 2000s, Chucho Valdés led his quartet in a JazzSet performance from the Gilmore Festival. In every situation, a set with Chucho temporarily and momentarily resolves decades of forced separation between jazz and Cuban music.

These sets took place in July 2009 at the North Sea Festival.

-ARCHIVES: Chucho Valdes (NPR)


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


...but that's no way to rope a maverick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Gen. Shelton (III): Iraq went so wrong because of Bush administration 'lies' (Thomas E. Ricks, October 13, 2010, FP: Best Defense)

Shelton also writes that there was no reason to go war against Iraq. "The fact is that we had Iraq contained and they were not a threat." (419) Also, "There was absolutely no link between him [Saddam] and 9/11." (474) No big revelations, but I was glad to see this stated so flatly by a former high official.

...what was the oppression and genocide of Shi'a and Kurds to General Shelton? Is he his brother's keeper?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Herding Donkeys: Are the Democrats a party in desperate need of an ideology? (Justin Moyer, October 13, 2010, CS Monitor)

[I]n 2010, what Howard Dean called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party” faces quite the syrupy dilemma. Inspired by a campaign that bridged timeworn ideological divides to try to win every state in the union, leftists ordered up a consensus to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and expand the Democratic Party. Now, they must govern with conservative Democrats-in-name-only who surrendered health care’s public option, oppose gay marriage, and recoil at the mere sight of House Leader Nancy Pelosi. Meanwhile, a candidate who seemed very liberal turned out to be a president who’s frustratingly moderate.

“What was the point of having a Democratic congressman in Idaho or Western North Carolina ... if that person simply opposed whatever the most popular Democratic president in a generation proposed?” asks Nation contributor Ari Berman in Herding Donkeys, a nostalgic, often angry, look back at the past six years of Democratic electioneering. “[H]ad Obama been co-opted by the very forces he promised to fight during his campaign?"

The only way to expand the Democratic Party--like the Labour Party--is to make it the Third Way party when the conservative party temporarily abandons the field. But that means repudiating everything the base believes in. So they're stuck with the intense psychological conflict over whether the mere opportunity to exercise of power is worth advancing the opponents' causes with that power.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


21 Days to Go and Democrats Facing a 60 - 70 Seat Loss (Steve Lombardo, 10/13/10, Huffington Post)

[L]et's just come out and say it: there is no reason to think that Republicans will do any worse than 1994 (when they picked up 54 seats) and there is plenty of data to suggest that it will, in fact, be a better year for the GOP. Our projection--based on all current available data--is that the GOP will gain between 60 and 70 House seats in November.

The White House and Democrats want this election to be a "choice," but midterms are rarely ever "choice" elections--that's what Presidential elections are for. Instead, midterms are a referendum on the President and the party in power. So let's look at the key metrics that we use to evaluate voter perceptions of the President and Congress...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Chinese Communist party veterans defy censors with call for free speech: Former party officials renew attack on 'invisible black hand' after open letter erased from websites (Tania Branigan, 10/13/10, guardian.co.uk)

Communist party elders are defying China's censors by pressing ahead with a bold demand for freedom of expression, after authorities erased their attack on the "invisible black hand" of central propaganda officials.

Twenty-three former senior officials known for their reformist views, including Mao Zedong's secretary Li Rui and a former editor of the People's Daily, Hu Jiwei, signed the open letter. [...]

The letter accuses officials of ignoring China's constitution, which guarantees the rights of free speech and a free press. "This false democracy of formal avowal and concrete denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy," it says.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Logical Farce: Obama's wild attacks on "foreign money" reek of desperation. (Jacob Sullum | October 13, 2010, Reason)

Here is a quick summary of President Obama's recent debate with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce: The Democrats' economic policies have failed.

Obama: Look out! Foreigners!

Obama's attempt to discredit his opponents by linking them to sinister outsiders reminds us that neither major party has a monopoly on xenophobia. To some extent, crying "foreigner" reflects the president's desperation in the face of the Democrats' looming midterm losses. But it is also part of a long-term rhetorical strategy that belies his image as a sophisticated cosmopolitan eager to promote international cooperation and restore America's reputation.

...he'd favor free trade, open immigration, and foreign intervention, like W.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Josh Hamilton included in celebration (Richard Durrett, 10/13/10, ESPNDallas.com)

Josh Hamilton's teammates weren't going to celebrate without him this time.

As soon as the Texas Rangers hugged on the field and headed for the tunnel following a 5-1 ALDS Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the clubhouse attendants told Hamilton to get his goggles on.

"I was getting a little worried," Hamilton said. "I didn't know what was going on."

Hamilton, who has battled drug and alcohol addiction, said it's best for him not to be around champagne. So he walked into the clubhouse to find his teammates waiting on him and holding bottles of Canada Dry ginger ale.

"Everybody yelled 'Ginger ale!' and I just jumped in the middle of the pile and they doused me with it," Hamilton said. "It was the coolest thing for my teammates to understand why I can't be a part of the celebration, and for them to adapt it for me to be a part of it says a lot about my teammates."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 AM


Mary Warnock on Godless Morality ( Interview by Anna Blundy , 10/10/10, Five Books)

And yet, with Nazism and Communism, and if you think about the Grand Inquisitor chapters in The Brothers Karamazov, or Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, it’s clear that people do tend not to be moral without religion. People do want a symbolic spiritualism that will act as their super ego and stop them running riot.

I entirely agree with you, but I would rather that morality, behaving well rather than badly, is really a human necessity and people have got to be induced to recognise that all of us, every one of us, has a responsibility not to behave badly. We’re all tempted to be greedy, to take more for ourselves, to overlook the interests of others, but we’ve got to learn that everybody is of equal value, so we’ve got to take other people’s likes, dislikes, horrors and wishes as seriously as our own.

It ought to go without saying that, in the absence of God, all people being of equal value isn't a fact to be learned but an opinion and Nazism and the like just different opinions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


Freedom infringed (The Ottawa Citizen, October 13, 2010)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is one of those rare organizations that has changed society for the good. In the 30 years since its founding, MADD has helped stigmatize drunk drinking and thereby save countless lives.

However, its latest campaign is misguided. MADD Canada wants the federal government to enact legislation that would allow police to conduct random breath testing.

It seems to be a popular idea. In 2009, a parliamentary committee recommended changing the law to allow such testing. Other countries already do it. An Ipsos Reid poll earlier this year, commissioned by MADD, found 77 per cent of Canadians supported the idea. Hundreds of deaths would be prevented, thousands of injuries avoided and billions in social costs saved, MADD speculates.

Just enact legislation requiring passive technology that locks the car ignition if the driver has been drinking.

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October 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Transgender Woman Sues L.P.G.A. Over Policy (KATIE THOMAS, 10/13/10, NY Times))

A transgender woman filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the L.P.G.A., arguing that its requirement that competitors be “female at birth” violates California civil rights law.

Lana Lawless, a 57-year-old retired police officer who had gender-reassignment surgery in 2005, made her name as an athlete in 2008 after winning the women’s world championship in long-drive golf with a 254-yard drive into a headwind. But this year, Lawless was ruled ineligible in the same championship because Long Drivers of America, which oversees the competition, changed its rules to match the policy of the L.P.G.A. Lawless wrote a letter in May asking for permission to apply for L.P.G.A. qualifying tournaments and was told by a tour lawyer that she would be turned down.

“It’s an issue of access and opportunity,” Lawless said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve been shut out because of prejudice.”

She is also suing Long Drivers of America, two of its corporate sponsors — Dick’s Sporting Goods...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


In US, Hispanics outlive whites, blacks by years (MIKE STOBBE, 10/13/10, AP)

U.S. Hispanics can expect to outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by more than seven, government researchers say in a startling report that is the first to calculate Hispanic life expectancy in this country.

The report released Wednesday is the strongest evidence yet of what some experts call the "Hispanic paradox" — longevity for a population with a large share of poor, undereducated members. A leading theory is that Hispanics who manage to immigrate to the U.S. are among the healthiest from their countries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Why Don’t Republicans Believe in Climate Change? (Ross Douthat, 10/13/10, NY Times)

There’s a reasonably large Western European constituency, in other words, for some sort of climate change skepticism. (And probably a growing one: In Britain, at least, as in the United States, the economic slump has dampened public enthusiasm for anti-emissions regulation.) But the politicians haven’t been responding. Instead, Europe’s political class, left and right alike, has worked to marginalize a position that it considers intellectually disreputable, even as the American G.O.P. has exploited that same position to win votes.

The debate over climate change isn’t unusual in this regard. On issues ranging from the death penalty to (at least until recently) immigration, America’s major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe.

...has inoculated us against the destructive fads that the elites are always pursuing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


Education of a President (PETER BAKER, 10/17/10, NY Times Magazine)

While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.

Most of all, he has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him.

...it sure seems like he wants a GOP majority to save his presidency.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Palestinians consider Mideast talks trump card: declaring statehood (Howard LaFranchi, October 13, 2010, CS Monitor)

Could the Palestinians get the attention of the Israelis – and the international community’s support – by leapfrogging negotiations and simply declaring a state?

That is one option Palestinian leaders are contemplating as they mull over how to respond to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest proposal for keeping the Obama administration’s iteration of peace talks going: Israel would agree to extend a partial moratorium on settlement construction for 60 days in exchange for the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The fact of Palestinian statehood precedes the negotiations anyway.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The Commission to Balance the Federal Budget: The Results (The Editors, October 13, 2010, Esquire)

A few months ago, we announced the formation and mandate of the Esquire Commission to Balance the Federal Budget. The plan was simple: A group of former legislators from across the political spectrum would convene, make the hard choices that our current leaders refuse to make, and erase the annual budget deficit by 2020. Below, the results of their efforts in all their statistical detail (also available in the November issue — now on sale). You can also read the authors' introduction here and the story of how it all happened here.

A Few Words on the Objectives:

Primary Objective: To balance the federal budget by 2020 by instituting spending cuts and/or revenue increases, most of which would not begin until 2013.

Secondary Objective: To adjust annual government spending and annual government revenue so that both equal 20 percent of the gross domestic product by 2020.

Tertiary Objective: To stabilize national debt at less than 60 percent of GDP by 2020.

Other Objectives That We Hadn't Intended to Meet but Did Anyway:
• Guarantee the solvency of Social Security over the next seventy-five years.
• Restructure the military to better meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
• Keep individual tax rates at or near their current levels for all Americans.

Note: All projected savings and revenue for fiscal year 2020 only, and all amounts in 2020 dollars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Drilling freeze ended — but when will work resume? (MATTHEW DALY, 10/12/10, Associated Press)

The Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and Gulf states and with elections nearing, lifted the moratorium that it imposed last April in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill.

The ban had been scheduled to expire Nov. 30, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday he was moving up the date because new rules imposed after the spill had reduced the risk of another catastrophic blowout. Industry leaders warily waited for details of those rules, saying the moratorium wouldn't be truly lifted until then.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Why genes are leftwing: The right loves genetic explanations for poverty or mental illness. But science fingers society (Oliver James, 10/12/10, guardian.co.uk)

When the map of the human genome was presented to the world in 2001, psychiatrists had high hopes for it. Itemising all our genes would surely provide molecular evidence that the main cause of mental illness was genetic – something psychiatrists had long believed. Drug companies were wetting their lips at the prospect of massive profits from unique potions for every idiosyncrasy.

But a decade later, unnoticed by the media, the human genome project has not delivered what the psychiatrists hoped: we now know that genes play little part in why one sibling, social class or ethnic group is more likely to suffer mental health problems than another.

This result had been predicted by Craig Venter, one of the key researchers on the project. When the map was published, he said that because we only have about 25,000 genes psychological differences could not be much determined by them. "Our environments are critical," he concluded. And, after only a few years of extensive genome searching, even the most convinced geneticists began to publicly admit that there are no individual genes for the vast majority of mental health problems. In 2009 Professor Robert Plomin, a leading behavioural geneticist, wrote that the evidence had proved that "genetic effects are much smaller than previously considered: the largest effects account for only 1% of quantitative traits". However, he believed that all was not lost. Complex combinations of genes might hold the key. So far, this has not been shown, nor is it likely to be.

This February's editorial of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry was entitled "It's the environment, stupid!". The author, Edmund Sonuga-Barke, stated that "serious science is now more than ever focused on the power of the environment … all but the most dogged of genetic determinists have revised their view".

The Left ends up with nothing to show for its long love affair with Darwinism except mass graves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


How Marriage Survives (JUSTIN WOLFERS, 10/12/10, NY Times)

Marriage and divorce rates have remained remarkably immune to the ups and downs of the business cycle. Unfortunately, the marriage statistics are easy to misread.

It’s misleading to count the wedding rings among people in their 20s and early 30s, because the median age at first marriage in the United States has risen to 28 for men (from 23 in 1970) and 26 for women (from 21 in 1970). The fact that these folks aren’t married now doesn’t mean they won’t marry — many of them just aren’t there yet.

Look instead at 40-year-olds, and you see that 81 percent have married at least once. Yes, this number used to be higher — it peaked at 93 percent in 1980 — but, clearly, marriage remains a part of most people’s lives. These statistics are not a perfect barometer either, however, because they reflect weddings that were celebrated years earlier.

To most accurately track marriage rates, you need to focus on the number of wedding certificates issued. In 2009, the latest year for which we have data, there were about 2.1 million marriages in the United States. That does represent a slight decline since the recession began. But it’s the same rate of decline that existed during the preceding economic boom, the previous bust and both the boom and the bust before that.

Indeed, the recent modest decline in marriage continues a 30-year trend. And even as the number of marriages falls, divorce is also becoming less prevalent. So a greater proportion of today’s marriages will likely persist 30 years into the future.

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October 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Think Again: Global Aging: A gray tsunami is sweeping the planet -- and not just in the places you expect. How did the world get so old, so fast? (PHILLIP LONGMAN | NOVEMBER 2010, Foreign Policy)

Once, demographers believed, following a long line of ancient thinkers from Tacitus and Cicero in late Rome to Ibn Khaldun in the medieval Arab world, that population aging and decline were particular traits of "civilized" countries that had obtained a high degree of luxury. Reflecting on the fate of Rome, Charles Darwin's grandson bemoaned a pattern he saw throughout history: "Must civilization always lead to the limitation of families and consequent decay and then replacement from barbaric sources, which in turn will go through the same experience?"

Today, however, we see that birth rates are dipping below replacement levels even in countries hardly known for luxury. Emerging first in Scandinavia in the 1970s, what the experts call "subreplacement fertility" quickly spread to the rest of Europe, Russia, most of Asia, much of South America, the Caribbean, Southern India, and even Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Morocco, and Iran. Of the 59 countries now producing fewer children than needed to sustain their populations, 18 are characterized by the United Nations as "developing," i.e., not rich.

Indeed, most developing countries are experiencing population aging at unprecedented rates. Consider Iran. As recently as the late 1970s, the average Iranian woman had nearly seven children. Today, for reasons not well understood, she has just 1.74, far below the average 2.1 children needed to sustain a population over time. Accordingly, between 2010 and 2050, the share of Iran's population 60 and older is expected to increase from 7.1 to 28.1 percent. This is well above the share of 60-plus people found in Western Europe today and about the same percentage that is expected for most Northern European countries in 2050. But unlike Western Europe, Iran and many other developing regions experiencing the same hyper-aging -- from Cuba to Croatia, Lebanon to the Wallis and Futuna Islands -- will not necessarily have a chance to get rich before they get old.

One contributing factor is urbanization; more than half the world's population now lives in cities, where children are an expensive economic liability, not another pair of hands to till fields or care for livestock. Two other oft-cited reasons are expanded work opportunities for women and the increasing prevalence of pensions and other old-age financial support that doesn't depend on having large numbers of children to finance retirement.

Surprisingly, this graying of the world is not by any means the exclusive result of programs deliberately aimed at population control. For though there are countries such as India, which embraced population control even to the point of forced sterilization programs during the 1970s and saw dramatic reduction in birth rates, there are also counterexamples such as Brazil, where the government never promoted family planning and yet its birth rate went down even more. Why? In both countries and elsewhere, changing cultural norms appear to be the primary force driving down birth rates -- think TV, not government decrees. In Brazil, television was introduced sequentially province by province, and in each new region the boob tube reached, birth rates plummeted soon after. (Discuss among yourselves whether this was because of what's on Brazilian television -- mostly soap operas depicting rich people living the high life -- or simply because a television was now on at night in many more bedrooms.) [...]

Those who predict a coming Asian Century have not come to terms with the region's approaching era of hyper-aging. Japan, whose "lost decade" began just as its labor force started to shrink in the late 1980s, now appears to be not an exception, but a vanguard of Asian demographics. South Korea and Taiwan, with some of the lowest birth rates of any major country, will be losing population within 15 years. Singapore's government is so worried about its birth dearth that it not only offers new mothers a "baby bonus" of up to about $3,000 each for the first or second child and about $4,500 for a third or fourth child, paid maternity leave, and other enticements to have children, it has even started sponsoring speed-dating events.

China, for now, continues to enjoy the economic benefits associated with the early phase of birth-rate decline, when a society has fewer children to support and more available female labor for the workforce. But with its stringent one-child policy and exceptionally low birth rate, China is rapidly evolving into what demographers call a "4-2-1" society, in which one child becomes responsible for supporting two parents and four grandparents.

Asia will also be plagued by a chronic shortage of women in the coming decades, which could leave the most populous region on Earth with the same skewed sex ratios as the early American West. Due to selective abortion, China has about 16 percent more boys than girls, which many predict will lead to instability as tens of millions of "unmarriageable" men find other outlets for their excess libido. India has nearly the same sex-ratio imbalance and also a substantial difference in birth rates between its southern (mostly Hindu) states and its northern (more heavily Muslim) states, which could contribute to ethnic tension.

No society has ever experienced the speed of population aging -- or the gender imbalance -- now seen throughout Asia. So we can't simply look to history to predict Asia's future. But we can say with confidence that no region on Earth is more demographically challenged.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


The Simpsons Baseball Edition (Joe Posnanski, 10/12/10, SI)

One of the thing many things I love about The Simpsons is that, often, the main implausible plot is sparked by an even more unlikely mini-plot at the start. In this case, we need to get to the point where Lisa is managing Bart’s baseball team. To get to this point, they bring in a former student who has gone on to attend an Ivy League school. And when Lisa expresses her own desire to go to an Ivy, the woman says that Lisa better get involved in more extra-curricular activities.

Marge: “Don’t worry, you can still attend McGill University, the Harvard of Canada.”
Lisa: “Anything that is the something of the something isn’t really the anything of the anything.”

At this point, Flanders, the fussy neighbor, comes by to say that he can no longer coach Bart’s Little League baseball team because he cannot live with his conscience after not complaining when an umpire calls his shortstop’s foul ball a home run (Flanders: “Call me Walter Matthau because I’m a Bad News Bearer”).

After Homer refuses to take over the team (Homer: “Sorry Marge, last time I stepped on a baseball field I got tazed”), Lisa becomes the team manager. [...]

Yes, now, we have reached the crux of the episode. Lisa must learn baseball. For this she goes to Moe’s to seek the council of her father and men watching the game on television.

Moe: “The only thing I know about strategy is that whatever the manager does, it’s wrong. Unless it works in which case he’s a button pusher.”

Moe then points her to the corner … where a mini-SABR convention has broken out. There are four nerdy guys with computers and stat books discussing the game.

Nerdy stat guy 1: As a pitcher Cliff Lee is CLEARLY superior to Zack Greinke.
Nerdy stat guy 2: Yes I completely agree with the following COLOSSAL exception: Before the fourth inning, after a road loss, in a domed stadium. Then it’s great to be Greinke!*

*I would love to believe that I played a small part, just a tiny part, in inspiring this scene. But I think it’s more likely that the word “Greinke” is funnier than, say, “Roy Halladay.”

Lisa is impressed by their knowledge, and here she is told that the key to understanding baseball is sabermetrics: “The field was developed by statistician Bill James,” Nerdy Stat Guy 2 says.

At this point, he shows Lisa his computer, where there’s a picture of Bill. And Bill utters his one line: “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes!” [...]

Lisa — armed with her newfound statistics — turns around Bart’s team. She moves the fielders around so that they are always perfectly situated*, which absolutely will NOT inspire me to make a Brooks Conrad joke.

*At one point, Lisa moves her first baseman into the crowd, and sure enough a foul ball is hit right to him. A good gag, but once again they did something for goofballs like me to notice: The first baseman was left-handed when he was put in the crowd. But he turned into the right-handed Ralph when the foul ball was hit to him. I wonder how much fun they have over there putting in these little details they know 99.999% of the people won’t notice, but will drive the other .001% mad.

Lisa’s maneuvers are making the team a winner, but Bart cannot help but feel that the joy of the game is being drained. When Lisa tells him to not swing — the pitcher is wild — he is furious.

Bart: “But I’m on a hot-streak.
Lisa: “Hot streaks are a statistical illusion.”
Bart: “I wish YOU were a statistical illusion.”
Lisa: “Well, there’s a 97% chance I’m not, so do what I say.”

He disobeys her and hits a walk-off home run. His teammates pick him up and chant his name (“Bart! Bart! Bart!”) and while they’re doing it, she throws him off the team leading to a new chant (“Conflicted! Conflicted! Conflicted!”).

Now, of course we have family strife. Marge and Homer take sides:

Marge: Flyballs and fungoes come and go. But families are forever.
Homer: Sorry Marge, I’ve got to call bullcrap on that. The ’69 Mets will live on forever. But you think anyone cares about Ron Swoboda’s wife and kids? Not me. And I assume not Ron Swoboda.
Marge: Think of Bart’s feelings!
Homer: Boys don’t have feelings. They have muscles.

That night, Marge reads to Bart a slightly altered version of the three little bears. Homer reads to Lisa the story of Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game.

The baseball season goes on without Bart (Lisa: “He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else here think he’s better than the laws of probability?”). Lisa moves Nelson into the leadoff spot because of his on-base percentage*. The team wins again and earns a spot in the Little League Championship (Announcer who sounds quite a bit like Vin Scully: “It’s a triumph of number-crunching over the human spirit, and it’s about time.”)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Democratic strategist criticizes 'foreign money' campaign theme (Tom Hamburger, 10/12/10, Chicago Tribune)

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi was critical Wednesday of making "foreign money" a major campaign theme for the White House. During a brief telephone interview, he said he would not have involved the president in making a charge that does not appear to have much evidence to support it.

"My reaction? Get on to talking about the issues. This is not going to do much. From what I see, there isn't a violation of the law."

Trippi said that it was not right to have the president personally involved in attacking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for receiving foreign money. "It would be better to have a hack consultant like me complain" than having the president do so, he said.

The President seems to like golf. Let him hit the links and stop letting him speak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 PM


Interview-The Power of Elves: Athens band brings magical flair to Cville (Stephanie Garcia, Oct 4, 2010, Hook)

Elf Power quickly found a place of its own, churning out ten albums including their most recent release, a forceful and poignant remembrance of their late friend and collaborator Vic Chesnutt, the partially paralyzed singer-songwriter who committed suicide on Christmas Day in 2009.

Rieger tells the Hook he was a big fan of Chestnutt, having begun listening to him long before they first collaborated in 2008 on the Dark Developments album and its subsequent tour.

The Hook: How did the collaboration with Vic Chesnutt come about?
Andrew Rieger: He was asked to do this live music television show, and he asked us to be his backing band. We rehearsed with him for awhile, and he really liked the arrangements we came up with for his new songs, so he suggested we do an album together.

The Hook: And what was that process like?
AR: Over the course of a year, we’d go to his attic studio in his house and he’d show us a song. We’re used to coming up with demos, a long, gradual process. Vic had an instinctual feeling, didn’t want us to over-think it, so it was a really cool way to record. We’d run through it, record it, then move on.

The Hook: So how does this new eponymous album reflect your grief?
AR: Some people have read into some of the lyrics, and asked, “Is this about Vic?” Vic died on Christmas, and we started recording the second week of January. We were definitely thinking about Vic while we were recording, but it was all written before Vic died.

Elf PowerElf Power
"Stranger in the Window" (mp3)
from "Elf Power"
(Orange Twin Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Amazon MP3
More On This Album

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM

...AND LOWER...:

Google to map inflation using web data (Robin Harding, October 11 2010, Financial Times)

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks.

At the National Association of Business Economists conference in Denver, Colorado, Mr Varian said that the GPI was a work in progress and Google had not yet decided whether to publish it.

While the Federal Reserve is unlikely to panic just yet, Mr Varian said that the GPI shows a “very clear deflationary trend” for web-traded goods in the US since Christmas. Although the data are not seasonally adjusted, Mr Varian said that prices rose during the same period a year ago. The ‘core’ CPI in the US, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.9 per cent on a year ago in August.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


Like Carter, Obama is Right But Doesn't Get Credit (Richard Cohen, 10/12/10, RCP)

Almost like an apparition, Jimmy Carter stalks Barack Obama. The former president has published yet another book, his 25th, which has been greeted with some scorn and plenty of ridicule. Garry Wills, in the reliably liberal New York Review of Books, writes that "Carter is a better man than his worst enemy would portray him as. And his worst enemy, it turns out is himself." To which a chorus of critics would quickly add, "Not as long as I'm around."

Those critics are having a very good time with Carter's latest book, "White House Diary." It turns out that Carter was an indefatigable diarist, recording everything for whatever reason -- his high self-regard, above all. He is peripatetic Jimmy, his fingers into everything, down to programming the music for the White House sound system. The book becomes "an indictment of the man's pettiness," Wills says, and once again a chorus of other reviewers chimes in with a hearty "amen."

You may wonder at this point why, above, I placed Obama in the same paragraph with Carter.

....no. No one is wondering at the comparison.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Just Say No, Christine O’Donnell: An ode to the U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware (GAIL SHISTER, 10/12/2010, Philly Post)

I am not a witch.

I am not an adulterous masturbator.

I am not a wing nut.

I am not lovin’ in the coven.

I did not go to Yale.

I did not go to Oxford.

I did not go to Princeton.

I did not go to Claremont Graduate University.

I did not stiff Fairleigh Dickinson on tuition.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Cook Political Report Moves Five House Dems From Solid D to Likely D (The Cook Political Report, 10/12/10)

AZ 07 Raul Grijalva (D) - Solid D To Likely D
MA 04 Barney Frank (D) - Solid D To Likely D
MN 08 Jim Oberstar (D) - Solid D To Likely D
NM 03 Ben Ray Lujan (D) - Solid D To Likely D
TX 27 Solomon Ortiz (D) - Solid D To Likely D

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Iran, the Paper Tiger (ROGER COHEN, 10/11/10, NY Times)

The Iranian president is into his sixth year in office, the Islamic Republic is more divided than ever, Iranian youth have been brutalized, and there’s a nuclear program that, a bit like the Middle East “peace process,” goes on and on and on, defying definition even as it defies termination.

I read with interest in a recent piece by my colleagues John Markoff and David Sanger that “in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.” Given that various Israeli leaders have predicted that Iran would have a bomb in 1999 or 2004 or just about every year since 2005, that’s a decade and a half of the non-appearing wolf at the door.

Sure, such predications are necessarily haphazard, the Natanz centrifuges may now be Stuxnetted by computer worms, and Iranian scientists have resembled Iranian pistachios: up for sale. Still there is a dangerous pattern here of Israeli and U.S. alarmism.

Cool heads are needed. Untenable Nazi allusions, rampant in the case of Iran, demean victims of the Holocaust and lead to disastrous wars. A bloody war has been fought in Iran’s western neighbor. So let’s recall that Saddam Hussein told his captors he had cultivated nuclear ambiguity as a deterrent even though his program was precisely zilch.

And what of Iran’s program? Iran remains a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are at Natanz; the number of centrifuges being used to make low-enriched uranium (far from weapons grade) has dropped 23 percent since May 2009 and production has stagnated; U.S. intelligence agencies hold that Iran has not made the decision to build a bomb; any “breakout” decision would be advertised because the I.A.E.A. would be thrown out; the time from “breakout” to deliverable weapon is significant.

I’m with Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who this year told the Washington Post: “Iran will muddle along building its stockpile but never making a nuclear bomb because it knows that crossing that line would provoke an immediate military attack.” The Islamic Republic is a study in muddle but lucid over a single goal: self-preservation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


...on the most recent episode of Rubicon, which there may be no one watching anymore, they pretty clearly suggested that jihadis are driven by repressed homosexuality:


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The French: a guide for the perplexed (Tim King, 12th October 2010, The Prospect)

But ordinary people—I mean adults—are willing to lose a day’s pay walking up and down a Boulevard shouting slogans about something that’s already history?

It is crazy, but today is a real trial of strength. Sarkozy knew the only way to get his reform through was to do it fast, without discussion. Once you ask a Frenchman his opinion you’ll be there until the bottle is empty and neither of you can remember what you’re talking about. So Sarkozy opened the formal discussions on the eve of the summer holidays—everyone was trying to calculate whether they could fit all the kids, bikes, boats into the car, what the rented house would be like, how far the beach, where the nearest two-star restaurant. When Sarkozy began the debate in parliament in early September some members were still wiping the sand off their feet – and by the time they’d dug the sun cream-smeared text out of the beach bag the bill had already passed through. Same thing last week in the Senate – we were told to expect 3 weeks’ debate, then, at the end of the second day, the main clause is voted through. None of the rest matters. Sarkozy’s plan is to make today’s strikers look irrelevant—Die-hard Socialist Dinosaurs. He’s betting most people will agree it’s irrelevant and won’t show up. Then Sarkozy can say, on prime time TV news this evening (which he has already booked), “I knew with time and careful thought the French people would come round to my way of thinking.”

But he may have it wrong. There’s a lot hanging on today. If the unions can convincingly claim around 2 million have turned out (police figures would have to be a little under half that) then a lot of public sector workers—trains in particular, dockers, but teachers too, and school-kids—will start a series of rolling, indefinite strikes which will spell real trouble for Sarkozy.

And all this for a pension reform that’s already signed and sealed?

When the French take to the streets in large numbers it is rarely for the stated reason and certainly not for one single reason. Friday’s vote in the Senate heralded the end of la grande illusion. Retiring at 60 symbolises all that is best and most glorious in France. Established by Presidential decree in 1982, it became the corner-stone of the 1980’s fiction that from now on we would all work less, with the state picking up the tab, assuring everyone a happy, long, well-educated, cultured, healthy life. An offer, it goes without saying, unique to France. Now the state itself is the problem, everyone having to work longer to bail it out. Doctors appear on television to admit the public health system is a mess, despite being one of the world’s most expensive. Poverty in France used never be mentioned, now it is a fact of life. French universities are recognised as trailing behind other countries. Unemployment does not go down, nor does the public debt. Even the state-aided national champions—Alstom high-speed trains for example or Dassault jet-fighters—no longer sell. Welcome to the 21st century.

Behind and above all this, many people feel France under Sarkozy has lost its grandeur, without which, as De Gaulle said, it cannot really be France.

In fairness to the French, the End of History was easy for us, it just confoirmed that the Anglospheric resistance to the Enlightenment had been right all along. For continental Europe generally, and the French in particular, the failure of the Age of Reason meant not just that they'd pursued false gods for several centuries but that all the blood of its victims traced directly to their Revolution. Easy to see why they're so discombobulated by it all.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


For Democrats, Even ‘Safe’ Seats Are Shaky (JEFF ZELENY, 10/11/10, NY Times)

Representatives Steve Driehaus of Ohio, Suzanne M. Kosmas of Florida and Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania were among the Democrats who learned that they would no longer receive the same infusion of television advertising that party leaders had promised. Party strategists conceded that these races and several others were slipping out of reach.

With three weeks remaining to save its majority, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has increased its spending on two New York races, along with at-risk seats in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts, setting up a map of competitive districts that is starkly different from when the campaign began.

The strategic decisions unfolded at a feverish pace on Monday over an unusually wide playing field of nearly 75 Congressional districts, including here in Ohio, a main battleground in the fight for the House and the Senate. The developments resembled pieces being moved on a giant chess board, with Republicans trying to keep Democrats on the defensive in as many places as possible, while outside groups provided substantial reinforcements for Republicans.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s election arm in the House, can afford to make the new investments because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a host of newly formed political organizations have come to the aid of Republican candidates who have far less money than the Democratic incumbents.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Obama Loses Support in Poll as Joblessness Prompts Growing U.S. Discontent (Mike Dorning, 10/12/10, Bloomberg)

Hope has turned to doubt and disenchantment for almost half of President Barack Obama’s supporters.

More than 4 of 10 likely voters who say they once considered themselves Obama backers now are either less supportive or say they no longer support him at all, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Don’t give him the Nobel – he’s right-wing!: Swedish leftists are outraged that Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature, because he isn’t ‘one of us’. (Johan Norberg, 10/12/10, spiked)

‘I am a bit angry’, said the Swedish literary critic Ulrika Milles during Swedish television’s broadcast of the announcement of the Nobel Prize in literature for 2010. It took the country’s cultural elite just seconds to realise that a mistake had been made in the Swedish Academy’s voting process: you see, Mario Vargas Llosa, the winner, is no longer a socialist. ‘I lost him when he became a neo-liberal’, complained Milles. Many others echoed her.

People who never voiced any concerns about the politics of other Nobel Prize winners – like Wisława Szymborska, who wrote poetic celebrations of Lenin and Stalin; Günter Grass, who praised Cuba’s dictatorship; Harold Pinter, who supported Slobodan Milošević; José Saramago, who purged anti-Stalinists from the revolutionary newspaper he edited – thought that the Swedish Academy had finally crossed a line. Mario Vargas Llosa’s politics apparently should have disqualified him from any prize considerations. He is after all a classical liberal in the tradition of John Locke and Adam Smith.

Journalists and writers on Sweden’s statist left explained that Vargas Llosa became a ‘traitor’ during the 1980s, when he came out against socialism and even ran for the Peruvian presidency on a liberal platform.

...even worse to have been right about History.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


I Can Afford Higher Taxes. But They’ll Make Me Work Less. (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 10/09/10, NY Times)

Suppose that some editor offered me $1,000 to write an article. If there were no taxes of any kind, this $1,000 of income would translate into $1,000 in extra saving. If I invested it in the stock of a company that earned, say, 8 percent a year on its capital, then 30 years from now, when I pass on, my children would inherit about $10,000. That is simply the miracle of compounding.

Now let’s put taxes into the calculus. First, assuming that the Bush tax cuts expire, I would pay 39.6 percent in federal income taxes on that extra income. Beyond that, the phaseout of deductions adds 1.2 percentage points to my effective marginal tax rate. I also pay Medicare tax, which the recent health care bill is raising to 3.8 percent, starting in 2013. And in Massachusetts, I pay 5.3 percent in state income taxes, part of which I get back as a federal deduction. Putting all those taxes together, that $1,000 of pretax income becomes only $523 of saving.

And that saving no longer earns 8 percent. First, the corporation in which I have invested pays a 35 percent corporate tax on its earnings. So I get only 5.2 percent in dividends and capital gains. Then, on that income, I pay taxes at the federal and state level. As a result, I earn about 4 percent after taxes, and the $523 in saving grows to $1,700 after 30 years.

Then, when my children inherit the money, the estate tax will kick in. The marginal estate tax rate is scheduled to go as high as 55 percent next year, but Congress may reduce it a bit. Most likely, when that $1,700 enters my estate, my kids will get, at most, $1,000 of it.

HERE’S the bottom line: Without any taxes, accepting that editor’s assignment would have yielded my children an extra $10,000. With taxes, it yields only $1,000. In effect, once the entire tax system is taken into account, my family’s marginal tax rate is about 90 percent. Is it any wonder that I turn down most of the money-making opportunities I am offered?

By contrast, without the tax increases advocated by the Obama administration, the numbers would look quite different. I would face a lower income tax rate, a lower Medicare tax rate, and no deduction phaseout or estate tax. Taking that writing assignment would yield my kids about $2,000. I would have twice the incentive to keep working.

Obviously the tax system should not only encourage Mr. Mankiw to make the initial income but then to invest it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Can skinflint Mitch Daniels win the presidency? (Michael Barone, October 10, 2010, Washington Examiner)

As much as any American politician of his generation, he's proved that cutting spending and gaining a reputation as a skinflint is good politics.

Now Daniels is being mentioned as a presidential candidate and he doesn't deny that he's thinking about it. He's been holding dinners with national policy experts in Indianapolis, much as George W. Bush did in Austin a dozen years ago.

And he says that, if he runs, he'll be a different kind of candidate. As for "the federal fiscal picture -- and why don't we have the philosophic debate tomorrow -- as for today, can we agree that the arithmetic doesn't work? We're going to have higher and higher levels of debt."

He goes on. "This is a survival-level issue for the country. We won't be a leader without major change in the federal fiscal picture. We're going to have to do fundamental things you say are impossible."

He believes that "Democrats are better positioned to do this, but they're not going to lead. This will probably be a Republican responsibility." To do what, exactly?

To propose "fundamental changes in entitlements and in the size and scope of the federal government." Because "the machine is going TILT."

He thinks voters may be ready to support such changes because they've had a searing experience with debt and their lives are changing. Younger people may be ready to put up with lower Social Security benefits for high earners because they've seen that some companies' new hires aren't getting the pensions and benefits their elders got. "There's nothing radical about this. It's already happened all over the place."

He's also got some more short-term proposals -- a payroll tax holiday to stimulate the economy, reviving the presidential power of impoundment (not spending money Congress has appropriated), a moratorium on federal regulations.

As OMB director, Daniels was on the National Security Council, and as governor he's visited Indiana troops around the world; he says "it's important to support the commander in chief" on Afghanistan. But he's open to cuts in defense spending beyond those Secretary Robert Gates has imposed. "No question that the system is rigged to overspend," he says, "like health care. No question that defense dollars could be spent better."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


A Vanishing Journalistic Divide (DAVID CARR, 10/10/10, NY Times)

In the closing months of the 2000 presidential campaign, I was working for Inside.com, a digital news site back when that was a novelty. I had left a job editing a Washington weekly and moved to New York City to join in the dot-com frolic, taking ribbing from my print colleagues at the time. At the farewell party, they performed a stirring and heartfelt parody of the song “Midnight Train to Georgia,” with the chorus changed to “Midnight train to nowhere.”

They were right. A year after I got there, the bloom was off dot-com world, the lack of a business model was manifest, and everyone who worked there had to scatter. But my print buddies were also so, so wrong. The Web, as I quickly found out, is a remarkably effective journalism machine.

As that 2000 presidential campaign was ending, I briefly spoke to someone from the campaign press plane and they revealed that a poll of beat reporters on the plane had shown a lopsided preference for Al Gore. Working in a room full of candy-colored Macs on the West Side of Manhattan, I typed up a few hundred words and pushed Enter.


Within 10 minutes, news organizations pivoted around my little item and a nice kerfuffle ensued about the objectivity of the press. It was a moment for me, a look into the future when news would land hard no matter the platform or who pushed the button.

It was clear back then that the Web, with its low-cost, friction-free distribution, was a remarkable way to publish. But 10 years later, paying for reporting on the Web remains daunting. The reason that newspapers put all the white paper out on the street is that we get a lot of green paper back in return. Put out all the pixels you want, even ones that render scoops, and you will still receive pennies in return.

While the digital news business is still a riddle — most outfits will tell you they “will be profitable sometime next year,” which is what we used to say at Inside.com — the market has decided differently. Newsweek, a print magazine built up over decades, sold for a dollar this summer, while TechCrunch, a news and aggregation site founded five years ago, merited a reported $25 million in a sale to AOL.

The speed with which a media brand can be built out — see Huffington Post for the most breathtaking example — means that the barriers to entry that made the media business the province of titans are gone.

On a journalistic level, the new playing field is more even. Many people see the news in aggregated form on the Web, and when they notice a link that interests them, they click on it with nary a thought about the news organization behind it. Information stands or falls on its magnetism, with brand pedigree becoming secondary.

More and more, the dichotomy between mainstream media and digital media is a false one. Formerly clear bright lines are being erased all over the place. Open up Gawker, CNN, NPR and The Wall Street Journal on an iPad and tell me without looking at the name which is a blog, a television brand, a radio network, a newspaper. They all have text, links, video and pictures. The new frame around content is changing how people see and interact with the picture in the middle.

And reporting is not just the province of doughy old newspaper guys like me. Digital news players as diverse as Yahoo, Huffington Post, Gawker, Business Insider and AOL have all moved aggressively in the past few weeks to acquire additional journalistic talent in the belief that while aggregation has a place, it is not enough. News is the killer app.

October 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Kelly Ayotte in Good Shape to Hold New Hampshire Senate Seat for the GOP (Bruce Drake, 10/11/10, Politics Daily)

Republican Kelly Ayotte is ahead in her race to keep New Hampshire's senate seat in GOP hands, leading Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes by 51 percent to 44 percent for the second straight month, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Oct. 10

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


GOP gains traction in Jesse Jackson Jr.’s district (SOPHIA TAREEN, 10/11/2010, AP)

Isaac Hayes, a conservative Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., is getting more attention lately — and not just because he shares a name with the soul legend known for the “Shaft” theme.

More revelations about Jackson’s links to the corruption case of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and a relationship he had with a female “social acquaintance” have given Hayes an opening in the reliably Democratic and largely black district that Jackson won with nearly 90 percent of the vote two years ago. [...]

Hayes is trying to capitalize on Jackson’s troubles; his website is called isaac4honesty.com. He bills himself as a “Booker T. Washington Republican” who is conservative on fiscal and social issues — he opposes abortion and gay marriage or civil unions — and as a fighter for civil rights.

The son of a minister, Hayes works at the massive Apostolic Church Of God on Chicago’s South Side where 20,000 people are members and 7,000 regularly attend services. Hayes thinks he can win by appealing to devout Christians and independents.

“He’s a new conservative African-American who is exactly what people are looking for in this environment,” said Lee Roupas, chairman of Cook County Republicans. “Given the corruption, the lies, the scandals surrounding Jesse Jackson Jr., this is a race that we’re taking seriously.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


Obama is losing it (John Feehery, 10/11/10, The Hill)

If you are an American and you travel anywhere in the world in an official capacity, one of your first meetings is likely to be with the local American Chamber of Commerce.

Meeting with AmChams (as they are called) is an essential way to get a better understanding of how American businesses are doing in selling American products overseas. Members of AmChams (who are usually American) have an acute understanding of the local laws, the obstacles that foreign governments often place in the way of trade and the opportunities that exist for further investment.

AmChams are the tip of the spear when it comes to international trade. And without international trade, American business can’t grow. And if American businesses don’t grow, jobs don’t get created back here in the United States of America.

When President Obama talks about the supposed foreign influence that has infiltrated the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he is talking about dues that are being paid by these AmChams back to the Chamber.

His argument is complete nonsense. [...] The argument itself is delusional, and it makes me wonder if the president has taken leave of his senses.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


The human face of Hezbollah: a review of A Privilege to Die by Thanassis Cambanis (David M. Shribman, October 11, 2010, Boston Globe)

“Hezbollah has broken the crusty traditions of Arab politics to craft a big-tent party platform that speaks to people’s mundane aspirations: economic reform, affordable health care, round-the-clock electricity, efficient courts, and community policing,’’ [Thanassis Cambanis] writes. “Most importantly of all, however, Hezbollah has shifted the norms of Middle East politics with its fast-spreading ideology of perpetual war.’’

Where some writers talk about the Arab streets, Cambanis has walked them. Along the way he encountered warriors and hospital workers, polished intellectuals and women who sell nuts by the curb, ideologues and theologians, those who engage in small acts of resistance and those who prosecute total war of the most brutal sort.

Some of the people he met on these wanderings were unforgiving but unforgettable. He introduces us to a Hezbollah fighter who “humanized a worldview that until I met him felt robotic, monolithic, inhumane’’ and then, in one of his most poignant passages, to his widow. “She had loved her husband and she loved her children, but — incomprehensibly to me — she was willing to lose them to a cause that seemed to me hopeless, impersonal and at times fanatical.’’ And countless others, men and women, young and old, secular and religious.

What becomes clear is that the key to Hezbollah is its ability to spread virtue along with the violence. It promises, for example, to restore communities — homes and businesses — to their original conditions after each episode of conflict. “Hezbollah needed to keep [its] soft supporters happy,’’ Cambanis writes, “and to do so it needed to deliver bricks and mortar along with its ideology.’’

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Newsmaker: Michel Abboud : RECORD speaks with the principal of SOMA, the architecture firm behind the controversial Park51 Muslim community center proposed for Lower Manhattan. (Alex Padalka, October 2010, Architectural Record)

AP: What are you trying to convey with the design for Park51?

MA: From day one we knew this was going to be a complicated project in terms of controversy, how many parties we have to please – starting with the developer – the religious institutions behind the prayer space, the community, and not to mention all the political parties. Some parties required a more traditionalist approach to what Islamic architecture should look like — whatever that means. If you try to define that, it's going to be pretty hard. Other people just expected another building in New York, and from the start we knew that we didn't want that building to look like anything else. We wanted the building to be able find its roots into what makes Islamic architecture culturally recognizable as Islamic, without necessarily being religious — because that's a fine line also: What makes an Islamic cultural element, or religious element?

So we went back to really some of the most ancient traditional elements, internationally — even though we're so aware it's been done before, by other architects, namely by Jean Nouvel — taking the Islamic motif and converting it into some sort of facade. In our case it was a little more than that. It was going back to the very essence to what makes Islamic architecture recognizable, and if you go back to history there's a single motif, the Mashrabiya, the sun screen really, using abstract representations, very elaborate arabesques, and turn that motif into some sort of a map to create the facade. A map that would, through several manipulations and articulations, respond to the interior program. It's a map that starts becoming denser in areas that require less openness, and less dense in areas that require more openness. Also in relationship to the site — you’ve got to keep in mind that this is a southern facade that gets hit with direct sunlight, which requires some sort of sunscreen. At the same time this facade is a structural element on its own, so it's actually an exoskeleton that holds itself. A little bit like a curtain wall, but it's truly structural. But not only is it structural, it's projected into the building and starts defining voids inside the building.

AP: Can you tell me about the materials? What is the motivation behind having them so ultra-modern?

MA: Glass reinforced concrete. The whole point is that it's as delicate as lace but structurally as sound as concrete. It's a natural material we use in actual Mashrabiya in any country that has those types of things. You can get extremely thin with that. We haven't done the actual engineering of the facade yet so we don’t know how thin these elements are going to be, because some of them are pretty bulky, but the idea is that some of them will become pretty thin. It's a double skin. You can see in terms of the interior program, you can see we tried to keep it as open as possible

So if you go in terms of program, the only religious component is really the Muslim prayer space — and we’re not calling it a mosque, because it’s really not a mosque. A mosque has very clear typology, with an open plaza, a minaret, and you’re never going to see these things – probably ever – [in New York], but definitely not in this building. It’s called a prayer space, on two lower levels, below the ground floor, so basically the first two basements. Obviously they’re split between female and male. Everything above the ground floor will be secular architecture, for secular programming. You have restaurants, child care facilities, culinary school, sports center with basketball courts, a pool, a media tech library, auditorium, then you have the offices, administration, different types of workshops, even live-work spaces for artists, for guest artists, a little like Villa de Medici. Some sort of relation with what the culture is, the cultures we’re trying to join in this project.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Man streaks in front of Obama for $1 million (Dan Halper, 10/11/10, Weekly Standard)

If billionaire Alki David is an honest man, the man who streaked in front of Barack Obama at the president’s rally today in Philadelphia will be paid $1 million for his stunt. The man who performed today’s stunt, which captured the attention of the Drudge Report and an Associated Press photographer, is 24-year-old Juan James Rodriguez, THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


Scotland Will Have A Go Against Spain, Says Levein (Reuters, 10/10/10)

Scotland manager Craig Levein defended his widely-criticised defensive approach on Monday but said he would "have a go" at world champions Spain in Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier.

Levein played without any recognised forward in a formation described by local media as "4-6-0" in the Czech Republic on Friday and lost a tight game 1-0.

In his exhaustive history of football tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson traces the process by which soccer went from a game in which your whole team was trying to score to the modern one where no one is trying to. Why bother?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


It's time for Obama to pull a Clinton (Michael Takiff, 10/10/10, Salon)

After the slapdown of 1994, Bill Clinton seemed a zombie president -- moving around, talking, living in the White House, but powerless and pathetic. Yet only two years later he coasted to reelection. The turnabout began when Timothy McVeigh, only hours after the president insisted on his relevance, set off his bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Bill Clinton’s speech four days later at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena displayed what may be the man’s most admirable and valuable gift: empathy. It’s not a joke, it’s not a put-on, he really does "feel your pain," and people know it. The speech reintroduced him as a strong, compassionate leader to a country that had come to view him as weak and elitist. And it played into what would be the theme of his politics for the rest of the year.

Clinton and his advisors didn’t make an explicit equation of the militia movement, with which McVeigh sympathized, to the conservative rule of Congress, but neither did they ignore the opportunity to make a point. In May at Michigan State Clinton told graduates "there is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government." "It wasn't consciously trying to tie conservative extremism in the House to the militia groups," says then-White House press secretary Mike McCurry. "But it was very clearly a statement about extreme rhetoric that declares government is not the solution, it's the problem ... Our rhetoric was subliminally a way to push Gingrich and the Republicans more and more to the extreme side." And so Clinton & co. worked tirelessly to convince the public that the Republican agenda, which sounded like common sense in the Contract, was in fact a plan to shove the country to the fringe. "Over and over again," recalls McCurry, "we used the words radical and extreme interchangeably to discuss the priorities of the new Republican leadership in Congress." On Feb. 24 Clinton spoke of "radical right-wing measures that are coming out of these House committees." June 23: The Republican budget proposal "is still too extreme." Aug. 2: A Republican bill featured "extreme anti-environment provisions"; Republicans favored "extreme budget cuts." Oct. 19: Republicans should "turn back from passing extreme measures."

That the strategy worked was testament as much to the personality of Newt Gingrich as to Clinton’s political skill and the essentially moderate temper of the country. In 1994 Gingrich seemed to much of the public new, smart and thoughtful. In 1995 he wore out his welcome. For one thing, he was (and is) simply unappealing on television, in contrast to the warmly telegenic Clinton. What’s more, he couldn’t stop talking. As Paul Begala recalls, "He was like a Thomas Nast cartoon of a right-wing thug: Overweight, bombastic and given to hysterical rants. He blamed liberals for Susan Smith -- the woman in South Carolina who murdered her children. Woody Allen left his wife for his wife's adopted daughter -- and that was the Democrats' fault." In policy matters he overreached, going beyond the discrete proposals of the Contract to call for the abolition of the Department of Education and threatening to throw the United States Treasury into default if he didn’t get his way in the ongoing budget negotiations.

As those negotiations proceeded through the summer, Clinton staked his position on the defense of four issues: Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. Medicare was Exhibit A in the case Clinton was making; he hammered Gingrich with it at every turn. When the Republicans proposed $270 billion in Medicare cuts over five years and tax cuts totaling $240 billion over the same period, the near 1-to-1 correspondence handed Bill a ready-made argument that the Republicans wanted to use the program so dear to the hearts of seniors "as a piggybank to fund huge tax cuts for people who don't really need them." When the government shut down in November, and CNN broadcast pictures of padlocked national parks and unsent Social Security checks, the public blamed Gingrich. The following year, Clinton & co. tied Gingrich around the neck of the Republican nominee, Bob Dole, himself no fan of the vainglorious speaker. Clinton barely broke a sweat as he breezed to reelection, just two years after his political obituary had been written.

It took the loss of Congress to shake Clinton into branding his opponents radicals and extremists. Barack Obama, fortunate that he has 1994's cautionary tale as guidance, needs to start his effort to do the same right now.

The author overlooks the degree to which Mr. Clinton otherwise embraced the Republican Revolution. Were the UR to base his 2012 re-elect on trade liberalization, budget cuts, drastic reform of a major entitlement program, and the like, he'd be tough to beat, because the GOP stands ready to hand him that series of victories too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The left should recognise that equality is undesirable: It sounds horribly rightwing, but a fair society may be one in which people have the right to strive for inequality (Julian Glover, 10/11/10, guardian.co.uk)

I think the EHRC has a wrongheaded idea of fairness. It measures the extent to which people's lives are different, and then calculates the action needed to make them more the same. The assumption is that equality is what we all want.

This overlooks the possibility that the actions needed to compel equality may be seen as unfair by those who do not benefit from them. An equally valid idea of a fair society may be one in which people are given the space and the right to strive for inequality: advantage achieved by their own efforts.

This sounds horribly right wing. But there is a challenge for the right in this too. The corollary of rejecting equality as a goal, and placing greater responsibility on individuals, must be to increase opportunity by reducing unfair advantage. If the state is to do less to bail people out of disasters of their own making, it must do more to give people a chance to avoid disaster in the first place.

We are very bad at that in Britain. As the report says, inequality of income is less sharp than inequality of wealth. People inherit privilege. They buy their way into private schools. Others get trapped in generational cycles, as Iain Duncan Smith is not the first to point out. State mechanisms for releasing them have not worked despite a decade of never-to-be-repeated support. To the extent that Labour reduced poverty at all, it was by shoving large sums of cash from the rich – and the budget deficit – to the poor. This didn't make the country fairer: it simply papered over the underlying unfairness.

If we are not to discard fairness as a useless concept, we must sharpen its definition. A liberal government like the one we have now cannot be content with reducing benefits for all and hoping people will call that fair. That's fairness as a flabby excuse for cuts. It is right that people on high incomes should not have benefits protected when those lower down do not, but deeper fairness demands giving people the chance to make something of their lives and not be held down by inherited disadvantages.

The tough choice for the left is to understand the impossibility and undesirability of equality. The tough choice for the right is to realise that a divided and hierarchical society cannot – in the best sense of that word – be fair.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


What Columbus Day Really Means: If you think the holiday pits Native Americans against Italian Americans, consider the history behind its origin (William J. Connell, American Scholar)

In a country of diverse religious faiths and national origins like the United States, it made sense to develop a holiday system that was not entirely tied to a religious calendar. (Christmas survives here, of course, but in law it’s a secular holiday much like New Year’s Day.) So Americans do not all leave for the shore on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the way Italians do; and while St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by many Americans, it is not a legal holiday in any of the states. The American system of holidays was constructed mostly around a series of great events and persons in our nation’s history. The aim was to instill a feeling of civic pride. Holidays were chosen as occasions to bring everyone together, not for excluding certain people. They were supposed to be about the recognition of our society’s common struggles and achievements. Civic religion is often used to describe the principle behind America’s calendar of public holidays.

Consider the range and variability of the meanings of our holidays. Certainly they have not always been occasions for celebration: Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day involve mourning for the dead and wounded. Labor Day commemorated significant hardships in the decades when unions were struggling to organize. Having grown up in the 1960s I remember how Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday (now lumped in with Presidents’ Day, and with some of its significance transferred to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) took on special meaning during the Civil Rights movement and after the JFK assassination.

When thinking about the Columbus Day holiday it helps to remember the good intentions of the people who put together the first parade in New York. Columbus Day was first proclaimed a national holiday by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, 400 years after Columbus’s first voyage. The idea, lost on present-day critics of the holiday, was that this would be a national holiday that would be special for recognizing both Native Americans, who were here before Columbus, and the many immigrants–including Italians–who were just then coming to this country in astounding numbers. It was to be a national holiday that was not about the Founding Fathers or the Civil War, but about the rest of American history. Like the Columbian Exposition dedicated in Chicago that year and opened in 1893, it was to be about our land and all its people. Harrison especially designated the schools as centers of the Columbus celebration because universal public schooling, which had only recently taken hold, was seen as essential to a democracy that was seriously aiming to include everyone and not just preserve a governing elite.

...than the aboriginals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Democratic struggles could cost handful of contests (Chris Cillizza, 10/10/10, Washington Post)

Rick Snyder may be House Democrats' biggest nightmare.

The Michigan Republican, a former head of the Gateway computer company, is running way ahead of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D) in the Wolverine State's gubernatorial race. (A poll released Sunday gave him a 20-point advantage.) Such a wide margin for Snyder creates the potential for a down-ballot sweep that could wash out Democrats' chances in two hotly contested House districts.

State Rep. Gary McDowell (D) and surgeon Dan Benishek (R) are competing for retiring Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak's seat in the 1st District - a swing district in northern Michigan that Barack Obama won with just 50 percent two years ago.

Rep. Mark Schauer (D) is trying to beat back former congressman Tim Walberg (R) in a rematch of their 2008 contest for a tossup seat in the 7th District, where Obama won with 52 percent.

With Snyder leading Bernero by such a wide margin, there is considerable concern among Democratic strategists that a poor performance at the top of the ticket could make just enough difference to sway the 1st District and 7th District races against them.

The situation in Michigan is the most extreme - but far from the only - example of how Democratic struggles at the top of the ticket could well cost the party a handful of congressional contests on Nov. 2.

Here in NH, Democrat losses in pretty nearly every race on the undercard look like they could potentially bring down a very popular governor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Why Obama Is in the Jaws of Political Death (Mark Halperin, 10/11/10, TIME)

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November's elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle. [...]

Throughout the year, we have been treated to Obama-led attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Joe Barton (for his odd apology to BP), John Boehner (for seeking the speakership — or was it something about an ant?) and Fox News (for everything). Suitable Democratic targets in some cases, perhaps, but not worth the time of a busy Commander in Chief. In the past few days, we have witnessed the spectacle of the President himself and his top advisers wading into allegations that Republicans are attempting to buy the election using foreign money laundered through the Chamber of Commerce, combining with Karl Rove and his wealthy backers to fund a flood of negative television commercials. Not only is this issue convoluted and far-fetched, but it also distracts from the issues voters care about, frustrating political insiders and alienating struggling citizens (not that many are following such an offbeat story line). Feinting and gibing can't obscure those job numbers.

...get an unqualified partisan hack.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


DSCC Moving Money Out of Missouri (Jeremy P. Jacobs, 10/08/10, Hotline)

The DSCC is moving TV ad money out of Missouri, a sign that the Senate race may be moving beyond Democrats' grasp.

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October 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


Choke!: A psychologist’s new look at why we choke under pressure, and what we can do about it (Chris Berdik | October 10, 2010, Boston Globe)

[A]ccording to University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, choking is rooted in science, not the supernatural--as are techniques to avoid it. In her lab, Beilock ratchets up the pressure on subjects performing all sorts of cognitive and athletic tasks while sampling their stress hormones and scanning their brains. She has found that worry can turn our strengths--such as superior reasoning skills or a supportive crowd--against us.

In her new book, ”Choke” (Free Press, September 2010), Beilock argues that doing well under pressure begins with understanding the demands that different types of performance make on the brain. [...]

IDEAS: Are some people natural born chokers?

BEILOCK: I wouldn’t go that far. But there are traits that can make people more susceptible to poor performance in pressure situations. Surprisingly, one is having a lot of working memory, what I call cognitive horsepower.

Doing academic tasks in our lab, we’ve found that people with the most thinking and reasoning power report the same levels of stress as people with lower cognitive horsepower, and they show similar stress-hormone levels, but they lose the most in their performance when we raise the stakes and up the pressure. That’s because they are used to relying on their superior thinking and reasoning power for demanding academic tests, instead of using shortcuts, and that working memory gets zapped by pressure and worry.

IDEAS: How does that translate onto the playing field?

BEILOCK: There are a lot of examples in athletics where people try to flex their prefrontal cortex, where working memory is housed, and it slows down and mucks up well-practiced skills that are better run on autopilot using procedural memory.

There is a study with collegiate baseball players in a batting cage where pressure is increased by telling them that they’re being videotaped and that their coaches are going to watch the videos and analyze how they performed. After a couple bad swings, the players started paying more and more attention to the mechanics of their swing and tinkering with things and it snowballed. So, sometimes it’s better to turn off your prefrontal cortex.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Obama Ratchets Up Tone Against G.O.P. (PETER BAKER, 10/10/10, NY Times)

“You can’t let it happen,” Mr. Obama told thousands of supporters gathered on a school lawn in a predominantly African-American, working-class neighborhood of northern Philadelphia. “Don’t let them hijack your agenda. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their election and you can’t stand by and let the special interests drown out the voices of the American people.”

Mr. Obama has increasingly used the issue of campaign finance to motivate his supporters as the elections grow nearer and polls signal trouble for Democrats. With his party outmatched in advertising sponsored by groups that do not have to disclose the source of their financing because of a free-speech Supreme Court decision earlier this year, Mr. Obama has suggested that the sponsors of campaign advertising have sinister motivations.

“You don’t know,” he said here. “It could be the oil industry; it could be the insurance industry; it could even be foreign-owned companies. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose. Now that’s not just a threat to the Democrats; it’s a threat to democracy.”

How do you square the legitimate argument that the GOP is dangerously nationalist these days with the notion that they are dangerously prey to international influence?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


The Wealth Inequality Mirage (Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 10/07/10, Real Clear Markets)

A more meaningful measure of inequality comes from an examination of spending. On Wednesday the Labor Department presented 2009 data on consumer spending, based on income quintiles, or fifths. This analysis shows that economic inequality has not increased, contrary to what the levelers contend.

Differences in per-person spending from the lowest income fifth to the highest are not dramatically different from 20 years ago. These measures of spending show less inequality than do measures of income. [...]

The Labor Department data, which are published every year, track spending by income group. Spending is vital because it determines our current standard of living and our confidence in the future. It shows how much purchasing power Americans have. The usual pretax measures of income, on which most inequality studies are based, don't show how much purchasing power some Americans have because they omit other benefits, and so don't provide an accurate measure of purchasing power inequality.

Further, income quintiles have different demographic characteristics, so comparisons of quintiles can be misleading. In 2009, households in the lowest fifth had an average of 1.7 people, and in half these households there were no earners. The highest fifth, however, had 3.1 persons per household, with 2.0 earners.

Household size at the bottom has been shrinking faster than at the top, adding to a false perception of inequality. Over the past 20 years, the size of households in the bottom quintile has declined by 5.6% and the middle quintile by 3.8%, whereas the size of the top-quintile household has been unchanged. This is due not only to the increased longevity of today's seniors, but also to the higher numbers of divorced couples and single-parent households.

Calculating spending on a per-person basis (these are my calculations, from the official data) produces comparable measures. The average annual spending for a household in the lowest quintile was $21,611, or $12,712 per person. In contrast, the average spending for a household in the top quintile was $94,244, or $30,401 per person.

On a per person basis, the new Labor Department numbers show that in 2009 households in the top fifth of the income distribution spent 2.4 times the amount spent by the bottom quintile. That, Professor Reich might note, was about the same as 20 years ago. The top quintile spent 1.8 times what the middle quintile spent per person. And that ratio has not been increasing.

On a per person basis, those in the bottom group spent 2.8% less in real terms in 2009 than in 2008 due to the recession. In contrast, those in the top quintile spent 0.6% more, and those in the middle quintile spent 0.7% more.

But compared with 1989, the big winners are the lowest-income group, which spent 9.1% more per person in constant dollars. In contrast, the highest group spent 2.6% more, and the middle group increased its spending by 1.1%.

Income and spending do not tell the whole story about how well Americans are doing. A higher percentage of low-income Americans own their homes free of mortgage debt than do upper-income Americans. Twenty-six percent of households in the lowest income group and 31% in the next-to-lowest group owned their homes debt- free in 2009, compared to 27% in the middle quintile and 18% in the top quintile. There are more seniors in the lower two quintiles, and many have paid off their homes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic (JOHN MARKOFF, 10/09/10, NY Times)

Anyone driving the twists of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles recently may have glimpsed a Toyota Prius with a curious funnel-like cylinder on the roof. Harder to notice was that the person at the wheel was not actually driving.

The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


GOP governor might be just what Oregon wants: Voters have not elected a Republican to the post since 1982. But former NBA star Chris Dudley could be the man to turn around the state's double-digit unemployment, its high rate of homelessness and its poorly performing schools. (Kim Murphy, 10/10/10, Los Angeles Times)

In a state knocked on its hindquarters by the recession, some say it will take a big man to pull Oregon back up on its feet. At 6 feet 11, Republican Chris Dudley would like to be that man.

"It's pretty safe to say I've got a good shot at it," said Dudley, for whom good shots were a rarity in a 16-year NBA career distinguished by one of the worst free-throw shooting percentages in league history.

The degree to which the governor's race is a tossup this late in the campaign says much about how hard-hit the state has been by double-digit unemployment and back-to-back fiscal crises — and how ready voters may be to try something new.

Oregon has not elected a Republican governor since 1982. Democrats hold the state's two U.S. Senate seats and control the state Legislature. Yet in some polls, Dudley has pulled slightly ahead of former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who left office in 2003 after eight years and is now, like Jerry Brown in California, trying for a comeback.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Atheists for Jesus!: If even Richard Dawkins is a “cultural Christian”, why don’t we guard this heritage more carefully? (Sholto Byrnes - 10 October 2010, New Statesman)

To lose this corpus - if the survey does not suggest it is already too late - would be to let go of a rich seam in our history, culture and literature, as I have pointed out before. Hymns are a good marker for this transformation, for singing them does not necessarily involve any religious feeling or reflection, nor is it only Christians who would mourn their passing.

The philosopher and atheist, Mary Warnock, for instance, was once described by Melanie Phillips as a "passionate despiser" of religion (as well as "one of the most titanic and dangerous egos of our troubled age") but she devotes a significant part of her recent book, Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics, to her affection for Christianity. This is partly the music associated with it. She quotes the composer Howard Goodall as saying: "Christianity has had a considerable if not decisive influence on the music of Western Europe - in some respects it is our music's midwife", and spends two pages discussing Bach's St Matthew Passion. But, she also writes: "Religion may not be necessary, but it may be good... not only children but all of us learn through stories, and the stories of the New Testament may teach morality as nothing else can, in vivid and memorable form... Though Christianity may not be necessary to morality, indeed may often stand in its way through undue dogmatism, yet it can be a rich source of morality all the same."

Perhaps this is a matter of generation, for 86-year-old Warnock's near contemporary (in fact her junior by seven years), and fellow philosopher, Sir Anthony Kenny, takes a similarly friendly view of religion - even though when he married his wife in the 1960s, as a laicised Catholic priest unreleased from his vow of celibacy, he was officially excommunicated, which is rather drastic in anyone's book.

I interviewed Kenny when his memoir, What I Believe, was published a few years ago, and noted that although an agnostic, in it he thanked "the Christian communities who have allowed me to join in their worship without acknowledging their authority". His reply:

"I don't think as an agnostic one wants to jettison a whole religious tradition that has offered so much to literature and art and philosophy. One could take the traditional statements about God and the history of salvation not as a literal narrative but as forms of poetry." He acknowledges that this would not satisfy a believer -- "but I don't think it's a great downgrading of the value of religion, because I think framing one's life within a poetic narrative is important".

Even the much younger Richard Dawkins, whom many suspect of being against anything that smacks of religion (he can shoulder some of the blame for this misleading impression having gained currency, I think), is sympathetic to this view.

"This is historically a Christian country," he said in a BBC interview in 2007. "I'm a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims. So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I'm not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history."

If such distinguished atheists and agnostics as the three I quote can see something valuable in the Christian traditions and culture that are part of this country's heritage, why is it that opposition to religion seems to focus so often on the outward manifestations and rituals that need hardly involve any theological discussion or commitment - such as daily acts of worship in schools or Christmas Nativity plays?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Democrat Bastions Besieged by GOP (NEIL KING JR. And PETER WALLSTEN , 10/09/10, WSJ)

Republican advances in traditionally Democratic states, including Connecticut, Oregon and Washington, may not translate into a wave of GOP victories. But they have rattled local campaigns and forced the Democrats to shift attention and money to races they didn't expect to be defending.

Rising sentiment against the party in power has washed ashore even in coastal Oregon, where Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio won his 10th re-election two years ago with 82% of the vote.

"I am having the same problem that Democrats are having across the country, which is ennui," he said, noting that his opponent's yard signs "are thick" across much of the district. Mr. DeFazio said he is facing the fight of his political life.

House Republican leaders in recent weeks have tamped down expectations, noting that Democrats still have significant financial resources and could prove resilient down the stretch. There is plenty of time for voter sentiment to shift, with three weeks before Election Day.

The expanded battlefield map, however, has prompted a shift in tone. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, vice chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, bluntly predicted his party is heading toward a big win. "The Democrats are standing on a beach with the water going out and there is a tsunami coming their way," he said.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Kyrgyz vote in historic parliamentary election (PETER LEONARD, 10/09/2010, AP)

After casting her ballot in the capital, Bishkek, President Roza Otunbayeva said she was confident the vote would proceed without incident.

“The whole election process has been transparent and open, which will deprive troublemakers the right to whip up political hysteria,” she said.

Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a strategically vital U.S. air base near Afghanistan, is set to embrace a parliamentary system of governance. This marks a sharp departure from the strongman model exercised under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in April amid violent public demonstrations over stagnant living standards and corruption.

Heading to cast his ballot a polling station at the agriculture institute in the southern city of Osh, 49-year old history teacher Ermek Suleimanov said the vote was a momentous turning point for the country.

“If in the past voting was just a formality, now we will find out who the people really want to lead them,” Suleimanov said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


US often weighed North Korea ‘nuke option’ (CHARLES J. HANLEY, 10/09/2010, AP)

From the 1950s Pentagon to today’s Obama administration, the United States has repeatedly pondered, planned and threatened use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, according to declassified and other U.S. government documents released in this 60th-anniversary year of the Korean War.

Air Force bombers flew nuclear rehearsal runs over North Korea’s capital during the war. The U.S. military services later vied for the lead role in any “atomic delivery” over North Korea. In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed U.S. warplanes stood by in South Korea on 15-minute alert to strike the north.

Millions of North Koreans have died needlessly because we lacked the courage of our convictions and left the regime in place.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Goodbye, Free Trade?: High tariffs and currency wars cost us big in the 1930s. We can avoid making the same mistakes again. (DOUGLAS A. IRWIN, 10/08/10, WSJ)

In his famous 1993 debate with Ross Perot over the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), Vice President Al Gore claimed that Smoot-Hawley "was one of the principal causes, many economists say the principal cause, of the Great Depression in this country and around the world."

In fact, economists across the political spectrum reject this view. Previous tariff hikes, some even larger than Smoot-Hawley, had reduced trade and efficiency, but they didn't produce a macroeconomic catastrophe. When asked if Smoot-Hawley caused the Great Depression, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman replied: "No. I think the Smoot-Hawley tariff was a bad law. I think it did harm. But the Smoot-Hawley tariff by itself would not have made one-quarter of the labor force unemployed." As Mr. Friedman's own work showed, the money supply and domestic prices had fallen by a third during the Depression, largely because of a malfunctioning gold standard and inept monetary policy on the part of the Federal Reserve. These were the fundamental causes of the economic disaster.

The Smoot-Hawley tariff did not have a huge macroeconomic impact because at the time it was enacted, unlike today, the U.S. was not very open to international trade. Total imports were just a small fraction of gross domestic product, and two-thirds of those imports were consumer goods (coffee, tea) and industrial raw materials (silk, tin) that were exempt from the tariff. In 1929, dutiable imports amounted to just 1.4% of GDP. Smoot-Hawley increased the average tax on them from 38% to 45%. A tax increase of this size on 1.4% of GDP is not enough, by itself, to generate an enormous economic contraction.

That said, the Smoot-Hawley tariff fully deserves its notoriety. It was an ill-timed and ill-judged piece of legislation that backfired spectacularly.

In the first place, it was completely unnecessary. When the legislation was introduced, the unemployment rate was low, and imports were hardly flooding into the U.S. The House passed the bill in May 1929 (Ben Stein was ad libbing and got the date wrong), well before the peak of the business cycle and the stock-market crash.

If Smoot-Hawley lacked any good economic rationale, what motivated Congress to embrace this protectionist measure? The answer, of course, is politics—and here the lessons for today are especially pertinent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Solomon Burke dies at Amsterdam airport at 70 (TOBY STERLING, 10/10/2010, AP)

A Philadelphia native highly acclaimed by music critics, fellow musicians, and many loyal fans, Burke never reached the same level of fame as soul performers like James Brown or Marvin Gaye.

He wrote “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in 1964 and it was quickly recorded by the Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett, and later and perhaps most famously by the Blues Brothers.

Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler once called Burke, “the best soul singer of all time.”

Burke joined Atlantic in 1960 and went on to record a string of hits in a decade with the label.

According to his website, Burke was born March 21, 1940, “to the sounds of horns and bass drums” at the United Praying Band The House of God for All People in West Philly.

“From day one, literally God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music,” his website said. [...]

Burke combined his singing with the role of preacher and patriarch of a huge family of 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

“Loving people,” he said at a recent performance in London, “is what I do.”

Solomon Burke, Influential Soul Singer, Dies at 70 (BEN SISARIO, 10/11/10, NY Times)
Drawing on gospel, country and gritty rhythm and blues in songs like “Cry to Me” (1962), “You Can Make It if You Try” (1963) and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (1964), Mr. Burke developed a vocal style that was nuanced yet forceful. Steeped in church traditions from a young age, he could make a sermon out of any situation, as in “The Price” from 1964, a catalog of the wages of a bad romance. (“You cost me my mother/The love of my father/Sister/My brother too.”)

Although he never attained the wide popularity of Otis Redding or James Brown, Mr. Burke had a broad influence on R&B and rock, and he was a favorite of musicians and connoisseurs. Mick Jagger sang several of his songs on early Rolling Stones albums, and Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic Records producer who recorded Mr. Burke at his peak, once affirmed a judgment of him as the best soul singer of all time.

In a genre known for outsize personalities and flamboyant showmanship, Mr. Burke stood out for his sheer boldness and eccentricity. A radio D.J. crowned him the King of Rock and Soul in 1964, and Mr. Burke took the coronation to heart. For the rest of his career, he often performed in full royal habit — crown, scepter and robe — and sat on a golden throne onstage. Wide-shaped in his youth, he grew into Henry VIII-like corpulence, and in his later years had to be wheeled to his throne.

An ordained minister, licensed mortician, resourceful entrepreneur and champion raconteur, Mr. Burke inspired almost as much amazement with his offstage persona as he did with his music. A biography on his Web site says that he had 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. “I got lost on one of the Bible verses that said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’ ” he once said. “I didn’t read no further.”

-ARCHIVES: Solomon Burke (NPR)

Name Your Link

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tackles five myths about TARP (Timothy F. Geithner, October 10, 2010, Washington Post)

[T]he program was essential to averting a second Great Depression, stabilizing a collapsing financial system, protecting the savings of Americans and restoring the flow of credit that is the oxygen of the economy. And it helped achieve all that at a lower cost than anyone expected.

As we put the TARP to rest, let's also put to rest some of the myths about the TARP.

1. The TARP cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

The true cost of the financial crisis will always be measured by the devastating losses of jobs, homes, businesses, retirement savings and fiscal revenues. But the cost of the TARP, which succeeded in reducing the overall economic damage, will be considerably lower than once feared. In fact, the direct budget cost of the program and our full investment in the insurer AIG is likely to come in well under $50 billion -- $300 billion less than estimated by the Congressional Budget Office last year. And taxpayers are likely to receive an impressive return (totaling tens of billions) on the investments made under the TARP outside the housing market.

Even looking beyond the TARP to the losses associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's pre-crisis mistakes, the direct costs of the government's overall rescue strategy are likely to be less than 1 percent of GDP. By comparison, the much less severe savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s cost 2 1/2 times that as a share of our economy. [...]

5. The TARP was the centerpiece of a strategy by President Obama to assert more government control over the economy.

The TARP was created by a conservative Republican president, who was also forced by the crisis to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, lend billions to the automobile industry and guarantee money-market funds. And the TARP was championed by the same Republican congressional leaders who are in office today. They deserve more credit for the courage they showed than they seem willing to accept now.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Anger and Virtue: EDWARD P. SRI, July/August, 2010, Lay Witness)

On the one hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares the punishment for anger with the judgment facing murderers: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Mt. 5:21–22).

Yet in Jerusalem, He Himself seems quite angry at the Pharisees as He pronounces a series of woes on them, even calling them children of hell: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (Mt. 23:15). What are we to make of these apparently conflicting passages about anger?

Crime and Punishment

As a passion, anger itself is neither good nor evil (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1767). It can be noble if it is directed toward maintaining justice and correcting vice (Catechism, no. 2302). One can think of anger as a passionate desire to set things right in the face of a perceived evil. In the sense of noble anger, it is not about "getting even" with a person who may have hurt us, but about protecting one's own good, the good of the community, and even the good of the person who inflicted the injury.

This seems to be the kind of anger Jesus has in His confrontation with the Pharisees in Jerusalem. It is His last showdown with His chief opponents, who have rejected Him as Messiah and are about to bring Him to His death. In order to show very clearly how dire their situation is, Jesus – out of great love for the Pharisees – sternly warns them of the deadly path they are pursuing. If they persist in their rejection of the Son of God, they will be closing themselves out of the very kingdom Jesus wants to offer to them, and they will lead many of their followers with them. If Jesus did not truly love the Pharisees, He would not warn them of the eternal punishment toward which they are heading. Jesus' anger is thus rooted in love – in desiring what is best for them – as He intends this clear warning to lead them to repentance.

Being angry about the right things and in the right way is virtuous. But avoiding anger at all times may be a sign of weakness. St. Thomas Aquinas notes how it is a vice not get angry over things one should. He calls it "unreasonable patience." A failure to correct the wicked encourages them to persist in their evil deeds, since there are no reprimands for their wrong actions. It also causes confusion in the community over what is truly right and wrong, and thus may lead even good people to do evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


2012 map takes unfamiliar shape (Maggie Haberman and Shira Toeplitz, October 9, 2010, Politico)

If the newest Census Bureau estimates stay close to form, President Barack Obama’s reelection roadmap could look considerably different than the one that took him to the White House in 2008.

Back then, he won 68 percent of the electoral vote — 365 electoral votes in all — powered by wins in eight of the nation’s 10 most populous states. But population growth and shifts of residents between states will impact the way electoral votes are reapportioned in advance of the 2012 elections, and it appears more votes are moving toward states that he lost and away from the ones he won the first time around.

Between reapportionment and the erosion of support in certain states and regions where he had success two years ago, the 2012 path to victory could become more complicated.

“It's certainly hard to argue that the shift ... is anything but [a problem] for Obama,” said Tom Bonier of the liberal National Committee for an Effective Congress, which follows population trends and voting data closely.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


William Byrd: back on top after 400 years (Malaysian Insider, October 07, 2010)

A recording of Renaissance composer William Byrd’s setting of the text “Infelix Ego” by the book-burning 15th-century monk Savonarola, who in turn was burned on a cross, seems an unlikely must-have CD of the year.

But in the hands of the British vocal group The Cardinall’s Musick, this, too, has come to pass.

At the British music magazine Gramophone’s annual ceremony last week, the group with the oddly spelled name, founded in 1989, got two awards for Infelix Ego (Unhappy am I): best early music recording and best recording of the year. [...]

Byrd was the most important English composer of his age, a musical talent to rival Shakespeare in the literary realm.

He lived long enough to incorporate a wide range of styles in his music — and he knew how to stay alive, while sticking discreetly to his Catholic faith, during the reign of the Tudors, who brought in the Protestant Reformation.

“I think that what you get with Byrd is this astonishing life experience which is not quite shared by any of the other musicians to the same extent,” Carwood said.

“As he goes through life, under Queen Elizabeth I, he has to put up with her -- for various reasons -- persecuting the Catholic community. And that persecution might be in being fined for not going to the Anglican services or, in the case of priests, it can be torture and death for daring to celebrate mass.

“So he’s a hidden man. He has to hide his faith away.”

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October 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Democrats feud over plan to fix deficits (JOHN MAGGS, 10/9/10, Politico)

[R]ight at the moment when liberals are telling the president to keep his hands off Social Security, [Alice] Rivlin’s about to announce a plan to fix the deficit that’s expected to include some of her past prescriptions for the problem.

Cut Social Security benefits. Or maybe raise the retirement age from 65 to 70. Or both.

Rivlin insists that her plan, written by a private group of former government officials for release after the midterms, won’t put any pressure on the president or the deficit commission — but instead could nudge the president’s commission toward compromise.

But Democrats are crying foul, saying Rivlin shouldn’t be freelancing but instead give her advice to the president through the deficit panel. They worry her report will box in Obama and fuel an already divisive showdown between the party’s liberals and deficit hawks.

After all, it’s possible by mid-November that Democrats will have lost the House and a working majority in the Senate. It would be a moment of great vulnerability for Obama, and a Rivlin call to raise the retirement age for Social Security, for instance, could make it harder for the president and his commission to duck the issue, sure to be unpopular with voters.

If they really can't face the prospect that retirement age should rise along with life expectancy how seriously should they be taken as a party?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


CNN Poll: Was Bush better president than Obama? (CNN Political Unit, 10/08/10).

By 47 to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. But that two point margin is down from a 23 point advantage one year ago.

"Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush's name while campaigning this year," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


How India is undoing China's string of pearls: New Delhi's defence establishment has quietly put in place India's own counter-measures to woo and bolster China's neighbours as a long-term strategy (Nitin Gokhale, 10/07/10, IST)

One of the least understood and less scrutinised facets of India's diplomacy is perhaps New Delhi's 'Look East' policy, now nearly two decades old.

Launched during Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao's regime primarily to try and integrate India's newly liberalising economy with that of the Asian 'tigers', that policy is now quietly evolving into a more robust military-to-military partnership with important nations in that region.

Over the past three months alone, top Indian military leadership has made important trips to key nations in South-East and East Asia -- Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. [...]

Although Indo-Vietnam political and diplomatic ties can be traced back to Jawaharlal Nehru's time, it was only in the post 1990s that the two nations decided to build and strengthen military-to-military relationship.

This development was a result of two main reasons -- one historical, the other contemporary.

To begin with, both India and Vietnam had borne the brunt of Chinese aggression -- India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.

And two, the collapse of the Soviet Union, for long a security guarantor for both India and Vietnam in Asia, left New Delhi and Hanoi without an all-weather, all-powerful friend.

Both India and Vietnam, who have long-pending territorial disputes with China thus decided to unite against their common adversary. Located on the edges of South-East Asia, Vietnam is ideally placed to prevent China's expansion into the South China Sea.

So, for over a decade now, India has been providing Vietnam with assistance in beefing up its naval and air capabilities in an attempt to deny China total supremacy in the South China Sea.

Both New Delhi and Hanoi traditionally sourced majority of their military hardware from the erstwhile Soviet Union. That commonality has meant that both can share expertise and resources available with their respective armed forces in terms of handling and maintaining the Soviet-era weaponry.

India, for instance, has repaired and upgraded over 100 MiG 21 planes of the Vietnamese Air Force and supplied them with enhanced avionics and radar systems. Indian Air Force pilots have also been training their Vietnamese counterparts.

The Indian Navy, by far larger than the Vietnamese navy, has been supplying critical spares to Hanoi for its Russian origin ships and missile boats.

After Antony's 2007 visit to Vietnam, the Indian and Vietnamese coast guards have engaged in joint patrols, and both navies participated in a joint exercise in 2007.

But Vietnam is not the only nation India is inching closer to in China's immediate neighbourhood.

Antony, who is fast emerging as a quiet but effective player in India's military diplomacy, in early September became the first Indian defence minister ever to visit South Korea, a pro-US, anti-China nation in the vicinity.

He led a top-notch team of military and civil officials like Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Vice-Admiral RK Dhowan, Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, DRDA Chief Controller C K Prahlada, and Sundaram Krishna, special adviser to the defence minister.

The visit was a follow-up on the declaration issued by both countries during President Lee Myung-bak's state visit to New Delhi in January, when it was decided to elevate bilateral relationship to a 'strategic partnership'.

Although nowhere near the level of Indo-Vietnam defence cooperation, the newly evolving India-South Korea partnership is being seen as a vital component of India's game plan to counter China's increasing footprint in the subcontinent.

Seoul is a perfect counter balance to the China-North Korea-Myanmar-Pakistan axis that New Delhi and US regard as a major irritant in the Asia-Pacific region.

Moving eastward, India is actively pursuing deeper defence cooperation with Japan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Misplaced enthusiasm: The Dow breaks 11,000 (Andrew Leonard, 10/08/10, Salon)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 11,000 on Friday, the first time the index has reached such dizzying heights since May 3. But with the major economic news of the day coming in the form of a deeply unsatisfying labor report, one might well ask, huh? In recent months, investors have tended toward extreme skittishness at every negative economic indicator blip. But not this time.

The consensus explanation mooted by the econoblogosphere does little to build confidence: The theory is that investors believe the latest data is incontrovertibly bad enough to convince the Fed to attempt to juice the economy with a second round of "quantitative easing."

Unlike commentators on the Left and Right, they recall how good divided government (with a GOP Congress) was for America in the 90s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Year After Obama Won Nobel, World Looks for Signs of Peace (RUSSELL GOLDMAN, Oct. 8, 2010, ABC News)

One year after the Nobel prize jury made its controversial decision to award President Obama the prize for world peace, a larger jury is still waiting for the president to live up to those lofty expectations.

Even some of Obama's allies -- like former Nobel laureates Al Gore and Jimmy Carter -- declined to assess his performance in fulfilling what the peace prize citation said was his "vision" of world harmony.

As if they've contributed anything more?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Projected Republican Gains Approach 50 House Seats (NATE SILVER, 10/08/10, NY Times)

It has become fashionable to speak of a Democratic comeback, but we’re not really seeing one in our forecasting models. Certainly there are some individual races — particularly on the East and West Coasts, as well as some gubernatorial contests outside these regions — that look better for Democrats than they did a few weeks ago. But we’re showing Republicans gaining ground where they need to gain it to maintain decent chances of taking over the Senate. We also show improvement for them in the House forecast this week.

Our model now estimates that the Republicans have a 72 percent chance of taking over the House, up from 67 percent last week. Moreover, they have nearly even odds of a achieving a net gain of 50 seats; their average gain in a typical simulation run was between 47 and 48 seats. However, the playing field remains very broad and considerably larger are possible, as are considerably smaller ones.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM

Cutty's bacon, lettuce and tomato jam sandwich recipe (Francis Lam/08/10, Salon)

Cutty's Tomato Jam


* 1½ pounds Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
* 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
* 1 scant cup granulated sugar
* ½ teaspoon ground cumin
* ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
* ¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
* 1 teaspoon salt


1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot, preferably nonstick. ("This is the best use for a nonstick pan I've ever come across," Chuck says. "Well, this and Rice Krispies treats. Otherwise, I don't know why they exist.") Cook over medium-high heat until bubbling.
2. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 hour. Cool the jam; season with salt and pepper if necessary. Store in the fridge.

Cutty's BLTJ

* 2 slices of white or good quality white or wheat bread, toasted
* Lemony mayo (mix 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice into ½ cup of Hellman's mayonnaise)
* 4 strips of crisp, crisp bacon
* Small handful of field greens or mesclun mix
* Cutty's tomato jam

October 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Statement by the President on the Awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, For Immediate Release, October 08, 2010)

I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo. Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

As I said last year in Oslo, even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings. Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Why James Jones Quit (The Daily Beast, 10/08/10)

Jones didn’t even know Obama.

The 64-year-old retired general got his start in the White House on very weak footing. Obama, perversely, wanted Jones as national security adviser because they had no previous relationship. The president-elect seemed to think that this would somehow give Jones some leverage when confronting the generals. In the end, Jones’ independence left him out in the cold when major decision-making happened—sidelined and undermined by a variety of Obama intimates.

Jones never wanted the job.

He told the president he would be better as secretary of state. “What I can do is set up an organization of the best people to help you as president,” as secretary of state, Jones told Obama. “I wasn’t very good” at being an aide, Jones added, meaning he didn’t think he would be very good in the national security adviser position. [...]

Jones never got along with Obama’s closest aides.

The former NATO commander thought it wise to insult political operatives in the White House like David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. In private, he had a host of names for the group, which included press secretary Robert Gibbs and Denis McDonough at the National Security Council. He called them “the water bugs,” the “Poliburo,” the “Mafia,” and the “campaign set.”

Even if one were inclined to give the UR the benefit of the doubt for the ineptitude of his staff, the problem is that everyone knew they were a disaster when he hired them or shortly thereafter.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


David Morrissey on Thorne: a British copper, in a US style: David Morrissey wants his new crime series to match American dramas like The Wire (Ed Cumming., 10/08/10, Daily Telegraph)

As well as starring in it as DI Tom Thorne, Morrissey is executive producer, having personally optioned Mark Billingham’s series of crime novels. The books, set in north-east London, have grown steadily in popularity since the release of Sleepyhead in 2001, which was a Top 10 bestseller. Since then, Billingham has become the first author to win the Crime Novel of the Year award twice, both times for Thorne novels: Lazybones in 2005 and Death Message in 2009.

Morrissey explains how he became involved. “I was doing a film in New Zealand, on my own, in winter. I really needed a book. I stumbled across a Thorne novel, liked it, and then I looked up Mark online and found a question-and-answer session where he said that if his books ever made it to the screen, he’d like David Morrissey to play the lead. I thought, ‘That’s a good start.’” Morrissey and Billingham – himself an actor and stand-up comic – hit it off straight away. “We agreed about how to take it forward,” says Morrissey. “The cop drama has always made for good telly, and it will always be there. It makes for a great mixture of the private and the public.”

The pair’s aim was to help expand British crime drama into the kind of action-packed, sharply written territory lately the preserve of American TV. In a statement of intent, they recruited director Stephen Hopkins, who shot much of the first season of 24, as well as the acclaimed drama about a sex-addicted novelist, Californication. Both were heavily stylised, innovative productions. “It was when Stephen came on board that I started to get really excited,” Morrissey says. “It’s his vision. I tried to give him as much freedom as I could.”

Hopkins’s hand is evident throughout: Thorne bears the hallmarks of recent US thrillers – glossy night-time shots of London, shaky hand-held images and rapid-fire scene changes. It takes a while to get used to these effects being turned on London’s grimy East End, but it is clear that a lot of effort has gone into emulating the best US techniques.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Poll: In House race, Rob Steele leads John Dingell by 4 points (KATHLEEN GRAY, 10/08/10, Detroit FREE PRESS)

A new independent poll has the dean of the U.S. House, Rep. John Dingell, trailing his Republican opponent, Rob Steele, by 4 percentage points.

The automated phone survey of 300 people in the 15th Congressional District showed Steele getting 43.8% of the vote. Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress, got 39.5%. About 11% were undecided. The gap is within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points. The poll was conducted Monday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


A textbook myth-buster: Robert Paarlberg’s introduction to the politics of food flambés many of today’s Malthusian myths and puts that food-price crisis in perspective. (Rob Lyons, September 2010, spiked review of books)

Billions of people survive on very low incomes, with the result that they are constantly under threat of suffering food shortages. The irony is that these people are overwhelmingly food producers themselves: farmers in the developing world. Their major problem is that without any investment in production - such as fertilisers, irrigation, pesticides and the techniques and equipment to use them effectively – these farmers are simply much less productive than farmers in the developed world. ‘As long as agricultural labour earns only about $1 a day’, writes Paarlberg, ‘the vast majority of rural citizens who work as farmers will remain poor and hence vulnerable to chronic undernutrition’.

Paarlberg usefully reposes the problem of food as one of politics and economics rather than as one of the technical capacity to produce enough food or the perceived problem of environmental limits. This political aspect helps to explain the differing ways in which people react to new technologies. For example, Paarlberg notes how the ‘green revolution’, which greatly boosted agricultural productivity in the 1960s and 1970s, is generally seen as a good thing in Asia but as a major problem in Latin America. In Asia, small farmers owned their own land and benefited from greater yields. In Latin America, big landowners used the new developments to push small farmers off good land on to more marginal agricultural areas, further impoverishing them. By and large, due to a failure of governments to invest, the green revolution has passed Africa by, with the result that crop yields per capita have actually fallen since the 1980s.

Another example of how politics, rather than technology, is paramount is in the discussion of genetically modified food. In the US, the assumption was made early on that GM foods were not significantly different to other kinds of foods and they were quickly approved for industrial purposes and for animal feed crops. In Europe, the ‘mad cow’ disease crisis in the UK, along with vigorous lobbying from green groups and other NGOs, led to a precautionary approach, where GM foods were effectively banned. This in turn has had serious consequences for the adoption of the technology: where developing countries mostly relate to the US, GM crops have been embraced; in developing countries that relate to Europe more strongly – like many parts of Africa – GM has been rejected, despite the potential it has to improve productivity.

Generally, Paarlberg is sanguine about the prospects for food production. He is critical of Malthusians, who have persistently underestimated the potential to increase farm productivity; he notes how the influence of Malthusian ideas has had damaging consequences. For example, he argues, the initial British reaction to the Irish potato famine of 1845-49 was to assume that it was a product of excessive breeding rather than disastrous British policy. It was an outlook shared by William and Paul Paddock, authors of the 1967 bestseller Famine 1975!, who argued that it would be counterproductive for the US to send food aid to India because the country could never feed its growing population. (By 1975, Indian farming had so improved thanks to the green revolution that it was able to stop accepting food aid altogether.)

On matters of policy, Paarlberg provides a refreshing clarity to the debate about the future of food. Essentially, we can produce much more, to the benefit of more people, if barriers to trade are removed while governments invest in production methods and the infrastructure required to enable better connections between producers and markets.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Peruvian author gets Nobel Prize for works on politics, tyranny (Hillel Italie, 10/08/10, Associated Press)

Like such recent Nobel laureates as Herta Mueller and Doris Lessing, Vargas Llosa is a dissenter from communism, a former party member who ran for president of Peru in 1990 as an advocate of privatization and remains a critic of leftist leaders such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

The author of more than 30 novels, plays, and works of nonfiction, he is known for his expansive language, his alertness to the profound and the profane, and his fierce and dark disdain for tyranny.

“Vargas Llosa’s style is a kind of baroque style — long sentences, complicated sentences. The writer in English closest to his style is William Faulkner, who influenced so many of the Latin American writers,’’ says Edith Grossman, the English-language translator for novels by Vargas Llosa and South American Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“He has a great range of styles and a great range of subjects, from comedies of manners to really profound political analysis. He is thought of as very political, but ‘The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto’ [‘Los Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto’] is immensely funny and I don’t think there’s a political word in it.’’

Mario Vargas Llosa: an unclassifiable Nobel winner: Novelist William Boyd pays tribute to 'a great chroncicler of the highs and lows of our carnal and passionate adventures as human beings'. A preview from tomorrow's Guardian Review (William Boyd, 10/08/10, The Guardian)
Cosmopolitanism, pluralism, conviviality, worldliness, multi- lingualism, audacity, comedy, experimentalism, are all epithets that can be attached to his name and his work. Aunt Julia is probably my favourite novel of his – for obvious reasons – but the body of work that Vargas Llosa has produced since his first novel, The Time of the Hero in 1963, is both prodigious and admirable. The range is remarkable – from the surreal fantasies of the radio soap operas in Aunt Julia to the baroque comedy of Captain Pantoja and the Special Service; from weighty historical epics such as The War at the End of the World and The Feast of the Goat to the whodunit thriller-style of Who Killed Palomero Molero? Vargas Llosa is very hard to classify and pin down as a writer: he has written short novels and very long novels, comic novels and deeply serious novels, straightforward realistic novels and recognisably South American "magic-realist" novels. Perhaps this unclassifiability has been seen as a disadvantage. Indeed, when one compares Vargas Llosa to his great South American literary rival Gabriel García Márquez one is reminded of Archilochus's old fox and hedgehog adage: "The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing." Márquez, a hedgehog novelist if there ever was one, received his Nobel in 1982 at the age of 55. Vargas Llosa received his at the age of 74. Almost 30 years later the day of the fox has arrived – it inevitably comes around, even if it takes a little longer.

There is another consideration when it comes to Vargas Llosa. His reputation as a writer is trammelled by the controversial public events in his own life, namely the political voyage he has made from the left of South American politics to the libertarian right. Both reasons perhaps explain why this prize – for which he is routinely considered a contender each year – has been comparatively late in coming. He is a great South American novelist but one who combines that continent's vibrant and malign profusion, its energy and crazy humour, with what might be termed a European intellectual rigour. His scholarly and imaginative interpretation of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, The Perpetual Orgy, perhaps illustrates that capacity of his mind most effectively.

Few novelists today have combined the public man and the private artist so prominently as Vargas Llosa – how many novelists have run for president, as Vargas Llosa did in the 1990 elections in Peru? Perhaps it's fair to say that his political adventures have tended to obscure the very real achievements of his novels and their manifest literary ambition. One of the blessings of winning the Nobel (among its few curses) is that it does focus attention once more on the work, and Vargas Llosa's oeuvre deserves to be reconsidered in its own right. And while it's true that the historical novels, with their forthright and fascinating reinterpretations of South American political upheavals and machinations, seem the most obviously hefty and momentous, my own private celebration will concentrate on other works in the Vargas Llosa canon.

It's most present in Aunt Julia but it could be argued it is the leitmotif of all his works of fiction: Vargas Llosa has continually celebrated the sexual and amatory electricity between men and women – that ticking clock that animates almost all of us, whether to delightful or disastrous effect, or both. Sometimes it is explicit (in all senses of the word) in a novel such as In Praise of the Stepmother or The Bad Girl, but such a concern runs as a life-enhancing note through almost everything he has written. Intriguingly, in an attempt to derail his presidential bid in 1990, his opponents used to read out the more shocking and sexually candid sections of his novels over the radio in an attempt to encourage voters to shift allegiance. Maybe it worked: certainly Vargas Llosa didn't win. His readers, I suspect, were secretly very grateful – it meant he could continue writing.

Vargas Llosa, in all his multifacetedness, in spite of and as well as his many rare gifts and talents as a novelist, remains fundamentally a great chronicler of the highs and lows of our carnal and passionate adventures as human beings – our many mishaps and shameful duplicities, our rare nobility and rarer moments of pure happiness. His work reveals what the novel does best – in that it "gets" the human condition better than any other art form. Vargas Llosa's novels understand and reproduce the absurd and melancholy tragicomedy of our lives and their occasionally inspiring moments of pure happiness. The Nobel is hugely merited and I suspect Vargas Llosa will be very pleased. But then he'll say to himself: it's only a prize, it's the books that matter.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Omar Abdullah trying to internationalise Kashmir issue: BJP (IANS, Oct 8, 2010)

Keeping up its attack on Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah over his remarks that the state had acceded to India and not merged, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday termed his comments "laughable" and accused him of trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said here that various princely states had acceded to India and had not merged and Jammu and Kashmir was no exception.

"His comments are laughable. Various princely states joined India under the Instrument of Accession. There was no instrument of merger," Joshi said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Nobel Peace Prize Given to Jailed Chinese Dissident (ANDREW JACOBS and JONATHAN ANSFIELD, 10/08/10, NY Times)

Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his writings, won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Mr. Liu, 54, perhaps China’s best known dissident, is currently serving an 11-year term on subversion charges.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the news, calling it a “blasphemy” to the Peace Prize and saying it would harm Norwegian-Chinese relations. “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” it said in a statement.

Mr. Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the Peace Prize and one of three laureates to have received it while in prison.

In awarding the prize to Mr. Liu, the Norwegian Nobel Committee delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders at a time of growing intolerance for domestic dissent and spreading unease internationally over the muscular diplomacy that has accompanied China’s economic rise.

In a move that in retrospect may have been counterproductive, a senior Chinese official recently warned the Norwegian committee’s chairman that giving the prize to Mr. Liu would adversely affect relations between the two countries.

Liu Xiaobo Nobel win prompts Chinese fury (Tania Branigan, 10/08/10, guardian.co.uk)
The announcement provoked a furious reaction from Chinese authorities, who warned that the decision would hurt relations with Norway.

"Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Awarding the peace prize to Liu "runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize", the statement said.

Announcing the prize, the Norwegian Nobel committee praised Liu Xiaobo for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The … committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace."

Liu was detained at his Beijing home in December 2008 after co-authoring Charter 08, a call for democratic reforms in China.

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said China should expect to be put under greater scrutiny as it becomes more powerful: "We have to speak when others cannot speak. As China is rising, we should have the right to criticise … we want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic."

As the news was announced, transmission of both BBC news and CNN television channels was interrupted in China.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


GOP Widens Lead in Generic House Ballot, CBS Poll Finds (Lucy Madison, 10/08/10, CBS News)

Republicans have widened their lead against Democrats among likely voters in the generic ballot for the House of Representatives by six points since last month, a new CBS News Poll reports.

Republicans now hold an eight point lead over Democrats in the generic ballot, with 45 percent of likely voters saying they would support the Republican candidate for the House, and 37 percent saying they would support the Democrat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Interview with David Remnick: 'Obama Has a Considerable Ego' (Der Spiegel, 10/08/10)

SPIEGEL: So this magic only works once? And Obama will get punished at the ballot in November?

Remnick: I think it's intermittent. Even if that happens, it will help Obama in the long run that he is also a "shapeshifter." He speaks in a different way in the Oval Office to the entire nation than he does in Selma, Alabama, speaking directly to the African-American community, or to union workers in Ohio. That is another one of his gifts and I think it will help him find a way to reach out to angry voters.

...but scares the heck out of people once you're governing, because every action seems to define you, which no successful leader can afford.

When W put tariffs on steel, no one but the wingnuts thought he opposed free trade. We knew who he was and what he believed in. No single action could change that image. The UR doesn't have that sort of advantage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Poll: Tea Partiers Say GOP Represents Their Values (Brian Montopoli, 10/07/10, CBS News)

More than four in five supporters of the Tea Party movement says the Republican Party represents their values at least moderately well, a new CBS News poll finds - evidence that there is less light between the movement and the party than some in the GOP have feared.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Can statistics revive Liverpool like Red Sox? (Stefan Szymanski, 08.10.10, Evening Standard)

As everyone on Merseyside can now tell you, the Red Sox had failed to win a World Series, and languished in the shadow of rival New York Yankees for more than 80 years before that. The new owners believed that there are systematic patterns in baseball - just like the systematic patterns you might see in the financial markets - and that careful analysis might not only reveal the patterns but enable you to exploit unnoticed opportunities.

Bill James and a team of analysts collaborated with the general manager Theo Epstein and manager (coach) Terry Francona to identify innovations that might yield a competitive advantage. But unlike Beane, they also had the money. Indeed, they made sure that the Red Sox were spending nearly as much as the Yankees. And with that combination of financial commitment and analysis, they won two World Series - in 2004 and 2007 - and the undying gratitude of Red Sox fans.

Can they repeat this at Liverpool? Sceptics are already arguing that the financial commitment required is too great, and that football is not like baseball. But in its glory years, the Liverpool philosophy was not so different. It has always been one of the biggest spenders but insiders never thought that it was this that gave them edge.

Graeme Souness, speaking in 1990, said: "What Liverpool have that other clubs do not is continuity, and that stems from a set of volumes stored at the ground and kept up to date without fail every day. It is the football bible as far as the Anfield backroom staff are concerned and contains the answer to almost every problem and every situation which could arise in the day-to-day running of a successful club. Every detail is noted, from the temperature and ground conditions to the physical and mental state of the players.

"Injuries are logged, how and why as well as how it responded to treatment. There are volumes and volumes, maintained ever since Joe Fagan first introduced them under Bill Shankly."

The boot room once made Liverpool Europe's most powerful team; somewhere in the managerial revolutions of the early Nineties, it was lost. Maybe John Henry and co can restore it.

The current squad has the best ghoal scorer in the world--Fernando Torres--but he can't stay healthy. Despite that, they were offered enormous sums of money for him this Summer. Had they sold him and used the money to buy depth they'd be in much better shape now. Red Sox ownership will bring the revolution the game has been waiting for.

Billy Beane: The number-cruncher whose methods could revolutionise Liverpool: His approach to stats helped the Red Sox find success. He tells Glenn Moore it would work in football too (Glenn Moore, 8 October 2010, Independent)

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Beane said: "You would have a hard time finding any major sport in the world which is not using metrics in some way. Performances in baseball are much more easily measured than in soccer but each sport has a metric which is relevant, it is identifying it. Basketball is much more similar to soccer and many NBA teams are using metrics."

Beane became a fan of English football some years ago when he watched a match while in London and now rises at 5.30am each weekend to follow the Premier League on TV. He has worked with Spurs, is friends with Chelsea's performance director Mike Forde, and has had discussions with young managers like Aidy Bothroyd and veterans such as Sir Alex Ferguson. Confidentiality meant he could not go into details, but he said the use of metrics is growing in the English game.

It could increase dramatically with the Red Sox involvement at Anfield but before Liverpool fans despair Beane had only praise for NESV. He said: "I know John Henry and the ownership group, they are one of the brightest, most innovative and successful sports franchises in the US. Boston is not a dissimilar franchise to Liverpool. It has a passionate fanbase and a history. They combined efficiency on the field with a great team and incredibly increased the awareness of the brand. The Red Sox are as popular in the States as the [New York] Yankees, which once seemed impossible. They have been good for the game."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 AM


The Tallest Man On Earth In Concert (Robin Hilton, NPR: All Songs Considered)

Swedish singer and guitarist Kristian Matsson is a soft-spoken guy who stands somewhere around five and a half feet tall. But on stage, he's known as The Tallest Man on Earth, a name he's earned by giving unforgettable live performances with one of the boldest, most captivating voices around. Currently on tour for his latest album, The Wild Hunt, The Tallest Man On Earth makes a stop in Washington, D.C., for a full concert, recorded live at the 9:30 Club, with an opening set by S. Carey.

Matsson got his start as the lead singer of the Swedish folk-rock band Montezumas in 2006. After the group released one self-titled album, Matsson left the group to begin writing and performing as The Tallest Man on Earth. He released his full-length debut, Shallow Grave, in 2008, and signed with the Deep Oceans label earlier this year for his spectacular follow-up record, The Wild Hunt.

The Tallest Man on Earth has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan, due largely to Matsson's prolific lyricism and incredibly expressive voice. And while he's the first to dismiss the similarities, Matsson is a gifted poet and guitarist with a keen understanding of the American roots music that informed Dylan's work — particularly impressive, given that English isn't even Matsson's first language.

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October 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Stronger Hezbollah Emboldened for Fights Ahead (THANASSIS CAMBANIS, 10/06/10, NY Times)

Four years later, Hezbollah appears to be, if not bristling for a fight with Israel, then coolly prepared for one. It seems to be calculating either that an aggressive military posture might deter another war, as its own officials and Lebanese analysts say, or that a conflict, should it come, would on balance fortify its domestic political standing.

According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)

Hezbollah rejoined Lebanon’s coalition government in 2008 as a full partner with veto power, a position of responsibility that many analysts say should discourage any thoughts of provoking a second destructive war with Israel. Yet, because of the party’s ties to Iran and its powerful militia, Hezbollah officials say they are ready to fight even if a war would do widespread damage.

There are other reasons that Hezbollah officials say they are feeling emboldened. Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran appear to have regained control after a year of internal challenges since the disputed June 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Officials say Hezbollah proved to its constituents that it could quickly rebuild from the last war, completing a lavish reconstruction project with hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from Iran and donors in the Persian Gulf. Polished 10-story apartment blocks, completed this year, line the center of Haret Hreik, the Beirut suburb almost uniformly reduced to rubble because it housed many of Hezbollah’s top institutions and leaders.

New asphalt roads, designed and paid for by Iran, connect the interior and border villages of southern Lebanon — all Hezbollah areas — to the main coastal highway.

And perhaps most importantly, Lebanese analysts said, Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.

The renaissance in southern Lebanon is on full display in Aita al Shaab. Almost destroyed in 2006, it has been ostentatiously rebuilt, and its population has increased by about 30 percent from its prewar level, to 12,000 inhabitants.

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Hezbollah appears to have retained the support of the Shiite Muslims in southern Lebanon. “Hezbollah is not a foreign body. It is an organic, natural part of every house, village,” said Hussein Rumeiti, an official in Burj Qalaouay, a town where extensive fighting took place in 2006. “It is part of the Shia.”

Several independent Lebanese military analysts, who do not support Hezbollah, say they have seen evidence that Hezbollah has armed, trained and expanded its forces substantially enough to pose a major challenge to an invading Israeli force.

“We’re not wasting time,” said Mahmoud Komati, one of Hezbollah’s founders.

In addition to fortifying its ranks and replenishing its missile capacity, he said in an interview, Hezbollah has adopted a self-described policy of “strategic ambiguity” about whether it has acquired anti-aircraft capacity, advanced Scud missiles or other military equipment that could change the balance of forces with Israel. (The language consciously mirrors Israel’s doctrine of strategic ambiguity over its undeclared nuclear weapons program.)

Elaborating on themes that Hezbollah’s leader has repeatedly outlined in speeches, Mr. Komati said that the group wanted to maintain a deterrent balance with Israel. Hezbollah, he added, does not want to start the next war, only to burnish its capacity to retaliate.

Time to declare victory and get on with governing the nation of South Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Should Afghanistan Exist? (Christopher de Bellaigue, 10/07/10, NY Review of Books)

Here is a map of Afghanistan. Versions of it adorn conference rooms in military bases, ministry buildings and NGO headquarters. The first question it raises is: “Why does Afghanistan exist?” The country contains about a dozen ethnic groups, whose distribution is shown here in simplified form. There is no coast to attract people and trade. One should also bear in mind Afghanistan’s tribal divisions, particularly within the Pashtun ethnic group, which is split into numerous clans and smaller descent groups. These are too complex for a cartographer to suggest.

Then there are the affinities that the various groups feel to one or other of the country’s neighbors. Concentrated in the south and east, the Pashtuns have an attachment to their fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. The Uzbeks and Turkmens are adjuncts to bigger communities beyond the northern border, while the Baluches, down in the south-east, maintain ties with their (again, more numerous) kinsmen in Pakistan and Iran. The Tajiks, by contrast, are more local in their loyalties. These affinities scorn the country’s frontiers as they were drawn by British and Russian officials around the turn of the 20th century, when Afghanistan was a buffer between the Tsar’s dominions and British India. Pashtun tribesmen don’t recognize the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nor do the Taliban and the US, fighting their mobile war. Baluch drug smugglers cross into Pakistan and Iran at will.

Afghanistan’s Persian-speaking majority is culturally attuned to Persian-speaking Iran and Tajikistan, to which may be added the sectarian affiliation that the country’s Shia minority (mostly Hazaras, concentrated in the central, most mountainous part of our map) feel towards Shia Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


David Axelrod, Elie Wiesel lament fanaticism (BEN SMITH, 10/6/10, Politico)

[David] Axelrod is known for his melancholy outlook and has made no secret of his eagerness to leave the White House and return to Chicago after the 2010 elections. But his dour assessment of the American moment at the 92nd Street Y event on Manhattan's Upper East Side carried a tinge of disappointment that has come to color the end of the beginning of the Obama presidency.

Axelrod also offered an impromptu endorsement to Wiesel's suggestion that a planned Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site be replaced by an interfaith center.
...why not build both?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite (Isabel Macdonald, October 6, 2010, The Nation)

[W]ith his relentless diatribes against "illegals" and their employers, Dobbs is casting stones from a house—make that an estate—of glass. Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper.

Dobbs lives in a sprawling white mansion on his 300-acre estate in Sussex, New Jersey, where he and his family run a horse farm. In 2005 he acquired another house—a spacious multimillion-dollar winter holiday home in Eagle Isle, the most exclusive enclave of the Ibis Golf and Country Club, a gated community in West Palm Beach, Florida. It offers his daughter a place to stay during her competitions at the Wellington Winter Equestrian Festival, one of the most important events in the horse show world.

Dobbs's daughter keeps five European Warmbloods, a breed that often fetches close to $1 million apiece. In the official results of her competitions, her horses' owner is always listed as The Dobbs Group—a corporate entity for which few details are available on the public record. However, incorporation documents and other state records reveal it to be a New Jersey company of which Lou Dobbs is president. This same company also owns the copyright on Dobbs's books.

The upkeep of Dobbs's multiple properties creates no small demand for labor in two sectors where undocumented immigrants are known to be particularly prevalent. Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, the horse industry's main lobby group, suggested in 2009 that more than half of the workers in his industry are likely undocumented. Likewise, studies have found that undocumented workers make up an estimated 28 percent of workers in landscaping. In both of these sectors, the use of contractors is commonplace, so it is not surprising that Dobbs has relied on third parties to supply the labor he needs. Vicky Moon, author of A Sunday Horse: Inside the Grand Prix Show-Jumping Circuit, explained that contracting out the care of one's horses "alleviates the time involved in coordinating the horses' care, transport, and management but it also removes the responsibility of hiring competent grooms, providing housing and meals, possibly paying Social Security taxes, health insurance and, most important, making extra sure they are legal."

Dobbs has heaped scorn on the government for using contractors that hire undocumented immigrants. On CNN in 2007, he called private firms that oppose verification requirements for their contractors' employees "ridiculous." Yet interviews with several such employees show that Dobbs has been far from vigilant about the status of workers laboring on his own properties.

Don't get me wrong, he ought to obtain the superior labor at the better price.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Anatomy of the Obama Meltdown (Victor Davis Hanson, October 06, 2010, National Review)

Had the Obamites been sober and circumspect after the 2008 election they would have realized that Obama had pulled off what McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry had not, due to a once-in-a-century perfect storm of about six events:

1) The September 15, 2008 financial meltdown that destroyed John McCain’s small, but steady lead.

2) The fascination with a possible landmark election of an African American candidate.

3) The inept McCain campaign that at times seemed more to wish to lose nobly than to win in a messy fashion.

4) The adroit Obama campaign that stressed centrist, “across the aisle” issues and style.

5) The “tingle in the leg” biased media coverage.

6) The first election without an incumbent or vice president since 1952 in which both candidates ran against the status quo Republican record.

Instead, Obama — egged on by obsequious advisers, an out-of-touch, hard-left base, and a toady media — decided that he had done what other Northern liberals had not, either because (a) the country was at last ready for European-style socialism, or (b) his singular charisma and talents could convince it that it was even when it was clearly not.

Actually, Mr. Obama did, correctly, consider his victory to be entirely personal. He doesn't have an ideology other than the self and doesn't care about ideas. That's why he was content with a Republican reform of health care, rather than a socialist one. The problem is that in the absence of any leadership at all on his part the plan was defined by the extravagant ambitions of congressional Democratic leadership and the media of the Left and the hysterical opposition of the congressional Right and its media allies.

Similarly, he was happy to settle for whatever stimulus his party sent him, without giving any thought to how the money would be used.

It would be more accurate to say that he so believes in the magic of his own persona that he thought anything he did would work just because it was him doing it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


What's killing Dems: Bam's foreign-policy 'betrayals' (MICHAEL BARONE, October 7, 2010, NY Post)

When Howard Dean's supporters were declaring that they wanted to "take our country back" in 2003 and 2004, they weren't talking about repealing the Bush tax cuts. They were talking about withdrawing US troops from Iraq and taking a more conciliatory stance to the leaders of Old Europe and Iran.

Similarly, Obama's refusal in 2007 and 2008 to admit that there was even a smidgen of success to George W. Bush's Iraq surge (even today he'll only hint it worked) cannot be chalked up to an intellectual incapacity to assimilate the facts.

It can only be explained as an unwillingness to rile the Democratic Party base, whose concerns, as we know from Bob Woodward's account of his conduct of deliberations over what to do in Afghanistan, are never far from his mind.

Nevertheless, he has left these Democrats disappointed.

They hoped to see an abject and abrupt withdrawal of US troops from Iraq within weeks of the Obama inauguration. They hoped to see a beginning of withdrawal from Afghanistan not in July 2011, but in the early months of 2009. They hoped to see the Guantanamo detention facility shuttered, and the detainees tried in civilian courts or freed to regale the media with tales of torture.

The uncomfortable truth is that many -- not most, but many -- Democratic politicians and voters saw political benefit in a US defeat in Iraq. Many, including Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, thronged to the Washington premiere of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." They tried to give every appearance of agreeing with the "Bush-lied-people-died" crowd and with those who charged that high officials colluded in systematic torture.

It was a lot of fun while it lasted, up to Inauguration Day. But then Obama had to govern.

Given how smart the UR is supposed to be, it's at least strange that he learned nothing from FDR's '42 midterm disaster, Truman's inability to even seek a second term and LBJ's similarly forced retirement. And those three wars hadn't been pre-demonized on the Left.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Long-serving Minn. Rep. Oberstar faces real race (MARTIGA LOHN, 10/07/10, AP)

While Oberstar remains the favorite, Republican Chip Cravaack has an appealing profile that includes Navy experience, a union past as a Northwest Airlines pilot and far more campaign cash that most of Oberstar’s past rivals.

The GOP newcomer is reaching out to conservative blue-collar Democrats and independents in the mining towns and forest outposts of northeastern Minnesota. [...]

Oberstar, who is known for bringing home road and infrastructure projects while leading the House transportation panel, isn’t the only Democratic committee chairman under political pressure.

Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Budget Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina also face serious challenges, although their districts aren’t as reliably blue as Oberstar’s.

John Dingell of Michigan — the longest-serving House member in history — also faces a political fight, and David Obey opted to leave his Wisconsin seat without one after nearly 42 years, opening a stiff competition to succeed him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Obama and his pals need some scarce Hopium for the next election (John Kass, 10/07/10, Chicago Tribune)

As President Barack Obama returns home Thursday for some old-fashioned Chicago politics with his friends, let's make one thing perfectly clear.

America's Hopium farmers must increase production, because the nation's supply is dangerously low, and the November midterm elections are only weeks away.

Is it fair to blame the UR for his own presidency when all he ran on was hope?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Liberalism's moral crisis on trade (Matt Miller, October 7, 2010, Washington Post)

Here's my question for American progressives: If you're for the little guy, are you just for American little guys? Or are you for poor underdogs even if they happen to have been born in India or China? [...]

Venting against foreigners when times are hard is only natural, especially when China is in fact guilty as charged. But the question that liberals sidestep for now is what their posture will be toward China and India when times are again good -- and when these nations' economic "crimes" aren't bad behavior but merely a desire to get richer.

The mother of all inconvenient truths is this: Global capitalism's ability to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China, India and other developing countries comes partly at the expense of tens of millions of workers in wealthy nations. This awful, inexorable fact will soon pose an enormous moral and intellectual challenge for the American left.

To understand why, ask liberal trade foes how they square their hopes for the millions of workers striving to improve their lives here in America with a defensible moral stance toward the billions beyond our borders who seek better lives themselves -- some of whom want to come here, and nearly all of whom want to trade with us in ways that may put American jobs or earnings at risk.

Trade is just another issue--like immigration, intervention, etc.--where the Left manages to arrive at the same point as the Right--in opposition--just coming at it from a different angle.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Secularity vs secularism: an enlightening distinction: Who invented the secular state? A professor of religious philosophy from the Sorbonne gives a surprising answer. (Jerome di Costanzo and Rémi Brague, 6 October 2010, MercatorNet)

In the wake of Pope Benedict's warning about atheism while visiting the UK, a debate has broken out about secularism. Journalist Jerome di Costanzo interviews the arabist and medievalist, Rémi Brague, who sheds much light on the question.

1) Secularists tend to deny the mediaeval origin of the notion of secularity. From your point of view is it possible to ignore it?

First, a quick glance at the reasons that lead those people to dodge or camouflage this medieval origin could be apposite. Generally speaking, there has been since the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment a widespread negative prejudice against whatever is or is supposed to be, medieval. The received wisdom tells us: Good things arose in Modern Times, full stop. The Middle Ages were a period of darkness, fuller stop.

As for the case of secularity, its advocates specifically want, or pretend to, ignore that it appeared in the Middle Ages, a period that was emphatically not secularist. The dividing line drawn between the Church and the State is a Christian invention that began among the Church Fathers, as a reaction against Constantine’s claim to control the Church and further culminated in medieval times. Moreover, this line was drawn by the Church, not by the State. The Holy See’s constant policy from the Investiture Controversy in the late 11th century consisted in sending the State (i.e. the Emperor or the Kings) back to its own merely this worldly—“secular” if you want—task: enforcing peace, justice, good social order. The State, on the other hand, was not merely “secular”, but claimed its share in sacrality. Just think of the adjective: “Holy Roman Empire”. Secularity was a conquest of the Church.

2) The recent papal visit in Britain has re-awakened the debate about secularity in our society. What exactly is your definition of secularity?

“Secularity” may have many meanings, but it designates in any case a fact, not an ideology or a program of action, unlike “secularism”, which I will deal with presently.

Secularity qualifies a certain realm of things on which unaided human reason can, in principle at least, reach an agreement that enables cooperation towards the common good. Religion can leave alone scientific, technical, political matters, etc. because it could not be of any specific help. Scientists, technicians, politicians, or, for that matter, anglers, plumbers or jellied-eels sellers can become saints if they do their job properly. But Christianity won’t give them many hints on how to ply their trade in their technicalities.

Let me sketch a general rule: for a Christian, subsidiarity as a principle brooks no exception and obtains in the relationship between God and His creatures, too—or even in the first place. The Creator gives each and every creature the means that it needs for it to get its own good by its own exertions. For instance, God does not have to tell men what they should do. Since they were endowed with reason, they possess, at least in principle, the necessary tools for them to choose what is right and avoid what is not. God does not have to tell men what they should eat, how they should dress, where they should spend their holidays, etc. According to Aquinas, the Ten Commandments are nothing more than a reminder of what we should be able to know by ourselves. By this token, “secularity” is a good thing, and it is correct to avoid any interference of “religion” where it is not necessary. On the other hand, it is foolish not to accept its aid where we enter a realm in which religion alone is competent, for instance giving us the power of forgiving, assuaging our fear of death, leading us towards salvation.

As for secularism as an ideology, I have two definitions. One attaches to the way in which people who define themselves as “secular” look at themselves. The word, together with “agnosticism”, “humanism”, etc., was coined in the Victorian era, when declaring oneself an “atheist” was hardly the thing. Secularism has over the latter word the advantage of a positive ring, whereas a-theism expresses a mere negation: not believing in God. Secularism, then, consists in limiting one’s ken to this-worldly matters, to what the Bible calls ha-‘olam haz-zeh.

But I have another definition up my sleeve. It is at the same time etymological and ironical. “Secular” comes from saeculum, the Latin for “century”, which originally meant the longest duration of human life. Secularity is the attitude of people who think that human hopes can’t exceed one century and therefore—perhaps unwittingly and unwillingly—act so that mankind will last exactly as long... Secularists are unable to explain why it is good that there should be human beings on earth. Since they contend that human life is the product of chance, they can’t tell us why it should be good for us, who can decide consciously to carry on with the experience, to do so.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Fear undermines America’s recovery (Alan Greenspan, October 6 2010, Financial Times)

American households have shifted their cash flows from illiquid real estate and consumer durables to paying down mortgages and consumer debt. Commercial banks are exhibiting a similar reduced tolerance towards risk on partially illiquid lending. A trillion dollars of excess reserves remains parked, largely immobile, at Federal Reserve banks yielding only 25 basis points with little evidence of banks seeking higher returns through increased lending.

It is this rapid rise in aversion to illiquid risk that explains a large part of the anaemic recovery in the US. Construction outlays, almost all long-term, are down 43 per cent in real terms since their peak in 2006 and reflect the heaviest price discounting of any major fixed asset class. [...]

Most in the business community attribute the massive rise in their uncertainty to the collapse of economic activity, but its continuance since the recovery took hold is attributed to the widespread major restructuring of our financial system and the burgeoning federal deficit, which creates critical future tax uncertainty.

Only the deficit lends itself to being quantified. Fixed capital investment as a share of cash flow over the past four decades has been significantly (negatively) correlated with the ratio of the federal deficit to GDP, with the deficit ratio leading the fixed investment share by nine months.* This would imply that the federal deficit as a percentage of GDP since September 2008 (cyclically adjusted to remove the effect of a weaker economy), accounted for as much as a third of the $325bn shortfall in business capital investment since early 2009.

But an indeterminate amount of the remaining shortfall reflects both a direct and indirect hobbling of vital financial intermediation. It is going to take years to address the unprecedented complexity of final rulemaking required in the massive Dodd-Frank bill. The inevitable uncertainty engendered will inhibit financial innovation and intermediation, and render the rules that will govern a future financial marketplace disturbingly conjectural. This is bound to have a significant impact on economic growth. Business planners must now confront a much wider set of scenarios that could affect the profitability of contemplated long-term commitments. This wider set, of necessity, increases risk premiums on illiquid assets.

The critical question, of course, is how much of a contraction in deficits and a decrease in the frenetic pace of new regulations can assuage the sense of a frightening future, allowing the natural forces of economic recovery to take hold.

Just the certainty that he won't be able to do any more damage can unleash vast flows of cash.

October 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


'Secretariat' introduces extraordinary horse to a new generation (Andrew Beyer, 10/06/10, Washington Post )

Disney didn't have to embellish Secretariat's achievements. In fact, the film almost understates them. Many of us who watched him in 1972 and 1973 thought that we were probably seeing the best racehorse who ever lived, and the ensuing years have reinforced that conviction.

Secretariat came of age in the decade that the American thoroughbred was at its peak, a period that also produced Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Ruffian, Forego and Spectacular Bid. Experts can endlessly debate the relative merits of such horses, but Secretariat did things that even other great ones didn't do. If you watch videos of races without knowing who the horses are, there may be little to distinguish a high-class race from a cheap one. A film of Affirmed going to the lead and fighting off Alydar's challenge doesn't look much different from a $5,000 claimer doing the same thing.

But Secretariat's athleticism was unmistakable. I saw him for the first time in the summer of 1972 at Saratoga, and still remember vividly his first stakes race, the Sanford, when he faced the pro-tem leader of the nation's 2-year-olds, Linda's Chief. As the five-horse field turned into the stretch, Secretariat was blocked by a wall of three horses in front of him; Linda's Chief, on the outside, had clear sailing. When a slight bit of daylight appeared in front of him, Secretariat bulled through the opening in a manner that journalist Charles Hatton likened to "a fox scattering a barnyard of chickens." He immediately unleashed an explosive run and flew past the favored Linda's Chief to win by three lengths. I wrote in the Washington Star that we might have seen the 1973 Kentucky Derby winner. Never have I watched a lightly raced 2-year-old stamp himself so definitively as a potential great.

Ten days after the Sanford, Secretariat made a dazzling move in the Hopeful Stakes, circling the field and going from last place to first place around the turn. The next year, in the Preakness, he made an even more amazing last-to-first run. He did it on the first turn at Pimlico - what would ordinarily be a suicidal move - and blew past his archrival Sham to take command of the race. After watching that grainy film recently on YouTube, I am still astonished by it. I have never seen a horse make a winning move like that one in the subsequent 37 years.

In the early 1970s I had begun to embrace the philosophy that horses are best defined by how fast they run, and I had begun to calculate the speed figures that, two decades later, would be incorporated into every thoroughbred's record in the Daily Racing Form.

At each stage of his career, Secretariat's winning times and speed figures provided objective evidence that he was an extraordinary runner. His greatest performance, of course, was the Belmont Stakes, where he dueled with Sham at a seemingly suicidal pace for three-quarters of a mile and proceeded to draw away to a 31-length victory. The prevailing track record, Gallant Man's 2:26 3/5, was considered almost unassailable; only one other winner in the Belmont's history had run faster than 2:28. When Secretariat crossed the finish line in 2:24 flat, he had raced into a new dimension.

Here’s One for the Winner’s Circle: Secretariat Is Fun, Heartwarming and a Joy to Watch (Rex Reed, October 5, 2010, NY Observer)

Secretariat, directed with style and elegance by Randall Wallace, is, of course, the awesome chronicle of one of the greatest American thoroughbred racehorses in history, who, in 1973, became the first U.S. Triple Crown champion in 25 years, winning the Kentucky Derby in less than two minutes, the Preakness in a last-minute dash by only two lengths and the Belmont Stakes in 2 minutes, 24 seconds. The Derby and Belmont records have never been beaten or even duplicated to this day. And no proud owner ever toiled so bravely and vigorously to save her beloved horse, farm or family than the financially beleaguered Penny Chenery Tweety, a Denver housewife who sacrificed a lot, hocked her life and compromised her marriage and family life to follow her dream to racing history. Played with honesty and naturalism by the beautiful, heartfelt and deeply committed Diane Lane, Mrs. Tweety comes alive as much as Secretariat does. You will end up loving them both unconditionally.

Not that it wasn't the greatest athletic performance ever as is, what made it transcendent was the sense Secretariat gave that if God , Hisownself, started running alongside him in the stretch he'd just go faster. The only athlete who's ever come close to matching it was Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics--and in the steroid age it's hard to have faith in that performance.

Pure Heart: a writer relives the greatest ride of his life: Secretariat's thrilling career as a racehorse (William Nack, 1990, Sports Illustrated)
Bolt chases the Holy Grail: Michael Johnson's record in the 200 meters (Tim Layden, 8/19./08, Sports Illustrated)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Half of current accounts do not pay interest (Myra Butterworth, Wednesday 6 October 2010, Daily Telegraph)

More than half of all current accounts no longer pay interest to customers who are in credit, according to new research.

Banks are cutting the amount of interest they pay to current account customers, with a growing number stopping the payments altogether.

A total of 55 per cent of current accounts no longer pay interest to people who are in credit, while a further 28 per cent pay a rate of just 0.1 per cent or less, according to personal finance website Moneyfacts.co.uk.

It found the average return paid on a current account is now just 0.77 per cent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


A Letter from a Republican to Hispanics (Dennis Prager, Real Clear Politics)

First, a message to those of you here illegally:

You may be very surprised to hear this, but in your position, millions of Americans, including me, would have done what you did. [...]

Now that I have made it clear that millions of us understand what motivates you and do not morally condemn you for entering America illegally, I have to ask you to try to understand what motivates us.

No country in the world can allow unlimited immigration. If America opened its borders to all those who wish to live here, hundreds of millions of people would come here. That would, of course, mean the end of the United States economically and culturally. [...]

Yes, many of you are also a blessing. Many of you take care of our children and our homes. Others of you prepare our food and do other work that is essential to our society. We know that. As individuals, the great majority of you are hardworking, responsible, decent people.

But none of that answers the question: How many people can this country allow into it?

The moment you have to answer that question is the moment you realize that Americans' worries about illegal immigration have nothing to do with "racism" or any negative feeling toward Hispanics.

The insurmountable problem with this whole line of argument is that the period of our de facto open border with Mexico corresponded to the longest economic boom in the globe's -- nevermind the country's -- history. Meanwhile, the rise of nativism in Congress, which thwarted the formalization of those immigrants, precipitated one of the worst recessions since the Depression (which was similarly preceded by the adoption of anti-immigration policies). There are reasons to oppose immigration, they just aren't economic. If anything, they're anti-economic.

Nor can one take seriously the notion that the sole alternative to the current immigration policy is immediate immigration by hundreds of millions of people. It's not even a slippery-slope argument but an edge-of-the-abyss one and one that manufactures the abyss out of thin air (or fever dreams).

It is revealing, if not dispositive, as to the attitudes of those who Mr. Prager is representing that he does not at least propose a legalization of, nor any increase in the number of, those he concedes are a blessing to America. Indeed, he sets up a bizarre dichotomy whereby the proof that you are an American is that you oppose that very blessing.

One might more coherently argue that to oppose the blessing is to be anti-American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


U.S. Slams Pakistani Effort On Militants (ADAM ENTOUS And SIOBHAN GORMAN, 10/06/10, WSJ)

A new White House assessment steps up criticism of Pakistan's campaign against militants, stating bluntly that its government and military have been unwilling to take action against al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists.

The aggressive language of the report—which also criticizes the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari—could further strain difficult relations with a key ally and undercut support in Congress for providing billions of dollars in aid to Islamabad. [...]

"The Pakistan military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan," the White House concludes, referring to the Pakistani tribal region that U.S. officials say is being used as a staging ground for attacks on troops in Afghanistan, as well as to plot attacks on targets in Europe.

U.S. officials say they are increasingly frustrated by Pakistan's decision not to send large numbers of ground forces into North Waziristan. "This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets," the unclassified, 27-page report finds.

In the neighboring tribal region of South Waziristan, "Pakistani military operations advanced slowly" because they haven't been able to stabilize areas after they clear them of militants, the White House found.

There, "the military largely stayed close to the roads and did not engage against those [Pakistani Taliban] militants who returned after fleeing into North Waziristan."

While the Pakistani military has dedicated 140,000 forces to the tribal areas, "the Pakistan military was nonetheless constrained to disrupting and displacing extremists groups without making lasting gains against the insurgency."

At best they're neutral in the Tribal areas and since they're hostile to our Indian ally they might better be thought of as the enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Democracy is Winning in Latin America (Jaime Daremblum, October 6, 2010, Weekly Standard)

[W]hile the U.S. economy has been struggling through a painfully weak recovery, Latin America’s rebound has been remarkably strong. After posting robust growth rates prior to the global recession, the regional economy handled the downturn fairly well, and it is now projected to expand by around 5 percent this year.

“Economic growth is going hand in hand with social progress,” notes the Economist. “Tens of millions of Latin Americans have climbed out of poverty and joined a swelling lower-middle class.” A region that was once notorious for its chronic economic mismanagement is now drawing the attention of multinational corporations across the globe. As Bloomberg reports, 30 percent of the 300 U.S. companies that participated in a recent HSBC survey believe that “Latin America offers the best opportunity for growth over the next six months,” compared with only 25 percent who think China does. To borrow from Ronald Reagan’s famous line, it is morning in Latin America. [...]

Just look at Honduras, a true Latin American success story, whose remarkable democratic achievement is sadly underappreciated by many journalists and politicians here in the United States. Not so long ago, it appeared that Honduras would become another Venezuelan satellite. Manuel Zelaya, elected president in 2006, had brought his country into the Chávez-led Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, and he was gradually steering it toward authoritarianism. In June 2009, Zelaya attempted to hold a referendum that the Honduran supreme court had rejected as illegal. It was a thinly veiled power grab, representing a direct challenge to the country’s constitutional order. The supreme court responded by authorizing Zelaya’s removal from office.

Foreign governments cried foul, labeling his ouster a military coup. But a subsequent U.S. Law Library of Congress study concluded that: “The judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.” Indeed, the country’s democratic institutions rose to the occasion and prevented a would-be dictator from using mob tactics to subvert the law.

Last November, Honduras held its 2009 national elections right on schedule. The victor in the presidential contest, Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party, has since worked to assist the post-Zelaya reconciliation process. “President Lobo has done everything he said he would do,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in June. “He was elected through a free and fair, legitimate election. He provided political amnesty. He set up a truth commission. He has been very committed to pursuing a policy of reintegration.” As a result, many Latin American governments have reestablished formal diplomatic relations with Honduras.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Wilted Spinach (The Denver Post, 10/06/2010)


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
About 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, drained and sliced (optional)
10 ounces baby spinach
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt


Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add roasted red pepper, if using.

Add spinach and stir around to coat with oil. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, just until the leaves are wilted. Add lemon juice and salt and cook briefly. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The Post-Singularity Future Of Astronomy: Astronomy could be the first discipline in which the rate of discovery by machines outpaces humans' ability to interpret it ()

"In twenty years time, it is likely that most astronomers will never go near a cutting-edge telescope," says Ray Norris at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Epping, Australia. So begins a fascinating discussion about the future of humanity's oldest science.

Norris paints an optimistic picture. For him, the future is filled with automation that will make astronomers' jobs easier. He says, for example, that in twenty years time: "I expect to be able to click on an object in a paper, and see its image at all wavelengths." This data will be provided more or less automatically by a new generation of smart telescopes that calibrate and edit data on the fly and then send it to a Virtual Observatory that anybody can access.

The job for astronomers will be to theorise about this data, to look for patterns within it and to see how it explains some problems and creates others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


AP-GfK Poll: Working-class whites shun Dems (ALAN FRAM, 10/06/2010, AP)

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows whites without four-year college degrees preferring GOP candidates by twice the margin of the last two elections, when Democrats made significant gains in the House and Senate. The poll, conducted last month, found this group favoring GOP hopefuls 58 percent to 36 percent — a whopping 22 percentage-point gap.

In 2008, when Obama won the presidency, they favored GOP congressional candidates by 11 percentage points, according to exit polls of voters. When Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006, the Republican edge was 9 percentage points.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Liverpool FC Strikes Deal With Red Sox Owner (Chris V. Nicholson, October 6, 2010, NY Times)

Liverpool FC said Wednesday that it had accepted the offer of New England Sports Ventures, also the owners of the Boston Red Sox, to buy the Premiere League soccer club for an undisclosed sum. The deal may be worth about £300 million, a person with direct knowledge of the situation said. [...]

New England Sports Ventures was founded in 1981 by John W. Henry, who together with The New York Times Co. bought the Boston Red Sox in 2002.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


O Captain, Our Captain: George Washington was a genius and a titan, but it was politics, not war, at which he excelled: a review of Washington: A Life By Ron Chernow (ANDREW ROBERTS, 10/05/10, WSJ)

It was said of Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck that he was the subtle son of his feline mother posing all his life as his heavy, portentous father. Similarly, the George Washington who emerges from this truly magnificent life is an acute, consummate politician who posed all his life—with next to no justification—as a bluff but successful soldier. The pose came off because Washington himself so desperately wanted it to be true, but Ron Chernow wrenches back the curtain to reveal the real Washington, a general almost bereft of tactical ability yet a politician full of penetrating strategic insight. In this (English, anti-Revolutionary) reviewer's estimation, Washington emerges a far greater man. [...]

Crucially for America's as well as his own future, Washington was endowed with preternatural leadership qualities—primarily the ability to seem confident when privately he felt, as Mr. Chernow puts it, "gloomy, scathing, hot-blooded and pessimistic." It was "perhaps less his military skills than his character which eclipsed all competitors," he writes. "Washington was dignified, circumspect and upright, whereas his enemies seemed petty and skulking." This was true not just of his overt British enemies but also of his many covert detractors inside the Continental Army and in Congress.

During the war, Washington needed to keep the army—which Mr. Chernow describes as "a bizarre mongrel corps that flouted the rules of contemporary warfare"—as a fighting force in the field, no matter how many towns or battles were lost. In this he succeeded triumphantly, despite venereal disease among the troops, a dearth of gunpowder, mass desertions, treachery (even from some of his own bodyguards), and truly monstrous winters. "Whatever his failings as a general," writes Mr. Chernow, "Washington's moral force held the shaky army together."

It is worth considering whether the "windswept plateau" of Valley Forge, where 2,000 of Washington's men died of diseases compounded by malnutrition, was really the best place to spend the winter of 1777–78, but it seems that the only reason there was no mutiny in that "scene of harrowing misery" was Washington's sheer force of personality. (And perhaps the fact that any man caught stealing food was given 600 lashes.)

In the end, nothing can detract from the untarnishable glory of Washington's having been the commander in chief throughout the war, in which the largest expeditionary force of the 18th century came to total grief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Obama-Clinton ticket 'on the table,' Woodward says (Alexander Mooney, 10/05/10, CNN)

Some called a Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton pairing the "Dream Ticket" in 2008. It didn't happen.

But what about 2012?

"It's on the table," veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward told CNN's John King in an interview Tuesday on John King, USA. "Some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012."

It's not like she could be any worse at the job than the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Wind farms alter local weather: Large wind turbines create wakes, can change temperatures (Michelle Bryner,, 10/05/10, TechNewsDaily)

Researchers have found that under certain conditions at one wind farm studied, large wind turbines can alter local temperatures, sometimes by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius). While climate models have shown the possibility of such an impact, this is the first time that real data has been used to confirm the phenomenon.

"As wind farms become larger and more ubiquitous, it is essential that their possible environmental costs and benefits are assessed and properly addressed to ensure the long-term sustainability of wind power," the researchers state in their paper published online Oct. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These giant wind turbines create wakes, similar to the ripples of water produced as a boat zooms through the water, that cause the local air to mix vertically, said Somnath Baidya Roy, a professor at the University of Illinois and lead author of the new study. "What it does is it takes low level air and mixes it with upper level air," Baidya Roy told TechNewsDaily.

The mixing heats up the air at night and in the early morning, and cools air during the day.

...but this is bad?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


The Big State and the Servile Mind: a review of The Servile Mind by Kenneth Minogue (Claudio Veliz, October 2010, Quadrant)

Democracy was born in Athens 2400 years ago and in Thucydides’s account of Pericles’s Funeral Oration we have the earliest reliable description of what it meant to the Athenians:

Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty.

The functioning democracy of fifth-century Athens institutionalised equality before the law and equality of opportunity for every citizen regardless of the obviously existing inequalities of class or income that neither Pericles nor his fellow legislators felt necessary to address.

The demise of the Athenian empire shelved the democratic alternative, which remained dormant for the next two millennia until it resurrected as a hesitant intimation in seventeenth-century England. By then the Christian belief in the uniqueness of the soul and its value in the eyes of God had added a third dimension to the two egalitarian claims inherited from Athens; now it was equality before the law, equality of opportunity and equality in the eyes of God. It is from such impeccable sources that a monumental distortion emerged that helped to extend the perfectly clear egalitarian application of democratic rights and responsibilities to an implicit understanding that only in a society of equals would democracy attain its harmonious consummation.

What Professor Minogue has done in this book is to act as our cicerone on a meticulously guided tour of a project to equalise the world that looks very much like a road to serfdom signposted with frequently amusing and occasionally disconcerting initiatives adopted by diverse governments to homogenise the societies over which they preside, democratically. The basic assumption is that the generalised propensity to indulge individualist passions for consumer satisfaction has resulted in prejudices, excesses and antipathies that can presumably be corrected by rhetorical or legal enforcement of what is now generally described as “political correctness”. This in turn has brought about a systematic intrusion into the private life of citizens that translates into bureaucratic arrangements of truly exquisite post-Orwellian inanity such as a “Head of Behaviour” to help Londoners do the right thing, or “Minister of Respect” in the fair state of Victoria, an appointment that probably has Gilbert and Sullivan fans writhing in the aisles. How long before the West is regaled with its first Ministers of Happiness? One wonders.

The real problem is distant from these vaudevillian frivolities and it has been familiar to serious students of society for a very long time, certainly since Johann Gottfried Herder, and more recently, since Isaiah Berlin in his justly famous essay on “Two Concepts of Liberty” and other writings, reminded us that worthy human values are not necessarily compatible and that:

The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution in which all good things coexist seems … not merely unobtainable—that is a truism—but conceptually incoherent [and] to allow [such a notion] to determine one’s practice is a symptom of an equally deep and more dangerous moral and political immaturity.

The classic example of this insurmountable obstacle to collectivist social engineering is that of freedom and equality. They are both immensely valuable, but it is impossible fully to achieve them simultaneously. Free individuals will invariably get different results in everything they do while even the most benevolent attempt to construct an egalitarian society can only proceed if freedom is restricted. Worse, even the most brutal curtailment of freedom will not necessarily bring about a society of equals, as was conclusively demonstrated by the disastrous communist attempts of the last century.

To this almost mechanical understanding of the problem, Kenneth Minogue has now added a new moral dimension that makes matters vastly more alarming. Reflecting precisely on the apparent antithesis between the individual and society, Bruce Anderson, one of the most perceptive observers of contemporary European political life, has written recently that “without creative individualism, there can be no healthy society, but left to themselves, individuals will form the little platoons that create a strong society”. This was certainly true until a few decades ago, but if the trend persists as described in this book, the people of modern Western democracies could find themselves joyously embraced by “the one right way of living, characterized by a kind of justice, a kind of tolerance, a kind of harmony, indeed by a kind of moral system dictated from above”.

This is possible because as morality merges with management, a servile readiness to fit both thought and conduct to what is politically correct becomes the passport for continuing dependence on the considerable benefits flowing from an intrusive state.

...between freedom and equality (security).

Morals & the servile mind: On the diminishing moral life of our democratic age. (Kenneth Minogue, June 2010, New Criterion)

By “the moral life,” I simply mean that dimension of our inner experience in which we deliberate about our obligations to parents, children, employers, strangers, charities, sporting associations, and all the other elements of our world. We may not always devote much conscious thought to these matters, but thinking about them makes up the substance of our lives. It also constitutes the conditions of our happiness. In deliberating, and in acting on what we have decided, we discover who we are and we reveal ourselves to the world. This kind of self-management emerges from the inner life and is the stream of thoughts and decisions that make us human. To the extent that this element of our humanity has been appropriated by authority, we are all diminished, and our civilization loses the special character that has made it the dynamic animator of so much hope and happiness in modern times.

It is this element of dehumanization that has produced what I am calling “the servile mind.” The charge of servility or slavishness is a serious one. It emerges from the Classical view that slaves lacked the capacity for self-movement and had to be animated by the superior class of masters. They were creatures of impulse and passion rather than of reason. Aristotle thought that some people were “natural slaves.” In our democratic world, by contrast, we recognize at least some element of the “master” (which means, of course, self-managing autonomy) in everyone. Indeed, in our entirely justified hatred of slavery, we sometimes think that the passion for freedom is a constitutive drive of all human beings. Such a judgment can hardly survive the most elementary inspection of history. The experience of both traditional societies and totalitarian states in the twentieth century suggests that many people are, in most circumstances, happy to sink themselves in some collective enterprise that guides their lives and guarantees them security. It is the emergence of freedom rather than the extent of servility that needs explanation.

Servility is not an easy idea with which to operate, and it should be clear that the world we live in, being human, cannot be fully captured in ideal structures. But in understanding Western life, it is difficult to avoid contrasting courage and freedom on the one hand with servility and submission on the other. We think of freedom as being able to do what we merely want to do, but this is a condition cherished no less by the slave than by the master. When the cat’s away, the mice will play! Here is the illusion that freedom is merely having a lot of options available. What freedom actually means is the capacity not only to choose but also to face the consequences of one’s choice. To accept employment, to marry, to join a cause, to sustain a family, and so on, all involve responsibilities, and it is in the capacity to sustain self-chosen responsibilities, the steadiness to face up to the risks and inevitable ennui inseparable from a settled life, that we exhibit our freedom. And its essence is that each individual life is determined by this set of chosen commitments and virtues (whatever they may be) rather than by some set of external determinants or regulations. Independence of mind requires thinking one’s own thoughts: poor things many of them may be, but they are our own, and we have found some reasons for thinking them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sweet-spicy pecans (Lisa Zwirn, October 6, 2010, Boston Globe)

2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
Salt (optional)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted and aromatic.

2. In a bowl, combine the sugar, chipotle powder, paprika, cinnamon, and oil. Add the warm pecans and toss well. Taste for seasoning and add salt or more chipotle powder, if you like. Serve at room temperature.

October 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Former Vice President denounces Obama's use of 'idiot boards' (Catholic Online, 10/5/2010)

Former Vice President Walter Mondale came out against U.S. President Barack Obama's heavy reliance on Teleprompters; electronic devices out of camera range that lets the speaker read a prepared script. The 82-year-old former statesman says that the devices keep the president from connecting with his intended audience.

Mondale said on CNN that the teleprompters were little more than "idiot boards," or cue cards used by live TV performers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Independents not buying Dems' core messages (Greg Sargent, 10/04/10, Washington Post: Plumline)

If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists.

But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need, according to internals of the new Post poll that were sent my way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


There will be blood – watch exclusive of 10:10 campaign's 'No Pressure' film: Here's a highly explosive short film, written by Richard Curtis, from our friends at the 10:10 climate change campaign (Damian Carrington, 30 September 2010, guardian.co.uk)

Well, I'm certain you'll agree that detonating school kids, footballers and movie stars into gory pulp for ignoring their carbon footprints is attention-grabbing. It's also got a decent sprinkling of stardust – Peter Crouch, Gillian Anderson, Radiohead and others.

But it's pretty edgy, given 10:10's aim of asking people, businesses and organisations to take positive action against global warming by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in a year, and thereby pressuring governments to act.

"Doing nothing about climate change is still a fairly common affliction, even in this day and age. What to do with those people, who are together threatening everybody's existence on this planet? Clearly we don't really think they should be blown up, that's just a joke for the mini-movie, but maybe a little amputating would be a good place to start?" jokes 10:10 founder and Age of Stupid film maker Franny Armstrong.

The thing about humor is that it's where we express how we really feel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


ALDS Preview: Yankees vs. Twins (Craig Calcaterra, Oct. 5, 2010, NBC: Hardballtalk)

The storyline which doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things but which TBS will nonetheless beat to death

Probably that stuff from above about the Yankees recent dominance of the Twins. Yes, I understand why it's something worth mentioning and I even mentioned it myself in HBT's Playoff Power Rankings. But baseball should come with the same disclaimer that comes on the mutual funds in your 401k: past performance is no guarantee of future results. While interesting, recent history is not exactly illuminating. As they say, momentum is only as good as your next day's starter. And given that Andy Pettitte's back and Phil Hughes' stamina at this point of the season is in question, the next day's starter for the Yankees is not as strong as it used to be.

The storyline which actually does matter but about which TBS won't spend a lot of time talking
Less of a storyline than a dynamic: unlike the previous three playoff meetings between these clubs, the Twins should be considered the favorites. I don't care about seeding: bet your bippy that we'll hear a lot about the allegedly plucky Twins and the Big Bad Bronx Bombers. The betting lines and even smart guys like Aaron Gleeman disagree with me, but I think the Twins are a better team. At least on paper. Their starters are better right now. Their bullpen is stronger than most people think. The differences between the team's offense are not that great. If you tell mystique and aura to go down the street and get you a box of chicken or something, you'll be able to see clearly enough to realize that the Twins should be favored here. That said . . .

While the Yankees should not be favored, they are. And they should not be favored because even if CC wins both his starts they don't necessarily have another quality start coming from elsewhere and if he loses a game they're likely toast.

There have been underdogs--the Astros of Mike Scott and Orel Hershiser's Dodgers come to mind--that had to ride one starting pitcher to have a chance, but has there ever been a favorite so dependent on one starter?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Founding Believers: What were the religious beliefs of the founding fathers? That question is at the heart of many of the most contentious debates about the role of religion in the American public square. (JOE CARTER, September 22, 2010, First Things)

Applying the method to other founding fathers, the list could be roughly delineated as:

Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen.

Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe.

Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon.

The leaders during the revolutionary era may have subscribed to a Judeo-Christian view of morality, but few of them were orthodox believers. The majority subscribed to a religious view that we would nowadays classify as Unitarianism. A rejection of Trinitarianism clearly puts one outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. We should not claim that a historical figure is a Christian when he held heretical views of the central Christian dogma .

However, while we Christians can claim few founding fathers as fellow believers, the atheists and secularists can claim none. Not one of the significant leaders was an atheist, much less subscribed to the modern idea of secularism.

Most – whether they were non-Christian Deists or Deistic Christians – appear to have been held to the classic "five points of Deism": (1) There is a God; (2) He ought to be worshiped; (3) Virtue is the principle element in this worship; (4) Humans should repent of their sins; and (5) There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.

The views of the Deistic founding fathers would have been as repugnant to the modern secularist as those of the so-called Religious Right. The founding believers considered belief in a deity to be necessary for good citizenship, believed in intelligent design, had few qualms about establishment of state churches, and took a low view of atheists. They might not pass muster as orthodox Christians, but if they were around today they would considered theocrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


'Things Could Get Pretty Messy': The man who would be the next House majority leader talks about the GOP agenda and working with Obama. (STEVE MOORE , 10/02/10, WSJ)

The Republicans have released their "Pledge to America" policy agenda, so I ask the congressman what comes first if the Republicans become the majority in November. Mr. Cantor says if Democrats allow the income and investment tax rates to rise in January, "I promise you, H.R. 1 will be to retroactively restore the lower rates so no one has a tax increase in 2011."

Step two will be "cutting spending as much as we can." House Republicans hope to "take a cue" from Republican Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who made steep spending cuts in their first year in office. "We will cut programs, we will try to rein in the size of the bureaucracy. We will bring federal pay scales that have become so exaggerated into line with market rates," the congressman says.

Mr. Cantor also hopes to eliminate whole programs and departments by putting sunset provisions into law. "Why would you want a federal program to exist, if number one, it's not executing its mission and, number two, . . . if the mission is not valid anymore?" He cites 17 duplicative education programs, and federal technology grants.

This ambitious downsizing agenda could set up a 1995-style budget showdown. That year, President Bill Clinton vetoed Speaker Newt Gingrich's budget, which led to a fateful showdown that many believe revitalized the Clinton presidency.

Are we headed there again? "No, Mr. Cantor says, "I don't think the country needs or wants a shutdown." He thinks such a scenario can be prevented if the Republicans "relentlessly make the case for how government overspending and debt are strangling the future competitiveness and growth of this country."

Mr. Cantor assures me he understands that this downsizing plan may run into a roadblock from some in his own party. Republican appropriators tripped up the limited-government strategy in the late 1990s and during George W. Bush's presidency. "We know that appropriators will fight these cutbacks," he says. "But by eliminating earmarks, we can stop the horse trading that grows agency budgets." He tells me he would be "open-minded to term limits for the appropriations committee," on which he hopes Republicans will place fiscal conservatives. But the top-ranking Republicans on the House appropriations committee—including Jerry Lewis of California, who is in line to be chairman—are spenders extraordinaire who could capsize the GOP budget-reduction agenda.

Mr. Cantor's economic outlook is certainly one that resonates with conservatives. But many are grumbling that the Pledge to America didn't also include a promise to end earmarks. "Don't mistake this year's Republican caucus with next year's," Mr. Cantor responds. "We're going to do real earmark reform even though it was missing from the pledge. If you look at the makeup of the conference right now, and then add on to that the incoming freshmen class, those folks aren't coming to Washington [for] . . . pork-barrel spending. They really aren't."

Another concern is that Republicans lack a coherent growth agenda beyond simply cutting spending. To this, Mr. Cantor objects: "We will start by unraveling the economic damage that has been done by their agenda, whether it's health care, or whether it's the financial reg reform or regulations from EPA that are strangling businesses."

He strongly favors ending the drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico, "which is costing us thousands of jobs." Still, he adds that Republicans "have to be careful about how we do it. We don't want to be seen as a bunch of yahoos."

As for taxes, Mr. Cantor says he "would like to see the cap-gains rate reduced to nothing because that's what angel investors, who go and fund start-ups, look at. If you want that kind of growth and incubation, you've got to look at incentives to put capital at risk."

"Next," he continues, "in a perfect world we would bring corporate tax rates down to 25% or less so we can get competitive in the world economy. Ultimately, I would love to see a flat tax."

Every bill Congress passes should have a sunset provision.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


In Ads, Democratic Candidates Play Down Party (DAVID W. CHEN, 10/04/10, NY Times)

One New York Democrat proclaims that he proudly opposed the federal government’s health care overhaul plan. Another one pledges, in the finest Tea Party spirit, to oppose any future financial bailouts. Still another has rolled out three Republicans in three separate commercials, all vouching for his credentials.

But there is one word you will not hear mentioned in any of these campaign advertisements: Democrat.

With the Democratic Party bracing for a dismal showing in the elections next month, many candidates are doing everything possible to convince voters that they are not tied at the hip to President Obama or Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. A vulnerable Democratic incumbent in North Dakota, Representative Earl Pomeroy, praises former President George W. Bush in one of his commercials. But even Democrats in and near New York State are running away from their party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Four candidates could make big difference for GOP in midterms (Chris Cillizza, 10/03/10, Washington Post)

Six months ago, few Republican strategists could pick Ryan Frazier, Jeff Perry, Austin Scott or Randy Demmer out of a crowd. Today, that quartet of candidates is part of a small group of challengers who national Republicans think could be the deciding force in whether the party will win back the House majority on Nov. 2.

The four men hail from competitive districts: Frazier is running for a suburban Denver seat and Perry for an open seat that includes Cape Cod, while Scott and Demmer are vying for largely rural districts in Georgia and Minnesota, respectively. But, in a roundtable conversation with the Fix last week, it became clear that they are campaigning largely on the same ideas: against government spending and unified Democratic control of government in Washington and for a fresh start to a Republican Party that had been moribund as recently as two years ago.

Even given the modern propensity to self-absorption, it's odd to say a party is moribund just because it backs up for two cycles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Kagan's recusals take her out of action in many of the Supreme Court's cases (Robert Barnes, October 4, 2010, Washington Post)

Kagan's old job as solicitor general - the "10th justice" - is initially making it hard to do her new job as the ninth justice.

Kagan, 50, has recused herself from 25 of the 51 cases the court has accepted so far this term, all as a result of her 14-month tenure as solicitor general, the government's chief legal representative in the Supreme Court and the nation's lower appellate courts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Automation is increasingly reducing U.S. workforces: Farmers are among those opting for machines to perform tasks while reducing costs and boosting productivity. (Alana Semuels, 10/04/10, Los Angeles Times)

The ground trembles on Mike Young's almond farm as the forklift-size yellow machine grabs a tree trunk and shakes it hard. Nuts rain like hailstones to the ground, where they'll lie until another machine comes and sorts them.

Young once grew tomatoes, cucumbers and cotton. But in recent years, he's shifted almost exclusively to nuts as worldwide demand has made the crop more profitable.

There's another reason for abandoning row crops: Employees are a headache. Automation means Young no longer needs large crews of farmworkers to plant or harvest — and no more worrying about status, pay or benefits.

Get a daily snapshot of market numbers and trends, delivered right to your mobile phone. Text BUSINESS to 52669.

"Labor is so expensive," said Young, whose great-grandfather started farming row crops in Kern County in 1910. "There's their wages, truck, insurance, workers' comp and the safety regulations. We went to a high-value crop that needed less labor input."

Young estimates that at seasonal peaks, he now employs 70% fewer workers.

That sentiment isn't unique to farming. Forced to cut costs during the recession, employers across the country are looking at ways to avoid hiring. They've accelerated use of computers and technology, replacing administrative assistants with software, cashiers with self-service kiosks and laborers with machines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Eels perform live in The Current studio (Jade Tittle, 10/03/10, Minnesota Public Radio)

Beginning as a solo act under the name "E" in 1992, Mark Everett formed Eels shortly thereafter, in 1996, with the relase of the band's debut album, "Beautiful Freak." Their songs "Novocaine for the Soul" and "Susan's House" quickly became popular and launched a career that has spanned fourteen years and nine records.

The latest from Eels is a trilogy of records that center on the end of a relationship. Beginning with 2009's "Hombre Lobo" and continuing with this year's "The End Times," the trilogy concludes with the (comparatively) upbeat "Tomorrow Morning," which came out in August.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Poll: 'Likely voters' favor GOP (SCOTT WONG, 10/4/10, Politico)

[I]n a high-turnout election – with more than 40 percent voter participation – Gallup estimated that likely voters would prefer a Republican over a Democrat 53 percent to 40 percent. In a lower turnout election, Gallup estimated an even bigger advantage for GOP candidates — 56 percent to 38 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Are We Still Evolving? (Stephen C. Stearns, 10/04/10, Project Syndicate)

Many public-policy decisions are based on implicit assumptions about “human nature,” and it is currently popular to speculate about how evolution might have shaped human behavior and psychology. But this raises some important questions: are humans continuing to evolve – and, if so, is our basic biological nature changing – or has modern culture stopped evolution?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


GOP Eyes Potential Defectors (Anna Palmer and Steven T. Dennis, CQ-Roll Call)

House Republicans are already examining which Democrats might want to switch parties after Nov. 2 and are mapping out a strategy for how to persuade them to make the leap. [...]

Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Walt Minnick (Idaho) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) are all on the Republicans’ target list. Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) are also considered potential gets.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Iraqi oil reserves estimated at 143B barrels (CNN, 10/04/10)

Iraq's estimated oil reserves have grown by nearly 25 percent, the oil ministry announced