November 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Pi in the Sky: Is mathematics a divine language? (Mark Vernon, November 30, 2010, Big Questions)

It’s not just the universal nature of mathematics that’s striking; it’s that mathematics works at all. The natural world is a complex place. It’s packed with variations and permutations, random events and patterns so complex they are far from obvious to the eye. And yet, mathematics can capture so much of that intricacy. What kind of alchemy transforms the lead of messy reality into the gold of a simple equation? It’s a question that was famously asked by the physicist Eugene Wigner, in 1960. He wrote an essay with a title that says it all: “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.”

Wigner notes the sense that many physicists have: mathematics seems to be discovered, not created. The reason to think this is that discoveries made about the physical world are often, first, discoveries made about mathematics. One of the best known cases concerns Einstein and his work on General Relativity. These equations implied something about the universe that Einstein, at first, refused to believe — that the universe was expanding. It was only later that cosmic expansion was observed by Edwin Hubble. [...]

And the extraordinary nature of math can be developed further. After all, do not physicists routinely use criteria such as “beauty” to determine whether they are on the right track or not? The physicist Paul Dirac put it most clearly, in a 1963 article for Scientific American, writing, “It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one’s equations, and if one has a really sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress.” Of course, mathematical predictions must be verified by observation. But that such predictions are verified at all is the nub of the issue. Mathematics looks miraculous.

It’s an ancient idea. The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz mused on the power of mathematics, and it led him to draw theological conclusions. “When God calculates and thinks things through, the world is made,” he thought.

Ditto Man

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


The real-life Swedish murder that inspired Stieg Larsson: Long before the books of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell shone a light on Sweden’s dark underbelly, there was the murder of Catrine da Costa. It's a case that continues to shock, baffle and divide the nation. (Julie Bindel 10:46AM GMT 30 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

It is not unusual for street prostitutes to be murdered, but the mutilation made this case different. The case, known in Sweden as styckmordet (the ‘cutting up murder’), gave rise to an almost unprecedented public outrage. It has spawned four books, several television documentaries and countless newspaper and academic articles in Sweden over the years.

The discovery of the body parts, and the arrest of two seemingly respectable men for da Costa’s murder, provoked the women of Sweden to organise against male brutality. They marched through the city centres; circulated petitions; and appeared on television programmes protesting against the ill-treatment of women, particularly vulnerable females such as da Costa. The case was to lead to a change in the law on prostitution; men who pay for sex are now criminalised. Yet outside Sweden this dark and twisted tale has received little attention.

Until the da Costa case, Sweden liked to think of itself as a respectable, liberal country where not much happened. Today, thanks to the uniquely dark and grisly novels of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, we know that isn’t the case.

Larsson, a life-long opponent of violence against women, witnessed a brutal rape when he was just 15; the Swedish title of his book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. And Mankell has often said that the underlying purpose of his Wallander books is to ask the question ‘what went wrong with Swedish society?’ For many, the answer is ‘Catrine da Costa’.

But who killed her? Last July, the statute of limitations on the case ran out, which means no one can ever be tried again for the crime. Half of Sweden believes that they know who killed da Costa, except they got away with it. The other half believes the alleged murderers’ arrest and trial was the worst miscarriage of justice ever to occur in Scandinavia. The suspects may have been cleared, but their names have been blackened.

At the time da Costa went missing, two bright, successful doctors named Teet Härm and Thomas Allgen were working in Stockholm, progressing well in their lives and careers. Four years later, they were on trial for murder, their reputations in ruins.

Although acquitted in court of the murder, the two men’s innocence was by no means confirmed. Dismissing the case, the trial judge even declared that though murder could not be proved, he was convinced that they had cut up the body. Ever since the first finger of suspicion was pointed at them a quarter of a century ago, Härm and Allgen have been suing the Swedish government for 40million krona (just over £3m) in an attempt to finally clear their names. But earlier this year the Attunda District Court ruled that the doctors are not entitled to financial compensation. Kammarrätt, Sweden’s main administrative court, withdrew Härm and Allgen’s licences to practise medicine in 1991. Since then there have been numerous legal attempts to strike the remarks of the judge. Neither suspect has been employed since first arrested.

I travelled to Sweden to ask those involved in the case if Härm and Allgen are the victims of a prejudiced media-led campaign. Or are they cold-blooded psychopaths and master manipulators of their supporters?

Teet Härm was a young forensic pathologist working at Karolinska Institute when the body parts were found. In a photograph taken in the early Eighties, Härm looks pale and thin, with cheekbones jutting out from under small, staring eyes. One eyebrow is higher than the other, giving him a look of perpetual inquisitiveness. He was regularly called upon by police to help solve murders and unexplained deaths.

At 30, Härm had already published papers and spoken at international conferences on his main topic of interest – death by strangulation. Härm had personal experience of this type of death. In 1982, two years before da Costa died, his first wife was found hanged in their bedroom.

Although the death was ruled a suicide by the coroner, police had their suspicions that Härm had murdered her. Ann-Catherine was found hanging from the side of a bed with a ligature around her neck. She was, however, dressed up for a night out. Two months later, Härm submitted his very first paper on strangulation.

He was, by then, considered somewhat of an expert on sexual violence. A paper he published weeks after his wife’s death, entitled ‘Face and Neck Injuries Due to Resuscitation Versus Throttling’ is cited in an American publication, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence Investigation and Prosecution of Strangulation Cases.

Police officers had noted that Härm’s response to his wife’s death seemed unusual and callous. He was viewed by many as cold, arrogant and, in the words of one former colleague, ‘creepy’. Härm took great interest in his work; would invite friends to view post-mortems; and was a consumer of violent pornography and frequent buyer of prostitutes. He had been known to send unsolicited post- mortem reports to friends, complete with photographs.

His wife was in the process of divorcing Härm when she died. After the discovery of the bin bags, Härm’s former father-in-law contacted the police. He’d reported his suspicions of Härm at the time of his daughter’s death and now thought the young doctor could have killed da Costa.

....which should be called Men Who Hate Men.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


Report Questions Need for 2 Diet Supplements (GINA KOLATA, 11/30/10, NY Times)

The 14-member expert committee was convened by the Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit scientific body, at the request of the United States and Canadian governments. It was asked to examine the available data — nearly 1,000 publications — to determine how much vitamin D and calcium people were getting, how much was needed for optimal health and how much was too much.

The two nutrients work together for bone health.

Bone health, though, is only one of the benefits that have been attributed to vitamin D, and there is not enough good evidence to support most other claims, the committee said.

Some labs have started reporting levels of less than 30 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood as a deficiency. With that as a standard, 80 percent of the population would be deemed deficient of vitamin D, Dr. Rosen said. Most people need to take supplements to reach levels above 30 nanograms per milliliter, he added.

But, the committee concluded, a level of 20 to 30 nanograms is all that is needed for bone health, and nearly everyone is in that range.

Vitamin D is being added to more and more foods, said Paul R. Thomas of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health. Not only is it in orange juice and milk, but more is being added to breakfast cereals, and it now can be found in very high doses in supplement pills. Most vitamin D pills, he said, used to contain no more than 1,000 international units of it. Now it is easy to find pills, even in places like Wal-Mart, with 5,000 international units. The committee, though, said people need only 600 international units a day.

To assess the amounts of vitamin D and calcium people are getting, the panel looked at national data on diets. Most people, they concluded, get enough calcium from the foods they eat, about 1,000 milligrams a day for most adults (1,200 for women ages 51 to 70).

Vitamin D is more complicated, the group said. In general, most people are not getting enough vitamin D from their diets, but they have enough of the vitamin in their blood, probably because they are also making it naturally after being out in the sun and storing it in their bodies.

The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and other groups applauded the report. It is “a very balanced set of recommendations,” said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and the society’s president.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


Who's Killing Iran's Scientists?: The attack on two of Iran’s leading nuclear physicists is likely the work of a joint American and Israeli covert program to sabotage Iran's nuclear program (Reza Aslan, 11/30/10, Daily Beast)

Dr. Majid Shahriari, one of Iran's top nuclear scientists, and his colleague at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, were separately but simultaneously attacked by unidentified assassins riding motorcycles. The assailants attached bombs to each man's car and then sped off as the bombs detonated. Dr. Shahriari was killed. Dr. Abbasi-Dayani and his wife, as well as Dr. Shahriari's wife, were all badly injured.

Shahriari was a member of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency and by all accounts an integral part of the country's nuclear program. Indeed, Shahriari's particular expertise, neutron transport, plays a vital role in weaponizing enriched uranium. Dr. Abbasi-Davani, an expert in lasers and reportedly a high ranking official in the Ministry of Defense, is also deeply involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activities—so deeply, in fact, that he is mentioned by name in U.N. Resolution 1737, which imposed severe sanctions on Iran for its continuing nuclear program.

In other words, these are not your run-of-the-mill, mid-level nuclear physicists. These two men are key figures in what most of the international community believes is Iran's drive to build nuclear weapons. And they were very likely attacked, brazenly and in broad daylight, as part of a joint American and Israeli covert program to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. (The rumors that the two scientists—one of whom is a Revolutionary Guard member—may have been targeted by the Iranian government itself because of their political views seems to have no basis in reality).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


How the WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Obama's False Utopia (Thomas P.M. Barnett, 11/30/10, Esquire)

But here's the bigger point: What really screams out from all these very much undiplomatic cables is how little Obama ever really broke from the Bush doctrine. I mean, in a certain way, he never really broke from it at all.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The pope whisperer (Irish Times, 11/27/10)

Peter Seewald was born in Bochum but grew up in the Bavarian city of Passau, steeped in the region’s conservative Catholic atmosphere. By the age of 18 he had gone from altar boy to Marxist, writing for a left-wing paper and distributing communist pamphlets in his spare time.

In 1981 he joined Der Spiegel magazine and later moved to Stern, by which time his own religious beliefs were, he thought, a distant memory.

It was in this frame of mind that he accepted the assignment that would change his life: to interview Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Vatican for the magazine of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

By 1981, after leaving Munich, where he had been the city’s archbishop, Ratzinger had risen to prominence – some would say notoriety – in the Vatican as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Seewald said later that none of the clippings he read on “God’s Rottweiler” prepared him for the “clever, pious and modest” man he met in 1996. That interview was the first of many hours of conversation and, said Seewald, the start of a 15-year process that saw him return to the church of his childhood.

Along the way came two book-length interviews with Ratzinger: “Salt of the Earth” and “God and the World”. In the intervening years Seewald opened a shop in Munich selling products from monasteries around the world, but closed it again without success.

All the while, he said, he was on a journey back to his faith, one that last summer led him back to Ratzinger, by then Pope Benedict XVI, the first German pope in nearly 500 years.

The pope agreed to meet him in the last week of July in Castel Gandolfo, at the papal summer residence, for six consecutive days of conversation, an hour at a time. The published transcript reveals an interesting shift in their relationship.

In 1996 Seewald opened “Salt of the Earth” with a cheeky question to the then cardinal: “It is said, your eminence, that the pope is afraid of you . . .” Just two pages on, Ratzinger admits he often feels lonely and tired, not to mention frustrated at the “sclerotic” organisation to which he has dedicated his life.

Later, when the conversation shifts to religion itself, the then sceptic Seewald asks, “How many paths are there to God?” Ratzinger replies: “As many as there are people.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Estimate of TARP losses falls to $25 billion (Jim Puzzanghera, 11/30/10, Los Angeles Times)

The projected cost of the $700-billion financial bailout fund — initially feared to be a huge hit to taxpayers — continues to drop, with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimating Monday that losses would amount to just $25 billion.

That's a sharp drop from the CBO's last estimate, in August, of a $66-billion loss for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. Going back to March, the budget office estimated that the program would cost taxpayers $109 billion.

Leave it to W to design a plan that not only avoided a depression but will end up making tax payers money. The only problem is it sets too attractive an example of government intervention.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The downside of high-deductible (Don Sapatkin, 11/30/10, Philadelphia Inquirer )

Praise: They save money. Criticism: Patients skip care.

A new study led by Jeffrey T. Kullgren, who is affiliated with both Penn's medical school and Wharton, drills deeper into the downside by asking whether income level affects decisions to delay care in these plans, which typically feature family deductibles of $2,000.

Their short answer: It does.

In surveys of families enrolled in high-deductible New England plans, 57 percent of those earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($54,630 for a family of two, $82,710 for four) said they had avoided or delayed care in the previous six months because of cost, vs. 42 percent of those earning more.

If you think the goal of health care policy is to get people to consume a lot of it you aren't going lower costs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Peculiar Case of Peter Pope (Jessica Duchen, 11/29/10, Standpoint)

JD: Ann, let's start at the beginning. How did you first come across Peter Pope and his music?

A M-D: A friend of a friend is a maths professor and an amateur singer. His wife was a bit of a collector. They were moving house and had retrieved a box of scores from their attic, which they thought might be of interest to me. In the box were bits of Pope, Madeline Dring and Elaine Hughes-Jones.

I played through a song called 'The Oystercatchers' with my duo partner, mezzo-soprano Susan Legg. We knew in an instant that this exquisite music had to be recorded, but we had no information about Peter Pope.

Google revealed nothing and my friend's wife was vague about her acquisition. There was reference to the Royal College and John Ireland and also to Nadia Boulanger, but I'm afraid I always get the giggles when I hear her name — didn't everyone study at some time with Nadia Boulanger?!

In the end, Uppingham School was a vital link. Records indicated that this was where Peter and his brothers were educated and that Edward, who had played rugby for England, was well into his nineties and was still alive. Through Edward, I learnt that Pope's wife Nornie was still alive and later, through a cellist friend of the composer, Judith Mitchell, I was able to find Nornie's nursing home.

I drove there the next day. Noreen was terrific — such a vibrant personality. She showed me family photographs and we played Ravel duets together.

In total, it had taken two years to trace the family (through phone-books, death certificates, school records, etc) and a further year to sort out probate and register the works with the PRS.

JD: What do you feel is special about his compositions? How significant a find is this in musical terms?

A M-D: The songs are haunting; they have a brutal intimacy to them. They inherit all of the best harmonic traditions of English song, but add more sophisticated French, American and Eastern European colour (I hear Ravel, Copland and even Lutoslawski.)

Call me harsh, but I'm afraid I do find some English song to be flowery and syrupy; a sentimentality naturally born of the dislocation from the homeland and through the crumbling Empire and two world wars. These works aren't like that — they have a clarity and precision to them; a vocabulary that discusses a private, inner world. Pope has a rare understanding of text and chooses complex poetry. To elect to set a cycle with so many hidden metaphors as TS Eliot's Landscapes is a bold move — this is, I think, one of the most brilliant cycles on the disc.

JD: Please tell us more of his story. Who were his chief influences? How deeply do you think his experiences during WWII impacted on him?

A M-D: Peter was born in 1917 and studied at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland. He won a travelling scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and it seems that he was one of Nadia Boulanger's ‘inner circle' — he is mentioned in several books about the pedagogue and he often stayed with her and went to parties (Pope talked of 'pink and white parties' with Stravinsky!). Interestingly, we now have charming letters written from Boulanger to Pope, dating from after he had left the sect.

Pope's studies were cut short by the German invasion of Paris and he narrowly escaped death, by fleeing France on a bicycle to catch one of the last boats to England. The story goes that, as a typical student, he overslept, missing his train. Apparently everyone who boarded that train was shot.

After service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Pope's piano quartet received a rave review in The Times and Augeners offered to publish anything he wrote, but it was at this time that he met Nornie.

Nornie was Anglican and Pope was Catholic; both were deeply religious. Peter and Noreen married and so that they might worship together and perhaps to find some sort of compromise (and also because of much pressure from so-called 'friends') they joined an exclusive religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren (later known as Raven-Taylor Brethren) which prohibited any involvement with the creative arts. It permitted:


No radio or record player

No theatre or cinema

Screened books only allowed

No social contact with anyone outside religion and that includes family.

No eating out in restaurants.

No higher education

Pope set fire to all of his scores and didn't compose for several years, though the family believe that he did write in secret at a later stage.

-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Pianist Ann Martin-Davis and her duo partner, soprano Susan Legg (BBC Midweek, 11/24/10)
Pianist Ann Martin-Davis and her duo partner, soprano Susan Legg, discovered previously unheard, unperformed and unrecorded music by lost composer, Peter Pope. For the next two years they played musical detective, eventually discovering that Pope gave up his promising composing for love and religion. They've released an album 'Heaven-Haven - The Songs of Peter Pope' (on Nimbus records), and will be touring with Pope's song-cycle 'Five Landscapes'; a setting of the T.S. Eliot poetry of the same name, as part of their latest programme Landscape which they will be performing in extreme locations throughout next year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


What would Elmore Leonard do?: 'Justified’ is that rare thing, an Elmore Leonard adaptation that honours the elusive brilliance of his writing. As the hit TV series comes to DVD, David Gritten dials up the Dickens of Detroit.
' (David Gritten, 26 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

Too often, on screen, his humour is ill-advisedly made coarser and broader, presumably to capture a mass audience. But this approach is doomed; something gets lost in translation. Those initials on the writers’ wristbands proved their determination not to make that error. They were committed to honouring his unique and subtle comic spirit.

Leonard feels positive about Justified, which made its British debut on Five USA a few months ago and is out on DVD this week. “I love the show,” he says. His verdict is shared by those of us who rate it as easily the best new American series to reach these shores this year.

Its central character is Raylan Givens, a Kentucky-born US Marshal in a cowboy hat who blotted his career copybook in a Miami restaurant by shooting dead a local hoodlum who ignored his order to leave town. (His defence – the hood pulled his gun first – cut little ice with his superiors.) Re-assigned to Kentucky, he investigates the activities of an old friend with whom he once mined coal. This man, Boyd Crowder, has started a white supremacist group, and probably bombed a black church with a rocket-propelled grenade. Still, Givens and Crowder grew up together and are friendly when they reunite. It’s a recurring theme in Leonard’s novels that lawmen and criminals are cut from similar cloth.

Givens, who has a droll, throwaway line in humour, is played by Timothy Olyphant, best known for playing the sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood, a minor role in the legal thriller Damages, and for being the cyber-villain in Die Hard 4.0. Bug-eyed, intense Walton Goggins, outstanding as a corrupt detective in The Shield, is Crowder.

“Tim Olyphant is just the kind of actor I like,” Leonard drawls. “He understates everything.” And that’s part of the key to conveying Leonard’s essence on screen. It’s occurred a few times before. Leonard recalls: “On Get Shorty [the 1995 film with John Travolta as a Miami loan shark who goes to Hollywood and ends up a movie producer], I told the director, Barry Sonnenfeld: 'If there’s a funny line, don’t cut away to a wink or a laugh. That kills it. Never signal that it’s funny.’ Barry understood that.

“I’d thought, 'no’ to Travolta. He’d just done Look Who’s Talking, an awful movie where a baby talks with an adult voice. But when they’d shot Get Shorty and showed it to me, I thought: 'Wow.’ I was very happy with that casting.”

It’s no accident that Get Shorty’s screenwriter Scott Frank also scripted the equally successful Leonard adaptation Out of Sight, with George Clooney as a bank robber who escapes from jail and falls in love with a female US marshal (Jennifer Lopez). Clooney, like Olyphant, can deliver a funny line with deadpan understatement. And Scott Frank clearly “gets” Leonard. So, as a screenwriter, does Quentin Tarantino, who adapted Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, changing its title to the name of its heroine, airline stewardess Jackie Brown (Jackie Burke in the novel). It’s one of Tarantino’s most accomplished films and the author likes it, too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Ten questions science must answer: For 350 years, the Royal Society has called on the world's biggest brains to unravel the mysteries of science. Its president, Martin Rees, considers today's big issues, while leading thinkers describe the puzzles they would love to see solved (Martin Rees, with interviews by Alok Jha and John Crace, 11/30/10, The Guardian)

Kathy Sykes

What is consciousness?

Most of us have a feel for what we mean by it. But science hasn't managed to define or understand it. There are various theories; Roger Penrose suggests that quantum mechanics plays a key role, while Susan Greenfield postulates that it is similar to the "wetness of water", a property that emerges from the actions of individual molecules. But, even with advances in brain-scanning techniques, such as fMRI, we are really only beginning to fathom how our brains work, let alone understand what consciousness is.

In the future, as we get better at synthesising organisms, or making empathetic robots, we may be challenged harder about what actually counts as "conscious". Even now, can we say with confidence which animals are "conscious"? Is your dog conscious? And what happens to our consciousness if we get progressive Alzheimer's, or if we become psychotic?

And what about those "coincidences" or "unscientific" claims you hear about two conscious minds communicating at a distance? When someone "knows" that something awful is happening to someone they love? One day, could we have a tested understanding of consciousness that provides a viable mechanism? Maybe not, but it's a delightful thought that we might be connected to people we love – in a way we can't yet explain.

Will we ever understand consciousness fully? Perhaps not. We are having to use the human brain to understand its own workings. But I hope in my lifetime that we will get closer to having some inkling about what and who we really are.

Kathy Sykes is professor of sciences and society at the University of Bristol and co-director of the Cheltenham science festival.

Forget the dog, just try to prove yourself conscious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Waste Land: The Pentagon’s nearly unprecedented, wildly irrational spending binge. (Gregg Easterbrook, 11/29/10, New Republic)

This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that’s more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II—more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent.

For most of that time, of course, the United States has been fighting two wars. Yet that’s not the cause of the defense-spending explosion. Even if the costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are subtracted, the defense budget has swelled by 68 percent since 2001. (All money figures in this article are stated in 2010 dollars.) The U.S. defense budget is now about the same as military spending in all other countries combined.

In a historically unusual twist, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican appointee and a former CIA director, has repeatedly acknowledged that military costs are untenable and decried the Pentagon’s “culture of endless money.” But despite Gates’s advocacy, and Obama’s backing, not much has changed.

Sadly, the UR lacks the credibility to take on the Pentagon and the GOP lacks the will.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


The Voyager: a review of THE PASSAGES OF H. M.: A Novel of Herman Melville By Jay Parini (MEGAN MARSHALL, 11/28/10, NY Times Book Review)

Parini clumsily appropriates some of Melville’s best-known lines, as when his protagonist signals his desire for increased intimacy by asking Lizzie to “call me Herman.” A scrofulous sailor too sick to get out of his bunk speaks Bartleby the Scrivener’s enigmatic words of refusal — “I prefer not to” — robbing the sentence of its eccentric genius.

Parini presses on us two “truths” about Melville, both of them reductive: first, that “Herman spent the whole of his life trying to comfort that child,” the crying boy inside him who had suffered the early loss of his father. The second may be a corollary: that Melville was recurringly attracted to young men as potential sex partners, his advances repeatedly spurned. By the end of the novel the parade of nearly interchangeable boys, many of them invented, has become tiresome. Melville’s late realization “that his life, especially his journeys, had been strangely full of elusive young men” merely states the obvious, and Melville himself has begun to seem a leering old goat. Along the way, Parini treats us to a wholly fabricated skinny-dipping scene involving Nathaniel Hawthorne and a wet kiss on the lips from Walt Whitman, although he and Melville apparently never met in “real” life.

For those who haven’t braved a reading of “Moby-Dick,” yet retain some curiosity about this great American novel and its author, “The Passages of H. M.” may satisfy — but at the expense of the “truth” of Herman Melville’s life. The man is, from this distance, unknowable. Any biographical treatment can only hope to be, as Ishmael describes his unfinished record of all the world’s knowledge of whales, “but the draught of a draught.” Worse, a fictionalized account of a life can easily enter the consciousness of the reading public as truth — not the kind of universal human truth Parini may have had in mind, but literal truth. As his older brother complains here of Melville’s yarns: “His fond embellishments soon hardened into fact.”

Parini, a poet, biographer and literary critic as well as a novelist, can write with admirable lyric intensity: “In these islands, the sun shone as if from within, the moon burned in his brain. Water became sky, and night exchanged its sultry qualities with day.” But even these passages make us hunger for Melville’s own words: “Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty Leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.”

Mr. Melville had Billy Budd hang.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Why populism isn't popular: Most working- and middle-class Americans simply don't care about economic inequality. (William Voegeli, November 29, 2010, LA Times)

Why do well-paid Americans like those who write editorials in the New York Times offices during the day worry more about economic inequality than the modestly compensated ones who empty their wastepaper baskets and vacuum their carpets after dark? Liberals were grappling with this problem long before the midterm election.

In his 1972 presidential campaign, Sen. George McGovern's proposal to impose a 100% tax on any inheritance over $500,000 (about $2.6 million today) got a hostile reception from voters, most of whom were unlikely to ever be affected by it. According to the less-than-respectful assessment from a McGovern advisor, the problem was that "it would wipe out the dream factor — every slob in the street thinks that if he hits the lottery big, he may be able to leave half a million to his family."
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More recently, Slate's Timothy Noah lamented that "even mild economic populism" has been "a loser for Democrats." Noah devoted a 10-part series to "the most significant change in American society in your lifetime": The "Great Compression" of the post-World War II era, when the gulf separating the rich from the rest was unusually small, has given way since the 1970s to the "Great Divergence," as the gulf has done nothing but widen. Noah's "gut-level feeling" about this new economic reality is that "I do not wish to live in a banana republic" because societies "starkly divided into the privileged and the destitute" are "repellent."

Noah's thorough examination of the Great Divergence suffers by eliding the basic distinction between inequality and destitution. The truly destitute are poor in absolute terms, not because their finances, vis-a-vis the affluent, are so meager. If Obama somehow discovered the policy formula to double every family's disposable income during his administration, millions of people's economic anxieties would be greatly alleviated. However, the "problem" of economic inequality would not be mitigated even slightly. The ratios between a New York Times janitor's take-home pay, Noah's and Warren Buffett's would be the same at the end of Obama's presidency as they were at the beginning.

Americans are populist when it comes to the culture, not about capital.

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November 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Dem state lawmakers defecting to GOP post-election (Shannon Mccaffrey, 11/29/10, Associated Press)

Staggering Election Day losses are not the Democratic Party's final indignity this year. At least 13 state lawmakers in five states have defected to Republican ranks since the Nov. 2 election, adding to already huge GOP gains in state legislatures. And that number could grow as next year's legislative sessions draw near.

The defections underscore dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party — particularly in the South — and will give Republicans a stronger hand in everything from pushing a conservative fiscal and social agenda to redrawing political maps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Remembering Leslie Nielsen, A Master Of The Art Of Not Being Funny (Marc Hirsh, 11/29/10, NPR)

Nielsen, on the other hand, was someone who said unfunny things in an unfunny way, and for some reason, people laughed. To demonstrate this, he delivered an innocuous line – something along the lines of "Mr. Jones, sit down, I'd like to talk to you about your son" – twice. The first time, he said it as though he were in a drama, and the response was muted.
Surely, Fresh Air Remembers Leslie Nielsen Nov. 29, 2010

Then he told us that he was going to say the exact same unfunny line as Lt. Frank Drebin, in an unfunny way, and he did exactly that, and the audience exploded. It wasn't just indulging him as prompted, either. Without actually tilting his delivery in that direction, Nielsen made it genuinely funny. To underscore his point, he then broke character with a look of happy exasperation and basically said, "See?"

It was one of my favorite SNL monologues ever, because it explicitly dissected the host's entire schtick in a way that invited appreciation, rather than making it instantly tired and formulaic. Instead of mocking his persona in one way or the other, in the manner of most monologues, it was a tiny little master class in how it's done.

And it's informed every single time I've come across Nielsen since, whether deliberately or by accident. When his later movies like Dracula: Dead And Loving It and Spy Hard didn't work, I theorized that it was because he had started mugging (or was told by his directors to mug), which actively subverted the very thing that worked for him.

3 Things Every Leslie Nielsen Fan Should Know (J. Richard, 11/29/10, AOL News)
-Leslie Nielsen’s funniest lines (Michael Deacon, 29 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)
-Leslie Nielsen’s funniest scene (Michael Deacon, 29 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


How to cut the deficit without raising taxes (Martin Feldstein, November 29, 2010, Washington Post)

Because Bowles and Simpson recognize that eliminating all tax expenditures is politically impossible, they also proposed to eliminate or scale back some tax expenditures while cutting tax rates less to achieve the same $80 billion annual deficit reduction. This option will undoubtedly be opposed by some who find it unfair to limit measures from which they benefit while leaving unchanged tax rules that benefit other people.

Here is a practical alternative toward the same end: Congress should cap the total benefit taxpayers can receive from the combined effect of different tax expenditures. That cap could be set as a percentage of an individual's adjusted gross income and perhaps subject to an absolute dollar amount.

To be clear, the cap would not apply to the amount of any deduction but would limit the total tax savings that result from such deductions. Someone with a 25 percent marginal tax rate who pays annual mortgage interest of $4,000 would still deduct that $4,000. The cap would apply to the $1,000 tax saving that individual could expect on mortgage interest, not to his or her deduction.

The idea is not to single out a particular tax expenditure. Because the cap would reduce the revenue cost of all tax expenditures without eliminating or reducing specific ones, it would not unfairly burden taxpayers who benefit from one particular type of tax measure.

The budget gain would be substantial. My colleague Daniel Feenberg of the National Bureau of Economic Research and I have estimated that capping an individual's benefit from tax expenditures at 2 percent of adjusted gross income would reduce the federal deficit in 2011 by $262 billion, or about 1.7 percent of gross domestic product. An additional cap on these benefits in absolute dollar terms would produce a larger deficit reduction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Obama's Trade Contortions: Why, besides the Democratic Party's loyalties to the AFL-CIO, is the president not pushing the U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia? (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 11/29/10, WSJ)

In an interview on CNBC's Squawk Box from the Americas Competitiveness Forum in Atlanta two weeks ago, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was asked if he found it awkward to face the attending Colombians, who have been waiting since 2008 for ratification of their free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

"Actually," Mr. Locke declared, "there are a lot of intense negotiations going on as we speak, and I've been meeting with some of the ministers and representatives of the government of Colombia here." That was news to my Colombian sources familiar with what happened. They told me that there were no such "intense negotiations."

Why should there have been? This deal is already signed by both parties. It is even likely that it would be ratified if President Obama would only send it to Congress for an up-or-down vote under "fast-track negotiating authority." Instead, the administration has been letting it languish in a drawer, and its explanations for doing so grow more convoluted every day.

There's a reason for that. Under Obamanomics, exports are supposed to play the leading role in putting Americans back to work. This makes the Colombia deal good, because it would increase U.S. competitiveness in that South American country. But Big Labor is against free trade agreements and Mr. Obama needs Big Labor. That makes the Colombia deal bad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


US embassy cables: A banquet of secrets: A diplomat's nightmare is a historian's dream – a feast of data that deepens our understanding (Timothy Garton Ash, 11/28/10,

There is a genuine public interest in knowing these things. The Guardian, like the New York Times and other responsible news media, has tried to ensure that nothing we publish puts anyone at risk. We should all demand of WikiLeaks that it does the same.

Yet one question remains. How can diplomacy be conducted under these conditions? A state department spokesman is surely right to say that the revelations are "going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world". The conduct of government is already hampered by fear of leaks. An academic friend of mine who worked in the state department under Condoleezza Rice told me that he had once suggested writing a memo posing fundamental questions about US policy in Iraq. "Don't even think of it," he was warned – because it would be sure to appear in the next day's New York Times.

There is a public interest in understanding how the world works and what is done in our name. There is a public interest in the confidential conduct of foreign policy. The two public interests conflict.

What is the public interest in having our employees lie to us about what other governments are doing?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


Obama Proposes Freeze on Federal-Worker Pay (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 11/29/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama on Monday proposed a two-year salary freeze for all federal civilian employees, ahead of negotiations with Congress on deficit-cutting that are likely to dominate Washington next year.

The freeze, which would require congressional approval, would affect about two million workers and cover calendar years 2011 and 2012. [...]

Though in effect for two years, the proposed freeze would save $28 billion over five years and more than $60 billion over 10 years as the government pockets savings from a lower wage base for its civilian work force, said Jeffrey Zients, deputy White House budget director for management.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation (Dr. Raymond Dennehy, Ignatius Insight)

The widespread practice of contraception is a major force behind the rapidly growing acceptance of homosexuality in western societies as a natural, sexual orientation. Bluntly stated, the justification for the one counts as the justification for the other. Contraception formally separates the sex act from procreation, insofar as it allows a couple to have sex at any time without the possibility of conception. Therein lies its link with homosexuality. Sexual intercourse between homosexuals and between heterosexuals using contraceptives is identical in this, they are both by their very nature sterile. The increasing legislative and judicial pressure for the right of same-sex couples to marry is simply the actualization of the contraceptive mentality.

Before going further, a clarification between contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP) might be useful. A common objection to Natural Family Planning is that it is hypocritical because its goal is identical to that of contraception--sex without pregnancy. But the two forms of birth control are worlds apart. The charge of hypocrisy rests on at least two false assumptions. This first is that the Catholic Church's condemnation of contraception supposes that it is evil to desire sex without babies. But surely there is nothing wrong with that desire. Nature does not intend every act of sexual intercourse to result in pregnancy since a woman is fertile for only a few days a month while the sex drive expresses itself throughout the month. The charge of hypocrisy also implies a failure to distinguish between a desire and the means of realizing the desire. In using NFP, the couple do nothing to obstruct the possibility of conception in that particular act; on the contrary, they remain open to the procreation of new human life. In fact, it would be wrong to think of NFP simply as a way of avoiding children since many couples practice it to pinpoint when the woman is ovulating as a way of increasing their chances of conceiving a child. NFP does not formally separate sex from procreation.

The importance of procreation reveals itself in the paradoxical relation between man and woman. They are extraordinarily different and yet that very difference draws them to each other. She admires his large, strong hands, but does not wish to have his hands instead of her own; he admires her small, delicate hands, but does not wish to have her hands instead of his own. This mirrors the love the three persons of the Blessed Trinity have for each other. Theirs is a love that does not dissolve the lover in the beloved but, on the contrary, enriches him. Although each is an actual person, their unity is perfect: one God. By analogy, the love between husband and wife enriches each because love's goal is to see the beloved have life and joy more abundantly. In sexual intercourse, husband and wife are called to donate themselves to each other and to the extent that it is a perfect donation, it generously opens itself to procreation. For love is more than a feeling; it is fecund, producing a reality beyond the two lovers themselves. Of course, people have always had sex for other reasons, such as lust, manipulation, domination, rage, etc., but the point is that heterosexual couples have it within their unique design as male and female to engage in sexual intercourse out of love, respect, and responsibility for each other.

The above sketches the foundation of the Catholic Church's teaching that the sex act has two ends, the procreative and the unitive. This doctrine maintains that the procreative end is primary and the unitive secondary, but that is not intended to mean that the former is more important than the latter. Rather it means that the procreative end is primary in the sense that the act of sexual intercourse is specified to procreation. There is nothing wrong with desiring sex without conception, but the Church nevertheless emphasizes the impossibility of separating the two goals. Although there are many ways by which husband and wife can express their desire for unity, the sex act offers a uniquely profound way of achieving intimacy and expressing love. Lovers desire to become one flesh and in sexual intercourse they can fulfill that desire in a way that is more than merely figurative. First, it is impossible for two people to physically unite more completely than while making love to each other. The man desires to enter the woman's body while she invites him to do so. Second, as Bishop Cahal B. Daly observes in Morals, Law and Life, in conceiving a new human life, husband and wife each contribute twenty-three chromosomes, uniting them biologically in the child. They are united dynamically because their relation as husband and wife cannot properly be understood apart from their relation to the child and their relation to the child cannot properly be understood apart from their relation to each other. Finally, the couple are united eternally by virtue of procreating a new human being who possesses an immortal soul--an incarnation of their unity that will continue for all eternity

Conversely, the inability of same-sex intercourse to produce children explains why homosexuals cannot achieve the unity that is possible for heterosexuals. Their default response is mimicry, the imitation of a heterosexual union, replete with hijacked terms like "husband," "wife," "marriage," etc. A frequently heard objection from advocates of same-sex unions is that if childless heterosexual couples deserve the status of marriage, then homosexuals should be accorded that same status. But the answer to this is that heterosexual couples who are unable to have children can remain open to the procreation of new human life, to achieve the aim of marital unity, albeit not as perfectly as do those who have children. Nevertheless, they remain open, both in intention and action, to the possibility of their love-making resulting in procreation. Homosexuals cannot, in principle, procreate and their attempts at marital union will inevitably be frustrated by the brute fact that members of the same sex cannot complement each other to attain the kind of unity possible for heterosexuals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Precedent And Prologue (Jeffrey Toobin, December 6, 2010, The New Yorker)

Momentous Supreme Court cases tend to move quickly into the slipstream of the Court’s history. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark. This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero. [...]

To return briefly to the distant world of chads, hanging and otherwise, it’s worth recalling what Bush v. Gore was about. The pervasive uncertainty about the results of the election in Florida—at the time, Bush led by five hundred and thirty-seven votes out of nearly six million cast—prompted the Florida courts, interpreting Florida election law, to order a statewide recount of all undervotes and overvotes; that is, ballots that indicated no Presidential preference or more than one. (Chads were the tiny paper rectangles that voters were supposed to push through punch-card ballots.) That recount had already begun on Saturday, December 9th, when five Justices—Scalia, William H. Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas—issued a stay, barring the Florida authorities from continuing their labors. Three days later, the same five issued the per-curiam decision that stopped the recount once and for all.

What made the decision in Bush v. Gore so startling was that it was the work of Justices who were considered, to greater or lesser extents, judicial conservatives. On many occasions, these Justices had said that they believed in the preëminence of states’ rights, in a narrow conception of the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, above all, in judicial restraint. Bush v. Gore violated those principles. The Supreme Court stepped into the case even though the Florida Supreme Court had been interpreting Florida law; the majority found a violation of the rights of George W. Bush, a white man, to equal protection when these same Justices were becoming ever more stingy in finding violations of the rights of African-Americans; and the Court stopped the recount even before it was completed, and before the Florida courts had a chance to iron out any problems—a classic example of judicial activism, not judicial restraint, by the majority.

Bush v. Gore would resonate, in any case, because the Court prevented Florida from determining, as best it could, whether Gore or Bush really won. (Recounts of the ballots by media organizations produced ambiguous results; they suggest that Gore would have won a full statewide recount and Bush would have won the limited recount initially sought by the Gore forces.)

...was whether a state supreme court should be allowed to engage in judicial activism--in this instance, dictating electoral processes to a state's elected officials--or whether the federal supreme court can stop them. While you can see why it is tempting for liberals to taunt the Court's conservatives for ignoring their usual concern for states' rights, the history of such rights necessarily makes advocates supporters of popular politics in the states rather than the judiciary.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Labor facing disaster in three states (Andrew Carswell and Simon Benson, 11/29/10, The Daily Telegraph)

LABOR is in crisis across three states and faces a political disaster nationally as its dismal standing with voters puts Prime Minister Julia Gillard's health reform agenda in serious doubt.

Victoria's cliffhanger election rests on the count of pre-poll votes in the seat of Bentleigh.
As a shellshocked Labor copped a surprise electoral routing in Victoria, the national health plan is now likely to be a casualty, with both the NSW and Victorian Coalitions confirming they would refuse to sign up to the deal in its current form.

Adding to the party's woes was a near union-led leadership coup against South Australian Premier Mike Rann and NSW Premier Kristina Keneally facing her own union-related crisis.

...was always that it was at odds with the politics of the rest of the Anglosphere. Our electorates have the parties of the Left on a danged short leash at the End of History.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Penguin Plans Arabic-Books Venture (PAUL SONNE, 11/28/10, WSJ)

Pearson PLC's publishing unit Penguin Group is set to sign a joint venture with an Egypt-based publisher on Wednesday to bring its Penguin Classics to Arabic-speaking countries, the latest in a string of deals that has seen Penguin expand its classic-literature brand through non-English versions in markets including Brazil, Korea and China. [...]

Ibrahim El Moallem, chairman of Dar El Shorouk, says the deal will make many of the classic Western titles, such as Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," easily obtainable in up-to-date Arabic translations for the first time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The shadow of climategate (Babbage, Nov 28th 2010, 1The Economist)

The climategate e-mails led to three inquiries in the United Kingdom. All of them were flawed in different ways. None of them, though, gave credence to the idea that “science and numbers were manipulated”. In a report into those inquiries for Britain’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organisation opposed to action on climate change and critical of the quality of the science behind that case, Andrew Montford, a blogger with the same predispositions as the Foundation, sums up the principal climategate allegations in a way that shows them to be much more about process than about manipulated findings. He cites an exclusion of sceptical views from the literature; a misrepresentation of primary research, and its uncertainties, in some secondary presentations; a lack of openness to requests for information and a willingness to contravene Britain’s freedom of information act; a discordance between what the scientists said in private and what they said in public. Fraud in basic science and primary data of the sort Schwarzenegger spoke of, and which is commonly said to have been revealed, does not make the list.

Alleged flaws—in one case, an expressly alleged fraud—in the scientific work of the CRU researchers and some of those they corresponded with were common currency among critical bloggers well before the emails were leaked. Questions about the validity of reconstructions of mediaeval climate based on treerings, about why some treerings are taken to be good records of temperature at some points in history but not in the recent past, about cherry-picking of data, about the traceability or otherwise of Chinese weather station data and so on had all been aired long before. The climategate e-mails offered little if any new information that might move these debates on in either direction.

,,,but The Economist still trusts whatever it was they were doing instead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Boy who fled K.Rouge returns to Cambodia a US navy commander (Michelle Fitzpatrick, Sun Nov 28, 2010, AFP)

The 43-year-old was a small boy in the early 1970s when Cambodia was engulfed in a civil war between government troops and communist Khmer Rouge fighters.

In 1973, his father arranged for him to be adopted by an American woman who worked at the US embassy and was preparing to leave the increasingly dangerous country.

The move meant Misiewicz avoided one of the most brutal chapters of 20th century history -- the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime that caused the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and execution.

"At that age I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I really didn't have any sense of the war or bad things going on in Cambodia," said Misiewicz, recalling that he had no qualms about leaving.

"I was excited about getting on a plane, going to a new world where I could eat popcorn and have all the watermelon I wanted," he said.

But his mother's tearful goodbye is engraved in his memory. "My mom was so, so upset. I promised her I'd buy her a big house one day."

The young Cambodian built a new life for himself in his adoptive country, enlisting in the navy after graduating from high school in Lanark, Illinois.

It was while he was attending the US naval academy that he began to learn about the atrocities that had taken place in his homeland.

Misiewicz had received no news from his family and assumed the worst.

"I felt a lot of guilt. Why was I the lucky one?," he said. "I really doubted that my family had survived the whole Khmer Rouge era. I tried not to think about it."

What he did not know was that his mother and three of his four siblings had survived and managed to flee the country in 1983, ending up in the United States themselves.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Marijuana raises risk of cancer, other killer diseases (IANS, Nov 25, 2010)

Cannabis damages the immune system, leaving the body open to diseases from pneumonia to cancer, a research suggests.

In experiments, THC, the chemical behind the 'high' of cannabis fuelled the production of a flood of cells thought to weaken the body's inbuilt defences.

The finding suggests that cannabis, the drug of choice for many Britons, increases vulnerability to breast, bladder, lung and other tumours, as well as bacterial infections such as legionnaires disease, reports the European Journal of Immunology. [...]

While cannabis's links to devastating mental health problems are well known, its potential to wreck the immune system has received less attention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


New Hampshire Turns to 2012 (David Shribman, 11/28/10, RCP)

When the fall campaign began, New Hampshire was the bluest of states, the temptation almost irresistible to describe the political environment as being as blue as the skies in the Presidential Range. When it ended earlier this month, red skies of deep atmospheric change were everywhere.

The two Democratic seats in the U.S. House -- gone. The Democrats' 14-10 advantage in the state Senate -- vanished, the Republicans now holding sway by an astonishing 19 to 5. The Democrats' 222-176 margin in the state House -- obliterated, the new margin being 298 to 102 with the GOP in unambiguous charge.

But there is more. The Executive Committee, a colonial vestige that confirms gubernatorial appointments and every contract over $5,000, had a slim 3-2 Democratic margin when fall began. When it reconvenes in January, the Republicans will hold a 5-0 advantage. The Democratic governor, John Lynch, then will need three Republicans to approve the mere appointment of a justice of the peace.

What this means for the national political picture is clear. The New Hampshire primary, for six decades the first in the country, will be conducted in an atmosphere that has been altered substantially. The Republican candidates' challenge: transferring the energy and passion that transformed the state into a formidable political movement.

Some of this has started. Former Gov. Mitt Romney of neighboring Massachusetts retains a strong presence here and perhaps the strongest political organization. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, unrecognizable in any state beyond Minnesota, has been here several times. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, almost invisible in his own state, came here two days after the election -- his sixth visit thus far, along with seven to Iowa and six to South Carolina -- and soon will be back. Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has made two trips here, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana one. Former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, not exactly a political cover boy elsewhere, has a significant presence. The rules are different here.

Mitt can't win IA. And no non-Evangelical can do well in the South. Huck can't win NH, but could run well as the race moves South. The question is whether a Northern governor with credibility among the religious can steal a march on both. If a Tim Pawlenty or a Mitch Daniels could win IA they could knock Mitt off here and then cruise.

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November 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels (SCOTT SHANE and ANDREW W. LEHREN, 11/28/10, NY Times)

The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the United States’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Among their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:

¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

¶ Gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.

¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.

¶ An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoys supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he is undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignores his edicts.

¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.

¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Dollar Recaptures Its Safe-Haven Role (DON CURREN, 11/28/10, WSJ)

The U.S. dollar is recapturing its role as the primary safe-haven currency, eclipsing the yen and the Swiss franc, as tensions in Korea and Europe escalate.

That re-emergence as the ultimate sanctuary for those fleeing risk will likely result in continued strength against its major rivals in the next few weeks, analysts expect.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


Der Spiegel: WikiLeaks say Ahmadinejad dubbed 'Hitler' (INN, 11.28.10)

The Cover of the German magazine Der Spiegel was leaked online, revealing initial classified US information which is expected to be exposed on WikiLeaks. So far it has been published that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was called "Hitler", the French President
Nicolas Sarkozy was nicknamed "the emperor with no clothes", and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is "driven by paranoia".

The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb? (Seymour M. Hersh, April 17, 2006, The New Yorker)
There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’

It's not just America that looks golden in these leaks, but, given that there are no surprises, the Press comes off pretty well too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Lunch With Roberto Saviano: Four years after the publication of Gomorrah, the Naples-born writer lives in hiding. (John Lloyd, Nov. 27, 2010, Slate)

It is four years since the publication of Gomorrah, the Naples-born writer's description of life under the Camorra, the Neapolitan crime syndicate. Part journalism, part reportage in the first person, part autobiography, the book is a hybrid. Vivid flashes of observation are juxtaposed with bitter denunciations of cruelty and indifference. Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford and one of the world's foremost scholars of organized crime, says Saviano makes clear not just the brutality of the Camorra, but also the way they have their claws dug so deep into Neapolitan society (and far beyond). What made the book especially valuable, he says, is the way "he showed how they are useful to a section of the people: They provide credit, they allow investments in their drugs and other businesses and then pay interest; they will stamp on competition. And he didn't just write about them as a local phenomenon: He showed how they are tied into global networks: he showed that they affect you and me."

The book was a huge success—in Italy alone, a country with a relatively small reading public, 2 million copies were sold; and in 2008 an extraordinary film of it was made, directed by Matteo Garrone with amateur Neapolitan actors, some mere children. Saviano, still in his 20s, became nationally famous as a no-holds-barred hater of the gangs, a glimmer of light against their growing darkness. At the same time, it has meant that he has had to accept that he is a target for their wrath, that he has to live with the consequences of his actions.

He enters—slim, shaven-headed, a sharp, handsome but watchful face—and we sit. I gesture about the room: "This is how you live?" "This is how I live; all the time," he replies. He has been living like this almost since Gomorrah was published and the Camorra said they would kill him. In 2008 an informer named Carmine Schiavone, a cousin of Francesco Schiavone, one of the Calabrian Camorra Clan dei Casalesi leaders, revealed details of a plan to blow up Saviano's car as it was travelling between Naples and Rome.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


North Korea's undercover journalists reveal misery of life in dictatorship (Julian Ryall, 28 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

[E]xtraordinary video images smuggled out of North Korea, combined with reports of graffiti and posters critical of the regime, indicate a growing willingness among a previously cowed public to speak out and demand change.

Such dissent would once have been unthinkable in the reclusive state, but now hunger and plummeting living standards are now triggering demands for freedom - something that no North Korean has ever experienced.

Evidence of the rising tide of discontent has been captured on film by a small group of "citizen journalists", who newsgather at great personal risk to themselves. They then carry the footage across the heavily guarded border into China.

In one dramatic clip, a woman who is trying to board a truck to take her to work flies into a rage after a uniformed policeman demands a bribe. She shouts at him and waves her finger in his face until he backs away. Emboldened, other people come to her aid, shouting at the officer.

The clip ends with the unidentified woman yelling: "This cop is an idiot!"

In another chilling scene, a dejected and apparently emaciated woman is seen scavenging for grass to feed her animals. Asked what she herself eats at home, she pauses before replying flatly: "Nothing."

Both clips, with explanatory subtitles, can be seen on the Telegraph website, along with a video interview with a lorry-driver who has begun supplying such material to a Japanese news agency - using a false name, Kim Dong-Cheol, to protect his identity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


A Superpower's View of the World (Der SPIEGEL, 11/29/10)

What does the United States really think of German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Is she a reliable ally? Did she really make an effort to patch up relations with Washington that had been so damaged by her predecessor? At most, it was a half-hearted one.

The tone of trans-Atlantic relations may have improved, former US Ambassador to Germany William Timken wrote in a cable to the State Department at the end of 2006, but the chancellor "has not taken bold steps yet to improve the substantive content of the relationship." That is not exactly high praise.

And the verdict on German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle? His thoughts "were short on substance," wrote the current US ambassador in Berlin, Philip Murphy, in a cable. The reason, Murphy suggested, was that "Westerwelle's command of complex foreign and security policy issues still requires deepening."

Such comments are hardly friendly. But in the eyes of the American diplomatic corps, every actor is quickly categorized as a friend or foe. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? A friend: Abdullah can't stand his neighbors in Iran and, expressing his disdain for the mullah regime, said, "there is no doubt something unstable about them." And his ally, Sheikh bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi? Also a friend. He believes "a near term conventional war with Iran is clearly preferable to the long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran."

US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomacy crisis (David Leigh, 11/28/10,
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:

• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme

• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.

• Devastating criticism of the UK's military operations in Afghanistan.

• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.

Has WikiLeaks finally gone too far? (Blake Hounshell, November 28, 2010, Foreign Policy)
Roy Greenslade, a journalism professor and commentator for the Guardian, castigates British editors for their critical coverage of WikiLeaks, the self-proclaimed whistleblower site that is about to release some 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables into the wild:

Aren't we in the job of ferreting out secrets so that our readers - the voters - can know what their elected governments are doing in their name? Isn't it therefore better that we can, at last, get at them?

It's a fair question. I must confess that, like plenty of other editors, I can't wait to read this batch of documents. Unlike with the last two dumps, which consisted mainly of raw reports from the field about events that had already been widely reported, it seems there are genuine revelations this time around. Already, news outlets are reporting that we can expect unvarnished American views of the shortcomings of British leaders, critical comments about Nelson Mandela, remarks about Islam that may come across poorly, allegations of corruption among Russian politicians, and so on. For news junkies like me, it promises to be good reading. I know I'm going to be up late tonight.

As a general precedent, though, it's troubling. U.S. diplomats should be able to share their assessments candidly with the folks back in Washington without fear of waking up and finding their cables splashed across the front page of the New York Times.

Why? Are we really paying diplomats to lie to us about what other governments say and do? If they--even including our putative allies--are acting in ways they are too ashamed of for it to be admitted publicly that is the very reason it should be made public.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


As Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution fade, is Cuba rising?: Seismic changes in the communist economy built by Fidel Castro are enriching some Cubans, scaring others, and sparking imaginations: Will the Caribbean gem shine again? (Sara Miller Llana, 11/27/10, CS Monitor)

Ever since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and the decline of support from Cuba's communist brethren, steady tinkering with the economy has given way to the biggest economic upheaval the island has faced since the revolution – the layoff of half a million workers and a push toward private entrepreneurial activity.

The bottom line for Suarez, for example, was a pink slip and a sense of betrayal: "I never thought Cuba could do this, because the government always protected us."

But for Santana, being kicked off the government payroll has been dazzling. Told to start his own business, he has to pay rent; and if his scissors dull or clippers break, he shoulders the expense. But he's also pocketing the pesos he earns – the equivalent of $40 a month, more than three times his previous income.

"I am not a millionaire, but I am better off than others," says Santana. "[I have] the liberty to have my own schedule, prices, and services. I am the boss of myself. Everything that happens is my responsibility, and that is a good feeling."

When The Atlantic magazine journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asked Castro in September if the Cuban economic model was still worth exporting, Castro answered: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

Folding in the Cuban Missile Crisis was JFK's one unforgivable act.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Scientists Back Early Government Report on Gulf Spill (JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF, 11/27/10, NY Times)

An early government assessment of the fate of the oil from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico that was criticized as overly optimistic by some independent scientists was largely accurate, according to a revised report by federal scientists released Tuesday.

The preliminary analysis, announced in August, estimated that roughly three-quarters of the oil had been eliminated — captured at the wellhead, skimmed from the surface, chemically dispersed or burned, or evaporating or breaking down through natural processes.

About one-quarter of the oil had either washed up on shore or remained in the gulf as sheen, tar balls or weathered oil. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil escaped from BP’s blown-out well.

The new report revises some of those initial findings, but reaches broadly similar conclusions over all, said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Barry Forshaw on Film Noir: Film writer Barry Forshaw plunges us into a world of dangerous women in ankle bracelets, flawed heroes silhouetted against a dark rain-swept street, smoky jazz scores and very unhappy endings. Everything you need to know about film noir, right here. (Anna Blundy , 11/27/10, Five Books)

Before you start talking about this book, could you actually define film noir for me?

Film noir is a genre that had no definition in its own day other than ‘crime film’. All of those who were making films noirs, such as Robert Mitchum and similar great stars and directors of that era, wouldn’t have called what they were working on film noir. They were making crime movies and dramas. So, the title ‘film noir’ defines the moment when we started to take such films seriously and it was given a French moniker because that nation was the first to grant it serious academic attention.

The films were made largely in the 1940s, which is the defining period, and they’re steeped in all the imagery we know so well – crisp black and white photography, the glistening rain-swept streets, the femme fatale with the marcel wave smoking in a bar, and the hero who’s going to end up in a bad way if he’s seduced by her. It’s interesting that film noir has so many female followers, because it’s not a progressive genre when it comes to women. Either they’re the repository of all that’s good and they stay at home, or they are the dangerously attractive femme fatale and the hero ends up dead after having sex with them.

Note that this signal contribution of America to the arts depended not just on the urstory of the Bible but on the code of censorship that was in place for film.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Mystery Surrounds Cyber Missile That Crippled Iran's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions (Ed Barnes, November 26, 2010,

In the 20th century, this would have been a job for James Bond.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn't get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran's nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they've all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department's acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.

That is what we are learning happened at Iran's nuclear facilities -- both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran's nuclear power plant.

At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component -- the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges' control panel.

At Bushehr, meanwhile, a second secret set of codes, which Langner called “digital warheads,” targeted the Russian-built power plant's massive steam turbine.

Here's how it worked, according to experts who have examined the worm...

Goliath can never beat David.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Steven Stamkos defines 'franchise player' (JEFF GORDON, 10/24/10,

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos is everything a team should want from a first overall draft pick. [...]

He may never become Wayne Gretzky, but he could certainly become Mario Lemieux.

“He's one of those guys when he's on the ice you're just praying he's not around the puck,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told Yahoo! Sports. “He's got great speed, a great release, an unbelievable shot — he is a really, really dangerous player. There's only maybe a handful of guys like that in the league.

“He's driving the net, he's shooting the puck — there's a lot of different things to his arsenal. Every time he's on the ice he seems to make something happen. He's putting up the points now and I guess there's no coincidence that we're winning some hockey games as well.”

The Tampa Tribune notes that NHL coaching legend Scotty Bowman likes what he sees as well.

“He reminds me of Guy Lafleur,” Bowman said. “He can fly and he can score.”

TV commentator (and former NHL coach) Don Cherry likens Stamkos to Brett Hull, given his ability to crush one-time shots.

“To hear your name compared to someone like that is humbling,” Stamkos told the Toronto Sun. “It’s just a technique I learned in order to get more power and accuracy on my shot. You are not always going to get a perfect pass, so this helps get more velocity on it.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


New book shows Pope’s commitment to Jews and Israel (LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG, 28/11/2010, Jerusalem Post)

Interspersed throughout the book – amidst talk about his world vision, self-doubts about his public role, ecology, God, good and evil, original sin, the contradictions of modernity and contemporary atheism, sex, bioethics, AIDS, condoms, abuse scandals, mission, ecumenism and interreligious relations – Benedict XVI speaks extensively on issues related to Israel and the Jewish world, confirming his unwavering personal commitment to both. He also explains the reasons for his conviction that Pius XII was “one of the great righteous men,” but without advocating further moves toward proclaiming him a saint.

Ratzinger holds true to his belief in the “intrinsic unity of the Old and the New Covenant, the two parts of the Holy Scripture,” an awareness he says he acquired “since the very first day” of his early theological studies. He first made his theological views on Judaism public in 1990, when as the cardinal in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was interviewed in “Jews and Judaism in the Universal Catechism,” a piece published simultaneously in Studi Cattolici (in Italian) and Midstream (in English).

He says, “We can read the New Testament only together with what preceded it, otherwise, we would completely fail to understand it.”

These affirmations implicitly contradict and override the statements made by individual Middle East Bishops at the recent Vatican Synod regarding Christ’s having “annulled” the Abrahamic covenant.

Turning to a personal and historic perspective, he says, “As Germans, we were of course shaken by what had happened in the Third Reich, which gave us a special reason to look with humility and shame and with love, upon the People of Israel.”

He explains why he no longer calls Jews “our elder brothers” but rather “fathers in the faith,” stating that “the phrase ‘elder brothers,’ which had already been used by John XXIII, is not so welcome to Jews. The reason is that, in the Jewish tradition, the ‘elder brother’ – Esau – is also the brother who gets rejected.”

Regarding the controversy over Benedict XVI’s decision to facilitate diffusion of the pre- Vatican II Latin mass and his rewrite of its prayer for the conversion of the Jews, Ratzinger says the mass represented “internal reconciliation with our own past.” But the original Good Friday prayer, he explains, “really was offensive to Jews” while “the new formulation… shifts the focus from a direct petition for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense to a plea that the Lord might bring about the hour of history when we may all be united.”

“So the polemical arguments with which a whole series of theologians assailed me,” he concludes, “are ill-considered, they do not accurately reflect the reality of the situation.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Democratic South finally falls (JONATHAN MARTIN, 11/28/10, Politico)

[W]hat this year’s election, and the subsequent party-switching, has made unambiguously clear is that the last ramparts have fallen and political realignment has finally taken hold in one of the South’s last citadels of Democratic strength: the statehouses.

Protected by a potent mix of gerrymandering, pork, seniority and a friends-and-neighbors electorate, Democratic state representatives and senators managed to survive through the South’s GOP evolution—the Reagan years, the Republican landslide of 1994 and George W. Bush’s two terms. Yet scores of them retired or went down in defeat earlier this month. And at least ten more across three states have changed parties since the election, with rumors swirling through state capitols of more to come before legislative sessions commence in January. Facing the prospect of losing their seats through reapportionment – if not in the next election – others will surely choose flight over fight.

Democrats lost both chambers of the legislature this year in North Carolina and Alabama, meaning that they now control both houses of the capitol in just two Southern states, Arkansas and Mississippi, the latter of which could flip to the GOP in next year’s election.

The losses and party-switching, one former Southern Democratic governor noted, “leaves us with little bench for upcoming and future elections.”

“There's little reason to be optimistic in my region,” said this former governor, who did not want to be quoted by name offering such a downcast assessment. “We can opportunistically pick up statewides every now and then, but building a sustainable party program isn't in the cards. I suppose the President has bigger concerns now, but it’s not healthy for the Democrats to write off our region and not have any real strategy to be competitive.”

Part of the reason for this pessimism is that the Democrats who were defeated and those changing parties are overwhelmingly of the same type: rural white males who are more conservative than their national party.

It's always fun to listen to Southerners complain about the self-destructive behavior of the Arabs who can't adjust to the reality of Israel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Things Fall Apart (Walter Russell Mead, 11/27/10, American Interest)

The European Union is perhaps the most feckless of the world’s power centers. Its currency is built on a foundation of hopeful assumptions that haven’t panned out: for example that countries as disparate in culture and situation as Greece, Germany, Finland, Ireland and Italy can all live happily under a common currency. There has been no shortage of warning signs for the last decade: there was no secret about the housing bubbles in Ireland and Spain. The falsity of Greek statistics was well known, as were the imprudent habits of its governments and the dysfunctional nature of its economic culture.

Yet the Eurocrats in Brussels and their colleagues in the Union’s national capitals took no thought for the morrow: recklessly making no contingency plans for a day of reckoning. The chronic failures in planning and communication that have marked Europe’s deeply flawed response to the developing crisis for the last two years has deeply unsettled markets. Bank stress tests give banks a clean bill of health months before massive meltdowns; national leaders and banking officials make serial errors. In handling financial crises, unity of purpose and speed of action are the basic and irreplaceable elements of any workable strategy. Europe has neither and, I am sorry to observe, the uncoordinated and sloppy behavior of the Union’s various leaders (with a handful of honorable exceptions like Olli Rehn) has not improved as the crisis unfolds. The European political class is clearly not up to its job, and the accelerating decline of Europe’s world role is the natural and inevitable result of their failures to date.

Worse is clearly to come. The rickety Rube Goldberg contraption called the European Union simply cannot handle the stresses that threaten to shake it today. Europe will be very lucky to come out of the present storm without much deeper damage than it has so far sustained.

The key as always is Germany; and while there is no European country better fitted to take on the responsibility, it is far from clear that Germany will rise to the occasion. Germany is economically rich and the stolid determination of German political culture is admirable; the present German government for all its faults is much more competent and farseeing than its predecessor. Germany and its leadership have not, however, yet risen to the measure of Europe’s crisis. Rigidly self-righteous attitudes combined with political inflexibility will not allow Germany to lead Europe out of its current troubles.

Meanwhile, Europe continues its relentless failure to manage urgent challenges at home and abroad. The Europeans are unwilling (and in some cases, unable) to make the investments that would keep NATO strong; the continuing refusal to take Turkey’s application for EU membership seriously further and decisively marginalizes Europe in the Middle East. Wishful thinking cannot substitute for policy when it comes to the question of immigration, and Europe’s deepening demographic crisis ensures not only a future of population decline but of economic decline and welfare state bankruptcy as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Strauss and Cook help England rally (Evening Standard, 28.11.10)

England openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook confirmed their appetite for the battle to save the first Ashes Test as they produced an unbroken century stand.

The tourists set out on day four at the Gabba on 19 without loss and facing a first-innings deficit of 221, and needing realistically to bat for at least the next four sessions.

They ended an extended session, under cloudy skies, on 135 - England's best for the first wicket at this ground - still with much work to do but having made a near-perfect start to their mission improbable, on a pitch wearing plenty of cracks but favouring the batsmen.

November 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


US envoys forced to apologise in advance as Wikileaks release looms: America fears disclosure of diplomatic cables will offend allies (Jerome Taylor, 27 November 2010, Independent)

"WikiLeaks are an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people," said James Jeffrey, US ambassador to Baghdad. "I do not understand the motivation for releasing these documents. They will not help, they will simply hurt our ability to do our work here."

Early indications suggest the communiqués – thought to be from the last five years – could be a major source of embarrassment both for Washington and its allies, shining a light on the kind of candid opinions and policies that governments like to keep secret.

Relationships that can't withstand truth aren't worth having anyway.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Just imagine what this would deteriorate into on MSNBC or Fox?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Putin Envisions a Russia-EU Free Trade Zone: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would like to see a free trade agreement between the European Union and Russia. In a Thursday editorial for a German newspaper, he describes his vision of "a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of euros." (Der Spiegel, 11/25/10)

No more tariffs. No more visas. Vastly more economic cooperation between Russia and the European Union. That's the vision presented by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in an editorial contribution to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday.

"We propose the creation of a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok," Putin writes. "In the future, we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of euros."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


The Brotherhood's last battle?: Mass arrests and dramatic scenes of police clashes have placed the Muslim Brotherhood centre stage during the election campaign. Has it been good for them (Amira Howeidy, 11/25/10, Al-Ahram Weekly)

The Muslim Brotherhood opted to contest Sunday's parliamentary elections despite calls by some opposition forces to boycott the poll in the absence of guarantees that the vote would be free and fair. And since campaigning began in earnest more than two weeks ago, it is the Brotherhood that has been at the centre of the maelstrom of media interest, both local and international, no mean feat when you consider that the group is fielding 130 candidates compared to the ruling National Democratic Party's 839 and the legal opposition's 300 plus.

In the words of Hossam Tammam, an expert on Islamic movements, the MB is providing "the most sensational element in the elections".

The Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in the 2005 elections, a result that it is striving against all odds to repeat. And part of its strategy to do so is to draw media attention to every obstacle, hurdle and incident of harassment the group has faced in each phase of the electoral process.

The MB is another ally we're incapable of recognizing as such.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Why carbon tax will work even if climate change theory is wrong (Don Cayo 24 Nov 2010, Vancouver Sun)

Good policy, [Dan] Gardner writes in Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway, stands up as worthwhile even if the forecast that prompted it turns out to be wrong.

He cites as an example “a stiff carbon tax with the revenues returned to the economy in the form of cuts to other taxes” – which is what we have in B.C., except our carbon tax isn’t so stiff.

“Would it deliver even if climate change turns out to be bunk?” he asks.

“Absolutely. Carbon taxes raise the effective cost of fossil fuels, making alternative energy more competitive and spurring research and development. And reducing the use of fossil fuels while increasing the diversity of our energy sources would be wonderful for a whole host of reasons aside from climate change. It would reduce local air pollution, reduce the risk of catastrophic oil spills, buffer economies against the massive shocks inflicted by oil price spikes, and lessen the world’s vulnerability to instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. It would also reduce the torrent of cash flowing from the developed world to the thuggish governments that control most oil-producing nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. And of course there’s peak oil. If the peaksters turn out to be right, finally, how much of our economy is fuelled by oil will determine how badly we will suffer – so carbon taxes would steadily reduce that threat, too.”

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November 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Our brave new world of Malthusian madmen: Much of the wacky authoritarianism of twentieth-century dystopian literature is now coming to life, from the promotion of homosexuality as a check on population growth to the celebration of childfree women as superior to ‘breeders’. (Brendan O’Neill, 11/25/10, Spiked Review of Books)

Reading an op-ed in an American newspaper last month, which argued that gay marriage should be legalised because it will help reduce overpopulation (homosexuals don’t breed, you see), I knew I had heard a similar sentiment somewhere before.

‘Given the social hardships of our era, the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable’, the op-ed said. ‘Even America, though its population pales in comparison to that of other nations, is considered overpopulated because the amount of energy each of its citizens expends in a lifetime is enormous. Obviously homosexuals cannot, within the confines of a monogamous relationship, conceive offspring.’ So, legalising gay marriage would ‘indirectly limit population growth’.

Gays celebrated because they don’t have children… homosexual relationships culturally affirmed on the basis that their childlessness could help solve a planetary crisis… gay monogamy bigged up because it doesn’t involve conceiving offspring. Where had I heard such ideas before? Why did this promotion of homosexual relationships as a possible solution to the alleged problem of fertile, fecund heteros cramming the world with too many ankle-nippers sound familiar?

Then it struck me. It’s the storyline of Anthony Burgess’s Malthusian comedy-cum-nightmare, The Wanting Seed. In that 1962 dystopian novel, which I devoured during a Burgess phase in my teens, Burgess imagines a future England in which overpopulation is rife. There’s a Ministry of Infertility that tries desperately to keep a check on the gibbering masses squeezed into skyscraper after skyscraper, and it does so by demonising heterosexuality - it’s too fertile, too full of ‘childbearing lust’ - and actively promoting homosexuality.

It’s a world where straights are discriminated against because there’s nothing more disgusting and destructive than potential fertility, than a ‘full womanly figure’ or a man with ‘paternity lust’; straights are passed over for jobs and promotion in favour of homos, giving rise to a situation where some straights go so far as to pretend they are gay, adopting the ‘public skin of dandified epicene’, as Burgess describes it, in a desperate bid to make it in the world. There’s even a Homosex Institute, which runs night classes that turn people gay, all with the aim of reducing the ‘aura of fertility’ that hangs about society like a rank smell, as one official says. ‘It’s Sapiens to be Homo’ is the slogan of Burgess’s imagined world.

Now, nearly 50 years after Burgess’s novel outraged literary critics (one said it was ‘too offensive to finish’) as well as campaigners for the decriminalisation of homosexual sex (who were disgusted that Burgess could write of a homosexual tyranny while it was still illegal in Britain for one man to have sex with another), some of the sentiments of that weird invented world, of that fertility-demonising futuristic nightmare, are leaking into mainstream public debate - to the extent that a writer can claim, without igniting controversy, that ‘the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable’ in terms of dealing with the ‘social hardships’ of overpopulation. No, heteros are not discriminated against in favour of gays; there’s no Homosex Institute. But there is a creeping cultural validation of homosexuality in Malthusian terms, where the gay lifestyle is held up by some thinkers and activists as morally superior because it is less likely to produce offspring than the heterosexual lifestyle, in which every sexual encounter involves recklessly pointing a loaded gun of sperm at a willing and waiting target.

And this is not an isolated incident; Burgess is not the only imaginer of mad Malthusian worlds whose ideas have come to some kind of fruition. Such is the Malthusian tenor of our times, so deep-seated is the New Malthusian prejudice against fertility (the f-word of our era), and so widespread is the eco-view of human beings as little more than the hooverers-up of scarce resources, that bit by bit, unwittingly and unnoticed, some of the wackier authoritarian ideas of twentieth-century Malthus-infused literature are finding expression in our real world today.

I was reading an old British mystery lately, Hare Sitting Up, by Michel Innes, which contains this passage:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


Liberals resort to conspiracy theories to explain Obama's problems (Michael Gerson, November 26, 2010, Washington Post)

It is difficult to overstate how offensive elected Republicans find the sabotage accusation, which Obama himself has come very close to making. During the run-up to the midterm election, the president said at a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis.: "Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that if Obama fails, then we win." Some Republican leaders naturally took this as an attack on their motives. Was the president really contending that Republican representatives want their constituents to be unemployed in order to gain a political benefit for themselves? No charge from the campaign more effectively undermined the possibility of future cooperation.

The sabotage accusation, once implicit, is now direct among panicked progressives. Part of the intention seems to be strategic - to discourage Obama from considering Clintonian ideological triangulation. No centrist concessions, the argument goes, will appease Republicans who hate the president more than they love the country. So Obama should double down on liberalism, once again.

It is very bad political advice. It also indicates a movement losing contact with political reality. When an ideology stumbles, its adherents can always turn to alcohol - or to conspiracy theories. It is easier to recover from alcohol. Conspiracy thinking is not only addictive, it is tiresome. It precludes the possibility of interesting policy debate or genuine disagreement - how can you argue with a plot?

In 1964, John Stormer, a sabotage theorist of the right, came out with the book "None Dare Call It Treason," which asked: "Is there a conspiratorial plan to destroy the United States into which foreign aid, planned inflation, distortion of treaty-making powers and disarmament all fit?" Stormer's progressive descendants are just as discrediting to the ideas they claim to serve.

It's just easier to pretend that the failure of the last two years was caused by the GOP than to accept responsibility themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


Kings of Controversy: Was the Kingdom of David and Solomon a glorious empire—or just a little cow town? It depends on which archaeologist you ask. (Robert Draper, December 2010, National Geographic)

In no other part of the world does archaeology so closely resemble a contact sport. Eilat Mazar is one of the reasons why. Her announcement in 2005 that she believed she had unearthed the palace of King David amounted to a ringing defense of an old-school proposition under assault for more than a quarter century—namely, that the Bible's depiction of the empire established under David and continued by his son Solomon is historically accurate. Mazar's claim has emboldened those Christians and Jews throughout the world who maintain that the Old Testament can and should be taken literally. Her purported discovery carries particular resonance in Israel, where the story of David and Solomon is interwoven with the Jews' historical claims to biblical Zion.

That narrative is familiar to any student of the Bible. A young shepherd named David from the tribe of Judah slays the giant Goliath from the enemy tribe of the Philistines, is elevated to king of Judah following the death of Saul at the close of the 11th century B.C., conquers Jerusalem, unites the people of Judah with the disparate Israelite tribes to the north, and thereupon amasses a royal dynasty that continues with Solomon well into the tenth century B.C. But while the Bible says David and Solomon built the kingdom of Israel into a powerful and prestigious empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, from Damascus to the Negev, there's a slight problem—namely, that despite decades of searching, archaeologists had found no solid evidence that David or Solomon ever built anything.

Then Mazar sounded her trumpet. "She knew what she was doing," says fellow Israeli archaeologist David Ilan of Hebrew Union College. "She waded into the fray purposefully, wanting to make a statement."

Ilan himself doubts that Mazar has found King David's palace. "My gut tells me this is an eighth- or ninth-century building," he says, constructed a hundred years or more after Solomon died in 930 B.C. More broadly, critics question Mazar's motives. They note that her excavation work was underwritten by two organizations—the City of David Foundation and the Shalem Center—dedicated to the assertion of Israel's territorial rights. And they scoff at Mazar's allegiance to the antiquated methods of her archaeological forebears, such as her grandfather, who unapologetically worked with a trowel in one hand and the Bible in the other.

The once common practice of using the Bible as an archaeological guide has been widely contested as an unscientific case of circular reasoning—and with particular relish by Tel Aviv University's contrarian-in-residence Israel Finkelstein, who has made a career out of merrily demolishing such assumptions. He and other proponents of "low chronology" say that the weight of archaeological evidence in and around Israel suggests that the dates posited by biblical scholars are a century off. The "Solomonic" buildings excavated by biblical archaeologists over the past several decades at Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo were not constructed in David and Solomon's time, he says, and so must have been built by kings of the ninth-century B.C.'s Omride dynasty, well after David and Solomon's reign.

During David's time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a "hill-country village," David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like "500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.

"Of course we're not looking at the palace of David!" Finkelstein roars at the very mention of Mazar's discovery. "I mean, come on. I respect her efforts. I like her—very nice lady. But this interpretation is—how to say it?—a bit naive."

Now it is Finkelstein's theory that is under siege. On the heels of Mazar's claim to have discovered King David's palace, two other archaeologists have unveiled remarkable finds. Twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Elah Valley—the very spot where the Bible says the young shepherd David slew Goliath—Hebrew University professor Yosef Garfinkel claims to have unearthed the first corner of a Judaean city dating to the exact time that David reigned. Meanwhile, 30 miles south of the Dead Sea in Jordan, a University of California, San Diego professor named Thomas Levy has spent the past eight years excavating a vast copper-smelting operation at Khirbat en Nahas. Levy dates one of the biggest periods of copper production at the site to the tenth century B.C.—which, according to the biblical narrative, is when David's antagonists the Edomites dwelled in this region. (However, scholars like Finkelstein maintain that Edom did not emerge until two centuries later.) The very existence of a large mining and smelting operation fully two centuries before Finkelstein's camp maintains the Edomites emerged would imply complex economic activity at the exact time that David and Solomon reigned. "It's possible that this belonged to David and Solomon," Levy says of his discovery. "I mean, the scale of metal production here is that of an ancient state or kingdom."

Levy and Garfinkel—both of whom have been awarded grants by the National Geographic Society—support their contentions with a host of scientific data, including pottery remnants and radiocarbon dating of olive and date pits found at the sites. If the evidence from their ongoing excavations holds up, yesteryear's scholars who touted the Bible as a factually accurate account of the David and Solomon story may be vindicated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


There's No Escaping Hauser's Law: Tax revenues as a share of GDP have averaged just under 19%, whether tax rates are cut or raised. Better to cut rates and get 19% of a larger pie. (W. KURT HAUSER, 11/25/10, WSJ)

Over the past six decades, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just under 19% regardless of the top marginal personal income tax rate. The top marginal rate has been as high as 92% (1952-53) and as low as 28% (1988-90). This observation was first reported in an op-ed I wrote for this newspaper in March 1993. A wit later dubbed this "Hauser's Law."

Over this period there have been more than 30 major changes in the tax code including personal income tax rates, corporate tax rates, capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, investment tax credits, depreciation schedules, Social Security taxes, and the number of tax brackets among others. Yet during this period, federal government tax collections as a share of GDP have moved within a narrow band of just under 19% of GDP.

Why? Higher taxes discourage the "animal spirits" of entrepreneurship. When tax rates are raised, taxpayers are encouraged to shift, hide and underreport income. Taxpayers divert their effort from pro-growth productive investments to seeking tax shelters, tax havens and tax exempt investments. This behavior tends to dampen economic growth and job creation. Lower taxes increase the incentives to work, produce, save and invest, thereby encouraging capital formation and jobs. Taxpayers have less incentive to shelter and shift income.'s just a question of what we want to discourage via taxes. Rather than income that ought to be consumption, particularly of things like gasoline.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Is Illegal Immigration Moral?: Dimensions the debate too often ignores. (Victor Davis Hanson, 11/26/10, National Review)

[W]hat is often left out of the equation is the moral dimension of illegal immigration. We see the issue too often reduced to caricature, involving a noble, impoverished victim without much free will and subject to cosmic forces of sinister oppression. But everyone makes free choices that affect others. So ponder the ethics of a guest arriving in a host country knowingly contrary to its sovereign protocols and laws.

First, there is the larger effect on the sanctity of a legal system. If a guest ignores the law — and thereby often must keep breaking more laws — should citizens also have the right to similarly pick and choose which statutes they find worthy of honoring and which are too bothersome? Once it is deemed moral for the impoverished to cross a border without a passport, could not the same arguments of social justice be used for the poor of any status not to report earned income or even file a 1040 form? [...]

Third, consider the moral ramifications on legal immigration — the traditional great strength of the American nation. What are we to tell the legal immigrant from Oaxaca who got a green card at some cost and trouble, or who, once legally in the United States, went through the lengthy and expensive process of acquiring citizenship? Was he a dupe to follow our laws dutifully?

And given the current precedent, if a million soon-to-be-impoverished Greeks, 2 million refugee North Koreans, or 5 million starving Somalis were to enter the United States illegally and en masse, could anyone object to their unlawful entry and residence? If so, on what legal, practical, or moral grounds?

In point of fact, America has always been at its weakest when it enforced (or made noise about enforcing) legal immigration regimes--bringing on both the Great Depression and the recent Great Recession. Our great strength has been on most ostentatious display during those periods when immigration was open. This includes the period since the Reagan amnesty, when America was so rightly ashamed of its immigration quotas that we ignored the laws more or less completely.

The notion that immigration should be restricted was racist from the start and remains so today. Such restrictions are legal, not moral.

So consider Mr. Hanson's first point, about whether we are obligated to obey immoral laws simply because they are laws. We celebrate the Underground Railroad and consider one of the our lowest points as a nation to have been the Dred Scott decision. Yet on Mr. Hanson's logic he would have returned escaped slaves to the South. This would have been legally "right" but obviously repellent morally. Likewise, the fact that abortion is temporarily legal in America does not make it moral. The two--legality and morality--are more separable than he acknowledges.

Likewise, Mr. Hanson is correct that it is immoral to require some immigrants to jump through all kinds of bureaucratic hoops, but that is an argument against the legalistic regime, not a moral argument against immigration.

And as to that last point, while there is obviously a legalistic defense against helping impoverished refugees--and conceivably a practical one--there isn't a moral one. The North Korean and Somali cases are especially telling, because the American people bear considerable moral responsibility for the current state of those sorry peoples, having turned tail and run rather than finish off the wars we waged there by helping establish decent governance. The weight of the moral argument thus comes down in the side of our helping ameliorate the harm we've done, not ignoring it because helping might inconvenience us a bit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Where's Your Willpower? (Casey Schwartz, 11/25/10, Daily Beast)

Think of it this way: Our ancestors didn’t need willpower to go for a run because the only time they ran was when they were chasing something or something was chasing them. When we run today, it’s usually to stay in shape. We don’t have that motivating factor of trying to catch our dinner as it hops away, or the fear of death as a polar bear nips at our heels. We use willpower instead—a more modern and, in some ways, unnatural notion.

Which is why willpower, says Hirsch, is weak. Compared to these basic, primitive drives, it has trouble holding up. In fact, willpower may be so weak that it is not even “a meaningful idea,” says Hirsch, when it comes to understanding how to make change in our lives.

Instead, current neuroscience holds that “impulse control” is more accurate than willpower—a slight but important distinction. The idea of impulse control is a much more specific vision of what’s happening in the brain when we experience the tug of old habits, whether it’s food or sex or drugs or booze. It’s the ability to mitigate any stimulus that sets off the brain’s reward circuitry. Unlike willpower, impulse control is not a judgment about the strength of one’s character. This is not just a politically correct revision. The concept of impulse control comes from a better understanding of the brain mechanisms that underlie self-restraint.

For anyone facing the challenge of changing their habits, thinking in terms of impulse control is much more likely to lead to success than thinking about willpower, because impulses are temporary, whereas lack of willpower is a character flaw. Many psychotherapists encourage patients to think of the urge they are feeling—whether it is to reach for the chocolate cake or race to the corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes—as an impulse, a biological event in the brain that will pass.

Real change comes from reframing the issue, not from white-knuckling your way through every temptation. No one has more or less willpower than anyone else—the people who seem to have more of it have simply learned that impulses are temporary and treat them as such.

The other evolutionary problem is how easy it is to instantly gratify every impulse.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Is Clegg abandoning liberalism? (Stuart White, 23 November 2010, Open Democracy)

Nick Clegg's efforts to shift the philosophical orientation of British liberalism, pitching its tent squarely on the terrain of the centre-right, continues apace with his article in today's Guardian (trailing his Hugo Young lecture tonight).

Having already conflated the liberal ideal of independence with the Thatcherite ideal of 'self-reliance', Clegg now tries to differentiate between an 'old progressivism' of income equality (bad) and a 'new progressivism' of social mobility (good):

'Social mobility is what characterises a fair society rather than a particular level of income equality. Inequalities become injustices when they are fixed; passed on, generation to generation....For old progressives, reducing snapshot income inequality is the ultimate goal. For new progressives, reducing the barrier to social mobility is.'

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November 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Giving thanks for American resilience (David Ignatius, November 25, 2010, Washington Post)

Thanksgiving is America's favorite holiday because it's a time when we put aside our cares, much as the struggling Pilgrims did nearly four centuries ago, and eat a gut-busting meal without worrying about the "out years." It's a holiday for a bold but improvident nation, which sums us up today as it did at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

But even though Thanksgiving is about optimism - our national secular religion that the "pie," metaphorically, will keep getting bigger - I would wager that around the groaning table this year, you'll hear revelers worrying about national decline. Certainly I've heard it a lot lately, from departing Obama administration officials, global leaders, and my family and friends. There's a sense that something is torn in the national quilt, and nobody quite knows how to mend it.

Really? I hear a lot of people talking about how cheap tvs and pcs are.

We are thankful for many things this year--not least all of you who make Brothers Judd so much fun--but nothing makes us more grateful than the blessing of living in a country so dexterous that it has snapped back from what could have been another Depression to the point where we have returned to record corporate profits and the high employment, home ownership and 401k levels that were established during the Reagan/Clinton/Bush boom. Sure, we have some work to do, as we always do after global wars, but the history of our prior adjustments suggests the even better times that lie just ahead.

We thank the Maker, today as every day, for the special providence He has for America.

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[originally posted: 11/25/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


A Spanish Bailout Would Test Europe’s Strained Finances (RAPHAEL MINDER, 11/24/10, NY Times)

Another concern is that the central government’s cost-cutting zeal might not be matched by regional and local authorities, which accounted for 57 percent of public spending last year. Coming regional elections, starting with Catalonia this Sunday, could persuade politicians to make some unsustainable spending pledges, in particular in regions like Andalusia, where some municipalities have already fallen behind in paying staff salaries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


The Beard: A razor-sharp consideration of men's facial hair. (Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set)

I have never known my husband without his beard, a fact that disturbed me in the early years of our relationship. What was he hiding: a weak chin, a saber scar, a slothful nature, a psychological need for a barrier between himself and the world? But as time passed, I no longer felt the need to ask these questions. I now know my husband, and the beard is part of who he is. This seems to me to relate to the question that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson raised about the old man with the cane: Where does the one end and the other begin? Impossible to say, Bateson concluded, since the two cannot be functionally separated. A beard may seem less functional than a cane, but the choice to grow a beard has a function, though it may not be singular or simply articulated.

When I thumb through my husband’s high school yearbook and see his pale smooth face (smooth, he notes, because his spotty adolescent complexion had been airbrushed), he seems alien, but alien in a particular way. The absence of the beard, far from making him look like someone else or uncovering some hidden aspect of himself, makes him look incomplete: raw and unformed. One could say he had yet to grow into his beard, both literally and metaphorically — he had yet to become himself. For some men, a mid-life crisis would consist in growing a beard; for my husband, it would mean shaving his off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


One nation, with Aunt Susan: How Americans turn religious diversity into a source of unity—for some (Lexington, Nov 25th 2010, The Economist)

AT A time when Americans are worried about their crippling political divisions, it is pleasing to report that two social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, have just written a book that examines a powerful source of American unity. Perhaps unexpectedly, the unifying force they focus on is religion.

America’s religiosity has been extensively documented and should surprise no one. It is, Sarah Palin said in her own new book this week, “a prayerful country”. More than eight out of ten Americans say they belong to a religion. More Americans than Iranians (four out of ten) say they attend a religious service nearly once a week or more. What is a surprise—or should be, when you think about it in the way Messrs Putnam and Campbell have—is that religion in America is not more divisive. They argue in “American Grace” (Simon & Schuster) that religion gives Americans a sort of “civic glue, uniting rather than dividing”. [...]

There are the protections of the constitution, of course. But the authors put much of it down to Aunt Susan. Such is America’s churning diversity that most Americans are intimately acquainted with people of other faiths. Aunt Susan may be a Methodist, and you a Jew, but you know that Aunt Susan deserves a place in heaven anyway. In fact, Susan does not have to be your aunt, because in addition to the Aunt Susan principle the authors have invented the My Friend Al principle. In this case you befriend Al because, say, of a shared interest in beekeeping, and later learn that he is an evangelical Christian. Having an evangelical Christian in your circle of friends makes you warmer than you were before to evangelical Christians. Not only that, befriending someone from another faith makes you warmer to other religions in general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


For GOP, a Star is Born (Ruben Navarrette, 11/24/10, RCP)

Besides cutting spending and battling the corruption for which New Mexico is famous, Martinez has also vowed to lead the charge to roll back a state policy of providing driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. It's an unusual stand for a Mexican-American officeholder, and a controversial one.

For Martinez, it's a cut-and-dried issue of public safety. She is concerned that the licenses being given to illegal immigrants are identical to those given to U.S. citizens. In the post-9/11 world, that's living dangerously.

Still, Martinez is no right-wing ideologue. She recently came out against Arizona's immigration law, which all but requires local and state police to racially profile Latinos. As a prosecutor, Martinez is concerned that crimes might go unreported or witnesses might go underground if they fear local police officers.

"When there is a crime committed against someone who is in the country illegally," she said, "we have to respond the same way we would if the victim were a U.S. citizen."

Martinez is already stirring anxiety among Democrats. The fact that she appeals to different groups of voters -- earning 38 percent of the Latino vote in the governor's race, according to exit polls -- makes her a threat to the opposition. Just like one-time federal appellate court nominee Miguel Estrada and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, she'll be a target for the left because hers is an inspirational success story that might convince Latino voters to take a fresh look at the GOP.

Most Mexican-Americans won't be sold. But, if Republicans can clean up their language on immigration, Mexican nationals who have become naturalized citizens might warm up to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Last-minute ideas (Asheville Citizen-Times, 11/22/10)

Here is a list of some of this year's holiday cooking hot lines and websites:
• Crisco Pie Hotline: 877-367-7438
• Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: 800-BUTTERBALL or
• Empire Kosher poultry customer hot line: 717-436-7055 or www.empirekosher.
• Fleischmann's Yeast Baker's Help Line: 800-777-4959 or
• Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: 800-255-7227 or
• General Mills: 800-248-7310
• King Arthur Flour Co.'s Bakers Hotline: 802-649-3717 or e-mail questions to
• Nestle Toll House Baking Information Line: 800-637-8537 or
• Ocean Spray consumer help line: 800-662-3263 or
• Perdue consumer help line: 800-4-PERDUE or
• Reynolds Turkey Tips Hotline 800-745-4000 or
• U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-674-6854 or /Ask_Karen/

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 AM


A carver's confession: He who holds the knife gets dibs on the crispy, flavorful turkey skin. (David Shaw, November 17, 2004, LA Times)

I used to have an editor who insisted that turkey was "dry and boring." The only reason Thanksgiving dinner was even worth eating, he said, was "to get all those accompaniments and accouterments" � by which he meant stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, yams, pies and the like.


A properly cooked turkey � preferably one brined beforehand � is moist and delicious, one of America's great gifts to global gastronomy. I especially like the dark meat � the thigh in particular. But my absolute favorite part of the turkey � my favorite part of the entire Thanksgiving dinner � is the turkey skin. Crisp, chewy, warm and full of flavor, it ranks right up there with white truffles, foie gras, barbecue ribs and a good, natural-casing hot dog on my list of all-time favorite foods.

In fact, selfish and greedy though it may seem, I try every Thanksgiving � and every other time we have turkey for dinner, anywhere � to snare a few golden patches of skin even before we all sit down at table.

How do I do that?

Easy. I volunteer to carve the turkey. I do so every time, whether we're eating at our house or someone else's. And then, nibbling as I go, I make sure to rip off (so to speak) several good, big pieces of skin as a sort of carving fee.

If we're guests at a friend's or relative's house, I don't insist on carving. I can still recall graciously (I hope) yielding carving duties one evening a number of years ago to Michel Richard when he was the chef at Citrus and we were having dinner at the home of a mutual friend. Michel carved the turkey with such speed, dexterity and precision � every slice was exactly the same thickness as every other slice � that I considered hanging up my knife permanently that very night.

But my desire for what I've come to think of as my EATS (Exclusive Access To Skin) prevailed, and I continue to volunteer, often quite vigorously, for carving duty.

(originally posted: November 25, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


Remembering Thanksgiving's political past (Dr. Michael L. Coulter, NOVEMBER 25, 2003, Grove City College)

Thanksgiving celebrations in American during its colonial era were sporadic and based on local traditions. The first national celebration of Thanksgiving was a political act: it was called by the Continental Congress in 1777 and offered thanks for a military victory. In five of the next six years (1782 excluded), national days of thanksgiving were celebrated in December.

The next national day of Thanksgiving was called by George Washington in October 1789 and was accompanied by a proclamation of Thanksgiving.

He said, in part, "Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor� therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being."

He thanked God "for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a nation, for the signal and manifold mercies�which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war�for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty �and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us."

Washington's proclamation focused on �political� blessings, not the harvest.

A national day of Thanksgiving did not become an annual event. Washington issued another proclamation in 1795 as a day of thanksgiving for general blessings. John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. The next national day of thanksgiving did not take place until 1815, when James Madison proclaimed two different days of thanksgiving for the end of the War of 1812.

Odd that Washington, Adams and Jefferson didn't ask us all to thank the blind watchmaker or something like that...

(originally posted: November 26, 2003)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


Blood Is Thicker Than Gravy (MAUREEN DOWD, 11/28/04, NY Times)

I've been surprised, out on the road, how often I get asked about my family. They're beyond red - more like crimson. My sister flew to West Virginia in October to work a phone bank for W. [...]

This year, my brothers were on the warpath about news reports that Maryland public schools did not teach about Thanksgiving from a religious perspective. "Who do they think the Pilgrims thanked?" demanded Martin. "God."

There are moments - when my brothers are sharing some snarky thing Rush Limbaugh said about me, or the latest bon mot from Pat Buchanan, with whom they grew up - that I'm tempted to stuff my ears with my mom's potato stuffing, or go off and read a book by David Sedaris about normal family life.

People often ask me why President Bush inspires such passionate support. My brother Kevin, a salesman who lives in Montgomery County, Md., can answer that; here is a recent e-mail message, trimmed for space, he sent to friends:...

It would appear that the Times accidentally hired the wrong Dowd--she should let her brothers write all her columns for her.

(originally posted: November 28, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


'Thanksgevynge' for the faith of our fathers (Suzanne Fields, November 27, 2003, Townhall)

Most of us know the origin of the holiday, when the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock celebrated their first year's harvest with Indian friends, giving thanks for the abundance of the new land. But few of us know many of the details of our forefathers' lives or the different traditions that merged to make it a national holiday of spiritual joy and secular satisfaction.

Our focus is on food, family and friends and the thanks that accompany giving; few of us spend much time thinking about the historical antecedents of the holiday.

It might be interesting to ask those at the table if anyone knows the name of a single passenger on the Mayflower. Four presidents are linked to a single family tree. Both Roosevelts and Bush father and son are descended from John Howland, a Pilgrim who fell off the Mayflower in a storm and was saved by a sailor's rope. Five other presidents trace their ancestry to the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims: John Adams, his son John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield.

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, half were Pilgrims who later came to be known as the Saints and the other half were seekers of fortune in the New World, who came to be called Strangers. The Mayflower Compact, a blueprint for autonomous government, prevented mutiny on the high seas between the two groups and later became a reference point for the Founding Fathers as they wrote the Constitution.

It's quite remarkable how much of American history proceeds directly from such a simple text, Mayflower Compact: Agreement Between the Settlers at New Plymouth : 1620
IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Mr. John Carver,
Mr. William Bradford,
Mr Edward Winslow,
Mr. William Brewster.
Isaac Allerton,
Myles Standish,
John Alden,
John Turner,
Francis Eaton,
James Chilton,
John Craxton,
John Billington,
Joses Fletcher,
John Goodman,
Mr. Samuel Fuller,
Mr. Christopher Martin,
Mr. William Mullins,
Mr. William White,
Mr. Richard Warren,
John Howland,
Mr. Steven Hopkins,
Digery Priest,
Thomas Williams,
Gilbert Winslow,
Edmund Margesson,
Peter Brown,
Richard Britteridge
George Soule,
Edward Tilly,
John Tilly,
Francis Cooke,
Thomas Rogers,
Thomas Tinker,
John Ridgdale
Edward Fuller,
Richard Clark,
Richard Gardiner,
Mr. John Allerton,
Thomas English,
Edward Doten,
Edward Liester.

(originally posted: 11/27/03)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Isn't Thanksgiving a turkey?: The purpose, the timing and the food at Thanksgiving are all mystifying this side of the Atlantic. What is it all about? (Tim Hayward, 26 November 2009, The Guardian)

Perhaps the most baffling part of Thanksgiving for a Brit is the whole idea of having a festival as big, complicated and frankly bloody tiresome to organise as Christmas a mere month before the big day. I'm not sure if that can ever be adequately explained. If we really have to travel across the country to spend days of bilious excess and bitter recrimination with our families, surely once a year is more than enough - and there should be presents.

In fact, it seems that Thanksgiving has gained a momentum which outstrips logic and history and is today entirely secular holiday - barring the occasional well-intentioned grace. A generalised and random giving of thanks for pretty much everything. An idea which actually rather appeals.

So, transatlantic chums. We wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings but please, help us out here, take a moment to explain to us benighted Brits what it's all about, how the food works, what you're doing to celebrate and how anyone can eat turkey twice in a month.

One of the chief American peculiarities is our unique sense of our own history and historical mission. This may be partly a function of the fact that we are a new enough country that our history can be pretty easily apprehended, but it is also a matter of the unchanged nature of the mission. Why do we give Thanks--to God and the Pilgrims? Because the experiment they initiated is working.

When we look to the Mayflower Compact we find our forefathers engaged in an exercise that we still partake of 400 years later, they, "in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience." Their covenant is our covenant; we've just formalized it a bit.

Abraham Lincoln captured the degree to which we were in the midst of their experiment in his Gettysburg Address:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Little wonder that it is he who is moist closely associated with the regular national observance of Thanksgiving Day. No one better understood our debt to God for help in preserving the republic nor our debt to the original Americans for originating government by the people.

Consider too Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address, in which he, appropriately, returned to one of his favorite images, John Winthrop's "city on a hill," but also suggested that he had basically been fulfilling a charge handed down to us:

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stand the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after two hundred years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

And not just the endurance of the task but the eternality of the pilgrims, who when they come here come home.

And, typically, no one ever better conveyed the resonance of history, the reasons we are thankful and the American indebtedness to Go better than W, at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance after 9-11:

America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom's home and defender, and the commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we've been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.

God bless America.

What other people would recognize themselves as blessed in the midst of such tragedy? And how typical of a people so enmeshed in history and cognizant of the debt to fathers, founders and father that the response to that tragedy produced no deviation from the experiment.

Contra Mr. Hayward, Thanksgiving in America is every bit as much a religious holiday as Christmas or Easter. Nor has it outstripped history. Instead it is drenched in History. Granted, logic has nothing to do with it, nor has America ever had aught to do with logic.

So what are we thankful for this year?

We are thankful to those Americans who organized our country around a simple set of ideas, that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed./blockquote>
And to God, upon Whom those ideas depend.

We are thankful to fellow citizens who live lives informed by those ideas every day, placing liberty and human dignity at the center of American life. And to the armed services who defend the country and extend these ideas abroad.

We are thankful to our readers, who make Brothers Judd an enjoyable community, our own little republican experiment.

We are thankful to our families and friends for their love and support.

We are thankful for a uniquely American occasion on which we are reminded to give thanks for the absurdly generous bounty that we enjoy.

God bless America and may He bless you all today and every day.

[originally posted: 11/26/09]

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November 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


China suffers diesel shortage, disrupting industry (AP, Nov 8, 2010)

Local authorities imposed rolling blackouts on factories in August after Beijing called for efforts to curb surging energy demand, pollution and emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. That came after a campaign to make China's energy-guzzling economy more efficient suffered setbacks early this year due to due to a stimulus-fueled boom in steel, cement and other heavy industry.

Diesel supplies already were tighter than usual after refineries shut down in August and September for maintenance and demand from farmers and fishermen rose, said Tom Reed, London-based Asia energy editor at Argus Media, an energy news agency.

"It's kind of a perfect storm" that caused "a significant squeeze on the wholesale market," Reed said.

Fuel shortages were reported in areas from Dalian, a northeastern port, to Hangzhou on the east coast and Kunming in the southwest.

Some Chinese media and industry analysts blamed the shortages on China's major state-owned oil companies, PetroChina and Sinopec. They said the companies are withholding supplies while they wait for Beijing to boost retail prices that were left unchanged while global crude costs climbed from $70 a barrel at the start of the summer to nearly $90 now.

PetroChina and Sinopec are "stockpiling diesel in an attempt to blackmail the NDRC (China's main planning agency) into announcing another price rise," said Zhao Jingmin, an oil analyst for the industry website [...].

China's economy regularly is disrupted by government intervention in energy industries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


Ahmadinejad's Days Are Numbered: Iranian lawmakers—including former supporters—have moved to impeach President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for law violations that could land him in prison. Reza Aslan reports on the bombastic leader’s flagrant missteps. (Reza Aslan, 11/24/10, Daily Beast)

The latest row between the president and the parliament comes at a time in which Iran's economy, already reeling from the steady success of President Obama’s targeted sanctions policy, is bracing for what many predict will be catastrophic consequences of Ahmadinejad's plan to end government subsidies for fuel, food, energy, and basic goods like milk, cooking oil, and flour. For decades, Iran’s presidents—from Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to Mohammad Khatami—have tried to amend the subsidies system, valued at about $100 billion a year. But they were repeatedly deterred by the threat of massive protests. After all, in a country that has been isolated from the outside world for three decades, government subsidies are the sole means of survival for millions of poor and middle-class Iranians. According to a study by the International Monetary Fund, a typical Iranian household making about $3,600 a year receives an average of $4,000 a year in subsidies.

Although the subsidies program has yet to be fully terminated, the cost of basic goods and services in Iran already has skyrocketed. According to the Los Angeles Times, the price of a kilo of ground beef has jumped from $6, when Ahmadinejad began his first term as president, to $14.50 today. Meanwhile, as I reported last month, the cost of electricity has soared by as much as 1,000 percent for some Iranian households.

The irony is that Ahmadinejad is unquestionably doing the sensible thing in pushing ahead with the removal of government subsidies. Subsidies account for approximately 30 percent of Iran’s entire annual budget. That is simply untenable for an economy that just last month saw the value of its currency drop by a staggering 13 percent against the dollar. Iran’s oil industry, its most lucrative source of revenue, is in shambles after the recent departure of four oil companies— Shell, Total, ENI, and Statoil. The carpet industry, once valued at $500 million, has disintegrated thanks to increased sanctions. The government claims that 22 percent of Iranians are unemployed (experts say the number is closer to 40 percent), three-quarters of them under the age of 30. Some 40 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. Inflation is officially at 10 percent, though many economists believe it to be more like 24 percent. With the price of oil remaining stable and Iran’s international isolation increasing, the government simply cannot afford to keep paying out nearly a third of its entire budget in subsidies.

But while what Ahmadinejad is doing may be the right thing for the country, it is the way he is doing it—by virtual fiat—that has parliament up in arms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM

105 MPG:

2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year: Chevrolet Volt: A Car of the Future You Can Drive Today (Angus MacKenzie, January, 2011, Motor Trend)

"I expected a science fair experiment. But this is a moonshot."

Chris Theodore is a wily veteran of the auto business, a seasoned development engineer whose impressive resume includes vehicles as thoughtfully executed as the Chrysler minivan and as tightly focused as the Ford GT.

As one of the consultant judges on this year's COTY panel, Chris brought the deep insight and professional skepticism you'd expect of someone who's spent his entire working life making cars. But our 2011 Car of the Year, Chevrolet's ground-breaking Volt, has blown him away.

"This is a fully developed vehicle with seamlessly integrated systems and software, a real car that provides a unique driving experience. And commuters may never need to buy gas!"

Like all of us on the staff at Motor Trend, Chris is an enthusiast, a man who'll keep a thundering high-performance V-8 in his garage no matter how high gas prices go. But he nailed the Volt's place in automotive history: "If this is the brave new world, then it's an acceptable definition."

In the 61-year history of the Car of the Year award, there have been few contenders as hyped -- or as controversial -- as the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt started life an Old GM project, then arrived fully formed as a symbol of New GM, carrying all the emotional and political baggage of that profound and painful transition. As a result, a lot of the sound and fury that has surrounded the Volt's launchhas tended to obscure a simple truth: This automobile is a game-changer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Andy's ready for war with unions (BRENDAN SCOTT and FREDRIC U. DICKER, November 24, 2010, NY Post)

Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo laid out plans yesterday for all-out war with the public-employee unions next year, as the current governor proposed ending the costly practice of allowing state workers to idle in empty buildings. [...]

The Office of Children and Family Services has struggled to close juvenile-detention centers even as more residents get diverted to in-home treatment programs and the population plummets.

The call to action by Gov. Paterson came a day after Cuomo blasted as "ridiculous" a union-backed law that requires the state to give 12 months' notice before closing youth-detention facilities.

"It's a very simple graphic demonstration of the dysfunction, of the incompetence, of the lack of connection to what really has to be done in this state," Cuomo told Albany's WGDJ 1300-AM.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


St Gilbert of Fleet Street: a review of The Wit and Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton, Selected by Bevis Hillier (Paul Johnson, December 2010, Stanpoint)

GKC was, and is, a source of envy. He was prolific without being commonplace. His extraordinary facility did not make him a hack. His versatility was never superficial. He wrote a certain amount of nonsense but it was not, I'd say, more than five per cent of his huge output. He was often profound. He was nearly always original. He usually makes you think, even on hackneyed subjects, and even if, after you have thought, you decide he is wrong, you feel the effort worthwhile. He gives value. He seldom arouses resentment. You don't throw the book down in disgust. You may put it aside for a time but you come back to it. If you have a Chesterton shelf, it is well used: dingy, battered perhaps, scruffy volumes, often without covers or spines, dog-eared, scrawled in, but never dusty. He was, and is, envied because there is so much to envy, above all that wonderful flow of thoughts and that astonishing capacity to set them down on paper.

Bevis Hillier's little book is excellent in its way, and I have enjoyed it and recommend it. But what I would really like is a complete GKC — everything he ever wrote, including his countless articles for the Illustrated London News and his own papers, the Eye-Witness and GK's Weekly, all put sturdily between hard covers. I believe something of the sort is being attempted in America, but I would like to see a good university press doing it here, in facsimile, as has been done with Mark Twain, and sold cheaply. Failing that, I would like some republications. St Francis and Thomas Aquinas, for instance, both short, should be made into one volume. So should his best literary biographies, Dickens and Browning, possibly with Stevenson added to make a trilogy. Heretics and Orthodoxy ought to be published together. And, say, half a dozen volumes of essays, and two of poetry. That would do for a start.

Although GKC aroused, and continues to arouse, hostility in academia and certain official establishments, I don't think anyone who actually knew him well ever disliked him. Most loved him. He has attracted few biographies because there was no dark side or hidden side. He attracts legends and anecdotes, though. Some are true. It is true, for instance, that, incessantly travelling to and from speaking engagements, he got muddled and once sent a telegram to his wife: "Am in Market Harborough where ought I to be Gilbert." The telegram has been preserved and Hillier has tracked it down: British Library Add. Mss. 73276A.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


401(k) Balances Still Below 2007 Peaks (Emily Brandon, November 24, 2010, US News)

The typical 401(k) account now holds a considerably higher balance than it did in 2008. But many 401(k) balances still have not surpassed their 2007 peaks.

The median 401(k) account held $59,381 at the end of 2009, up from $46,338 in 2008, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute and Investment Company Institute analysis of 4.3 million consistent 401(k) participants between 2003 and 2009. But that’s still slightly less than the $60,858 the median retirement saver had in 2007.

Young retirement savers with fewer years on the job experienced the largest increases in account balances between 2003 and 2009. The value of 401(k) accounts held by investors in their 20s rose 587 percent over the 6-year period because initial account balances were small and new contributions produced significant growth. Older participants with longer job tenures showed more modest nest egg growth. The average account balance among 401(k) participants in their 60s increased 44 percent during the same time period, mostly due to investment returns on higher initial balances.

That was easy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


-EXCERPT: Introduction: Epistemological Backdrop (Michael Oakeshott's Skepticism by Aryeh Botwinick)

The epochal location at which Oakeshott is situated in the history of skepticism affords us a unique opportunity for reassessing the larger metaphysical import and background
postulates of skepticism. What the theoretical trajectory of Oakeshott’s career dramatizes for us are the inextricable theoretical fortunes of religious belief and skepticism. There is a very pronounced religious impulse animating skepticism. A world comprehended from start to finish from the perspective of a lack of finality of judgment is a world that negatively recaptures the prospect of wholeness: none of our intellectual schemata have an unreserved claim to truth. The truth (if it exists) is beyond us and elsewhere. The skeptic restores to God the conceptually empty universe that He bequeathed to us at the moment of Creation—indirectly
reaffirming by his critical renunciations the space that God occupies.

This book is devoted to making the case that on grounds of reasoned argument skepticism issues forth in mysticism. The skeptic is driven to question everything—except his own deployment of skepticism. To be consistent, he needs to turn the critical engine of skepticism inward in relation to the tenets of skepticism themselves. However, to preserve protocols of consistency, he cannot merely dilute skepticism to the level of a generalized agnosticism—so that what results is a tepid, irresolute maintenance of both skepticism and its critical targets. To be consistently applied, the skeptical questioning of skepticism must encompass a thick,
full-blooded rehabilitation of all of the objects of skeptical attack. The theoretical mandate of skepticism extends to making the “yes” of skepticism as resoundingly rich as its “no.” Whatever objects are devastated by skepticism need, according to the internal logic of skepticism itself, to be thoroughly rehabilitated by it. This interminable oscillation between rejection and affirmation yields a mystically saturated world where all of the defining markers of human existence simultaneously are and are not. Under the prism of skepticism, the completely familiar world is exposed as a tissue of defamiliarized possibilities—permanently coexisting with and reconfiguring what on one level we believe we are encountering on a regular basis. In the skeptical-mystical universe of our daily habitation, suspended animation becomes a precondition for a recognizable human universe. The conjunction—or, better still, the confluence—of skepticism and mysticism works to clarify the meaning and status of belief in God as well. The God of all three sets of monotheistic scriptures needs to be conceived as being Absolutely One—utterly transcendent—completely beyond human projection and imagining. If He bore any literal resemblance to things human—if His attributes overlapped with ours in any way—then God would have been situated in a comparative framework with ourselves, and no matter how superlatively superior He was to us in the display of those attributes, His radical and unique Oneness would have been tarnished and undermined. The way to remain faithful to the postulational requirement of God’s Unqualified Oneness is to posit Him as subsisting in an infinite dimension, so that all of our descriptions of Him remain irreducibly metaphoric. However, it is precisely at this point that a parallel contradiction and paradox that we noticed emerging with regard to skepticism resurfaces in relation to the biblical teaching concerning God. If God as a matter of definitional and conceptual necessity must be postulated as “occupying” an infinite dimension, then to know that the traditional epithets of monotheistic religion—such as “omnipotent,” “omniscient,” and “all-merciful”—cannot be applied to Him in a literal sense is already to have pierced through the impassable barrier to infinity in order to know which descriptions need to be ruled out. From a somewhat different angle of vision, we can say that if biblical religion affords us a notion of God only for the sake of parsing away the literal descriptions that religious texts and our own imaginations project unto Him, then in what sense can we be said to be working with an intelligible and sustainable notion of God? If God is only there to be perpetually deliteralized, how can we understand ourselves to be relating to—and speaking about—God at all? Where—and who—is the subject concerning whom these acts of deliteralization occur? Our logical predicament with regard to God nudges us into a pattern of response that is similar to the one we mobilized in relation to the perplexities surrounding skepticism.

The infinity of God debars us from saying both that He is and that He is not—and from coherently assessing how our human vocabularies might impinge upon and reflect His being. The community of believers is forever oscillating between statements and descriptions of Him—and a neutralization and cancellation of those statements and descriptions as being inadequate to or contradictory of the task of reporting who and what He is. Our relationship to God in biblical religion—just as our relationship to the everyday world and to specialized worlds such as science and history invented by human beings over the course of the generations, when viewed from the perspective of skepticism—remains irredeemably, unremittingly mystical. We simultaneously inhabit a “yes” and a “no” without the possibility of permanent release from the one type of response into the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


NFL Parity:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Spiced pecans (Karoline Boehm Goodnick, November 24, 2010, Boston Globe)

Butter (for the pan)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cold water
1 pound large pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Set the oven at 225 degrees. Butter a rimmed baking sheet.

2. In a bowl large enough to hold all the nuts, whisk the egg white and water until frothy. Stir in the pecans; mix until they are well coated.

3. In another bowl, mix the sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Pour the sugar mixture over the nuts and toss well. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, or until very crisp.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Pilgrims in Beirut, Pumpkin Pie in Manhattan: Gravy, for a man of the Mediterranean, is irredeemable. (FOUAD AJAMI, 11/24/10, WSJ)

Americans have always celebrated Thanksgiving, even in the oddest of places—in foxholes in the bleak mountains in the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, in the Arabian desert, and in Baghdad. In the bleak winter of 1950, in Korea, a Thanksgiving dinner for the troops had it all: turkey, the trimmings, giblet gravy and cranberry sauce. "The gravy froze first, then the mashed potatoes," one veteran recalled years later in a Marine journal. "The turkey was a little warm in the middle, if you ate real fast."

Four decades later, George Herbert Walker Bush, in anticipation of a war with Saddam Hussein, would get into the "chow line" and have his Thanksgiving dinner with American troops in the desert "at long tables under a camouflage net," as he and Brent Scowcroft tell it in "A World Transformed." His son would make a more dramatic trip in Thanksgiving 2003. He would journey in secrecy from Texas to Baghdad, surprise American troops, and share a meal with them—a trip he describes as "the most thrilling" of his presidency in his new memoir, "Decision Points."

Nowadays, Thanksgiving has woven into it all the changes that have settled upon our country: the high rates of divorce, the separations. Families are torn, and some children are given two Thanksgiving dinners as they shuttle between paternal and maternal families.

For families that have come apart, Thanksgiving is doubtless a melancholic reminder of what has been lost. Still, Americans brave distance and traffic and airport security procedures to make their way to their families. A big, continental country is made smaller on the last Thursday of each November.

And for a good segment of Americans, though decidedly not the majority, Thanksgiving has to make an accommodation with America's wars abroad. In our family, and not for the first year, this Thanksgiving will be marked by the absence of two young men, my twin nephews. Captains in the U.S. Army, one is in Iraq on a second tour of duty, and one is in Afghanistan after a deployment in Iraq. They shall be missed and remembered.

Amid these wars and economic anxiety at home, our country has a lot to be thankful for—and a lot to ponder and worry about at the same time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Why some Iran conservatives are turning against Ahmadinejad (James Reynolds, 11/23/10, BBC)

[A] third set of opponents has begun to emerge - from within the ruling conservative movement.

This collection of opponents may prove to be more dangerous to Mr Ahmadinejad than the first two.

On Sunday, an article in the Wall Street Journal said four lawmakers had released a report accuse the president and his government of breaking the law.

The alleged offences include a $590m withdrawal from the Central Bank's foreign reserve fund without parliamentary approval; the illegal import of oil and natural gas; and lack of transparency in budget spending.

Ray Takeyh, an Iran watcher at the New-York based Council on Foreign Relations, says conservatives are concerned that the president is trying to transform the country "from the Islamic Republic to the Ahmadinejad Republic".

Conservative newspapers in Iran also report that lawmakers have started a petition to collect 74 signatures to debate impeachment in parliament.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


The Global Imam: What does the leader of the world’s most influential Islamic movement really want? (Suzy Hansen, November 10, 2010, New Republic)

The leader of what is arguably the world’s most successful Islamic movement lives in a tiny Pennsylvania town called Saylorsburg, at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, otherwise known as “the Camp.” The Camp consists of a series of houses, a community center, a pond, and some tranquil, woodsy space for strolling. From this Poconos enclave—which resembles a resort more than the headquarters of a worldwide religious, social, and political movement—Fethullah Gülen, a 69-year-old Turkish bachelor with a white moustache, wide nose, and gentle, sad expression, leads perhaps five million followers who, in his spirit if not his name, operate schools, universities, corporations, nonprofits, and media organs around the globe. [...]

Like many foreign journalists based in Istanbul, I first became acquainted with the Gülen movement through a group called the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), which invites foreign journalists to seminars on political topics and generally serves as the Gülenists’ unofficial p.r. firm. At the time, new to the country, I didn’t know the JWF was a Gülen-linked group. (In fact, Gülen serves as its honorary president.)

But it wasn’t just the JWF. As I became more acquainted with Turkey, it began to seem as if everything there was somehow linked to Gülen. Not only NGOs, businesses, and schools, but also people. “This article is good,” I would say. “Yes, but you know, that writer is Gülen,” would come the reply. Sometimes, calling someone “Gülen” seemed to reflect fear or prejudice, and pinning down whether or not any given organization was tied to the Gülen movement was rarely a simple matter. As someone at the Rumi Forum in Washington—another organization where Gülen serves as honorary president—put it, “If you say you are in [the Gülen movement], if you say that at 12:20, and say you are out at 12:21, you are out.” One Turkish acquaintance joked to me, “Who knows? Every day, when I go to the bakery or get my groceries, I could be giving money to Gülen. Who knows!” “They’re everywhere” is a common refrain. At times, suspicions about the Gülenists sound like anti-Semitism—they run the media, they’re rich, they stick together, they only help their own.

If you ask Gülenists—who blanch at the words “follower” and “member,” as well as the term “Gülenist” (in Turkish, the term is Fethullahçı, referring to his first name)—they will call themselves a “faith-based, civic society movement” or a “volunteers movement” made up of people who admire the thoughts and writings of Gülen. They are an organic network of people, they say, whose goal is to do good works at Gülen’s noble behest while spreading his message of love and tolerance, as well as his vision of Islam. According to academics who have studied the movement, there are, more or less, three levels of involvement: sympathizers, who admire Gülen; friends, who, to some degree, support or work for the movement; and the cemaat, or community, the core adherents who are closest to Gülen himself.

The Gülen movement reminds people of everything from Opus Dei to Scientology to the Masons, Mormons, and Moonies. Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert on international religious movements, says that the Gülenists echo the Muhammadiyah of Indonesia, the Soka Gakkai of Japan, and various Indian guru - led or political-religious groups. I’ve seen Gülen referred to as the Turkish Billy Graham. “If you look at some of their educational work, they remind me of Quakers and missionaries who went off to Africa,” says Bill Park of King’s College, London, a scholar who has written about the group, “but if you go all the way to the other end, it is a political movement as well.”

Gülen’s views are moderate and modern. He is fiercely opposed to violence and enthusiastic about science. According to Gülen, “avoiding the physical sciences due to the fear that they will lead to heresy is childish.” He is emphatically not a radical Islamist. “The lesser jihad is our active fulfillment of Islam’s commands and duties,” he has written, and “the greater jihad is proclaiming war on our ego’s destructive and negative emotions and thoughts ... which prevent us from attaining perfection.” He has exhorted women to take off their headscarves, a ritual he considers “of secondary importance,” in order to attend university in compliance with Turkey’s secular laws. His followers run nonprofit organizations that promote peace, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue, and Gülenist businessmen devote their resources to building secular schools.

It’s no surprise, then, that Gülen has many admirers in the West. “It’s a civic movement,” says Islam scholar John Esposito, one of many American academics who praise the Gülenists. “It’s an alternative elite within Turkish society, as in many Muslim societies, that can be modern, educated, and successful, but also religiously minded.” Particularly after September 11, Gülen’s movement had a lot of appeal in the United States, which was suddenly desperate for “good Muslims.” “It was 2003, two years after 9/11; we were just in the beginning of the Iraq war, and here’s this ecumenical Muslim movement that seems to be open to modernity and science and is focused on education,” said one senior U.S. government official who has had dealings with Gülenists. “It seemed almost too good to be true.”

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November 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Republicans pick up 2 more seats in House (Michael A. Memoli, 11/23/10, Chicago Tribune)

Rep. Dan Maffei conceded to Ann Marie Buerkle in New York's 25th Congressional District, acknowledging Tuesday afternoon that although he had narrowed the gap as absentee ballots were counted, he was unlikely to prevail.

With the defeat of Maffei, first elected in 2008, 22 of the chamber's 26 first-term Democrats have lost their seats.

On Monday night, 14-term incumbent Solomon Ortiz conceded to Blake Farenthold in the 27th District of Texas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


A Waste of Money and Time (Bruce Schneier, 11/23/10, NY Times)

[A]irplanes require a special level of security for several reasons: they’re a favored terrorist target; their failure characteristics mean more deaths than a comparable bomb on a bus or train; they tend to be national symbols; and they often fly to foreign countries where terrorists can operate with more impunity.

But all that can be handled with pre-9/11 security. Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we’re done. Take all the rest of the money and spend it on investigation and intelligence.

Immediately after the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber’s plot failed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called airplane security a success. She was pilloried in the press and quickly backpedaled, but I think it was one of the most sensible things said on the subject. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist: what more do people want out of a security success?

Look at what succeeded. Because even pre-9/11 security screened for obvious bombs, Abdulmutallab had to construct a far less reliable bomb than he would have otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or a reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial user of PETN, Abdulmutallab had to resort to an ad hoc and much more inefficient detonation mechanism involving a syringe, 20 minutes in the lavatory, and setting his pants on fire. As a result, his actions came to the notice of the other passengers, who subdued him.

Put two planes at the airport gate and offer Mr. Schneier a flight on the one where passengers have been thoroughly searched or on the one where it is assumed that's a waste of time and money and which one is he getting on? 'Nuff said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


The Baffling Part Is That Jeter Talks Turned Ugly (TYLER KEPNER, 11/23/10, NY Times)

Jeter has made more than $205 million from the Yankees. He likes it here. The Yankees like him. The sides have had 10 years to think about their next agreement. Did it really have to get nasty?

To recap, from various news media forums: Steinbrenner emphasized that he was running a business, and warned that talks could get ugly. Close, Jeter’s agent, responded by saying his client’s value to the franchise “cannot be overstated.” The Yankees emphasized that they would value Jeter as a player, not a brand.

Close, normally quite reticent, then called the Yankees’ tactics baffling. The Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, fired back by saying he was concerned about Jeter’s age and declining performance.

Oh please.

...Jeter's would only be the 6th worst contract the Yanks were carrying--behind Arod, Sabathia, Burnett, Lee & Texeiria.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


Obama needs a governor in the West Wing (Jonathan Capehart, 11/21/10, Washington Post)

Focusing on Obama's personnel, we agreed that the president needed to widen his circle of confidants beyond his Chicago security blanket. "He needs a governor," my friend said. My perfect candidates: Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) and Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.).

As governors of struggling industrial states, Rendell and Granholm have had to make the painful budgetary decisions that Washington continues to put off. They have faced an angry and fearful electorate and have had to be inventive in addressing their states' problems. The people they govern are the very voters Obama continues to have trouble connecting with; remember that Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also won Michigan's "beauty contest," though Obama pulled his name from the Michigan ballot after the state Democratic Party broke national party rules by moving up its primary date.

...but the answer isn't a failed governor. Those two just got out of office one step ahead of the lynch mob. How about Richard Daley, who was a great mayor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


E-Paper Breakthrough Could Lead to Rollable, Flexible, Even Disposable e-Readers (Clay Dillow, 11.23.2010, Popular Science)

The problem with most e-paper, as we’ve come to know it, is that it’s not actually anything like paper. Most e-readers like the Amazon Kindle use a glass substrate embedded with complex circuitry to achieve the visual appearance of paper rather than the glow of a computer screen. But a new kind of e-paper under development at the University of Cincinnati could change all that by putting e-ink where it belongs: on e-paper that’s actually made out of paper. The breakthrough could finally lead to rollable, flexible, low-cost, and even disposable e-readers.

The e-paper works by using paper, rather than glass or some other rigid substrate, as the host material for an electrowetting device. Electrowetting is a process that employs an electric field to manipulate colored droplets within a display in order to arrange them in a way that reveals content. That content can range from black and white type to, theoretically, high-res color video. The researchers found that the performance of their paper-based elecrowetting device is equivalent to that of glass, which currently sets the bar for performance in the portable e-reader field.

Professor Andrew Steckl and his team envision a device that feels like paper, is rollable like paper, and – like paper – is cheap enough to be disposable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


God Save the Colonies: Why America should adopt the British monarchy as its own. (ALEX MASSIE, NOVEMBER 19, 2010, Foreign Policy)

The monarchy lurks in the background, a rarely considered ever-present that still, perhaps remarkably, retains a hold on the people's affection. This confounds rationalists and strict-constructionist democrats alike for one simple reason: Royalty is an anachronism that works. Tradition has an intrinsic value, and anyway, there's no evidence that selecting a head of state by ballot rather than birth produces any better results.

In fact, the power of monarchy is demonstrated by republics around the world. The French president, for instance, wields powers comparable to those enjoyed by monarchs before parliaments challenged royal authority. The difference is that an elected head of state becomes a polarizing rather than unifying figure. Similarly, it's evident that the president of the United States is expected to be both the embodiment of the republic and some kind of priest-king: Father of the Nation and Chief Executive. This has a number of regrettable consequences.

Last year, Peggy Noonan, the American conservative commentator and former presidential speechwriter, complained that President Barack Obama lacked some of the presence that a good head of state requires. She imagines "a good president as sitting at the big desk and reaching out with his long arms and holding on to the left, and holding on to the right, and trying mightily to hold it together, letting neither spin out of control, holding on for dear life. I wish we were seeing that. I don't think we are."

Americans tempted to scoff at the gushing nonsense produced by the British press this week should attend to Noonan's words. It is one thing to be dazzled by quasi-mystical notions of the thread of royalty stretching back through the centuries; quite another to wrap a mere politician -- all too human flesh and all -- in such purpled prose. A politician is merely a politician, here today and tossed out tomorrow. The monarch, however, is a reassuring and enduring symbol whose presence is inoffensive at worst and more often comforting. The American system simply isn't set up to produce the kind of figure that Noonan longs for.

If the president must be comforter-in-chief and chief executive, is it any wonder that the office is bedeviled by a kind of institutional schizophrenia? The president must, simultaneously, be the leader of his party and a kindly, bipartisan father figure whose stately presence in the White House reassures and embodies the great republic. With all that, the wonder of the American presidency is not that it is done well but that it is done at all.

the Founders did their best to make the executive kingly, but the entire structure would be improved by a monarch completely outside electoral reach.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 11/23/10, NY Times)

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms. [...]

Corporate profits have been going gangbusters for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history.

This breakneck pace can be partly attributed to strong productivity growth — which means companies have been able to make more with less — as well as the fact that some of the profits of American companies come from abroad.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM

60-40 NATION:

51 percent of Americans want to keep or expand health care law (STEVEN THOMMA, 11/23/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

A majority of Americans want Congress to keep the new health care law or actually expand it, despite Republican claims that they have a mandate from the people to kill it, according to a new McClatchy Newspapers-Marist poll. [...]

Far from the all-or-nothing positions staked out by politicians and pundits, Americans are more divided about the health care law.

On the side favoring it, 16 percent of registered voters want to let it stand as is.

Another 35 percent want to change it to do more. Among groups with pluralities who want to expand it: women, minorities, people younger than 45, Democrats, liberals, Northeasterners and those making less than $50,000 a year.

Lining up against the law, 11 percent want to amend it to rein it in.

Another 33 percent want to repeal it.

The GOP and Democrats could easily compromise around reforms that expand coverage until it is genuinely universal, but puts people into HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


On foreign policy, Obama is stuck in the '80s (Jackson Diehl, 11/22/10, Union Leader)

The Obama administration is devoting a big share of its diplomatic time and capital to curbing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank — most recently, offering Israel’s right-wing government $3 billion in warplanes in exchange for a 90-day moratorium. Meanwhile, it has committed much of its dwindling domestic political capital to pushing a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia through a reluctant Senate.

So has nothing changed in the past quarter-century? In fact, almost everything has — especially when it comes to nuclear arms control and Israel’s national objectives. What hasn’t changed, it seems, is Barack Obama — who has led his administration into a foreign policy time warp that is sapping its strength abroad and at home.

Start with the New START treaty that Obama has made a priority for the lame-duck Senate, at a time when Americans don’t yet know what income tax rate they will pay on Jan. 1. The treaty resembles the landmark U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties that were negotiated in the years after Obama wrote his article — and it would perpetuate their important verification measures.

The difference is that no one stages marches today about U.S. and Soviet — now Russian — strategic weapons, and with good reason. The danger of a war between the two states is minuscule; and treaty or no, Russia’s arsenal is very likely to dwindle in the coming years.

He's just doing what the State Department tells him to do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Consensus is forming on what steps to take in cutting the deficit (Lori Montgomery, 11/22/10, Washington Post)

Whatever the outcome, the plan unveiled this month by co-chairmen Erskine B. Bowles, a chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, has been respectfully received with a few exceptions by both parties. Its major elements are also winning support from a striking line-up of commentators.

Former AARP chief Bill Novelli, who sits on a separate budget-balancing panel, has acknowledged the need to trim benefits to make Social Security solvent for future generations. This second panel is chaired by Alice M. Rivlin, a budget director under President Clinton, and Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico.

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, a conservative Republican who also sits on their panel, acknowledged the need for more tax revenue, saying lower income-tax rates paired with a national sales tax constitute "for me as a conservative, excellent public policy."

Meanwhile, a chorus of retired military officers and national security experts has backed the call to reduce spending at the Pentagon for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"It is simply not going to be viable, either economically or politically, to exempt defense from the cuts that are coming," said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets during the Clinton administration. "Events over the past two weeks have begun to snowball to put defense, as well as every other form of federal spending, on the table."

The strange bedfellows are a "testament to the moderate nature" of the ideas under discussion,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Halfhearted Soul-Searching at the White House: Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama hasn’t yet experienced a political loss that taught him how to reinvent himself. He needs to surround himself with advisers who will challenge his world view. (Eleanor Clift, 11/21/10, Newsweek)

Part of Obama’s problem is that there’s too much hero worship around him, and that translates into a reluctance to fault him for anything, except maybe that he didn’t make a good enough case for all the wonderful things he’s done. [...]

Obama is an undefined figure to much of the country, and to his fellow Democrats. Though he’s portrayed as a liberal, it’s not clear what he’ll fight for, and he keeps that deliberately vague, perhaps hoping to deliver on the post-partisan promise his election represented. The fight over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts is a perfect example. The White House needs to settle on a strategy and then execute it, whatever it is. Hope is not a strategy, and the extent to which Obama seems to weigh the political considerations of whatever decision he makes reinforces the voters’ disillusionment that rather than leading, he has instead become part of the government—an implicit admission of his failure to bring about the change he ran on.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Netflix launches streaming-only movie service, raises prices for DVD plans (Ben Fritz, November 22, 2010, LA Times)

Making a big bet on a digital future, Netflix on Monday debuted its long-anticipated Internet streaming-only service while also raising rates for its plans that include DVDs. [...]

[D]emand for Netflix streaming has quickly grown to the point at which it now delivers more movies online than it ships through the mail. The new $7.99 plan appears designed to attract a younger and more frugal audience that watches much of its content via digital media.

We'd never even taken the disc we have out of the envelope and it goes back today, for good.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor (DEXTER FILKINS AND CARLOTTA GALL, 11/22/10, NY Times)

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

We give the CIA more money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Left’s pressure moves Pelosi toward clashes with Obama (Russell Berman - 11/22/10, The Hill)

[P]elosi is facing pressure from empowered liberals in her caucus to take a harder line with the administration.

Those liberals, led by a group of four lawmakers who tried unsuccessfully to delay caucus leadership elections last week, say House Democrats were led astray by their allegiance to a flawed White House political strategy during the 111th Congress.

“We’re going to have to really push the White House and the Senate,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “I think the greatest failing in this Congress was that the House … enabled the White House, and the White House was not always right.

“We’ve got to push them harder from our position,” he added, “to do what Democrats need and what’s expected by Democrats.”

DeFazio and other House Democrats criticized Obama for spending too much time and political capital trying to negotiate with Senate Republicans on bills like the stimulus and healthcare reform. They say those talks resulted in watered-down legislation with weak public support.

A caucus stripped of all the Republicans who Rahm Emmanuel got to run as Democrats can't help but be even more deranged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


What Good Is Wall Street?: Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless. (John Cassidy, November 29, 2010 , The New Yorker)

Barely two years after Wall Street’s recklessness brought the global economy to the brink of collapse, the sight of a senior Wall Street figure talking about responsible finance may well strike you as suspicious. But on one point Pandit cannot be challenged. Since the promulgation of Hammurabi’s Code, in ancient Babylon, no advanced society has survived without banks and bankers. Banks enable people to borrow money, and, today, by operating electronic-transfer systems, they allow commerce to take place without notes and coins changing hands. They also play a critical role in channelling savings into productive investments. When a depositor places money in a savings account or a C.D., the bank lends it out to corporations, small businesses, and families. These days, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and others also help corporations and municipalities raise money by issuing stocks, bonds, and other securities on their behalf. The business of issuing securities used to be the exclusive preserve of Wall Street firms, such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, but during the past twenty years many of the dividing lines between ordinary banks and investment banks have vanished.

When the banking system behaves the way it is supposed to—as Pandit says Citi is now behaving—it is akin to a power utility, distributing money (power) to where it is needed and keeping an account of how it is used. Just like power utilities, the big banks have a commanding position in the market, which they can use for the benefit of their customers and the economy at large. But when banks seek to exploit their position and make a quick killing, they can cause enormous damage. It’s not clear now whether the bankers have really given up their reckless practices, as Pandit claims they have, or whether they are merely lying low. In the past few years, all the surviving big banks have raised more capital and become profitable again. However, the U.S. government was indirectly responsible for much of this turnaround. And in the country at large, where many businesses rely on the banks to fund their day-to-day operations, the power still isn’t flowing properly. Over-all bank lending to firms and households remains below the level it reached in 2008.

The other important role of the banking industry, historically, has been to finance the growth of vital industries, including railroads, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and entertainment. “Go back and pick any period in time,” John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley, said to me recently. “Let’s go back to the tech boom. I guess it got on its feet in the late eighties, with Apple Computer and Microsoft, and really started to blossom in the nineteen-nineties, with Cisco, Netscape,, and others. These are companies that created a lot of jobs, a lot of intellectual capital, and Wall Street helped finance that. The first investors were angel investors, then venture capitalists, and to really grow and build they needed Wall Street.”

Mack, who is sixty-six years old, is a plainspoken native of North Carolina. He attended Duke on a football scholarship, and he retains the lean build of an athlete. We were sitting at a conference table in his large, airy office above Times Square, which features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Hudson. “Today, it’s not just technology—it’s clean tech,” he went on. “All of these industries need capital—whether it is ethanol, solar, or other alternative-fuel sources. We can give you a list of companies we’ve done, but it’s not just Morgan Stanley. Wall Street has been the source of capital formation.”

There is something in what Mack says. Morgan Stanley has raised money for Tesla Motors, a producer of electric cars, and it has invested in Bloom Energy, an innovator in fuel-cell technology. Morgan Stanley’s principal rivals, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, are also canvassing investors for ethanol producers, wind farms, and other alternative-energy firms. Banks, of course, raise money for less environmentally friendly corporations, too, such as Ford, General Electric, and ExxonMobil, which need cash to fund their operations. It was evidently this business of raising capital (and creating employment) that Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chief executive, was referring to last year, when he told an interviewer from a British newspaper that he and his colleagues were “doing God’s work.”

Yet Wall Street’s role in financing new businesses is a small portion of what it does. The market for initial public offerings (I.P.O.s) of stock by U.S. companies never fully recovered from the tech bust. During the third quarter of 2010, just thirty-three U.S. companies went public, and they raised a paltry five billion dollars. Most people on Wall Street aren’t finding the next Apple or promoting a green rival to Exxon. They are buying and selling securities that are tied to existing firms and capital projects, or to something less concrete, such as the price of a stock or the level of an exchange rate. During the past two decades, trading volumes have risen exponentially across many markets: stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities, and all manner of derivative securities. In the first nine months of this year, sales and trading accounted for thirty-six per cent of Morgan Stanley’s revenues and a much higher proportion of profits. Traditional investment banking—the business of raising money for companies and advising them on deals—contributed less than fifteen per cent of the firm’s revenue. Goldman Sachs is even more reliant on trading. Between July and September of this year, trading accounted for sixty-three per cent of its revenue, and corporate finance just thirteen per cent.

In effect, many of the big banks have turned themselves from businesses whose profits rose and fell with the capital-raising needs of their clients into immense trading houses whose fortunes depend on their ability to exploit day-to-day movements in the markets. Because trading has become so central to their business, the big banks are forever trying to invent new financial products that they can sell but that their competitors, at least for the moment, cannot. Some recent innovations, such as tradable pollution rights and catastrophe bonds, have provided a public benefit. But it’s easy to point to other innovations that serve little purpose or that blew up and caused a lot of collateral damage, such as auction-rate securities and collateralized debt obligations. Testifying earlier this year before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said that financial innovation “isn’t always a good thing,” adding that some innovations amplify risk and others are used primarily “to take unfair advantage rather than create a more efficient market.”

Other regulators have gone further. Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain’s top financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has described much of what happens on Wall Street and in other financial centers as “socially useless activity”—a comment that suggests it could be eliminated without doing any damage to the economy. In a recent article titled “What Do Banks Do?,” which appeared in a collection of essays devoted to the future of finance, Turner pointed out that although certain financial activities were genuinely valuable, others generated revenues and profits without delivering anything of real worth—payments that economists refer to as rents. “It is possible for financial activity to extract rents from the real economy rather than to deliver economic value,” Turner wrote. “Financial innovation . . . may in some ways and under some circumstances foster economic value creation, but that needs to be illustrated at the level of specific effects: it cannot be asserted a priori.”

Turner’s viewpoint caused consternation in the City of London, the world’s largest financial market. A clear implication of his argument is that many people in the City and on Wall Street are the financial equivalent of slumlords or toll collectors in pin-striped suits. If they retired to their beach houses en masse, the rest of the economy would be fine, or perhaps even healthier.

Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in finance, broadly defined, has shot up from roughly five million to more than seven and a half million. During the same period, the profitability of the financial sector has increased greatly relative to other industries. Think of all the profits produced by businesses operating in the U.S. as a cake. Twenty-five years ago, the slice taken by financial firms was about a seventh of the whole. Last year, it was more than a quarter. (In 2006, at the peak of the boom, it was about a third.) In other words, during a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot, and Lipitor, the best place to work has been in an industry that doesn’t design, build, or sell a single tangible thing.

From the end of the Second World War until 1980 or thereabouts, people working in finance earned about the same, on average and taking account of their qualifications, as people in other industries. By 2006, wages in the financial sector were about sixty per cent higher than wages elsewhere. And in the richest segment of the financial industry—on Wall Street, that is—compensation has gone up even more dramatically. Last year, while many people were facing pay freezes or worse, the average pay of employees at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank jumped twenty-seven per cent, to more than three hundred and forty thousand dollars. This figure includes modestly paid workers at reception desks and in mail rooms, and it thus understates what senior bankers earn. At Goldman, it has been reported, nearly a thousand employees received bonuses of at least a million dollars in 2009.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has become the preferred destination for the bright young people who used to want to start up their own companies, work for NASA, or join the Peace Corps. At Harvard this spring, about a third of the seniors with secure jobs were heading to work in finance. Ben Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard, recently wrote an article lamenting “the direction of such a large fraction of our most-skilled, best-educated, and most highly motivated young citizens to the financial sector.”

Most people on Wall Street, not surprisingly, believe that they earn their keep, but at least one influential financier vehemently disagrees: Paul Woolley, a seventy-one-year-old Englishman who has set up an institute at the London School of Economics called the Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. “Why on earth should finance be the biggest and most highly paid industry when it’s just a utility, like sewage or gas?” Woolley said to me when I met with him in London. “It is like a cancer that is growing to infinite size, until it takes over the entire body.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


CBC Investigation: Who killed Lebanon's Rafik Hariri? (Neil Macdonald, 11/19/10, CBC News)

Among other things, CBC News has learned that:

* Evidence gathered by Lebanese police and, much later, the UN, points overwhelmingly to the fact that the assassins were from Hezbollah, the militant Party of God that is largely sponsored by Syria and Iran. CBC News has obtained cellphone and other telecommunications evidence that is at the core of the case.

* UN investigators came to believe their inquiry was penetrated early by Hezbollah and that that the commission's lax security likely led to the murder of a young, dedicated Lebanese policeman who had largely cracked the case on his own and was co-operating with the international inquiry.

* UN commission insiders also suspected Hariri's own chief of protocol at the time, a man who now heads Lebanon's intelligence service, of colluding with Hezbollah. But those suspicions, laid out in an extensive internal memo, were not pursued, basically for diplomatic reasons.

In its first months, the UN inquiry had actually appeared promising. The first commissioner, a German judge named Detlev Mehlis, quickly delivered a blistering report [] suggesting Syria had ordered, if not actually carried out, the hit.

Unspecified agents, Mehlis contended, had done the deed.

But Mehlis's successor, a Belgian prosecutor named Serge Brammertz, seemed to be more interested in avoiding controversy than in pursuing any sort of serious investigation, at least according to people who worked for him.

Under his leadership, the commission spent most of its time chasing what turned out to be false leads and disproving wild conspiracy theories.

That isn't to say the commission didn't have some good investigators. It did. In fact, it had a handful of the best that Western police agencies had to offer.

But Brammertz could not be persuaded to authorize the one technique that those investigators wanted above all to deploy: telecommunications analysis, probably the single most important intelligence-gathering tool in modern times.

Telecommunications analysts use powerful computers and highly sophisticated software to sift through millions of phone calls, seeking patterns, referencing and cross-referencing, identifying networks and associations.

Police forces call it "telecomms." Spy agencies call it "sigint." It leads to convictions in courts and missile strikes in places like Afghanistan and Yemen.

Unbelievably, though, the UN commission in Lebanon did no telecom analysis at all for most of its first three years of existence. It wasn't until Brammertz was nearing the end of his term that one particularly dogged detective prodded him into letting the inquiry start examining phone records.

At that point, in October of 2007, things began moving fast. Commission staff actually managed to obtain the records of every single phone call made in Lebanon the year of Hariri's murder - a stunning amount of data - and brought in a British firm called FTS to carry out the specialized analysis.

UN clerks worked day and night inputting data into a program called IBase. Then, in December, a specialist from FTS began examining what the computer was spitting out.

Within two days, he called the UN investigators together. He had identified a small network of mobile phones, eight in all, that had been shadowing Hariri in the weeks prior to his death.

It was the single biggest breakthrough the commission had accomplished since its formation - "earth-shattering," in the words of one of the people in the room the day the network was identified.

What the British analyst showed them was nothing less than the hit squad that had carried out the murder, or at least the phones they'd been carrying at the time.

For the first time, commission investigators were staring at their quarry. The trouble was, the traces were now nearly three years old, long past the "golden hour" for harvesting the best clues.

Still, it was something. And when the investigators began their due diligence, double-checking their work, there was another revelation, this one even more earth-shattering.

Someone digging though the commission's records turned up a report from a mid-ranking Lebanese policeman that had been sent over to the UN offices nearly a year and a half earlier, in the first months of 2006.

Read the CBC's Lynn Burgess's piece [] on the challenge of confidential sources.

Not only had the policeman identified what the UN would eventually dub the "red network" - the hit team - he had discovered much more. He had found the networks behind the networks.

In fact, he'd uncovered a complex, disciplined plot that had been at least a year in the planning, and he had already questioned suspects.

What's more, everything he'd discovered pointed to one culprit: Hezbollah, the Party of God.

All of this was in the policeman's report, which he had dutifully sent to the UN officials with whom he was supposed to be partnering.

And the UN commission had promptly lost it.

Before his violent death in 2008, Wissam Eid was an unusual figure in the murky, often corrupt world of Arab policing.

He had never actually wanted to be a policeman, or an intelligence officer. In authoritarian Arab society, he had no interest in becoming an authority figure. And yet, he'd had no choice.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


As the left falls into a negative sulk, the centre-right have become the optimists: Everything, the Labour party says, is about to get worse. The task of dreaming dreams has been left to Nick Clegg and David Cameron (Julian Glover, 11/22/10,

The coalition understands, hopefully, that it will fail if it continues to sit tests on terms laid out by Labour. Its politics must be recalibrated around a different philosophy. This sounds like – and can be – a way of dodging the consequences of cuts. But there is nothing inalienable about the ideas inherited from Britain's postwar settlement. The welfare state has in some ways led to a better and fairer society but after five decades Britain does not seem notably equal or free or happy. There may be better ways of achieving these ends.

John Maynard Keynes spotted the problem even before it came about. In his new book on the big society, the philosophically inclined Tory MP Jesse Norman quotes an article the economist wrote in 1939: "Why cannot the leaders of the Labour party face the fact that they are not sectaries of an outworn creed, mumbling moss-grown, demi-semi Fabian Marxism, but the heirs of eternal Liberalism?" Heirs, perhaps – but disinherited. There are few liberals in the Labour party these days. The task of thinking liberal thoughts has been left to the coalition.

On Tuesday Nick Clegg will give the Hugo Young Memorial lecture at the Guardian premises, and try to persuade his audience that the government draws its strength from ideology, not opportunism. He will step away from government by measurement and defend the liberal idea of individual human advancement. He has even been reading Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies. Hayek next, perhaps.

Much of the left will sneer at this: but if I was inside Labour I would worry that Britain's centre-right parties are making a better job of setting out an optimistic philosophy of government than statist conservatives on the left. They have fallen into a negative sulk: everything, Labour predicts, is about to get worse, which only makes sense as a strategy if you have something better to offer.

Labour doesn't. The party has become uninteresting. The coalition is doing the thinking. Yes, the "big society" is waffly, unmarketable and disliked by many Tories. Norman's book won't persuade sceptics. But it is also a serious attempt to replace two misguided philosophies, one on the left and one on the right. Norman attacks Labour's state centralism. More interestingly, he also questions the liberal market economics which not long ago seemed a prerequisite of Tory thinking. He's trying to offer something original and he is not the only one in his party to do so.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


You've never had it so good, says Lord Young. By accident. Before promptly stepping down: Just when Kate and Wills had made us forgot about the economy, Lord Young had to come along and spoil it all. But there must be other distractions . . . (Charlie Brooker, 11/22/10, The Guardian)

But then Lord Young went and spoiled everything by speaking to the Daily Telegraph, which rudely elbowed the economy back on to the front pages once again.

During the discussion Lord Young claimed that, despite the "so-called recession", many people had "never had it so good". There's a recording of the interview: you can just about hear Lord Young's voice over the clank of expensive cutlery and general satisfied hubbub filling the Roux brothers' Parliament Square restaurant he's dining in, as he cheerfully dismisses the potential loss of 100,000 public sector jobs as a number so insignificant it falls "within the margin of error".

Sadly, there aren't any accompanying pictures, so we don't know whether he delivered this insight while enjoying a starter of Loch Duart salmon, leek, champagne velouté, fine herbs and avruga – or, perhaps, a main course of veal accompanied by sweetbreads, summer vegetables and smoked pommes mousseline. Maybe he was eating spatchcock social worker in a blood-and-port jus. We'll probably never know. But whatever he had in his gob, he came across as a touch heartless, and distant – almost like a clueless toff in a posh restaurant, in fact.

The headlines were predictably negative. Cameron was so annoyed he sat down and angrily wobbled his jowls for a full 45 minutes (probably), while Young ran around trying to unsay his own words. His remarks had been "inaccurate and insensitive", he now claimed. "I should have chosen my words much more carefully," he added.

A classic Kinsley gaffe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Beyond Understanding (ANDY MARTIN, 11/21/10, NY Times)

My psychologist friend assured me that I was not alone. “Men tend to be autistic on average. More so than women.” The accepted male-to-female ratio for autism is roughly 4-to-1; for Asperger’s the ratio jumps even higher, by some accounts 10-to-1 (other statistics give higher or lower figures but retain the male prevalence). Asperger himself wrote that the autistic mind is “an extreme variant of male intelligence”; Baron-Cohen argues that “the extreme male brain” (not exclusive to men) is the product of an overdose of fetal testosterone.

If Wittgenstein in his conversation with Russell is suggesting that philosophers are typically autistic in a broad sense, this view might explain (in part) the preponderance of male philosophers. I went back over several sources to get an idea of the philosophical ratio: Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” (about 100-to-1), Critchley’s “Book of Dead Philosophers” (30-to-1), while, in the realm of the living, the list of contributors to The Stone, for example, the ratio narrows to more like 4-to-1.

Perhaps women are no more emnpathetic than men, but are conditioned to fake it? Whereas men generally can't be bothered to even make the effort?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The 2010 electorate: Old, white, rich and Republican (STEVEN THOMMA AND WILLIAM DOUGLAS, 11/22/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

Perhaps the most significant point about voter turnout in 2010 is how many voters didn't go to the polls. Some 38 percent of eligible voters didn't vote in 2008. This November, 33 percent of those who voted in 2008 stayed home, which means that "nonvoters were the majority in 2010," the report said.

Compared with 2008, voting dropped off this year particularly among pro-Democratic groups:

-Young voters were down by 55 percent.

-African-Americans were down by 43 percent.

-Hispanics were down by 40 percent.

Of those voters who did show up this year, four out of five were white, one in 10 was African-American and one in 13 was Latino. The analysis is based primarily on exit poll data and preliminary estimates from the U.S. Elections Project.

Senior citizens turned out in force - their turnout was 16 percent higher than in the last midterm election of 2006, and 59 percent of them voted Republican, up 10 percentage points from 2006. While voters 65 and older are about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 21 percent of this year's electorate.

Rich people voted heavily too. Total ballots cast by people making $200,000 a year or more expanded by 68 percent over 2006, the study found. Those making from $100,000 to $200,000 cast 11 percent more ballots than they did in 2006. The share of the vote declined for those making less than $50,000 annually.

"It is fair to say that 2010 was the year of older, rich people," the study said.

November 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Nissan to move production to cut currency risk (Agence France-Presse, 11/22/10)

Japanese auto firm Nissan wants to move production and support functions to dollar-linked economies, including the United States and China, to avoid currency volatility, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


R U Lovin’ Sarah’s Alaska?: From governor to TV star. (MATT LABASH, 11/20/10, Weekly Standard)

It’s hard to tell sometimes where Sarah ends and Alaska begins. The Last Frontier of Alaska is as wild and untamed as Sarah Palin’s ambitions. So it makes sense that Sarah loves Alaska, because loving Alaska is like loving herself. And that’s what Sarah Palin’s Alaska is really about: self-love.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Hollerado perform live in The Current studio (Steve Seel, Minnesota Public Radio, Jill Riley, Minnesota Public Radio, November 18, 2010, The Current)

If you haven't heard of Canada's Hollerado yet, you will soon. Having already been hand-picked by Jack White to open for The Dead Weather as well as opening for esteemed acts like Andrew WK and Malajube, they also scored big with a viral internet video for their song "Americanarama," depicting 24 actors stacked in a grid dancing out specific patterns, done in all one take with just $4,000. It goes to show you that this Canadian outfit is a resourceful bunch, ready to expand their creativity to a wider audience.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Most medical research is wrong? Are you kidding?: No. In fact, the leading figure in medical statistics says plainly, “most claimed research findings are false”. (Michael Cook, 11/22/10, MercatorNet)

Dr Ioannides is not a crank or an enemy of science. On the contrary, his work has been published in leading journals and his claims are widely accepted among his colleagues. He has worked at Harvard University, Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University. His ground-breaking 2005 paper in the journal PLoS Medicine has become the most downloaded in its history. Every year he receives hundreds of invitations to speak at conferences. “You can question some of the details of John’s calculations, but it’s hard to argue that the essential ideas aren’t absolutely correct,” Doug Altman, the director of Oxford’s Centre for Statistics in Medicine, told Atlantic Monthly.

Ioannides’s claims are largely statistical and thus require much brain cudgelling for laymen. But his conclusions ought to rattle anyone: that “most research findings are false for most research designs and for most fields” and “claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias”.

Why is this?

There are a number of interlocking reasons. Many studies are too small to be reliable. The best ones involve several thousand subjects, but many studies, especially in genetics, are based on fewer than a hundred. Many studies are badly designed or are hard to compare to other studies of similar data.

Prejudice plays a role as well. It’s not necessarily ideological or financial; old-fashioned chest-beating, turf-protecting arrogance is just as effective. Scientists who are committed to a theory are less likely to find contradictory evidence. “Many otherwise seemingly independent, university-based studies may be conducted for no other reason than to give physicians and researchers qualifications for promotion or tenure… Prestigious investigators may suppress via the peer review process the appearance and dissemination of findings that refute their findings, thus condemning their field to perpetuate false dogma,” wrote Ioannides in his 2005 PLoS article.

And finally, “The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.” Ioannides attributes this counter-intuitive effect to cutthroat competition among scientists to publish exciting research first. “This may explain why we occasionally see major excitement followed rapidly by severe disappointments in fields that draw wide attention,” he says. Isn’t this relevant to far-reaching claims made for embryonic stem cells?

Even more discouraging for medical researchers is that the gold-standard of medical research, double-blind randomised trials, are not altogether reliable either. In another 2005 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ioannides examined 49 of the top science papers of the previous 13 years. They had appeared in the best journals and had been cited extensively. Yet between one-third and one-half of them were unreliable because they were later found to be either outright wrong or exaggerated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


The Answer Is No: New Jersey governor Chris Christie is denying money to teachers and tunnels, oxygen to Democrats, and intentions to run for president in 2012. Which is only making him more popular. ( Jason Zengerle, Nov 21, 2010, New York)

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie.

His own ascendancy has been an unlikely one. A lobbyist and political hack who parlayed his fund-raising for George W. Bush into an appointment as New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Christie didn’t wow anyone with his 2009 gubernatorial campaign, which was impressive mostly for its lack of content. He promised to cut spending and taxes but adamantly refused to offer any specifics as to how he planned to do so, leading many to assume that he wouldn’t. Running in a three-way race, he won 49 percent of the vote largely because of who he was not—namely the unpopular and hapless Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where seldom is heard a discouraging word about Republican politicians, predicted that Christie would “arrive in Trenton with a mandate to do what he campaigned on—nothing.”

But Christie, 48, has upended those expectations. In January, on his first full day in office, he announced that although the Corzine administration had projected a $500 million surplus, New Jersey was actually facing a more than $1 billion deficit in the budget that ran through June, which he would later revise to $2.2 billion. By March, the state would be broke. “The Democrats in New Jersey, they were rubbing their hands with glee,” Christie recalled in a recent speech. “ ‘This guy promised on the campaign not to raise taxes, he’s gonna have to do it now, he’s gonna have to do it immediately.’ And they couldn’t wait.”

In February, Christie appeared before a joint session of the Legislature to deliver an emergency address about the budget. The tradition in Trenton has long been for the governor to provide legislators with an advance copy of any speech to a joint session. But Christie recognizes the value in holding information close, so when legislators showed up for Christie’s emergency budget address, they found no speeches sitting on their desks. “That was the first time that ever happened,” Senate president Steve Sweeney told me one recent afternoon in his office behind the Senate chamber. “It was really over the top.” The effect was more than just theatrics. Standing before the astonished Democrats, Christie announced that he was circumventing the Legislature by signing an executive order to impound more than $2 billion in unspent funds for local school districts, hospitals, and public transit—thereby bringing the budget into balance. “It was a sucker punch,” Barbara Buono, the Senate majority leader, says. Christie would probably dispute the sucker part of that characterization, but not the punch. “When I left the joint session of the Legislature, they were dizzy,” he now boasts. “They didn’t know what to do.”

Christie continued to keep the Democrats off-balance during negotiations over the next year’s budget. In March, he went before another joint legislative session to present a $29.3 billion spending plan that made sweeping cuts to state government while not renewing a one-year income-tax surcharge on people making more than $400,000. “Mark my words today: If a tax increase is sent to my desk, I will veto it,” Christie pledged. Two months later, after Democrats passed legislation renewing the surcharge, he did. Then he dared the Democrats to put the surcharge renewal in their budget legislation—which, because he pledged not to sign such a budget, would cause a government shutdown. “I said to them, ‘Listen, here’s the deal,’ ” Christie recalls. “ ‘If you close it down, I’m going to get in those black Suburbans out front, I’m going to ride back to the governor’s residence, I’m going to go upstairs, I’m going to order a pizza, I’m going to open a beer, and I’m going to turn on the Mets. And whenever you decide to reopen the government, give me a call and let me know.’ ” The Democrats caved—ultimately allowing the Republicans to sponsor their own budget bill and move it through the Legislature. “Governor Christie got the Democrats to basically abdicate their role as the majority party in the Legislature,” says Jay Webber, an assemblyman and the GOP state chairman. “Despite our being in the minority, we effectively controlled the budget debate. It was remarkable.”

“I am setting the tone.” The Moorestown town-hall meeting was over, and Christie was now leaning his frame on a giant butcher block in the building’s kitchen and explaining to me how he approaches his job. Christie suffers from asthma, and his boasting was punctuated by heavy breathing and frequent swigs from a water bottle. He seemed less a politician leaving an event than an athlete coming off the field—or Rex Ryan, that other larger-than-life New Jersey character, standing in a victorious locker room.

He has set the tone, in part, by being “a strong governor who has opinions and is willing to express them,” he said. When I asked him about New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of his decision to cancel the tunnel, Christie shot back, “All he knows how to do is blow hot air … so I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.” Anything? “I’m always willing to read something in the paper that he said, and if he makes sense, I’m happy to work with him on it. I haven’t found one yet.” Christie believes his aggressive approach sends a signal to everyone else in the state. “The tone I’m trying to set for New Jersey is: action. Less talk, more action. And I think that’s what I’m doing as governor, and I think we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done already because of that, because I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.”

Much of the push comes from Christie’s willingness to exercise the enormous powers the State Constitution vests in his office—even the seldom-used ones. In May, angry about what he viewed as a liberal and “out of control” State Supreme Court, he refused to reappoint a sitting justice whose seven-year term was set to expire—an action that, despite being constitutionally permissible, no governor prior to Christie had ever taken. He especially relishes vetoing the meeting minutes of the more than 60 state authorities and commissions, ranging from the Turnpike Authority to the Maritime Pilot & Docking Pilot Commission, having vetoed more minutes in ten months than Corzine did in four years. Joe Kyrillos, a Republican state senator, says, “He understands and is not afraid to use the strength of the office to force outcomes in a way that other governors haven’t.”

Christie also exercises his power in less public ways. His control over his fellow Republicans in New Jersey is such that Steve Sweeney complains, “There’s no need to even have Republican legislators anymore. Once he decides something, they vote with him.” He’s achieved that loyalty partly with carrots. In the months between his election and his inauguration, Christie proved a quick study of New Jersey’s byzantine appointments system and did a masterful job of preventing Corzine from rewarding his supporters with plum spots on authorities and commissions—something almost every lame-duck governor has done. “It was an elaborate chess game,” recalls a former Corzine aide, “and he beat us at every step.” That meant those coveted appointments became Christie’s to dole out to his allies.

Not that he’s above cementing party loyalty with sticks. Republicans who have expressed doubts about various parts of the governor’s agenda have swiftly been brought into line with threats of retribution such as withholding fund-raising assistance or denying them their preferred judicial appointments. “He rules with an iron fist,” one Republican legislator told me. “If you’re a team player, he’s with you, but if you’re not, you’ve got problems. He’s vindictive, and it gets personal. He holds most of the cards, and he’s not afraid to play them.”

Christie has been most Machiavellian in his dealings with Democrats. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor once thought to be the Democrats’ best hope of beating Christie in 2013, now seems ill-suited for that role given his partnership with Christie to overhaul Newark’s schools—a Felix-and-Oscar act the two have taken all the way to the set of Oprah. “The governor holds the keys to every door that Booker needs unlocked,” a mayoral adviser explains.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 AM


Can a Nerd Have Soul? (ROB HOERBURGER, 11/10, 10, NY Times Magazine)

Since the golden age of soul, roughly 1964 to 1974, the days of bell-bottoms, Afros and Don Cornelius, the music has proved to be among the most adaptable in the pop spectrum. There’s been hip-hop soul, soul gospel, soul jazz, soul country, more kinds of soul than you can shake a Grammy category at. “Even the best rock singers were sprinkled with soul,” says Black Wolf, a lead singer of the Milwaukee soul group Kings Go Forth. “Like Steve Perry” — he’s referring to the lead singer of the lumbering ’70s-’80s rock group Journey, whose song “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” was most recently resuscitated by the TV show “Glee.” “Totally soul.”

Yet the youth movement has coalesced only in the last year or so, and according to the singer-guitarist Eli (Paperboy) Reed, the tripwire for it was planted by “all those baby-boomer parents who had soul records that their kids listened to.” Like Hawthorne, Reed was a white middle-class Jewish kid (real name: Eli Husock). He started out listening to country and early rock ’n’ roll; most of the music played at his bar mitzvah was gangsta rap like N.W.A. and Gravediggaz. “Then I became an angsty teenager,” he said, and he started rooting more deeply into his father’s soul-heavy record collection. Around this time he also discovered he had a natural wailing blues voice, and at his Boston high school on Martin Luther King Day in 2002, when he was a senior, he sang Sam Cooke’s totemic soul anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

If for Mayer Hawthorne soul is a true love but he still wants to play the musical field, then Reed has, in the words of Beyoncé, put a ring on it. Now 27, he just released his first major-label album, “Come and Get It,” 12 songs of punchy, dripping soul in the manner of Otis Redding and O. V. Wright.

“Soul music is just pop music to me,” Reed, in a black T-shirt and Clark Kent glasses, said affably on a rainy afternoon in August at his apartment on a quiet block behind Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A Jerry Lee Lewis gospel album from the ’70s played on the turntable. “The term ‘pop music’ has negative connotations, but for me it doesn’t. I think it’s music everybody should want to listen to.”

But not a music that just anyone could make. Even with his raw talent, and constant exposure to soul in his formative years, Reed knew he wanted to steep himself in the music before he tried to make a living of it. He delayed his freshman year in college and lived in the Mississippi Delta, a white Northern teenager deep in the land of the blues. The library of songs he knew how to play got him onto a few juke-joint stages, a couple of which he was yanked off, while he was honing his craft. There were plenty of opportunities for doubt to creep in. “One night we were driving from Clarksdale to Kansas City for a gig,” Reed said, “and I noticed that the guy at the wheel was drinking strawberry wine. I thought, I am so in over my head.” The next year he did go to college, in Chicago, and sought out Mitty Collier, a ’60s soul singer who had become a minister, and played organ at her church. He put in some time as a busker back home in Harvard Square.

That’s a lot of dues-paying for someone who was born the year before “Purple Rain” was released. But the more Reed talked, the more it became clear that for him soul music has a kind of code. It involves live playing; for his album, he insisted on recording on tape instead of digitally, because he wanted “real performances” from his band. Some kind of church background goes a long way: one reason Beyoncé is a great singer is that she grew up in the church in Texas, and “if you asked her who Shirley Caesar was,” he said, referring to the gospel legend, “she’d know.” As does an appreciation of the music’s history that delves beneath the surface. He politely dismissed Motown as if it were soul easy listening. “I liked it, but I wasn’t the biggest Motown fan,” he said, “except for the early Marvin Gaye records.” Most important, there’s no fear of love songs. “I’m pretty strict about that. . . . People are always asking me why don’t I write protest songs, political songs. Well, love is a serious business.” The righteousness of that last stance seems a bit extreme; the number of pop songs that aren’t love songs is statistically insignificant. Yet even a romantic like Hawthorne has a state-of-the-world song (“The Ills”) on his album. For Reed it’s all love songs, all the time.

Like Hawthorne, Reed rankles at any attempt to label his music as a “throwback.” “Look, I’m 27,” he said. “I’m here. I’m now. That should count for something.” Yet no matter how passionately Reed defends and performs his music, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s an old sound. Energetic and expertly executed but still within the confines of a 40-year-old idiom. Of all the artists I talked to, the one who most owned up to his music’s vintage was Aloe Blacc, whose song “I Need a Dollar,” from his album, “Good Things,” has become a chant of the new recession. Blacc (real name: Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III), who is 31, writes like Gil-Scott Heron (pointed social barbs) and sings like Bill Withers (slightly-rusted-weather-vane wisdom). “Call it whatever you want,” he said. “I didn’t make this stuff up; there’s no way I could have done this on my own.”

Blacc, who like Hawthorne has put aside hip-hop for now, says that the question of new versus old misses the argument this music is making. “Perhaps the reason soul music is relevant in 2010 is that it’s timeless,” he said. “You can’t put a date on it. The reason it’s not prevalent is that the music industry is pushing junk down our throats. It’s McDonald’s every day. People are hungering for solid food.”

The British soul singer Jamie Lidell (real name: Jamie Lidderdale), who is 37 and released his fourth album, “Compass,” co-produced by Beck, in May, allows for a modern element. His own vintage-soul sound is soaked in electronica, and he says the reason Amy Winehouse “nailed it” with “Rehab” was that “she brought the music into today; if Sam Cooke were alive and making music today, he’d be on top of that.” Yet Lidell echoed almost verbatim what Reed said to me about today’s soul not being a throwback. “If bringing back soul is retro, why isn’t playing electric guitar and three chords retro?” Reed extended the argument, though around a more curious bend of logic: it can’t be retro if the people listening to it don’t know the references. “I saw all these 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds at my shows in Europe,” he said. “They didn’t care where the music was coming from. They were just dancing their heads off.”

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November 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Decision Points by George W Bush – review (Alastair Campbell, 11/19/10,

The reactions Bush provokes sometimes make me think the public don't mean it when they say they want politicians who speak as they find. I remember a dinner in the White House where Bush said he had pleaded with German chancellor Gerhard Schröder not to fan anti-Americanism in his re-election campaign. Schröder said he wouldn't. Then, struggling in the polls, he did. Schröder fares badly in this book.

Yasser Arafat fares worse, not least over corruption. I remember Bush telling us he had warned the PLO leader that if he lied to him about involvement in terrorism, he would not get back in the White House. "Arafat had lied to me," he writes. "I never trusted him again. In fact, I never spoke to him again." Obstinacy, stupidity, or a politician saying what he would do, and then doing it – that trait we are supposed to want in our leaders?

The Bush-haters will say this is just the usual thing of American presidents doing Israel's bidding. But as he points out proudly, he was the first president publicly to call for a Palestinian state as a matter of US policy, against the wishes of the powerful trio of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld (I was surprised to learn Rumsfeld's appointment was Condoleezza Rice's idea, by the way). [...]

For a British audience, however, the dramatic accounts of his first, judge-settled election win, September 11, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq are likely to be the most relevant chapters, and they go in some depth into how he handled each one. But I found myself more interested than I expected to be in the "Stem Cells" chapter, as he explains how he came to his compromise position on research, seeking to reconcile his faith, his politics and the enormous different pressures he was coming under. Likewise his chapter on hurricane Katrina is not a bad contribution to the body of work on crisis management.

On Katrina as elsewhere (including on Iraq, on domestic policy and on his habit of shooting from the lip), he is not shy in admitting mistakes or in expressing frustrations at constantly being described as the most powerful man on the planet, yet often feeling powerless. Similar frustrations spill out in his inability to hold together the foreign policy team, with the Pentagon and the State Department regularly at odds. This theme emerges most dramatically perhaps when the secret service refuses to allow him to go to Washington after the September 11 attacks. "I had the most powerful job in the world, yet I felt powerless to help them [the American people].

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


INTERVIEW: Peter Augustine Lawler on the Declaration of Independence, The Last Days of Disco, 'Good Country People,' and manliness (Colin Foote Burch, June/July 2007, Liturgical Credo)

CB: First off, the book is called Homeless and at Home in America, and the title sounds a lot like – the title sounds a little bit like – Aliens in America [ISI Books, 2002]. Tell me what you’re doing new with your new book.

PL: Well the Aliens in America emphasized the irreducible alienation of the human condition and the American attempt to suppress that. Homeless and at Home in America is more major, and more balanced, and without making a big deal out of it, sort of a correction. The first chapter is about two views of Americanization. The first view is the view of Heidegger, which is also one that’s shared by some social conservatives, extreme social conservatives, cranky cons and such, which is something like this: Americans are absolutely ruthless, ruthless, displaced. The only distinctions they recognize to be true are technological ones. Otherwise, they’re utter relativists. Otherwise, they’re utterly indifferent to the profound moral distinctions that characterize human life.

And so for Heidegger the characteristic of the modern world is technology; America is the height of the modern world. So when Heidegger uses the world ‘Americanization’ he means the reduction, of everything real that human beings know, to technology, and everything else is nothing. And so in Heidegger’s view of nihilism, America is a purely nihilistic, displaced, frivolous, endless progress toward nowhere, and a road-to-nowhere country.

But the other view is the view of Chesterton, which is: America is a home for the homeless, that the great thing about America is the romance of the citizen – everyone can find a home here. The amazing thing is that all you have to do to become an American is agree with a certain doctrine. So Chesterton compares America to the Catholic church. Any race, gender, whatever, class, background, make no difference, as long as you accept the doctrine. That’s the Catholic view, and that’s also the American view – race, gender, whatever, don’t make any difference, as long as you accept the doctrine. So there’s something profoundly at-home about Americans because Americans begin with the premise of the irreplaceable, personal significance of every human being.

In other words, America is based on a very corny view of the Declaration of Independence that’s basically consistent with Thomism and all that. So in a certain way what saves America from utter relativism is this doctrine. And so you look at America carefully and the Americans who are most at home are the ones who believe this doctrine is compatible with their religion, and so they’re particularly at home because they’re at home with their homelessness. That is, they’re at home as citizens while recognizing that citizenship doesn’t capture everything they are. And so it turns out that the best Dads, the best citizens, the people who have the most kids and the most stable family life in America are the ones who take citizenship seriously and who take their religion seriously. So from a certain point of view this book shows that there’s some truth to Heidegger, some truth to Chesterton, but the view that Christianity is incompatible with patriotism – Christians are always resident aliens and all that – this does seem to be very out-of-touch with the reality of America.

What is America?: From The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume 21: What I Saw in America, The Resurrection of Rome, Sidelights (GK Chesterton)

It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.

Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow about theology, it could not confess to being narrow about nationality or ethnology. The Spanish Inquisition might be admittedly Inquisitorial; but the Spanish Inquisition could not be merely Spanish. Such a Spaniard, even when he was narrower than his own creed, had to be broader than his own empire. He might burn a philosopher because he was heterodox; but he must accept a barbarian because he was orthodox. And we see, even in modern times, that the same Church which is blamed for making sages heretics is also blamed for making savages priests. Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal, precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist, precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk.

Does Europe Need to Be More American?: Europe, the cradle of the nation-state, wasn’t “founded” as a place for poor, tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. So might it take lessons from Uncle Sam on welcoming immigrants? (Michael Scott Moore, 11/17/10, Miller-McCune)
Why should Europe take immigrants at all?

The nation-state was invented here, with next to zero rhetoric about diversity and equal rights. America without immigrants would be un-American (or maybe native American), but there’s no way to argue that Germany would be less “German” without Muslims.

Nonetheless, guest-worker schemes, relative wealth in Europe since World War II, freedom to travel inside the European Union, and of course welfare benefits have all made Europe a modern land of opportunity like the United States. Sarrazin, and his legion of fans — his book has sold more than a million copies — have yet to adjust.

So Europe doesn’t need to learn American-style tolerance. But it would bring vital oxygen to Old World societies if Europe did. German-born Turkish students who spend a year in the U.S. are regularly astounded that so few Americans quiz them on their racial backgrounds on the basis of (choose one) their brown skin, swarthy eyebrows or Middle Eastern eyes. The margin of “otherness,” as social scientists like to call it, is different in Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


BOOK REVIEW: Why America Is Not a New Rome by Vaclav Smil (Steve Forbes, 12/06/10, Forbes)

Another fly in the U.S.-is-another-Rome ointment is the fact that the U.S. is not an empire. Only in the late 1890s, during the Spanish-American War, did we play the imperialist game, and that was very short-lived. "No permanent colonial regime followed the [Spanish-American War]; by 1902 the U.S. Supreme Court made the U.S. Constitution applicable to the [Philippines, which] became independent in July 1946."

Even at the height of its relative power following World War II, Smil notes, "the U.S. did not behave like an imperial power: It did not annex any foreign territories or impose any direct permanent military rule in the defeated countries."

And when it comes to imposing its will on others, the U.S. often looks like a wimp compared with Rome. "The U.S. does not rule and it does not command. It leads; it has allies, not subjects; and a leader, unlike an absolute sovereign, cannot demand submission." China, for instance, has no hesitation in thumbing its nose at the U.S. on the subject of revaluing its currency.

Empires such as Rome have their conquered territories pay for the empire's upkeep. In contrast, the U.S. ends up paying for the defense of such allied countries as Germany, France, Japan and South Korea. In that sense "the U.S. is the exact opposite of the Roman Empire."

When it comes to innovation, the U.S. is light-years ahead of Rome. "America's unrivaled position in today's global technoscientific universe had no analogue in Roman achievements. Despite its long duration and no shortage of acute minds, the Roman Empire had . . . a truly minimal record in advancing scientific understanding, and its overall contributions to technical and engineering innovations were fairly limited."

If you draw back a bit and consider the civilizing process (by which we mean Westernization) historically, isn't America just the latest capital of the Empire? The means have certainly changed--for the better--but the ends remain the same: to make every state more like us.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The King and His Kingdom: an excerpt from You Crown the Year with Your Goodness: Sermons Throughout the Liturgical Year (Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ignatius Insight)

When asked, "What have you done?" Jesus replies, "My kingship is not of this world. " He leaves much unsaid. He does not say that he has done nothing, nothing in this world. For he came into this world for the express purpose of doing something, something in it. His deeds are performed in this world. And they are intended for this world. The world is to see and apprehend the testimony he gives in it. We need to realize the whole tension that lies between, on the one hand, the words "not of this world" and, on the other hand, the expression "for this I was born, and for this I have come into the world" . He is not someone who happens to find himself in the world and, oppressed by its narrow confines, strives to extricate himself from it. He is not someone who flees the world. He is not a Buddhist. For him, the world is not the starting point of his yearning transcendence toward some higher life; on the contrary: "For this I have come into the world." The world is the destination of a movement, a journey. He comes from outside and from above in order to show the world something, in order to proclaim something of which it is unaware, something that is not simply a confirmation of its longing for escape. He came because he had something to do on this earth, something the Jews would gladly have exploited for political ends, something Pilate is at pains to understand and evaluate in political terms, but something that, as Jesus says, "is not of this world".

He illustrates this by referring to the fact that his servants did not fight to prevent his being arrested by the Jews. In fact his arrest did include a pusillanimous scene of political theology, namely, Peter's sword stroke, which ridiculously managed only to shear off an ear and was immediately disavowed by Jesus. For this political theology on Peter's part put him willy-nilly in solidarity with the pseudoreligious views of those Jews who wanted no other Messiah but a political one.

No. "My kingship is not of this world." And yet, Jesus has come to this world. He came to his Father's kingdom, the kingdom of God, whose King he is. He says this just once, here, as he appears before the court and faces death. His enthronement as King will be complete on the Cross, when the famous inscription is placed over his head in the three languages of the world of that time. So that everyone will understand. And now the assertion is categorical: "King of the Jews", not—as the Jews would have liked—"he called himself the King of the Jews". No. Truly King of the Jews. "For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth." Thus, royally, he bears witness.

How strangely he speaks. What has this being a king to do with bearing witness to the truth? The two are identical. And they coincide with the assertion that "my kingship is not of this world". Why? Because the truth is that "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son", finally and decisively, on the Cross, when he took the world's guilt upon himself and, as the Lamb, the scapegoat, bore it away. It is in carrying this guilt that he bears witness to the truth. The truth of divine love. It is the only credible testimony to this love. The world is an ocean of suffering and injustice—how can God say that he loves it?! The whole idea is laughable! But on the Cross there is no laughing; God shows that he and his love are serious: he hands over his Son. And the Son shows that he and his testimony are serious: he cries out as he undergoes that forsakenness by God that belongs to sinners. This is the most extreme, most high-profile solution imaginable, and God has carried it through. That is why, on the Cross, the world that is opposed to God and mocks God is vanquished. "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And so he says, "Yes, I am a King." Not a king within the vanquished world but a King who sits on a throne exalted high above it. Exalted by the Cross. And naturally the vanquished world belongs to this kingdom, although the kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus does not permit the world he has conquered for God on the Cross to continue to exist as it was. He implants God's rule in it. In men's hearts. Divine love has become "at home" on the earth through him. In the hearts of the poor, of children, of the merciful, the gentle, the persecuted, in pure hearts. In canonized saints and many other saints. They do exist. Together they constitute a kingdom, and now and then we actually see or feel some small piece of this kingdom. Everyone knows that they are not interested in world conquest; they cannot even organize themselves to form a significant power in the world's terms. They have no plan to change the world so that, in subsequent generations, the greatest possible number of people may experience the greatest possible happiness. Their plan concerns the present: now, today, here, in the immediate surroundings, something of the love of God is to become reality. Some suffering is to be soothed, something of the bliss of self-giving is to be experienced. For God's love is selfless, and it can only take effect in the world when the world has accepted something of the spirit of selflessness, of giving for no reward.

One might think that this message from God comes from so far away and from such a height that man is incapable of grasping it. Christianity seems to be a teaching that is not for this world. Not realistic enough. But Jesus ends with these words: "For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." Everyone. Not only the person who has studied theology, not even the person who has learned his catechism or has merely listened to a sermon. Everyone. This King has a way of making himself understood to everyone. Perhaps it is that, on the basis of the Cross, every human suffering has acquired a new hue, a special quality that comes from the Cross and lends wings to his voice. It is true, however, that only those who are of the truth will hear it. Anyone who, somehow or other, perhaps unconsciously, bears within him something of the mystery of divine love knows that ultimately only loving can give a meaning to existence. Everyone can hear this voice. Christians have no monopoly here; they only have a special task, namely, to carry out into the world, quite explicitly and deliberately, the testimony they have heard and experienced in their own lives. They need not be surprised to find, in many places in this world, already existing traces of the truth they are openly proclaiming. Often these traces are so clear that they put Christians to shame. For the world in its totality already belongs to the kingdom of God, which is not part of this world. The passing world in which we live is part of that vaster, abiding kingdom in which God lives, who is all in all.

....and while the film is required to be too discursive for its own good and the whole horcrux shtick is a MacGuffin too far, it was still worthwhile viewing. In some sense the Harry we get here is a kind of inverted Christ. The central theme of the film might be said to be Harry having to deal with the selfless love and sacrifice that others make for him. Or, as Ron points out, not just for him but for everyone they love. Because if Harry loses then everyone loses.

In this vein, there have been periodic tussles over whether the series is Christian or pagan or whatever. And in this film there's a scene that is somewhat jarring at first but on further thought makes perfect sense. Harry and Hermione travel to the village where Harry's parents were murdered by Voldemort. It's Christmas Eve, which they only realize when they hear a hymn emanating from the local church. Looking out over the attached graveyard, Harry asks Hermione if his parents would be there. She replies that she thinks they would be. So the two search for the graves.

Obviously there's something odd about the idea that a witch and a wizard would repose in consecrated ground. But given that the two died that Harry, the hope of the world, might live and evil be defeated it hardly seems odd at all.

N.B. Hadn't been to a movie theater in awful long time and it was shocking how inferior the quality of the film onscreen is to watching tv in HD. But one cool thing: the folks from VINS were there with a Great Horned Owl.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Pope says some condom use 'first step' of morality (NICOLE WINFIELD and FRANCES D'EMILIO, 11/21/10, Associated Press)

Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door on the previously taboo subject of condoms as a way to fight HIV, saying male prostitutes who use condoms may be beginning to act responsibly. It's a stunning comment for a pontiff who has blamed condoms for making the AIDS crisis worse.

Of course people who tell gay men that condoms are effective are notoriously irresponsible, nevermind encouraging them in degrading each other.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Critics blast Obama on faith-based hiring rules (Adelle M. Banks, 11/18/10, Religion News Service)

A day after ordering a host of changes to the White House's faith-based office, President Obama is facing mounting criticism for keeping in place Bush-era policies that allow faith-based social service providers to hire and fire based on religion.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers on Thursday (Nov. 18) voiced frustration that he has yet to hear administration plans to change those policies. He and other lawmakers were disappointed that no White House officials attended a subcommittee hearing on the faith-based office.

"This isn't a matter of one branch of government drawing a veil over a subject of this immediate importance and we have to guess or try to figure out what and why and when something further is coming," Conyers, D-Mich, said at the hearing.

"The president explicitly campaigned and made many remarks about this, not only as a candidate but as a senator, and we don't propose to wait any longer."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Jonsi In Concert From Washington, D.C. (Sarah Ventre, 11/09/10, NPR: All Songs Considered)

Jónsi is known not only for his work with the experimental Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós, but also for his innovative use of sound and his elaborate, surreal stage performances. He's currently on tour for his first solo record Go, in a show that features stunning videos, animation and intricate lighting. It's an incredibly well-orchestrated and moving production. [...]

This webcast of Jónsi's show is part of All Songs Considered's ongoing series of full concerts, streamed live from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club and other venues.


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November 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Sarcasticker-in-Chief (Mark Halperin, November 20, 2010, TIME)

After Afghan president hails POTUS for setting the "tone right" in morning session Saturday, Obama responds, "That was my goal. Every once in a while, I do things right."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


The Next Fight: A conservative Democrat reassesses the political battlefield. (Zev Chafets, November 19, 2010, Newsweek)

What Webb does in two years will certainly affect Virginia politics. How he positions himself in the meantime may have broader significance as well: Webb could serve as a model for 10 other Democratic senators who face reelection battles in states like Virginia, where unstinting support of the Obama agenda could be a recipe for early retirement.

Republicans also are gaming how conservative Democrats like Webb will figure into the new calculus. “The big buzz in D.C. is whether Obama tacks to the left to appease his base or moves toward the center to appeal to moderates,” says Republican strategist Mark McKinnon. “The reality is he doesn’t have a choice. Not if he wants to actually get anything done in the next two years. There is a bloc of 11 [Democratic] senators who will be up for reelection from conservative states, and they are likely to establish a formidable group that will block any progressive legislation that is high on the liberal agenda.”

Webb’s Veterans Day remarks were brief and unadorned by the grandiosity displayed by the average political orator on patriotic occasions. Then again, Webb is not an average politician. He grew up as a peripatetic Air Force brat, aced Annapolis, and led a rifle platoon, and later a company, in Vietnam. In a year of combat, he was wounded twice, received a silver star, two bronze stars and the Navy Cross, a decoration second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. There were brave men in the tent on Veterans Day that morning, but none—not even the rear admiral who preceded Webb on the dais—had a better war record. It gave him the authority to end his talk with a plea to the audience to remember that some of the Vietnamese refugees in Virginia also fought on the American side and deserve acknowledgment (Webb is married to a Vietnamese woman and speaks the language). “I’ve never heard a politician say something like that,” an American-born Vietnamese journalist covering the event told me.

After the final benediction, Webb spent some time shaking hands. He is a notoriously bad campaigner, impatient and reticent, but here he was in his element. I found myself standing next to a thin man named Steve who had an I SERVED: VIETNAM badge pinned to his V-neck sweater. Together we watched the senator work the tent. “What do you think of him?” I asked.

“Jim Webb is something else,” he replied.

“You think he’s going to run again?”

“Don’t know,” Steve said and paused for a moment. “Here’s the thing. I love Webb, but I vote Republican. And I think most of the guys here do, too.”

If Webb weren’t a Democratic senator, he might vote Republican himself. a congressional GOP that doesn't even pretend to care about coloreds. But he'll hate the presidential nominee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


The Zen of Silence: a review of BEGIN AGAIN: A Biography of John Cage By Kenneth Silverman (JOHN ADAMS, 11/19/10, NY Times Book Review)

John Cage was one astonishing individual. A composer we commonly associate with coin tossing, whose most famous piece called for the performer not to make a single sound, he upended long-held conventions about the listening process and prodded us to re-evaluate how we define not only music but the entire experience of encountering art. He was, in the words of Kenneth Silverman’s new biography, “driven by an ideal of nonmythic listening and seeing, of perceptual innocence”; his goal was to compose “a prelapsarian music untainted by history.”

The only child of a father who was a professional inventor and a mother who wrote a society column for The Los Angeles Times, Cage counted among his ancestors Daniel Boone and a namesake who apparently helped Washington survey Virginia. His father held patents on every­thing from submarine designs to anti-cold nasal sprays, but he never managed to turn his ideas into commercial successes. Perhaps his one great success in life was to pass on the gene for original thinking to his son, the inventor of the “prepared piano,” for whom the act of composing was always a matter of careful process and method rather than the romantic one of spontaneous inspiration and self-expression.

Throughout his life, John Cage (1912-92) combined a Leonardo-like curiosity with a uniquely American optimism that enabled him to persevere in a stubbornly unconventional career, which culminated in his being one of the most instantly recognized names in 20th-century culture. He was endlessly, almost absurdly creative, producing a body of work that spanned music, poetry, painting, printmaking, politics and philosophy. In a country that has been blessed with many “maverick” minds in both the arts and the sciences, there is simply no one to compare with Cage for the variety of his ideas, the breadth of his interests and the radical implication of his thought.

No one wrote better about Cage than he himself. “Silence,” his 1961 collection of essays, manifestoes and wry anecdotes, proved to be one of the most widely read and influential texts ever written by a composer. I read this book as a 20-year-old aspiring composer and found what Cage had to say about the nature of noise, about how we listen (or don’t listen), and about how tradition and habit threaten to deaden our capacity for discovery, the musical equivalent of the young Martin Luther’s nailing his theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.

A Luther who believed in the possibility of prelapsarian Man?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The New Great Game: MONSOON: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D. Kaplan (AARON L. FRIEDBERG, 11/19/10, NY Times Book Review)

In a world governed solely by the laws of supply and demand, China’s increasing engagement in global energy markets would pose no serious problems. But there are other forces at work. Despite their smiles and professions of good will, China’s leaders believe that the United States is threatened by their country’s rise and ultimately seeks to thwart it. Given the fact that the United States Navy dominates the world’s oceans, a growing dependence on seaborne energy imports represents a potentially deadly vulnerability in Chinese eyes.

Beijing has responded in two ways: first by beginning to build up its own naval power, and second by seeking alternative supply routes that are less susceptible to interdiction by the United States or other hostile powers. Included among these are overland pipelines to contiguous energy sources in Central Asia and a variety of ambitious engineering projects (including a new port at Gwadar in Pakistan, other ports and pipelines in Myanmar, and a possible canal across the isthmus of Thailand) that could shorten the route from Persian Gulf suppliers to Chinese consumers.

The pursuit of energy, Kaplan explains, has thus caused China to become much more active and visible in an area that a fast-growing India regards as its own backyard. In response, despite continuing worries over internal stability and the perpetual problem of a hostile Pakistan, Indian planners have begun to broaden their strategic horizons. New Delhi now seeks to compete with Beijing for influence in Myanmar and to counter its initiatives around the Bay of Bengal by strengthening ties with Vietnam and Indonesia in the South China Sea. A bigger navy will give India the means with which to defend its own expanding energy imports and perhaps to exert leverage in a future confrontation by threatening China’s. Finally, over the past decade, India has entered into a quasi-alliance relationship with the United States.

Kaplan holds open the possibility that nascent great-power rivalry will lead to ever closer cooperation. Perhaps, as the two Asian giants grow stronger, and with America “in elegant decline,” the era of United States naval dominance in the Greater Indian Ocean will give way to “an American-Indian-Chinese condominium of sorts.” Pursuing their shared interests in peaceful trade and development, the three nations could collaborate to oppose piracy, preserve freedom of navigation and respond to natural disasters.

Perhaps. What seems more plausible at this point is that the competitive impulses Kaplan so accurately assesses will grow stronger. If that is what happens, then the United States and India are very likely to find themselves working harder and more closely in the years ahead to balance ­China’s growing power. is going to have to find a way to dispose of 40 million excess young men, so a war with India makes sense even, or especially, because they'd get slaughtered.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Darwin, Scientism, and the Misguided Quest for Darwinian Conservatism (John G. West , 11/19/10, Intercollegiate Review)

Without question, modern science has bequeathed lasting and important benefits to human civilization. It has produced wonder-working drugs and miraculous inventions; it has led to a staggering increase in both freedom and the standard of living. Unfortunately, in recent years the cultural Left in America has attempted to enlist science as a weapon in its ideological arsenal, defining any disagreement with leftist ideology in areas touching upon science as a “war on science.” Whether the issue is embryonic stem-cell research, global warming, sex education, or even partial-birth abortion, if you oppose the policy prescriptions of the Left, you are likely to be smeared as “anti-science.” Underlying such rhetoric is an unthinking scientism: a credulous belief that modern science can answer all important questions about human life and that scientists have the right to dictate public policy merely because of their presumed technical expertise.

Conservative intellectuals such as Richard Weaver, Eric Voegelin, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis warned prophetically about the dangers scientism posed for politics and society during the last century. “Let scientists tell us about sciences,” Lewis wrote in the 1950s. “But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value.”1

As advances in science become ever more tantalizing, claims to rule made in the name of science will likely become ever harder to ignore. One of the most formidable challenges facing conservatives in coming years is how to confront this revival of scientism and curtail the overreach of science into all spheres of human life.

Directly related to this challenge is the cultural status of Darwinian evolution, which has served as one of the most powerful engines of scientism during the past century. In the words of Richard Weaver,

as Darwinism and other theories seemed to immerse man more and more completely in nature, it was soon being asked why the methods which had explained so much of the physical world might not explain him also. With this the way was wide open for the materialistic monism which today underlies virtually all “scientistic” social science. Henceforward man was to be “nothing but” what the methods of science could reveal him as being.2

Unsurprisingly, leading contemporary Darwinists, such as E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, have been at the forefront of promoting scientism. More surprisingly, conservative intellectuals today are divided by the debate over Darwinian evolution. Some simply ignore it as unimportant. Others are embarrassed by criticisms of Darwinism, because among the secular elite to criticize Darwinism is tantamount to allying oneself with the dreaded “religious fundamentalists.” Still others, like Larry Arnhart and James Q. Wilson, hope they can rescue Darwinism from scientism and even enlist it as a support for conservatism. These “Darwinian” conservatives claim that Darwinism can be used to defend traditional morality, economic freedom, limited government and even religion. They further contend that the science behind Darwinism is so overwhelming that conservatives must embrace it or be doomed to irrelevance. I think they are wrong on all counts.

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 New Republic did a useful survey sewfveral years ago that showed both why the Beltway Right tends to misapprehend the rest of the country and why Bill Kristol is the exception to that rule.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Obama's Democrats in disarray over expiring tax cuts (Thomas Ferraro and Kim Dixon, Nov 19, 2010, Reuters)

"How the hell should we know when we will figure this out?" said a senior Senate Democratic aide. "This is the Democratic Party," long known for internal struggles and diverse views.

"It seems like no one is on the same page," said Chris Krueger of MF Global, a private firm that tracks Washington for investors. "It has the potential to be a train wreck."

With some Democrats blaming Obama for their loss of control of the House in the November 2 elections, Obama's ability to rally his troops is being tested on the expiring tax cuts, which were signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.

"A lot of our guys, the progressives, don't want to extend these tax cuts for anyone," said a senior House Democratic aide. "They never liked them in the first place."

The aide said some Democrats are now wary of Obama, who convinced them to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system -- a landmark achievement that backfired and hurt them with voters.

"Our guys aren't sure what comes next. Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?" the aide said.

...if they weren't known as the "Bush tax cuts" they'd already have been extended.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Shaken senators start prep for 2012 (MANU RAJU, 11/18/10, Politico)

The 2010 campaign has so rattled senators up for reelection in 2012 that they’re already moving quickly to figure out how to survive.

Veteran Democrats such as Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico are weighing retirement. Establishment Republicans such as Orrin Hatch of Utah and Dick Lugar of Indiana are already moving to fend off potential primaries from the right. Freshmen like Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jon Tester of Montana are stepping up fundraising, and red-state Democrats like Claire McCaskill of Missouri are talking up their independence from the party. [...]

And then there’s Joe Lieberman, who isn’t sure whether he’ll run as a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent again — or if he'll retire. [...]

And Democrats aren’t even sure who will run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has offered the spot to several prospective candidates who have turned it down, including at least one senator who is up for reelection in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


The NS Interview: James Ellroy, author (Jonathan Derbyshire, 18 November 2010, New Statesman)

You have been criticised for your portrayal of the left in your work. Is that fair?

I don't know anything about the left. I write from a right-wing perspective. I'm an authoritarian, a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant American born mid-century. Any woman who goes with me has to get used to my Tory views and most of them find them vexing. Life's funny that way.

Are you a Tory in the classical sense?

Yes. I'm a moralist. A religious person.

But one doesn't have to be a Tory, or religious, to be a moralist.

I think atheists miss the point. I don't grant atheism and agnosticism the same moral quality that I give to people who pursue the religious or spiritual way of life.

So, as an atheist, I can't live a moral life?

If you are still an atheist when you get to my age, you don't know s[**]t. I hope you change.

What has driven your religious commitment?

I have personally felt God in the room with me on numerous occasions. And if you've experienced it, you know. And if you haven't, you don't. I have.

Will I recognise it when I feel it?

I hope you do. And it doesn't have to be as dramatic as it happened to me.

What made it so dramatic?

This is going too far afield and getting too contentious. You're getting on my nerves.

Do you vote?

No. I don't like the question. I don't answer questions pertaining to America today. I don't write about America today. I would never criticise my country or any of its actions within a foreign county.

James Ellroy, the Ancient Mariner of LA Noir: From the earliest days of his literary career, Ellroy was working out how to create a memorable persona, costume it, style it, rehearse it, polish it and sell it (Elaine Showalter, 11/03/10, times Literary Supplement)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Terrorists Believed to Be Planning Attack in Berlin (Der Spiegel, 11/20/10)

According to information obtained by from German security authorities, al-Qaida and associated groups are believed to be planning an attack on the Reichstag building in Berlin, the headquarters of Germany's parliament and also an attraction visited by thousands of tourists everyday.

Leave it to these numbskulls to emulate the Nazis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Speak softly and carry a big chainsaw: Sorting out America’s fiscal mess is relatively simple. What’s needed is political courage (The Economist, Nov 18th 2010)

The scale of America’s fiscal problem depends on how far ahead you look. Today’s deficit, running at 9% of GDP, is huge. Federal debt held by the public has shot up to 62% of GDP, the highest it has been in over 50 years. But that is largely thanks to the economy’s woes. If growth recovers, the hole left by years of serial tax-cutting and overspending can be plugged: you need to find spending cuts or tax increases equal only to 2% of GDP to stabilise federal debt by 2015. But look farther ahead and a much bigger gap appears, as an ageing population needs ever more pensions and health care. Such “entitlements” will double the federal debt by 2027; and the number keeps on rising after then. The figures for state and local debt are scary too.

The solution should start with an agreement between Mr Obama and Congress on a target for a manageable level of publicly held federal debt: say, 60% of GDP by 2020. They should also agree on the broad balance between lower spending and higher taxes to achieve this. This newspaper believes that the lion’s share of the adjustment should come on the spending side. Entitlements are at the root of the problem and need to be trimmed, and research has shown that although spending cuts weigh on growth in the short run, they hurt less than higher taxes. And in the long run later retirement and other reforms will expand the labour force and thus potential output, whereas higher taxes dull incentives to work and invest.

Yet even to believers in small government, like this newspaper, there are good reasons for letting taxes take at least some of the strain. Politically, this will surely be the price of any bipartisan agreement. Economically, there is sensible room for manoeuvre without damaging growth. American taxes are relatively low after the reductions of recent years. In an ideal world the tax burden would be gradually shifted from income to consumption (including a carbon tax). But that is politically hard—and there is a much easier target for reform.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang? (Alasdair Wilkins,i09)

Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang? The current cosmological census is that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang. But a legendary physicist says he's found the first evidence of an eternal, cyclic cosmos.

The Big Bang model holds that everything that now comprises the universe was once concentrated in a single point of near-infinite density. Before this singularity exploded and the universe began, there was absolutely nothing - indeed, it's not clear whether one can even use the term "before" in reference to a pre-Big-Bang cosmos, as time itself may not have existed yet. In the current model, the universe began with the Big Bang, underwent cosmic inflation for a fraction of a second, then settled into the much more gradual expansion that is still going on, and likely will end with the universe as an infinitely expanded, featureless cosmos.

Sir Roger Penrose, one of the most renowned physicists of the last fifty years, takes issue with this view. He points out that the universe was apparently born in a very low state of entropy, meaning a very high degree of order initially existed, and this is what made the complex matter we see all around us (and are composed of) possible in the first place.

No one believes in entropy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Why Obama should commute this life sentence (Morris Pollard and David Kirshenbaum, November 20, 2010, Washington Post)

Twenty-five years ago this month, Jonathan Pollard, a civilian naval intelligence analyst, was arrested for passing to Israel classified U.S. data concerning Iraq, Syria and other Arab states, including evidence of Saddam Hussein's development of chemical weapons.

Had the Pollards just passed on intelligence to an ally their crime would be easier to understand and excuse. They didn't. They sold it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Rays of Happiness Cutting Through the Economic Gloom (IRWIN M. STELZER, 11/20/10, Weekly Standard)

on’t overlook the reasons to be happy. We have survived a potential financial meltdown, and although much remains to be done to put the financial system on a sounder footing, we seem to recognize that better capitalized banks are one ingredient of such a system. A healthy debate has started, amid predicable acrimony to be sure, about ways to rein in the deficit. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s QE2 might, just might, give the flagging recovery a needed shot in the arm. Initially derided at home as a precursor of rapid inflation, and abroad as a method of driving the dollar down, QE2 is now seen by some of its initial critics as appropriate to an economy with lots of idle capacity and core inflation at its lowest level in 50 years and facing the danger of deflation. Increased approval of Bernanke’s move is due in part to the vigorous defense mounted by several key Fed officials last week, and in part to the fact that Sarah Palin publicly derided it. Fears of a massive shift out of dollars are ebbing as euros no longer seem as attractive an alternative as they did before the out-of-control finances of Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece and Italy sent investors scurrying for the exits.

And the collapse of all those countries only adds further pressure to the global deflation we've been experiencing for thirty years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Assassin's Creed and the appropriation of history: How Ubisoft has turned the past into a gameplay feature – and why more developers don't follow suit... (Keith Stuart, 19 November 2010, The Guardian)

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the latest in Ubisoft's highly successful series of visually stunning action adventures. Following the travails of a secret society of assassins through hundreds of years of European history, the games combine acrobatic exploration with twisting conspiracy narratives and gutsy combat. While the opening instalment explored the chaos of the Crusades-era Middle East, Assassin's II and its follow-up move the action to Renaissance Italy, where the killer sect must once again confront its ongoing enemy, the shadowy Knights Templar order, now harboured within the increasingly powerful Catholic church.

What's interesting about the series is its successful use history as a game mechanic, and its ability to construct realistic environments around the largely fantastical story. The evocations of cities such as Jerusalem and Rome, while not always painstakingly accurate, have a sense of place and life that is almost unique in the video game sector.

Unsurprisingly, the design team talk of long field trips to each location, with artists taking thousands of photos and hours of video footage. While researching Florence for Assassin's Creed II, co-writer Corey May studied Machiavelli's contemporary history of the city, and consulted an array of historians. In a blog post on the process he wrote, "The Vasari Corridor is not in our game. Nor is the Uffizi. They hadn't been built yet. The façade of the church and clock tower in Venice's Saint Mark's square didn't look quite as they do now. San Gimignano had more towers. And on and on."

The titles have also employed the vast processing power of the modern console to create bustling urban populations. One of the key gameplay features of the series is the ability of the lead character to hide within crowds of computer-controlled civilians; although just watching the various thieves, prostitutes and noblemen going about their business is often interesting enough. Real-life historical figures are also drawn into the vast conspiracy-laden plot. In Assassin's Creed we witness the military brilliance of legendary Muslim leader, Saladin, in Assassin's Creed II, we make friends with Leonardo da Vinci, and in Brotherhood the key antagonist is Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, whose family the game links with the Templars.

Indeed, the whole set up is so fecund with narrative and interactive possibilities, so rich in atmosphere, so sensuous, that what Assassin's Creed does most of all is make you wonder why more games don't explore historical themes. Let's face it, the mainstream games industry is pretty much a chronological wasteland.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


OBAMA WAS BAD FROM THE START (Ted Rall, 11/19/10, Yahoo News)

We may have changed. But Obama hasn't. It was obvious from the beginning that Mr. Hopey Changey was devoid of character, deploying a toxic blend of liberal rhetoric and right-wing realpolitik. We were in denial.

Let's take a trip down memory lane.

Obama made a name for himself by speaking out against the Iraq war. "I am certain that I would have voted to oppose this war," he said in 2007. Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, he voted to fund it. Repeatedly. Aye. Aye. Aye. Never voted no. Tens of billions of dollars down the rat hole. Thousands of dead U.S. troops. Hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqis.

Asked to explain his hypocrisy on Iraq, Obama replied: "I have been very clear even as a candidate that, once we were in [office], that we were going to have some responsibility to make [the Iraq war] work as best we could, and more importantly that our troops had the best resources they needed to get home safely," Obama explained. "So I don't think there is any contradiction there."

Who are you going to believe? Me or my lying voting record?

That was back in 2007. We knew Obama was a weasel. We knew before the first presidential primary.

After he won, we learned he was at least as much of a right-winger as Bush.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Half of Americans say Obama holds different religious values (Kevin Eckstrom, 11/18/10, Religion News Service)

President Obama faces significant challenges on how Americans perceive his religious faith, as 51 percent say his beliefs differ from their own, according to a new poll.

The 2010 post-election American Values Survey detected a link between views of the president's beliefs and his favorability ratings: More than nine in 10 Americans who see his religious beliefs as similar to their own view Obama favorably; eight in 10 those who see differences view the president unfavorably.

"Given that Americans generally want political leaders who share their values, this could be a serious problem for the president moving toward 2012," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll with the Brookings Institution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The World from Berlin: 'Obama Comes Across as Cold, Arrogant and Elitist' (Der Spiegel, 11/04/10)

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Europeans have to understand that America is different, and that means it is also different from how they would like it to be. And secondly any autopsy of the Democrats' massive defeat on Tuesday shows that the right did not prevail simply due to their own strength. This was a collapse of the Obama coalition -- because the president has lost the support of America's middle class."

"In Western Europe Obama still enjoys almost messianic approval ratings of 80 percent. Nowhere else on earth regards Obama's program as more self-evident. Reforms such as health insurance for all, an active state and more environmental and climate protection are seen as catch-up Europeanization, a simple normalization. Millions of Americans, on the other hand, see this as an audacious if not revolutionary agenda to serve the interests of the state."

"The fact that Obama's new state is too slow and has produced too few successes has also been politically disastrous. More than $800 billion (€ 562 billion) was supposed to stimulate the economy -- but the unemployment rate has stagnated at almost 10 percent. And while state money has saved Wall Street and the auto industry from bankruptcy, this year alone sees one million families facing the prospect of losing their homes."

"Two years ago his vision inspired voters. Today the same man often sounds strangely bloodless. Back then his cool, self-assured composure impressed many, now the same character comes across as cold, arrogant, even elitist. The right may well put on a shrill rough performance, and stand in the media spotlight. However, this president was never going to win votes on the right anyway. Obama's historic victory in 2008 was created by the middle of American society -- the independent voters and the suburbanites. It is this center that has abandoned him."

...if he were a competent one. But he's the wrong machine for the task we assigned him.

November 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


...but we're willing to cut the guy a lot of slack for bringing us Arts & Letters Daily:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Boffo GM IPO Highlights Secret of TARP's Success (Joseph Schuman, 11/19/10, AOL News)

The success of General Motors' return to the stock market caps the revival of a one-time bastion of American industry all but left for dead by investors just two years ago.

But it is also the latest achievement to mark the quiet triumph of the multibillion-dollar government financial programs begun in the Bush administration, and continued by President Barack Obama, that economists credit with staving off a depression even though many Americans hate them. [...]

The TARP officially closed for business at the beginning of October. By then, nearly all the banks it helped save paid back their loans with interest. Two other wards, GM and Chrysler, had emerged from bankruptcy, and a third -- AIG -- was on its way to repaying the billions spent to keep the much-villainized insurance giant from imploding and wreaking world-wide financial havoc.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


An Appreciation: Henryk Górecki:
The Polish composer, whose Third Symphony became a cultural phenomenon in the early 1990s, was contradictory, idiosyncratic and involving, as seen at USC and through Kronos Quartet. (Mark Swed,11/16/10, Los Angeles Times)

Górecki lived a hard life. Born in 1933 in Poland's coal-mining area near the industrial city of Katowice, where he lived most of his life, Górecki lost his mother at 2. He suffered a fall as a boy that kept him hospitalized for two years and left him with a permanent limp. He also developed tuberculosis as a teen. He had a weak heart. The war years were terrible. Devout Catholics, his grandfather, an aunt and an uncle died in concentration camps.

Górecki's early music was that of a politically defiant modernist in communist Poland, writing adamantly clangorous scores. In the early 1970s, he turned to a more spiritual style, paring his textures and seeking the essence of fewer notes. That technique flowered in the Third Symphony, which premiered in 1977, and which was defiant in its own right — this time of the European modernist musical mandate.

The Third Symphony was thus 15 years old when the Nonesuch CD came out. There had been earlier recordings — dark, heavy Polish affairs. The piece had been used as the soundtrack for a 1985 French crime drama, "Police," starring Gérard Depardieu. Nonesuch, however, tried something new, going in for crisp orchestral textures and Upshaw's ethereal voice.

That had seemed a crazy notion to many hard-core Górecki fans at the time, but it proved a brilliant success. Rather than weigh a listener down, the symphony now rose above tragedy to elevate the spirit. Through an equally inspired marketing campaign, the label addressed this revelation not just to new music fans but to everybody. This was classical music at its democratic best.

At USC, Górecki said he too was initially opposed to Upshaw but that he came to fall in love with the heavenly lightness of her voice. Of course, he proceeded to do just the opposite at USC when he conducted the world's slowest performance of his Third Symphony. But he plumbed unimaginable depths of expression and got great sonorities that had to be heard to be believed.

That, though, was Górecki, a man of many contradictions. He could be funny and fun one minute, explosive the next. In his "Kleines Requiem für Eine Polka" (Small Requiem for a Polka), a 1993 chamber piece, he alternates between mystical music of the starry sky and the circus.

Górecki sat in on a symposium about his music during the USC festival. He was restless. He smiled and scowled as speakers described his work and sometimes got up and walked around. During a question-and-answer session, he told the audience not to eat and drive. When you eat, he said, pay full attention to every aspect of your food. When you drive, observe the wonders of the world around you. For Górecki, profound meaning meant taking things to their end.

"There was no amount of pressure that ever pulled him away from his ideals," Kronos violinist David Harrington wrote Friday on hearing of Górecki's death.

"He was known for his cancellations, as even the pope discovered. Kronos waited 12 years for a piece that was so personal he couldn't let it out of his sight until the right moment mysteriously arrived. And I always loved him more for that devotion to his muse."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Poll: Californians want it both ways on budget (Cathleen Decker, November 18, 2010, LA Times)

Californians object to increasing taxes in order to pare the state's massive budget deficit, and instead favor closing the breach through spending cuts. But they oppose cuts—and even prefer more spending—on programs that make up 85% of the state's general fund obligations, a new Los Angeles Times/USC Poll has found.

That paradox rests on Californians' firm belief that the state's deficit—estimated last week at nearly $25 billion over the next 18 months—can be squared through trimming waste and inefficiencies rather than cutting the programs they hold dear. Despite tens of billions that have been cut from the state budget in recent years, just a quarter of California voters believed that state services would have to be curtailed to close the deficit. [...]

Only one in four voters favored trimming elementary and high schools, which make up almost 42% of state general fund spending. Just over one-third approved of cuts to state colleges and universities, or, separately, to state-financed health care for children or the poor, the poll found. The only state-financed enterprise that voters favored chopping was the prison system, which more than 70% of voters wanted to cut either minimally or by a large amount.

"Their priorities are incompatible with resolving the deficit situation," said Republican pollster Linda DiVall, the survey's other co-director.

No one looks for serious people in California, do they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Senate Democrats vent anger with Barack Obama (GLENN THRUSH & MANU RAJU | 11/19/10, Politico)

Senate Democrats – including typically mild-mannered Bill Nelson of Florida – lit into President Barack Obama during an unusually tense air-clearing caucus session on Thursday, senators and staffers told POLITICO. [...]

In interviews after the marathon three hour meeting, several senators and senior aides told POLITICO that Nelson was just one of several senators to express anger at White House missteps – and air deep concerns about their own political fates if Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can’t turn things around by 2012.

Added one veteran senator: “It was the most frank exchange of views I’ve ever seen.” [...]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had met with Obama at the White House earlier in the day, calmly presided over the gripe session, sources say, allowing members to have their say.

What does the leadership care what the rank and file say? They were already re-elected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Budget fight sets up 2011 showdown (DAVID ROGERS | 11/18/10, Politico)

Republicans moved Thursday to kill a year-end spending compromise, hoping to gain leverage in what could be a quick strike against President Barack Obama in the next Congress over budget priorities — and quite possibly funding for health care reform.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has tacitly supported the bipartisan negotiations, went public in opposition to the omnibus measure, which the Senate Appropriations Committee hopes to complete drafting Friday. In doing so, the Kentucky Republican aligned himself squarely with the incoming House speaker, Rep. John Boehner, and the goal is to force Congress to rely on another stopgap “continuing resolution,” or CR, to keep the government funded after Dec. 3.

Democrats have only themselves to blame for the crisis now after failing to pass a budget this year or any of the dozen annual appropriations needed to keep agencies functioning. But Republicans — especially in the House — are clearly delighted to prolong the situation in hopes of getting a crack at Obama’s budget when they take power in January.

...just passing stopgaps until the UR leaves office would be an acceptable option for the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Democrats unhappy with Obama's tactics plot change: Prominent party members discuss going their own way to fight back – especially on fundraising issues. (Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold, 11/19/10, Chicago Tribune)

Frustrated by what they see as President Obama's weakness in battling Republicans, leading Democratic donors and tacticians have begun independently plotting their political recovery — including building a network of outside fundraising and campaign organizations to compete with those formed this year by Republicans. [...]

Many disaffected Democrats complain that the Obama administration needs to be more aggressive in advocating positions to rally the party's base and differentiate it from the Republicans. White House officials who attended the Democracy Alliance meeting, including Austan Goolsbee, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, were pressed about the administration's stances on taxes, job creation and the environment.

Mr. Obama can benefit greatly from defining himself, even if only accidentally, as not the lunatic Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


nvestors take GM stock for a joyride: The auto giant's shares gain 3.6% in their first day of trading after its $20-billion-plus IPO. (Walter Hamilton and Jerry Hirsch, 11/19/10, Los Angeles Times)

The old saying that what's good for General Motors is good for the country took on new meaning Thursday after the carmaker went public in a $20-billion-plus stock offering.

General Motors Co. shares accelerated smoothly in their first day of trading, gaining 3.6% from the higher-than-expected price the company sold them for late Wednesday.

The solid debut was especially good news for the Obama administration, which is eager to show it can recoup the nearly $50 billion it plowed into the auto giant last year.

"This is just about the sweetest deal that they could have hoped for," said Sandeep Dahiya, associate finance professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "They got a good price, they sold a lot of their shares, and they're not facing criticism that they sold out cheaply."

...everybody wins.

Despite deal, bankruptcy for GM is ‘probable’ (AP, 5/28/09)

Under the government’s offer, bondholders would get 10 percent of the stock in a newly formed GM, the same as a proposal that they shunned earlier this week. But the new offer also gives them warrants to buy an additional 15 percent stake, possibly at a discount.

That would come only if they agree to support selling GM’s assets to a new company under bankruptcy court protection.

The revised offer amounted to an ultimatum: Go along with the government auto task force’s proposal or face substantial reduction in the amount of stock and warrants they will get.

“They have sweetened the deal by adding the warrants to th e equation,” said Pete Hastings, senior analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co. “It’s enough for me to have moved from rejecting the deal and trying our luck in bankruptcy court to the side of recommending the deal.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Guess Who Opposes Reversing the Individual Mandate in Health Reform?: Insurers and other health care companies view the mandate as the law's bedrock—and the source of new profits (Drew Armstrong, 11/18/10, BusinessWeek)

When the White House and Democratic lawmakers wrote the health-care overhaul bill, they concocted a sweet coating for the bitter medicine the health industry would have to swallow. In exchange for tighter regulation and numerous new directives, insurers, drugmakers, hospitals, and physicians got some 30 million new paying customers under the individual mandate requiring almost everyone to buy insurance starting in 2014 or pay a fine.

The individual mandate is now under attack in the courts and on Capitol Hill by Republicans, libertarians, and Tea Party enthusiasts who call it an affront to personal liberty. The industry, however, views it as the bedrock supporting the entire health reform law and is lobbying to keep it. The prospect of a vastly bigger market has helped spark a 7.4 percent rise since Jan. 1 in the Standard & Poor's 500 Managed Health Care Index of publicly traded health-care companies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Land of the Setting Sun: Can Japan Reverse Its Long Decline?: Back in the 1980s, Japan was an economic powerhouse and the envy of the world. But there appears to be no end in sight to its current decline, as jobs are lost, pensions cut and companies move overseas. The country's much-vaunted social cohesion is also disintegrating as people find themselves forced to rely on their own resources. (Wieland Wagner, 11/17/10, Der Spiegel)

Japan's decline began in the mid-1980s. The economy was overheated. In response to pressure from the United States, Tokyo was forced to substantially revalue the yen, making its exports more expensive. To offset the losses, the Japanese government pumped massive amounts of money into the economy, and the central bank drastically lowered its prime lending rate.

With the cheap money, the Japanese began speculating in stocks and real estate. The property where the emperor's palace stood in downtown Tokyo was supposedly worth as much at the time as the whole of California. And because terrestrial profits were no longer enough for them, Japanese developers seriously began planning cities in the ocean and on the Moon.

But then the Bank of Japan began feeling queasy about the boom and raised interest rates. This led to a massive crash on the Tokyo stock market, followed by a sharp decline in the real estate market. After that, Japan kept launching new economic stimulus programs to save what was left to save. In the process, it accumulated more debt in relation to economic output than any other leading industrialized nation.

The stimulus programs didn't do much good. Admittedly Japan is by no means Greece, which profited at the expense of its European neighbors. Instead, the Japanese government borrowed from its own thrifty citizens. The Japanese are now doing their best to save face. It is a dignified decline, but in the process Japan is in danger of using up its own reserves.

...but their only hope for a decent future would be massive immigration and Christianization. Their problems are cultural, not economic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Low-tax states will gain seats, high-tax states will lose them (Barbara Hollingsworth, 11/17/10, Washington Examiner)

Eight states are projected to gain at least one congressional seat under reapportionment following the 2010 Census: Texas (four seats), Florida (two seats), Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington (one seat each). Their average top state personal income tax rate: 2.8 percent.

By contrast, New York and Ohio are likely to lose two seats each, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will be down one apiece. The average top state personal income tax rate in these loser states: 6.05 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Obama’s empathy problem: How could the US President have failed to exhibit the quality at the heart of his moral code? (Zac Alstin, 17 November 2010, MercatorNet)

Obama defines empathy as “the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us.” But these are just metaphors. The reality behind “putting myself in someone else’s shoes” is simply to imagine myself in that person’s circumstances. But can I really imagine what it is like to be an immigrant woman cleaning dorm rooms? How realistically can I imagine what it is like to be a laid-off steelworker? No wonder Obama says that this act of imagination is more demanding than sympathy and charity. We cannot really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, because our imagination is always limited and subjective. We can try to understand another person's circumstances, but it borders on condescension to claim that we are able to see the world through someone else's eyes. As an act of imagination, empathy risks becoming mere pretence, deluding ourselves with false insights into other people's lives.

But the real problem is what lies behind empathy. Obama praises empathy as a means “to see the world through those who are different from us — the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.” Yet the point of the Western ethical tradition is that other people are not really different from us at all. It should not take an act of imagination to identify with a hungry child, a laid-off steelworker or an immigrant cleaning-woman, because at heart we all share a common humanity. I do not have to stand in the shoes of a hungry child to know that the child needs and deserves to be fed, nor pretend to be a laid-off steelworker to know that it is terrible for the steelworker to be laid off.

Before 1903, we called it sympathy. Sympathy means “fellow-feeling”, and is based on actual affinity between people. If I stub my toe, you feel my pain; not because you have used observation and imagination to see the world through my eyes, but because you have toes of your own and you too have felt pain. This is our affinity or “sameness”: we feel the same, because we fundamentally are the same.

Somehow, our culture has begun to identify sympathy as a form of condescension, akin to what we now call “pity”. Naturally, we recoil from any suggestion that other people might be looking down on us in our struggles. So empathy has become the new virtue, a contemporary gloss on the golden rule. But empathy is a false virtue, based on a false premise of human difference, and an undue faith in our power to imagine another person's life.

The growing criticisms of Obama's presidency show up the flaws in an empathic approach to life: people do not need a leader who thinks he can imagine how they feel, they need a leader who already shares their feelings and priorities. The president should not have to “see the world through those who are different”, simply because there is no one so different that their ordinary fears and concerns cannot be shared by the highest office-holder in the land.

He's got the condescension down pat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Maggie Thatcher’s long goodbye: Just two nights before Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister, 20 years ago this month, she had vowed to fight on. She needn’t have worried – Tony Blair soon picked up where she left off. (Roy Hattersley, 18 November 2010, New Statesman)

The shadow employment secretary, Tony Blair, had courageously and correctly endorsed the Brussels directive that simultaneously outlawed the closed shop and made trade union membership a statutory right. The party had confirmed its moderation by inflicting a crushing defeat on Tony Benn and Eric Heffer when they challenged Neil and me.

Thatcher inhibited rather than stimulated those necessary changes. The old left denounced every reform as "pandering to Thatcherism" - as well as presaging mass defections to the SDP. And the mistakes that we made in confronting the hard-edged Conservatism that Thatcher represented were the result not just of our horror at the suffering her policies caused, but of the fear that we would be accused of pandering to the prejudices that they exploited. Our responses were often too angry and frequently insufficiently clinical. We regularly misunderstood the attitude of the British people to Thatcherism's unquestioning enthusiasm for ruthless individualism.

During the 1983 general election campaign Thatcher was asked why, when she needed an operation on her hand, she had chosen private treatment over the National Health Service. She replied, without doubt or hesitation, that she wanted treatment at the time of her choice and in the place of her choice. That answer seemed to me both morally objectionable and certain to offend the thousands of people who were languishing on treatment waiting lists. My assumption about the public's attitude was wrong. Opinion polls confirmed that the general feeling was that anyone who could afford superior treatment was entitled to buy it. We found it hard to accept that.

In a credible sense, Margaret Thatcher rep­resented the spirit of the age. She stood for more than the belief that the collective solutions - the state initiating improvements in welfare and economic performance - had failed. She seemed to be a cleansing wind that would blow away the prejudices and vested interests of all the old establishments, hereditary grandees no less than trade union barons. Perversely, she represented change in a society that longed for something new. Labour was the ancien régime.

Rightly or wrongly, before Tony Blair we responded to all that Thatcher stood for by rejecting it outright. That is why the founding fathers of New Labour were unenthusiastic about John Smith's leadership. Blair would not have gone against the grain of public opinion. His detachment from social-democratic values became an electoral asset when he became the leader of a social-democratic party. He was able to judge each policy against the criterion of its public appeal. His standard reply to criticism was not that he had made the right choice, but that to choose the alternative was to risk defeat.

Blair himself was undoubtedly sympathetic to the precepts of Thatcherism - the view that allowing individuals to "get on", without much concern for the effect on other people, was the obligation of the free society. But hundreds of Labour Party members who supported his leadership rejected that view. To them, he was the only knight who could slay the once-indomitable dragon. It was the fear of continual failure, not conversion to crypto-Thatcherism, that encouraged Labour to follow Blair from a position on the moderate left on to the centre ground. The idea that Labour wins only when it is not Labour still haunts the party.

Joseph Chamberlain said that great politicians "changed the weather". I doubt that it was either Margaret Thatcher's dominant personality or distinctive philosophy that converted Britain to the belief that the old consensus - welfare and government intervention - had failed. Britain believed that before she won the 1979 election. Indeed, it was the reason for her victory. But she articulated the zeitgeist with such vigour that the idea survives her premiership by two decades. Thanks to her, ideas that most of the population instinctively believed, but feared to admit, became respectable. They still are and will remain so until their popularity is first accepted and then challenged.

The defining principle of Thatcher's economic philosophy - the efficacy of the market, as a guarantee of competitive efficiency and as a method of determining the allocation of resources and patterns of remuneration - was adopted by the Blair government, not as a philosophical truth, but as the common sense that any plain man would recognise. When Blair worked for me in Labour's front-bench Treasury team, his outstanding characteristics were all-round ability, undisguised contempt for a political vocation that was not focused on winning power and impatience with what he called ideology. At best, he believed in something called the common good, with which men and women of public spirit and integrity could identify without recourse to philosophy. The idea that he was attracted by Thatcherite theories is absurd. He prided himself on having put theory aside. He instinctively and independently came to a Thatcherite conclusion.

The conclusion is the theory and the theory is the Third Way

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


T.S. Eliot and the Demise of the Literary Culture (Joseph Epstein, November 2010, Commentary)

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis in 1888, the son of a successful manufacturer of bricks and the scion of many illustrious Eliots of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. His grandfather founded Washington University in St. Louis; Charles William Eliot, a cousin, was president of Harvard when Eliot was an undergraduate there. The Eliot family was centered (anchored might be more precise) in New England, where it spent its summers, and Tom later came to think himself a New Englander, though not so thoroughly as he would one day consider himself English.

Part of what makes Eliot’s literary career so impressive is that he achieved all he did, in effect, in nationality drag. He willed himself into an Englishman, which technically he became only in the year 1927, when he acquired British citizenship. After attending one of Eliot’s readings in New York in 1933, the critic Edmund Wilson wrote to the novelist John Dos Passos: “He is an actor and really put on a better show than Shaw. . . . He gives you the creeps a little at first because he is such a completely artificial, or, rather, self-invented character . . . but he has done such a perfect job with himself that you end up admiring him.”

Eliot wrote of Henry James, in subtle ways his literary model, that “it is the final perfection, the consummation of an American to become, not an Englishman, but a European—something which no born European, no person of any European nationality, can become.” James had become, as Eliot also put it, a European but of no known country, while Eliot, with his bowler hat and rolled umbrella and what Virginia Woolf called “his four-piece suits,” turned himself into something resembling the caricature of an Englishman.

This most politically conservative of writers made two radical decisions when young that drastically changed the course of his life. On a traveling fellowship to Europe from the Harvard philosophy department, where he was completing work on a doctorate on the Idealist thinker F.H. Bradley, Eliot determined no longer to live in America or as an American but instead to settle in England. And not long after, in 1914, he married an attractive young woman named Vivien Haigh-Wood, who, most inconveniently, happened to be insane.

Both decisions were made against the wishes of his strong-minded parents. Ezra Pound offered to write a letter to Eliot’s father explaining the importance of his remaining in England. Eliot had met Pound in 1914; Pound was only three years older than Eliot but had already made himself the impresario of the literary avant-garde and was a generous promoter of other people’s talents. When he read Eliot’s early poetry, he knew he had come upon a talent worth promoting. He arranged to have Harriet Monroe at Poetry magazine publish “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”; he placed other early poems in WyndhamLewis’s Blast and Alfred Kreymborg’s Others. Propelled by Pound’s powerful promotional engine, T.S. Eliot’scareer as a poet was off with a great whoosh.

In his letter to Eliot’s father, Pound insisted that London was the place, certainly a much better place than anywhere in America, for his son to make his reputation as a poet. He was correct about that, even if the senior Eliot hadn’t the least interest in Tom’s becoming one. The prestige of the avant-garde was much less in America in those years than it was in England and on the Continent. In literature, America meant provincialism; London, the great world.

Some surmise that Eliot married Vivien Haigh-Wood because, having had sex with her, he felt a strong sense of obligation. Others that it was his way of putting his foot in the river of life, for Eliot’s first published poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and much else he wrote in his early years, is about the buried life, or the fear of living—“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”—another way in which he resembled Henry James.

In “Stuff,” one of the American writer Mary Gaitskill’s short stories, a character says, “Isn’t Eliot that turd who made his wife think she was crazy?” Nearly the reverse was the case: the marriage came close to driving Eliot, a man with a highly delicate nervous organization, mad himself. Vivien claimed that her husband never fully opened up to her, never gave her the affectionate attention she required. This may be partially true—in the emotional realm, Eliot was far from effulgent—but in all likelihood no one else could have done so either. Eliot cannot be accused of being undutiful to her. Most of his earnings went into paying the bills for the quackish physicians then interested in mental illness or for moving his wife into and out of the countryside in hopes of reviving her health. Virginia Woolf described Vivien as “a bag of ferrets” around Eliot’s neck. In a letter to the American critic Paul Elmer More, Eliot described his marriage as resembling a bad Dostoyevsky novel. In 1938, Vivien Eliot was committed to a mental asylum, where she died nine years later, at the age of 58.

The marriage was the signature event of Eliot’s life. His failure even mildly to assuage his wife’s condition and then his separating himself from her after 13 years of a hellish life together left him in despair and on the brink of emotional collapse. The separation also left him with a relentlessly throbbing bad conscience and was a key factor in his conversion to High Anglicanism. He had grown up in St. Louis under the extreme liberal wing of Unitarianism, but his family’s earlier religious tradition was Calvinist. And Calvinist, the Puritanical division, T.S. Eliot always seemed. Calvinist guilt, if Eliot’s be an example, makes quotidian Jewish guilt seem like puff pastry.

Eliot’s conversion was an event that gave order and meaning to his life and coherence to his thought. Peter Ackroyd, another of Eliot’s biographers, writes: “He explained that Christianity reconciled him to human existence, which otherwise seemed empty and distasteful.” Eliot never attempted to win other converts and, as Ackroyd again notes, “rarely asserted the positive merits of his faith, but characteristically exposed the flaws and follies in other competing ideologies.” [...]

The Letters of T. S. Eliot are now up to only 1925 and end before Eliot’s career as a great man was fully established. (At this rate of publication, there is an excellent chance that no one reading this essay will live long enough to see the entire collection of Eliot’s letters in print.) The first volume chronicled Eliot’s youth and Harvard years, his decamping to England and early years there. This second volume has chiefly to do with his struggles with his wife’s mental illness and his editorship of the Criterion, the intellectual magazine he founded in 1922.

Eliot worked on the Criterion at night, after his full day at the bank, most of the time with no secretarial help and without salary. (Vivien, it must be said, aided him on the magazine during her sane stretches.) The journal never had a circulation of more than 1,000. Yet it had the highest repute and even today is part of the mythos of literary modernism. The Criterion was highbrow but not all that avant-garde. Conservative in its tendency, Eliot never allowed it to be hostage to any party. “My belief is that,” Eliot wrote to a contributor, “if one has principles at all, they will have their consequences in both literature and politics, they will apply to both.” He would later describe his own positions as “Anglo-Catholic in religion, classicist in literature, and royalist in politics.”

The Critic as Radical : T.S. Eliot sought the still point of the turning world. (George Scialabba, The American Conservative)

At the root of this condemnation of modernity lay the conviction of Original Sin. Eliot believed that most people have very little intelligence or character. Without firm guidance from those who have more of both, the majority is bound to reason and behave badly. Eliot made this point frequently: sometimes gently, as in the well-known line from “Burnt Norton”: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Sometimes harshly, as in “The Function of Criticism,” where he derided those in whom democratic reformers place their hopes as a rabble who “ride ten in a compartment to a football match at Swansea, listening to the inner voice, which breathes the eternal message of vanity, fear, and lust.”

The obtuseness and unruliness of humanity in the mass meant that order, the prime requisite of social health, could only be secured by subordination to authority, both religious and political. “For the great mass of humanity … their capacity for thinking about the objects of their faith is small”—hence the need for an authoritative church rather than an illusory Inner Voice. Likewise, “in a healthily stratified society, public affairs would be a responsibility not equally borne”—hence the need for a hereditary governing class. Underlying these social hierarchies is a hierarchy of values. “Liberty is good, but more important is order, and the maintenance of order justifies any means.”

Order, long preserved, produces tradition—“all the actions, habits, and customs,” from the most significant to the most conventional, that “represent the blood kinship of ‘the same people living in the same place’.” Eliot’s best-known discussions of tradition are found in his literary essays: “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “The Metaphysical Poets,” and others.

His poetry was, of course, revolutionary as well as conservative, and his criticism explains this apparent paradox. Artistic originality emerges only after a lengthy assimilation of many traditions. The artist surrenders his individuality, and it is returned to him enriched. The tradition too is enriched. “The whole existing order” is “if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. … The past [is] altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Searching Your Laptop (NY Times, 11/15/10)

Federal courts have long agreed that federal agents guarding the borders do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a traveler’s belongings. That exception to the Fourth Amendment needs updating and tightening to reflect the realities of the digital age. [...]

The George W. Bush administration first authorized border agents to seize and view the contents of laptops, smartphones, and other devices and copy and share data with other government agencies without need for any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Obama administration has tweaked the policy, requiring approval from supervisors to hold a seized device for more than five days, for example. The fundamental flaw remains: it permits the government to engage in indiscriminate and invasive fishing expeditions.

Do they just not understand their own editorial?

November 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


GM shares jump after record public offering (Paul Adams, 11/18/10, BBC)

It's thought the government will have to sell its remaining stock at around $50 a share for several years to recoup its investment.

But the bailout was never only about GM. The Obama administration argued that the entire American car industry, with all its associated businesses, was at stake.

So far, the evidence suggests that something is working.

A general revival does seem to be under way, at least in terms of the profitability and competitiveness of the companies involved.

But the cost has been huge: tens of thousands of workers were laid off, plants closed, familiar brands ditched and auto dealers told to look for other work. to not care about any of that and dwell on the bondholders, who got treated by Democrats the way we would have treated the unions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


The Felice Brothers On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, November 17, 2010)

“Wonderful Life,” “Goddamn You, Jim” and “Love Me Tenderly” (not heard on the radio broadcast) originally appear on The Felice Brothers self-titled debut, and “Run Chicken Run” is from the group's studio album, Yonder is the Clock. The band's most recent release is a self-issued bootleg recording called Mix Tape.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Confronting the monster: At last, plans are appearing to cut America’s deficit. But will politicians and the public embrace them? (The Economist, Nov 18th 2010)

At present, compared with other countries, America taxes income too heavily and consumption too little. A sensible solution would therefore be a value-added tax; every other rich country has one. The Domenici-Rivlin report suggests a 6.5% “debt-reduction sales tax”. A carbon tax, or a higher petrol tax, could play the same role.

The proposals are bold; but no one who is making them currently holds office. Will America’s politicians ever dare sign on? Research by Alberto Alesina of Harvard University has found that, contrary to political wisdom, governments that enact austerity measures are often re-elected: Denmark’s in the early 1980s and Sweden’s and Canada’s in the 1990s, for example. Support for Britain’s austerity-preaching Conservatives has remained strong, though the measures will not bite until next year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


General Motors shares rise in stock market debut (LA Times, November 18, 2010)

General Motors Co. stock jumped $3 in early trading to $36, a sign that investors are eager for shares in the formerly bankrupt automaker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


National Insecurity: American Jews haven’t stood up for Jonathan Pollard. That might finally be changing. (Gil Troy, Nov 16, 2010, The Tablet)

[P]ollard’s situation rests on a contradiction: He was guilty of a reprehensible crime, and yet he has been treated abominably. One of the most infamous Jewish criminals in modern times, he is also the victim of the worst act of official American anti-Semitism in our lifetimes. [...]

On November 21, 1985, FBI agents arrested Pollard, 31 at the time, just outside Israel’s embassy in Washington. Since June 1984, Pollard had been routinely removing sensitive documents from the Naval Intelligence Support Center on Friday afternoons, passing them to his Israeli handlers for Xeroxing, and blithely returning them on Monday mornings. When first interrogated by the FBI, Pollard called his wife. After he worked the word “cactus” into the conversation, their designated SOS code word, Anne Henderson-Pollard scurried about their house—with a neighbor’s help—sanitizing it. The neighbor subsequently gave the FBI a 70-pound suitcase filled with secret documents, reflecting the volume of Pollard’s activities and sloppiness.

Despite transferring thousands of documents to his Israeli handlers, Pollard failed to gain asylum at the embassy on that day in 1985. Backpedaling furiously, Israel first labeled Pollard a rogue agent, as his handlers worked out of a shadowy organization called Lekem, the Defense Ministry’s Bureau for Scientific Relations. The department, headed by the legendary Mossad man Rafi Eitan [3], was disbanded shortly after Pollard’s arrest. Israel granted Pollard citizenship in 1995—long after such a move could have done him any good. And it wasn’t until 1998 that Israel finally acknowledged what everyone knew: Pollard had been an authorized agent spying for Israel.

An American Jew’s arrest as an Israeli spy was upsetting enough for American Jews. But Pollard’s defense made the affair excruciating. Minimizing the thousands of dollars he earned, the diamond-and-sapphire ring the Israelis gave him, and his efforts to shop American secrets to South Africa and possibly Pakistan, too, Pollard portrayed himself as a Zionist idealist. Anti-Semites bullied him as a child, he recalled. He claimed that the documents he smuggled out, so crucial to Israeli security, should have been shared freely. And, using a most obnoxious and threatening term, he said a “racial obligation” compelled him, as a Jew, to defend the Jewish state.

Suddenly, amid Ronald Reagan’s resurgence of hard-bodied patriotic machismo, in the age of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and Clint Eastwood’s tough-guy “make my day” taunt, a balding, mustachioed, jowly-faced American Jewish nerd in glasses was betraying the red, white, and blue for the blue and white. Pollard’s crimes epitomized Zionism-run-amok, with the ideological implications of Jewish tribal solidarity pushed to its extreme.

“I feel my husband and I did what we were expected to do, and what our moral obligation was as Jews, what our moral obligation was as human beings, and I have no regrets about that,” Anne Pollard said defiantly on 60 Minutes shortly before being sentenced, one of many arrogant, self-destructive moves the couple made back then. [...]

To Israeli settlers, Pollard’s case symbolizes the anti-Semitism of even benign non-Jewish polities such as the United States and the weak-kneed appeasement policies of successive Israeli governments, which have failed to free Pollard. The most popular pro-Pollard bumper sticker in Israel simply appeals for Pollard to come home “haBaytah,” but a few years ago one poster challenged: “BUSH: FREE YOUR CAPTIVE.” This poster not only targeted a good friend of Israel’s, George W. Bush, but it pictured Pollard with the young Israeli Hamas is holding, Gilad Shalit. The implicit comparisons, between the innocent Shalit and the guilty Pollard, as well as between the democratic United States and the terrorist-state Hamas, were offensive. While the right’s support has sustained Pollard emotionally, it may have made his get-out-of-jail card even harder to get. The Israeli right is unpopular with both the American Jewish community and the American political establishment, making Pollard even more unappealing.

...if the Pollards are proud of what they did and think it did a great service to Israel ought they not be happy to accept their punishment?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Why George W. Bush can confess to approving torture (The Washington Post, November 15, 2010)

FORMER PRESIDENT George W. Bush admits to a few errors in his newly released memoir - but authorizing the waterboarding of captured terrorists is not one of them. "Damn right," he quotes himself as saying about using the technique on Sept. 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Mr. Bush's cockiness on the subject is a measure of how distorted his views - and those of many others in Washington - remain on the subject of torture, and how inadequate the legal barriers against it continue to be.

Until Mr. Bush took office, waterboarding - in which subjects are forced to experience the sensation of drowning - had been considered a crime by the U.S. government for at least 90 years. American soldiers were prosecuted for employing it against insurgents in the Philippines following the Spanish American War; the State Department described it as illegal torture when it was used by foreign governments.

We aren't going to prosecute anyone for torturing a terrorist when we could catch another one tomorrow.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


German birth rate falls to post-war record low (Erik Kirschbaum, Nov 12, 2010, (Reuters)

Germany has a population of 82 million but the low birth rates mean average ages are rising, hampering the development of Europe's largest economy. The tide of immigration that fed the post world war two economic expansion has also now been reversed with new immigration controls.

The Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported that there were 665,126 children born in 2009, down from 682,514 in 2008. The annual birth rate has fallen by more than 100,000 a year in the last decade from 770,774 births registered in 1999.

An official at the statistics office said the 2009 figure was the lowest number of births in Germany since 1945, when 520,000 children were born.

Demography experts have forecast that Germany's population could fall from 82 million to about 50 million by 2050 while countries with growing populations, such as France and Britain, could overtake it later this century.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Demographic Future Is Now: Eastern Germany Confronts Skilled Labor Shortage: For years, demographers have been warning that Germany could face a labor shortage as its population ages. In eastern Germany, such scarcities have already become reality. Competition for talent is fierce -- and businesses are becoming more generous. (Markus Dettmer, Alexander Neubacher and Janko Tietz, 11/18/10, Der Spiegel)

[A]n internal survey conducted by the Federal Employment Agency among its 176 local employment agencies shows that the lack of skilled workers is already a reality today. Two-thirds of the participating agencies reported significant bottlenecks in many areas. In July, there was an average of 7.5 unemployed workers for every open position. The study lists 16 professions, from plumbers to engineers to doctors, in which the problems are especially glaring.

The microcosm of southern Thuringia offers a telling example of what has become symptomatic for parts of the east, particularly along the former border between East and West Germany and the booming regions surrounding the cities of Dresden, Jena and Potsdam. In the district around Eisfeld, not far from the border of Bavaria, for example, the number of open positions was 48.8 percent higher in October 2010 than it was in October of 2009. Unemployment there is 6.7 percent, which is about the same as the average in the West. There are already about 16,000 commuters who drive to work every day from the West to the East.

For a number of reasons, demographic changes affected the East earlier and more strongly than the West. Not long after German reunification, the birth rate plummeted in the East -- meaning that since 2006, significantly fewer young people have been entering the work force.

In addition, many eastern Germans, especially young people, are moving to the West -- a trend that has continued unchecked for years. The eastern states have lost about 1.5 million workers since 1990. If the trend continues, the population between the ages of 15 and 64 in the East will be cut in half, to 4.5 million, by 2050. At the same time, large groups of older people are entering retirement.

A historic shift occurred in southern Thuringia this year. For decades, the number of high-school graduates in the state had exceeded the number of training positions. That relationship has now been reversed for the first time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Evolution as Aesthetic Experience (Quinn O'Neill, 11/15/10, 3QuarksDaily)

Aesthetic experience affects the senses, emotions, and intellect. It’s often associated with works of art, like paintings, dance, or music. Such experience is unique and personal; it depends not just on the artwork itself, but on the meaning that we attach to it and the feeling that this generates. [...]

While the role of subjectivity is well recognized in the artistic realm, art isn’t exceptional in its ability to create aesthetic experience. Such experience could be created by multicolored autumn foliage or an expansive view of the night sky. It can also be created by immaterial entities, like concepts.

Evolution is one such concept. By evolution, I mean “the scientific theory of evolution”--that concept that creates controversy in non-scientific circles despite an abundance of supporting evidence. Just as with a piece of art, we can present evolution to a group of people and they may each respond differently. Evolution comes with strings attached--preconceptions, associations, and implications. People’s perception of evolution isn’t shaped just by empirical facts, but by the meaning and feeling that they attach to it. Their response will be influenced by their worldview, personality traits, and a host of other factors.

The only important question for the Darwinist is what it says about him that he finds the theory aesthetically pleasing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The George W. Bush Fixation: Obama’s fixation on his predecessor could consume his presidency. (Victor Davis Hanson, 11/18/10, National Review)

Voters two years ago elected Obama for a variety of reasons — from unhappiness with Bush and Iraq to the landmark novelty of seeing our first black president. The financial meltdown of September 2008 ended for good John McCain’s small lead in the polls. That panic also reminded voters of their unease with the Bush deficits and his expansion of government.

In the absence of a genuine self, the UR can appear to be anything but can only define himself by his membership in certain institutions and cohorts or in opposition to another. But if he can't run on his record in the institution he's currently part of--the Executive--and he can't run as being not-W then what does he run as?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


The Beck of Revelation (Mark Lilla, 12/09/10, NY Review of Books)

[Glenn] Beck is the most gifted demagogue America has produced since Father Coughlin made his populist broadcasts during the Great Depression. In the course of one radio or television show he can transform himself from conspiracy nut and character assassin into bawling, repentant screw-up, then back to gold-hoarding Jeremiah, and finally to man of God, without ever falling out of character. Which is the real Glenn Beck? His detractors assume that his basest, most despicable moments reflect his core, and that the rest is acting and cynical manipulation.

This is Alexander Zaitchik’s conclusion, in his sharp and informative smackdown, Common Nonsense, and Dana Milbank’s in his rambling, impressionistic Tears of a Clown. Zaitchik documents Beck’s every flip-flop, every swim in the polluted pools of the John Birchers and paranoid Mormon theocrats, every cruel remark (he called Hurricane Katrina victims “scumbags”), and every offensive comparison (he once likened Al Gore’s campaign against global warming to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews). For Zaitchik, Beck is just one more American con artist in the P.T. Barnum tradition, a shameless pseudoconservative bottom-feeder who will say anything to keep the spotlight on himself while the money rolls in.1

But after reading these books and countless articles on the man, I’m coming to the conclusion that searching for the “real” Glenn Beck makes no sense. The truth is, demagogues don’t have cores. They are mediums, channeling currents of public passion and opinion that they anticipate, amplify, and guide, but do not create; the less resistance they offer, the more successful they are. This nonresistance is what distinguishes Beck from his confreres in the conservative media establishment, who have created more sharply etched characters for themselves. Rush Limbaugh plays the loud, steamrolling uncle you avoid at Thanksgiving. Bill O’Reilly is the angry guy haranguing the bartender. Sean Hannity is the football captain in a letter sweater, asking you to repeat everything, slowly. But with Glenn Beck you never know what you’ll get. He is a perpetual work in progress, a billboard offering YOUR MESSAGE HERE.

As anyone who witnessed his performance on the Washington Mall can attest, what makes him particularly appealing to his audience is not his positions, it is that he appears to feel and fear and admire and instinctively believe what his listeners do, even when their feelings, fears, esteem, and beliefs are changing or self-contradictory. This is the gift of the true demagogue, to successfully identify his own self, rather than his opinions, with the selves of his followers—and to equate both with the “true” nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Chanos vs. China: The influential short-seller is betting that China's economy is about to implode in a spectacular real estate bust. A lot of people are hoping that Chanos - who called Enron right - is wrong this time. (Bill Powell, 11/17/10, Fortune)

The scene is a cocktail party high above the Shanghai skyline on a summer night a few months ago. Our host is a Master of the Hedge Fund Universe, one who doesn't want to be identified in the press. We'll call him Pete. Pete comes to China at least twice a year to stay abreast of what's happening in the world's most dynamic economy. He has said, in fact, that if he didn't have kids in school in the U.S., he would consider moving here, so bright is the future. In attendance are other hedge fund investors, venture capitalists, and fund managers, China bulls all. If there is one sure-fire way to ruin the atmosphere on such a pleasant evening, it is this: Ask the crowd what they think of the legendary short-seller James Chanos, CEO of Manhattan-based Kynikos Associates.

So that's what I do.

"Hey," I say to a cluster of people surrounding Pete. "Did you guys see what Jim Chanos said about China on Charlie Rose the other night?"

"No," says an American venture capitalist working in Shanghai. "What did he say?"

"He said, 'China's on an economic treadmill to hell.' "

For over a year now Chanos -- the man who got Enron (among other things) right before anyone else -- has been on a rampage about China. The guy who became famous -- and rich -- shorting companies now says he is shorting the entire country.

When I mention the "treadmill to hell" line to the group in Shanghai, the reaction is the usual one when Chanos's name comes up here: "What does he know about China?" the American VC asks. "Has he ever lived here? Does he have staff here? Does he speak Chinese?"

The answers are no, no, and no. But our host, who counts Chanos as a friend, knows that is not the point. "He did get Enron right," Pete says. "And Tyco. And the whole mortgage bust." He concludes: "Look, he may be wrong, but you need to tell me why he's wrong, not point out that he doesn't live here." [...]

How did Chanos come to his China obsession? It started in 2009, when he and his team at Kynikos looked at commodity prices and the stocks of big mining companies. "Everything we did in our microwork [on commodities] kept leading us back to China's property market," Chanos says. China's construction boom was driving demand for nearly every basic material.

One day, at a research conference in 2009, Chanos listened to an analyst tick off numbers about the scale of China's building boom. "He said they were building 5 billion square meters of new residential and office space -- 2.6 billion square meters in new office space alone. I said to him, 'You must have the decimal point in the wrong place.' He said no, the numbers are right. So do the math: That's almost 30 billion square feet of new construction. There are 1.3 billion people in China. [In terms of new office space alone] that amounts to about a five-by-five-foot cubicle for every man, woman, and child in the country. That's when it dawned on me that China was embarking on something unprecedented.''

Kynikos didn't post anyone in China. Analysts make occasional research trips, though Chanos himself does not. Given his reputation there, he says, "it's probably best that I don't go. I can just see the New York Post headline: NEW YORK INVESTOR KILLED IN MYSTERIOUS ONE-MAN EARTHQUAKE."

Chanos says that underlying his firm's analysis are data the Chinese government itself reports publicly, such as numbers from the Bureau of Statistics and the National Development and Reconstruction Commission, the country's most powerful economics ministry. In the past year, he says, his team has developed a "proprietary database" that tracks real estate sales in China. "We are not fudging data or just hearing or seeing what we want to hear and see," he insists. And he has a standard retort to those who say you can't know China because you don't live there: "I didn't work at Enron either."

...with none of the strengths.

Try to make a back of the napkin case for China's future and you can't. List its problems and you run out of napkin. At some level its inflated reputation has to be a product of little more than old Yellow Menace tropes and the mesmeric effect of the number one billion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Where did the GOP House Gains Come From? (Tiffany Washburn, 11/17/10, CBS News)

In 2008, there were 48 districts that voted in a Democratic House member, and also voted to elect Republican Sen. John McCain over President Obama. These districts were targeted by the Republicans -- and their efforts largely paid off.

Republicans claimed 36 of the 48 McCain-Democratic seats. The Democrats were only able to claim 3 Republican seats where Mr. Obama had won -- the only three seats they wrested from the Republicans in the entire election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Obama Without Tears (William Greider, November 10, 2010, The Nation)

Given the election results, the question Barack Obama has to decide for himself is whether he really wants to be president in the fullest sense.

it's whether he even wants it in its emptiest sense. And there's little indication that he does want to be president now that's he's been president.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Bettye LaVette On World Cafe (NPR: World Cafe, 11/17/10)

With a sound that combines soul with blues, funk, rock, gospel and country, Bettye LaVette has always been hard to classify. After finally garnering mainstream acclaim for 2005 release I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, LaVette is back with Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, a collection of British Invasion covers of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and more.


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November 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


George Soros Tells Progressive Donors Obama Might Not Be The Best Investment (Sam Stein, 11-17-10, Huffington Post)

According to multiple sources with knowledge of his remarks, Soros told those in attendance that he is "used to fighting losing battles but doesn't like to lose without fighting."

"We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line," he said, according to several Democratic sources. "And if this president can't do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else."

Michael Vachon, an adviser to Soros, did not dispute the comment, though he stressed that there was no transcript of a private gathering to check.

He's never likely to be the last guy to bail on a bad investment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


G.M. Prices Its Shares at $33 in Return to Stock Market (MICHAEL J. DE LA MERCED, 11/17/10, NY Times)

General Motors announced on Wednesday afternoon that it had priced its common shares at $33 each, setting a record for the largest initial public offering in American history. [...]

G.M. will return to the stock markets on Thursday, a year and a half after it filed for a quick government-sponsored bankruptcy to shed billions of dollars in debt and reshape its business.

The stock sale will also halve the Treasury Department’s stake to about 26 percent, speeding up the Obama administration’s effort to remove itself from G.M. That has also been a important goal for the company, which has long wanted to regain private ownership and shed the “Government Motors” label. that we're going to end up making so much money off of it that we'll be tempted to sin again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Morning Jay: Special Prognostication Edition! (JAY COST, 10/15/10, Weekly Standard)

2. RealClearPolitics currently sees 184 seats going to the Democrats, 211 going to the Republicans, and another 40 as toss-ups. Allocate the remaining seats evenly, and you get a GOP pickup of 52 seats.

3. Nate Silver wins the Rube Goldberg Award for the cycle by employing a complicated system of levers and pulleys to predict a very precise 47.5 seats. [...]

Also at Sabato’s site, Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz develops a predictive model based upon the final Gallup generic ballot that predicts, if the current number holds, the GOP will pick up more than 68 seats.

Time for everybody to make their predictions for the composition of the post-election chambers of Congress. The current House is 257-178, while the Senate is 59-41 (counting the I's as D's).

I'll go with a turnover that puts the House at 192-243 and the Senate at 46-54.

You can make your pick anytime up until the returns start coming in (and you can make a pick now then edit it in Disqus).

We'll try having a live comment/chat box on election night again--with hopefully more satisfactory returns to talk about).

-NY Times Politics
-Vote Easy (Project Vote Smart)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


QE2 (Greg Mankiw, 11/17/10)

Several people have asked my opinion of the Federal Reserve's new round of quantitative easing. In particular, some have noted that I did not sign the open letter by conservative economists critical of recent Fed actions.

My view is that QE2 is a modestly good idea. I say it is a "good idea" because, like Ben Bernanke, I am more worried at the moment about Japanese-style deflation and stagnation than I am about excessive inflation. By lowering long-term real interest rates below where they otherwise would be, QE2 should help expand aggregate demand. I include the modifier "modestly" because I don't expect these actions to have a very large effect.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


California Suggests Suicide; Texas Asks: Can I Lend You a Knife? ( JOEL KOTKIN, 11/15/10, Forbes)

In the future, historians may likely mark the 2010 midterm elections as the end of the California era and the beginning of the Texas one. In one stunning stroke, amid a national conservative tide, California voters essentially ratified a political and regulatory regime that has left much of the state unemployed and many others looking for the exits. [...]

This state of crisis is likely to become the norm for the Golden State. In contrast to other hard-hit states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada, which all opted for pro-business, fiscally responsible candidates, California voters decisively handed virtually total power to a motley coalition of Democratic-machine politicians, public employee unions, green activists and rent-seeking special interests.

In the new year, the once and again Gov. Jerry Brown, who has some conservative fiscal instincts, will be hard-pressed to convince Democratic legislators who get much of their funding from public-sector unions to trim spending. Perhaps more troubling, Brown’s own extremism on climate change policy–backed by rent-seeking Silicon Valley investors with big bets on renewable fuels–virtually assures a further tightening of a regulatory regime that will slow an economic recovery in every industry from manufacturing and agriculture to home-building.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Murkowski emerges as winner in Alaska Senate race (Becky Bohrer, 11/17/10, Associated Press)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has become the first Senate candidate in more than 50 years to win a write-in campaign.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Pretty Good for Government Work (WARREN E. BUFFETT, 11/17/10, NY Times)

Just over two years ago, in September 2008, our country faced an economic meltdown. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the pillars that supported our mortgage system, had been forced into conservatorship. Several of our largest commercial banks were teetering. One of Wall Street’s giant investment banks had gone bankrupt, and the remaining three were poised to follow. A.I.G., the world’s most famous insurer, was at death’s door.

Many of our largest industrial companies, dependent on commercial paper financing that had disappeared, were weeks away from exhausting their cash resources. Indeed, all of corporate America’s dominoes were lined up, ready to topple at lightning speed. My own company, Berkshire Hathaway, might have been the last to fall, but that distinction provided little solace.

Nor was it just business that was in peril: 300 million Americans were in the domino line as well. Just days before, the jobs, income, 401(k)’s and money-market funds of these citizens had seemed secure. Then, virtually overnight, everything began to turn into pumpkins and mice. There was no hiding place. A destructive economic force unlike any seen for generations had been unleashed.

Only one counterforce was available, and that was you, Uncle Sam. Yes, you are often clumsy, even inept. But when businesses and people worldwide race to get liquid, you are the only party with the resources to take the other side of the transaction. And when our citizens are losing trust by the hour in institutions they once revered, only you can restore calm. [...]

In the darkest of days, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Sheila Bair grasped the gravity of the situation and acted with courage and dispatch. And though I never voted for George W. Bush, I give him great credit for leading, even as Congress postured and squabbled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Will Senate Republicans' Self-Imposed Ban on Earmarks Do Any Good? (MATTHEW JAFFE, Nov. 17, 2010, ABC News)

While the $16 billion that Congress spent on earmarks in fiscal year 2010 might sound like a lot of money, it is only a tiny fraction of the total federal budget. As Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine pointed out earlier this week, earmarks account for "less than one percent of overall federal expenditures."

Moreover, some of the same GOP senators who pledged to support the ban said that they couldn't promise to stick to it.

"I have consistently voted for the elimination of earmarks in the past and will support the earmark moratorium resolution today," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, said in a statement on Tuesday. "However, there are times when crises arise, or issues come forth of such importance to Georgia, such as critical support to the port of Savannah, and the nation that I reserve the right to ask Congress and the president to approve funding."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Inflation at lowest level since 1957 (Annalyn Censky, November 17, 2010,

Consumer prices for everything other than food and energy are rising, but at a rate so sluggish, it's the smallest price increase on record, the government said Wednesday.

The Consumer Price Index, a key measure of inflation, increased 1.2% over the past 12 months ending in October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

But after stripping out volatile food and energy prices, the more closely watched core CPI rose 0.6% on an annual basis -- the smallest price increase since the government started recording the data in 1957. [...]

Consumers may also be noticing their grocery bills going up, but only slightly -- around 1.4% over last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Obama Wimps Out on Tax Cuts (Eric Alterman, 11/16/10, Daily Beast)

It’s happening again. Barack Obama is punching the Republicans in the fist with his face. Almost in spite of themselves, Democrats won the public-opinion battle over extending the Bush tax cuts for Americans making a quarter of a million a year or more with strong majorities supporting their position. They did not have the nerve to hold this vote before the election, and now the nervous nellies appear to be getting ready to throw in the towel (or at least most of it).

Obama's First Post-Election Crisis: Will He Go Wobbly on Tax Cuts? (Walter Shapiro, 11/16/10, Politicvs Daily)
With the 2001 Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of this year, Obama still theoretically wants to return the tax rates for upper-income Americans (families earning more than $250,000 a year) to what they were under Bill Clinton. The revenue at stake is significant even by Washington's profligate standards – a projected $700 billion over 10 years. But confronted with the insistence by resurgent Republicans that all the Bush tax cuts be enshrined for eternity, Obama has gone wobbly in the face of the GOP's fuzzy math about the deficit. [...]

More than anything, the tax-cut fight will provide an early referendum on how Barack Obama intends to govern during the next two years.

Will the president emulate Ronald Reagan's resolution to stay the course after the GOP's 1982 electoral setback – and only reluctantly yield ideological ground to congressional Republicans? Will Obama take as his model a triangulating Bill Clinton who outfoxed Newt Gingrich during the 1995 governmental shutdown yet also signed the Republican-backed welfare reform bill? Based on early post-election indications, Obama seems inclined to follow a third way of drift devoid of either Reagan's determination or Clinton's moxie.

Obama Supporters Looking for a Sign in Tax Cuts Brawl (David Corn, 11/17/10, Politics Daily)
The other day I had lunch with a fellow active in Democratic fundraising, and he told me about a multimillionaire (nearly a billionaire) who was once a big backer of Obama. Now this mega-money man says, no more. Why? I asked. Obama, my lunchmate replied, doesn't have a spine. And when I was in California this past weekend, several Obama supporters I encountered also expressed intense frustration with the president, each asking a version of the question, when is he going to start fighting?

Just look where listening to billionaires and the Beltway got Democrats.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Why the Dems Could Lose the Senate Next (Samuel P. Jacobs, 11/17/10, Politico)

“If we are monolithic and liberal, then we won’t be the majority party,” says former Rep. Dan Glickman, who served as Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary, and knows from experience what it’s like to serve as a Democrat from the red state of Kansas. And if Webb, Tester, and Casey are ousted, then the Democrats may be guilty of the same sort of ideological purification they tend to mock when Republicans are the ones doing it. [...]

In Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb has yet to commit to running for a second term. He told Real Clear Politics last week that he’s "still sorting that out… I'm not saying I'm not." It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Webb, who came to Congress with an Emmy and a number of well-received novels to his name, did step down. For one thing, he hasn’t done too well in the clubby world of the U.S. Senate. Upon arrival, he earned the clucking of George Will, who called Webb a “pompous poseur” and a “boor” after the diffident senator-to-be lashed out at President Bush who had asked after Webb’s son, a soldier deployed in Iraq.

Since then, Webb has proven no less intemperate with members of his own party. This summer, he penned an explosive editorial in The Wall Street Journal, decrying affirmative action and civil-rights legislation that he said unfairly harmed whites. Webb was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy and, at present, is one of the last Reagan Democrats of prominence in the party. Webb—or any Virginia Democrat—would be running into quite a headwind in 2012. Virginians just unseated three Democratic House members, and former Sen. George Allen, whose “Macaca” misstep cost him the race against Webb by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2006, would be a formidable opponent in 2012, according to Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.

Bob Casey, another member of the class of 2006, is another example of the Dems’ endangered species. Casey, whose father was governor of Pennsylvania, is the country’s most prominent pro-life Democrat. Casey Senior famously challenged Bill Clinton’s health-care plan in 1994 because it would finance abortions. Like Webb, Casey is part of a dying breed of Democrat—those who support progressive economic policies but remain socially conservative.

Right now, Casey’s approval ratings are awful; only 36 percent of voters view him favorably. Republicans just picked up five House seats in Pennsylvania, along with the governor’s office and a new Senate seat. Still, all is not yet lost for the Dems; the state’s weak GOP bench means Casey actually has a better chance than his iconoclastic colleagues of winning a second term two years from now.

They also have both Nelsons and Joe Manchin at risk, from the center-right, and Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, the putative Independents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


In Rome’s Shadow: a review of Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization (Katie Low, Oxonian Review)

[E]ven in Roman history’s less triumphalist moods, Carthage is still an adjunct to the other power’s historical trajectory. But while the lack of indigenous sources makes a full post-colonialist retelling of Carthaginian history impossible, Miles’s aim is to avoid “another extended essay on victimhood and vilification”. His survey of Carthage’s historical growth begins very far from Rome, in the Near East in the ninth century BC, with the Assyrian expansion that induced the city of Tyre in Phoenicia to seek new spheres of influence in the West. And in contrast to most versions, Miles does not end his account with the fall of Carthage in 146 BC. He goes on to discuss its later resurgence, initially under Augustus, and later as an important player in Roman politics and trade. However, this concluding material is treated in somewhat summary fashion. We are left with the sense that Carthage’s subsequent fortunes were after all a mere appendix to an historical model that neatly encompasses Carthaginian development and destruction. For much of the book Miles enables the reader to forget Rome, or at least look upon its behaviour from a Carthaginian point of view, but its very structure threatens to undermine this guiding aim.

The tale of Carthage begins in the eighth century BC with its foundation as a Phoenician trading colony. The city soon forged commercial links that spanned the Mediterranean, and began to grow as a sea power, making expeditions into the Atlantic and down the African coast. It also started to establish its own colonies. This frequently brought it into conflict with Greek settlers in southern Italy and, especially, Sicily, where Carthage was very often fighting a war of some kind and which would later become the catalyst for the First Punic War with Rome.

Miles weaves into his account of Carthaginian development references to Rome’s parallel growth, and stresses the similarities between the two ambitious states: Rome was as much an adjunct to Carthage’s story as Carthage was to Rome’s. Moreover, while the ancient sources present a polarised picture of East and West, trading relations and cultural interplay were in fact widespread amongst the different Mediterranean peoples. One recurring sign of this is the figure of Heracles-Melqart, an embodiment of the syncretism of Graeco-Roman and Tyrian religion and a reminder of the common origins of those two cultures that was evoked by Hannibal when he claimed divine associations for his march into Italy.

Carthage and Rome, however, shared more than gods. They were well matched too in military strength and a desire to incorporate increasing swathes of Mediterranean territory within their respective orbits. The resultant friction led to the First Punic War of the mid-third century BC, which ended with the Romans as masters of Sicily and, through emulation of Carthaginian naval techniques, newly equipped with a formidable fleet. The myth of Rome’s inexorable rise gathers pace, but after this war the two states resumed uneasy diplomatic relations. Conflict loomed again only when Carthage started to carve out new conquests in southern Spain on the initiative of the powerful and belligerent Barcid faction, of which the most famous member was Hannibal. His siege of the Spanish city Saguntum, a Roman ally, led to war, and after crossing the Alps he inflicted a number of significant reverses on Rome, before eventually being drawn back to Africa by Roman threats to Carthage itself.

Carthage managed to maintain an economic and strategic independence after Hannibal’s decisive defeat at Zama in 202 BC and the Roman imposition of harsh terms. But after a busy few decades consolidating its empire elsewhere, Rome decided that even a weakened Carthage could not be tolerated, and besieged the city. Total annihilation followed in 146, and all Carthaginian territories were brought under Roman sway.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Pretty in Pink? Obama’s Dark Night of the Soul (Walter Russell Mead, 11/16/10, American Interest)

There’s an epidemic now of repentance from Obama voters. That isn’t me. My eyes were open in the voting booth and I had a pretty good idea of what we were getting when I voted for him. I have always thought he was too liberal for the American people and too inexperienced to know it. I hoped things wouldn’t come to this point, but thought it was likely and still thought he was the best of the two available picks. You vote for the candidates you have.

I voted for Obama in 2008 not because I thought he was ready to be president or because I thought the Democrats had learned anything from the Bush years. I voted for Obama because the United States needs a government, and that is something that John McCain and the Republicans were simply unable to provide at the time. Incompetence, corruption and political decay had brought the Grand Old Party to a point of incoherence and systemic failure; the party was suffering a mental breakdown and it needed a nice, quiet rest. If we were to stick to President Bush’s timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and take the edge off world anger at American foreign policy while stepping up drone attacks in Pakistan and keeping Guantanamo open until we found a realistic alternative, Democrats were going to have to do it. If we were going to return some semblance of stability to global financial markets and give the economy some support and a breathing space, that too would have to come from fresh leadership.

That President Obama would be out of his depth, that the resurgent Democrats would overplay their hand, that stale liberal pieties would not translate into effective policy at home or abroad and that contractors would not be surveying Mount Rushmore during Obama’s first term always seemed more likely than not. In some ways the administration disappointed even my meager hopes: turning the stimulus plan over to a poorly-led, pork-craving Congress to design was an unforced error that not even a rookie should have made. In other important respects, however, my slender hopes were fulfilled and a little more. On the whole and with some slips here and there, President Obama has handled the wars and the struggle against terror responsibly; he has not been ensorcelled by the Europeans into overestimating their world role and he has gotten the big picture in Asia largely right.

Given all this, the Republican victory in the midterms is a well-earned comeuppance and a healthy corrective; it is only too bad that voters have to reward one undeserving party in order to administer richly merited punishment to the other, but that is an inherent limitation of our two party system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


GOP gains upper hand on spending (DAVID ROGERS | 11/17/10, Politico)

“It’s touch and go, at the best,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) told POLITICO on Tuesday of his efforts to strike some accord by cutting close to $26 billion from President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget. Instead, Republicans want no increase above 2010 funding and are maneuvering to buy enough time so the incoming GOP majority in the House can instigate tens of billions in additional rescissions, rolling back many programs to 2008 levels.

Indeed, even as Inouye has been working with Senate Republicans on trying to reach a compromise, GOP aides on the House Appropriations Committee have been preparing rescission packages to be offered next year. And those reductions, about $62 billion below current funding, dwarf whatever savings would be achieved from the much more publicized battle over parochial earmarks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The zen of political nothingness: Path to bipartisanship through prudent inaction (Alex Cortes, 11/16/10, The Washington Times)

Mr. Obama and Republicans have common ground in their rhetorical recognition of the need to reduce our persisting, record deficits. Last year the president called for a freeze on non-security discretionary spending, and Republicans have spent the last year campaigning for reining in Democrats' out-of-control spending.

However, to find common ground in reducing our yearly deficits, significant time needs to be dedicated to setting budget priorities jointly and developing a series of substantial cuts that a sufficient number of members of both parties will support. Rational actors will agree that this simply cannot be done in a two-month lame-duck session that includes the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Therefore, the president should join Republicans and forgo an omnibus spending bill, instead passing a continuing resolution that will fund government operations at current levels until common ground on spending reductions can be found and pursued in the next Congress.

With Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin declaring that an omnibus spending bill is one of the Democrats' top three priorities for the lame-duck session, don't be surprised if the party pushes back against a president that settles for anything less. This would be all the better for Mr. Obama, as it would demonstrate to voters that he has turned a new leaf toward the bipartisan cooperation necessary to achieve his goal to "move the American people's agenda forward," perhaps saving his presidency along the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Letter from Iran: It was announced this week that the BBC will be allowed to resume broadcasting from Iran after an 18 month ban. However, in Iran itself, people have stopped revolting and are now glued to a new, illegal satellite television channel (Christopher de Bellaigue, 20th October 2010, Prospect)

Body of Desire and a host of other soap operas are broadcast from Dubai by Farsi 1, a satellite channel co-owned by Rupert Murdoch and Saad Mohseni, an Afghan entrepreneur. The channel, which features shows from South Korea and the US, targets Iranians who have tired of the fare served up by the state broadcasting company. Even people close to the Iranian government concede that homegrown shows can be dull. Raunchy subjects are off limits, a hug between a mother and her son is deemed improper to show, and prayers and Koranic exegesis occupy primetime spots.

Programmes shown on Farsi 1 explore, if that is the right word, themes such as infidelity and lust, while making a show of respecting Iranian values. Salvador’s majestic torso is all the nudity you see on Body of Desire, kissing is out, and serials with racy plotlines do not get an airing on mourning holidays in the Shia calendar.

Iran prides itself on its cultural exceptionalism, which is based on the Persian language and Shia Islam. Farsi 1 is a rare phenomenon: a cultural import that is hugely popular and sharply at variance with local traditions. Unlike other satellite channels, shows on Farsi 1 are competently dubbed into Persian, which has helped its popularity. One Tehran resident told me, “I haven’t seen an Iranian TV series for months. Whenever I watch TV, it’s Farsi 1.” [...]

The Islamic Republic has long set itself against culture outside its borders, but it has done so with one hand tied behind its back. It has privileged the Islamic elements of its national identity over the secular, alienating Iranians who prefer, say, music and poetry (tolerated, just) to pilgrimages and religious ceremonies (encouraged relentlessly). Even under the Islamic Republic, the country’s borders have proved porous; advances in technology make it ever harder to stop undesirable imports. In the words of Bahram Dabiri, a prominent Iranian painter, many Iranians believe that “the world is somewhere outside Iran.” Farsi 1 belies that idea. Iran and the world are becoming one.

You do not have to be a supporter of the Islamic Republic to find that prospect disturbing. In Tehran’s bazaar, Muhammad, a carpet seller I know, told me his mother blamed Farsi 1 for encouraging married women to take lovers—something that used to be unheard of in Iran, but is no longer.

Globalization brings the bad with the good.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


The Promise (Joe Psnanski, 11/16/10)

If I had to pick a single memory, the memory that best summarizes my teenage years, the memory that best expresses the kind of man I hoped to become ... well, it is 6 a.m., and my bed shakes. That's how my father wakes me up. He mildly bumps the bed with his knee. It is summertime, but rain pours, so it is still dark, a harsh gray. My father walks out of the room without saying a word. There is nothing to say. It is time to get up.

I dress quickly. There are no morning showers. We have timed our morning to the minute so that we can get as much sleep as possible ... or, more to the point, so I can get as much sleep as possible. Dad doesn't sleep much except for the naps he gets in front of the television. I meet my father downstairs. He is already there -- he is always there first, dressed, ready to go. He is always waiting on me. He wakes up long before 6 a.m. on his own. His lunch is packed in a brown paper sack. It is probably a salami sandwich. It is usually a salami sandwich.

We trudge out to the car, a declining Pontiac T-1000 that I hope to buy at the end of the summer. The rain hits our necks, but there's no running. We ride in silence for a few minutes. Then, we start to talk about small things. We stop at Popeyes for a breakfast biscuit. The morning gains light slowly, like an old television picture tube coming to life. The ride is 30 minutes or so. There is little traffic this early in the morning.

And then, we get out ... and go into the factory. Alisa is the name of the place. It is a knitting factory. We make sweaters, I guess, though I never actually see any sweaters. Everything is yarn. It is hard to breathe because of the heat and the humidity and the dust and the cardboard boxes, and because the yarn chokes the air. I feel sure that a sweater is being knitted in my lungs.

My father's job is to make sure the knitting machines run. He unclogs jams, quiets the guttural sounds, tightens bolts that break free, loosens bolts that choke the machine. His hands are unnaturally strong; I have known this since I was a boy. Now I see that he uses his fingers to loosen bolts that are wedged tight. There is no time to find a wrench. Sometimes, when the machines run smoothly, I see him drawing Xs on graph paper as he works out a sweater color design. When kids in school used to ask me what my father did for a living, I would tell them he designs sweaters. It wasn't because I was ashamed of what he did; quite the opposite. That was how I saw him.

My job is to stay in the warehouse, move boxes of yarn in and out, and, one day a week, Thursday, unloaded barrels of dye from a truck. I am doing this to raise enough money buy that old car, that Pontiac. I'm 18 years old and thoroughly without purpose, except for that, I desperately want my own car. I am an accounting major at college though even the most basic accounting concepts baffle me. I can't help but think of debits as good and credits as bad. The professors keep telling me that they are not good or bad, but I don't believe them. I already know I won't be an accountant, but have not admitted it to myself yet. I don't have any idea what I will do -- or what I can do. Everything feels out of reach.

I work six days a week at Alisa, and the pay, if I remember correctly, is $4 an hour. The minimum wage at the time is $3.35 an hour, so this is the second-highest paying job of my young life. The highest paying job, at $4.50 an hour, involved calling people who were past due on their mortgage. My job there was to set up a payment schedule with those people. I wasn't good at this; I didn't understand the fury and desperation of the voices on the end of dial tones. I got threatened a lot. I don't get threatened at the factory. Yelled at, yes. Threatened, no. There's no point in threats, not here. It's understood by everyone how easy I am to replace. I'm scrawny and weak and viewed as a non-prospect. I'm only here as a favor to my father, the only guy who knows how to fix the machines if they break down.

* * *

Well now I built that challenger by myself.
But I needed money and so I sold it.
Lived a secret I should'a kept to myself.
But I got drunk one night and I told it.

* * *

Springsteen wrote The Promise for the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album. People who follow the Springsteen story know that the time when he wrote The Promise, that time after Born To Run made him a star and before Darkness made him an adult, that was a strange time for him. He was locked in a searing legal battle with his manager Mike Appel over creative freedom -- the thing Springsteen called his musical soul -- and he was also struggling with what it meant to be a huge success for the first time in his life. He hated success and loved it, and hated himself for loving it.

And the music poured out of him like sweat. He was 27 and hungry, still hungry, but he was not entirely sure for what. He was listening to punk music. He was listening to Hank Williams. The Born to Run sessions were legendary for Springsteen's refusal to compromise, his 14-month insistence on making every single song sound exactly like what he was hearing in his head no matter how many different ways he had to stretch the songs. But at least with Born To Run, there was a clear vision everyone could understand. Springsteen simply wanted to make the greatest rock and roll album that had ever been made. That's was 25 year old musicians did. The kid had ambition.

But nobody quite knew what Springsteen was trying to do with Darkness, maybe not even Springsteen himself. The band learned song after song after song. Some of the songs sounded like hits, but Springsteen seemed uninterested in those. This was the time when he would give "Because The Night" to the punk star Patti Smith -- her biggest hit. This was the time when he gave "Fire" to The Pointer Sisters -- their biggest hit. He gave "This Little Girl" to Gary U.S. Bonds ... and it would become Bonds' first hit in almost 20 years. He gave an older song, "The Fever," and "Talk to Me" to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He gave "Rendezvous" to Greg Kihn. In the documentary about Darkness, Springsteen's guitarist and foil and alter-ego Stevie Van Zandt would say, seemingly without irony, "It's a bit tragic in a way. Because he would have been one of the great pop songwriters of all time."

The one thing Springsteen knew for sure is that he didn't want to be a great pop songwriter. He did not want hits, not then. He did not want to repeat Born To Run. He wanted to say something, and he wanted to "leave no room to be misunderstood." He didn't want to try to make the greatest rock and roll album of all time, not this time. He wanted something else, something harder to describe. "I wanted to make an honest album," he would say. The band rehearsed and recorded "The Promise" for three months, trying to get it just right.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM

60-40 NATION

New Poll: Voters Want Congress to Act to Reduce the National Debt (MacArthur Foundation, November 16, 2010)

More than 70 percent of mid-term voters polled in a post-election survey say it is "very important" that Congress takes steps to reduce the national debt. An additional 24 percent say it is "somewhat important," according to the new data released today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Large majorities of both genders and across all political affiliations, all races, all regions of the country, and all income levels agree that it is "very important" for Congress to take steps to reduce the national debt.

"It is rare to see such broad agreement among the American people for legislative action that’s bound to gore many an ox," said John Palmer, co-chair of the National Research Council and National Academy of Public Administration’s recent nonpartisan committee that produced the report Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future. "They understand we have to get our collective fiscal house in order for the sake of our long-term economic vitality. Congress should pay attention." Palmer is university professor and dean emeritus of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Sixty percent of those surveyed want Congress to address the national debt "through spending cuts only."

November 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 PM


Wholesale prices fall as output flat (Lucia Mutikani, 11/16/10, Reuters)

Core U.S. producer prices recorded their largest fall in more than four years in October and industrial output was flat, underlining concerns at the Federal Reserve about low inflation amid moderate growth. [...]

"Today's PPI data shows you that beneath the surface there is not a whole lot of inflation and tomorrow's (consumer price) data is likely to show the same thing," said John Canally, a economist at LPL Financial in Boston. can't have all that government spending without inflation....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget (NY TImes, 11/16/10)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


GOP frosh: Where's my health care? (GLENN THRUSH, 11/15/10, Politico)

A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Can the Fed Offer a Reason to Cheer? (TYLER COWEN, 9/18/10, NY Times)

Here’s the problem: The economy needs help, but monetary policy, which is the Fed’s responsibility, has not been very expansionary. This is true even though the Fed has increased the monetary base enormously since the onset of the financial crisis.

How can this be? Supplying more money did not actually result in enough additional spending. The debilitating financial shock of the last few years convinced many consumers and businesses that they needed to save more. So they are holding on to much of the new money.

Given this problem, there is a logical and seemingly simple move available to the Fed: just make people believe that it is seriously committed to increasing the rate of inflation. Traditionally, the Fed has focused on restraining inflation, not stoking it. But these are unusual times.

If the Fed promises to keep increasing the money supply until prices rise by, say, 3 percent a year, people should eventually start spending. Otherwise, if they just held the money, it would be worth 3 percent less each year.

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Fed could stimulate spending and the economy, and at no cost to the Treasury. Of course, if no one believes the Fed’s commitment to price inflation, spending and employment will not go up. The plan will fail, and people will view their skepticism as vindicated.

In other words, one of our economic problems can be solved, but only if we are willing to believe it can. Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman, wrote about this conundrum before he accepted his current job. In 1999, when discussing what the Japanese central bank could do about the country’s deep recession, Mr. Bernanke suggested “a target in the 3 to 4 percent range for inflation, to be maintained for a number of years,” saying that it would show the bank’s credible commitment to reflate the economy.

...that the threat is no longer credible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Bird on a Wire: This 'lost' 1972 Leonard Cohen documentary is as moving as the man's music. (Bernadette McNulty, 16 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

[Tony] Palmer recounted the unbelievable tale of how the film was 'lost' for 38 years. After being invited to follow Cohen in 1972 on what was then billed as one of his last ever tours, Palmer filmed the Canadian singer songwriter – or poet as he preferred to be called – on the road across Europe, ending up at a final gig in Jerusalem. However, Cohen objected to the documentary's final cut and after re-editing it himself, it received one showing before disappearing without trace. [...]

The behind-the-scenes Leonard snooping is both fascinating and hilarious- whether it's Cohen swimming naked in a hotel pool, patiently answering the mindless questions of journalists, being propositioned by saucer-eyed groupies, arguing with promoters over rubbish speakers, or imploding with anxiety and fleeing the stage on the final night of his tour.

It is also a compelling document of Europe in the early Seventies, of life on the road for ordinary musicians, passing through grey airports and stopping at the side of the road for sandwiches while an atmosphere of war and hostility played out in the news pages.

But more than that the film is a visual match for Cohen's music itself. There is achingly beautiful footage of Cohen singing at the peak of his powers, lit and framed so as to look like a renaissance painting. Palmer is unafraid to linger on the performances as much as the backstage shenanigans because as Cohen himself says, the songs for him are like meditations – he has to really inhabit them in order to be able to sing them. The camera freezes on Cohen's tear-stained eyes as he breaks down in front of the Jerusalem audience and it feels almost painfully intimate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


American Narcissus III: This time, it's personal! (JONATHAN V. LAST, 11/16/10, Weekly Standard)

It seems that everyone has their own favorite moment of our president’s mirror-gazing. Here are some sent in by readers.

Reader S.V. passes along Obama being interviewed by Cathleen Falsani back in 2004 about his religious beliefs:

FALSANI: Do you believe in sin?


FALSANI: What is sin?

OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


Economist: NH on track to regaining jobs (KATHY McCORMACK, 11/16/2010, AP)

New Hampshire has gained back more than half the number of jobs it lost at the lowest point in the recession and it could regain the balance by early 2012, an economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies said Tuesday.

At the current rate of growth, the state would return to a long-term growth trend by the first quarter of 2013, and continue to do better than surrounding states in New England, Dennis Delay said. The fastest growth rates will occur in professional and business services, followed by leisure and hospitality jobs, he said.

“New Hampshire is a moderate-cost state in a high-cost region, with a low tax burden, high standard of living, relatively healthy and safe, and with a high level of educational attainment,” Delay said in a report. “Low costs and a high quality of life translate to a more vigorous New Hampshire economy.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Left, Right and Wrong on Taxes (GLENN HUBBARD, 11/16/10, NY Times)

As Messrs. Bowles and Simpson aptly demonstrate, we are in a difficult situation in large part because we have designed entitlements for a welfare state we cannot afford. And, perhaps less obviously, they show how we have used the tax code as a vehicle for special-purpose spending that weakens both the efficiency and fairness of our tax system.

When I left my job as the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy in 1993, I left a message on my office blackboard for my successor. I wrote, “Broaden the base, lower the rates” repeatedly until I filled the entire space. I then had it covered with wax so it could not be erased. (Yes, the government charged me for my bit of vandalism. But it was worth it.)

The Bowles-Simpson report seems to have taken that message to heart, recognizing that when we provide tax advantages to spur certain types of spending — with, say, a deduction for interest payments on home mortgages — we in turn require higher marginal tax rates to raise offsetting revenue. Not only are those higher rates a drag on overall growth, but because the tax preferences are often more valuable to affluent households than to poorer ones, they also make the tax code less fair.

This is why the two chairmen suggested that the government reduce marginal tax rates for households to a range from 8 percent to 23 percent, based on income (as opposed to 10 percent to 35 percent now). This cut in rates — which should promote job creation, entrepreneurship, saving and investment — would be made possible by limiting many of the deductions that make the tax code so complicated and often inequitable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Make Money in 2011: Your Savings (Ismat Sarah Mangla and Tali Yahalom, November 15, 2010, MONEY Magazine)

Savers, steel yourselves for another low-yield year. Interest rates on savings accounts, CDs, and money markets have been barely there for a while -- bank savings accounts are paying a paltry 0.2% on average, while money-market funds offer a dismal 0.04%

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


With enthusiasm, hope, residents of Southern Sudan register to vote (Paul Jeffrey, 11/16/10, Catholic News Service)

Citizens of Southern Sudan lined up Nov. 15 to register to vote in a January referendum on whether this war-torn region will split from the country's North.

"People lined up with enthusiasm to register today. They're happy. The lines moved with joy as people showed their love for their country," said Father Thomas Bagbiowia, a parish priest in Riimenze who helped lead the training process for poll workers in Western Equatoria state.

The referendum on independence is scheduled for Jan. 9, and Father Bagbiowia admits he does not know anyone who plans to vote against separating the region from the government in Khartoum.

"We southerners have lived for too many years without independence and freedom. It's time we decide our own destiny. We've lived under fear of a centralized government that did nothing for the economic development of our region. Khartoum today is a modern city, but here in the South we don't even have roads. We southerners have to decide our own destiny," Father Bagbiowia told Catholic News Service.

Thanks, W.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Scapegoating Federal Workers: As conservative deficit hawks go looking for new targets, expect to hear a lot about outsized federal paychecks. (Paul Waldman, November 16, 2010, American Prospect)

It is true, however, that federal workers make more on average than private-sector workers, even though their salaries are nothing like what conservatives want people to believe. Why might that be?

The answer is two-part. First, as a group, federal workers tend to be in higher-paying occupations than private-sector workers. For instance, 10 percent of the private workforce works in sales, and another 20 percent in service, occupations that make up only a tiny proportion of the federal workforce. On the other side, two-thirds of federal workers are classified as management or professional -- managers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers -- compared to less than a third of the private workforce.

Moreover, in recent years, many of the lower-paying jobs government employees used to do, in areas like maintenance and food service, have been farmed out to contractors. The government is still paying for that work, but the people who do it don't show up on the tally of federal salaries. When you compare government workers not to the entire population but those doing similar work, , you find that in some occupations, federal workers make slightly more, and in other occupations, they make slightly less. Overall, though, salaries for comparable jobs are very close. Just as important, government workers at all levels -- not just federal but state and local as well -- tendto be better educated, more skilled, and slightly older than private-sector workers.

A real disparity, however, exists between federal workers and private-sector workers, and that's in benefits. This brings us to the second part of the answer to the question of why federal workers do better: Many of them are represented by unions, which means they can bargain collectively for things like good wages and health benefits. Conservatives believe that when a group of workers makes reasonable middle-class salaries and has good benefits, something is amiss. The typical private-sector wage/benefit package is assumed to be the right one.

But while we can disagree about what government should be doing, we ought to be able to agree that we want government to do the things it does as well as possible. To ensure that, we need to recruit and retain quality workers. We don't have to pay them millions, but we have to pay them enough to make working for the government an attractive option. the defenders of government bureaucrats. The GOP isn't smart enough to effect that political positioning, but happily Democrats are exactly that Bright.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Greedy Geezers? (James Surowiecki, November 22, 2010, The New Yorker)

Why were seniors so furious with the Democrats? The weak economy and the huge deficits didn’t help, but retirees have actually been hit less hard by the financial crisis than other Americans. The real sticking point was health-care reform, which the elderly didn’t like from the start. While the Affordable Care Act was being debated, most seniors opposed it, and even after the law was passed Gallup found that sixty per cent of them thought it was bad. You sometimes hear (generally from Republicans) that the health-care bill is wildly unpopular. The truth is that, in every age group but one—seniors—a plurality of voters want to keep the bill intact.

Misinformation about “death panels” and so on had something to do with seniors’ hostility. But the real reason is that it feels to them as if health-care reform will come at their expense, since the new law will slow the growth in Medicare spending over the next decade. It won’t actually cut current spending, as Republicans claimed in campaign ads, but between now and 2019 total Medicare outlays will be half a trillion dollars less than previously projected. Never mind that this number includes cost savings from more efficient care, or that the bill has a host of provisions that benefit seniors—most notably the closing of the infamous drug-benefit “doughnut hole,” which had left people responsible for thousands of dollars in prescription-drug costs. The idea that the government might try to restrain Medicare spending was enough to turn seniors against the bill.

There’s a colossal irony here: the very people who currently enjoy the benefits of a subsidized, government-run insurance system are intent on keeping others from getting the same treatment. In part, this is because seniors think of Medicare as an “entitlement”—something that they have a right to because they paid for it, via Medicare taxes—and decry the new bill as a giveaway. This is a myth: seniors today get far more out of Medicare than they ever put in, which means that their medical care is paid for by current taxpayers. There’s nothing wrong with this: the U.S. is rich enough so that the elderly shouldn’t have to worry about having health insurance; before Medicare, roughly half of them didn’t have it. But the subsidies that seniors get aren’t fundamentally different from the ones that the Affordable Care Act will offer some thirty million Americans who don’t have insurance. Opposing the new law while reaping the benefits of Medicare is essentially saying, “I’ve got mine—good luck getting yours.”

The Divisions That Tighten the Purse Strings (EDUARDO PORTER, 4/29/07, NY Times)

[A] growing body of research suggests that America’s antipathy toward big government has another, less-often-acknowledged underpinning: the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity.

Recent studies by economists and other social scientists have found that this mix tends to undermine support for government spending on “public goods” of all types, whether health care, roads or welfare programs for the disadvantaged.

Some of these studies suggest that America’s rich diversity — not only ethnic and racial but also religious and linguistic — goes a long way toward explaining why government spending on social welfare programs is much lower than it is in the more homogeneous nations of Europe. Other studies have found that within the United States, local support for various types of public spending falls as diversity rises.

“Racial divisions and ethnic divisions reduce incentives for people to be generous to others through social welfare,” said Alberto Alesina, a professor of economics at Harvard. “This is very unfortunate. But as social scientists, we can’t close our eyes to something we don’t like.”

In America, government spending on social transfers — everything from food stamps and unemployment insurance to health care and pensions — is about a third less than it is in Italy, France or Belgium, when expressed as a share of the economy, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And it is about half the level of Sweden’s. Moreover, Americans pay less in taxes than the citizens of nearly every other wealthy nation in the O.E.C.D.

In their 2004 book, “Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe,” Mr. Alesina and Edward Glaeser, another Harvard economist, applied statistical regression techniques to correlate data on government spending with data on racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity in Western Europe and the United States. The professors concluded that about half the gap between Europe and the United States in public spending on social programs could be explained by America’s more varied racial and ethnic mix. (They said that much of the rest resulted from stronger left-wing parties in Europe.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


On tax cuts, a deal begins to take shape: Both sides in Congress take a wary post-election step away from the partisan edges. (Lisa Mascaro, 11/16/10, Chicago Tribune)

For months, Republican lawmakers have been bitterly at odds with President Obama over how to extend tax cuts approved early in the George W. Bush administration, with especially sharp disagreement over breaks for higher-income taxpayers.

But overtures from both sides now point to a possible deal.

"It's incumbent on all of us to try and find a way to address this issue," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). "The American people said very clearly they want to see us work together, and we need to work together to get this done." [...]

Republican leaders had been insisting on a permanent extension. But with indications that the president is open to temporarily continuing the tax breaks for the higher income households, some Republicans and their top supporters also appear to be softening their stance that all tax cuts must be permanently extended.

"I'd love to see a longer extension, but I think two years gets us to where we need to go and then we can focus on these other issues coming forward," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

So the UR wants to fight the next election on his imminent tax increases too?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


How the new Pa. pensions law redistributes dollars (Dan Hardy, 11/16/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Until Monday, when the state legislature passed a new pension bill, Pennsylvania's two state retirement systems - one for public-school employees and one for state employees, including legislators - were headed for a fiscal train wreck. [...]

With Gov. Rendell's expected signature, the new law will rein in ballooning pension payments by spreading out contributions over additional years. It also imposes limits on how much state and school district payments can increase in any one year.

Pensions for the current retirees and employees of the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) - a total of nearly 700,000 people - will not change.

But future workers will see a 20 percent cut in pensions, unless they choose to contribute more.

That change kicks in Dec. 1 for legislators; Jan. 1 for other state employees; and July 1 for school employees.

Future workers may also have to contribute more if the pension systems don't live up to investment projections.

New employees in both groups will have to work 10 years instead of five to be included, and the retirement age with full benefits will rise.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Hope. Change. Reality.: Attorney General Eric Holder entered the Justice Department on a mission to reinvent it. He'd rectify the dubious hires of the Bush era; he'd shut down Guantánamo and try the most notorious detainees here on U.S. soil; he'd speak forcefully and often about the return of the rule of law. Unfortunately, Washington doesn't like an idealist (Wil S. Hylton, December 2010, GQ)

Since his appointment in February 2009, Holder has become a vanguard for the administration's progressive wing. He has promised to end the policy of indefinite detention at Guantánamo by prosecuting some of its most notorious detainees; to investigate torture by the CIA; and to revitalize the department's most neglected offices, like the long-suffering Civil Rights Division. He has even tried to extend his influence beyond the DOJ, declaring his opposition to the death penalty and gun rights despite a constitutional obligation to enforce both.

Naturally, all of this has made Holder a favorite target of the right, and in the buildup to this month's election, the attorney general became a wedge issue unto himself, with his name plastered on Tea Party posters, newspaper ads, and television commercials. Yet Republicans may be the least of Holder's problems. Even as he has rankled the right, he has also alienated many of his allies in the administration—and none more visibly than Emanuel, whose relentless deal-making has clashed with Holder's principles time and again.

Of course, the job of any attorney general straddles a unique and tipsy political fulcrum: On the one hand, he is a member of the president's team, expected to share his political goals. On the other, he is the nation's top cop, required by oath to leave politics at the door. The balance between these can be difficult to strike, and the surest sign of an independent AG is often the irritated White House six blocks away. Still, Holder is a special case. Inside Obama's West Wing, Emanuel's hostility toward Holder has become so pitched at times that the president has had to intervene. "Occasionally, Rahm would cross the line about Eric," says a source with access to White House deliberations, "and the president would tell him, 'Rahm, knock it off.' " Inside Holder's circle of advisers, the frustration with Emanuel has been equally palpable. When I asked the attorney general's closest friend, Steve Sims, a man Holder describes as his "consigliere," about the political pressure emanating from Emanuel's office, Sims, who had been relaxing on the sofa of his Chevy Chase home, jumped from his seat and shouted, "They need to shut the fuck up and let him do his job! He is not a political animal!" And when I asked Holder's brother, Billy, about Emanuel, he sighed deeply and shook his head. "Man, that guy…" he sputtered. "That guy's an animal. He's a beast."

Now that Emanuel has stepped down, the mood among Holder loyalists is triumphal. Former White House counsel Greg Craig, an ally of Holder's on several key issues, was recently heard on an open microphone predicting, "If Rahm goes, Eric survived," and in my own conversations with congressional, White House, and DOJ sources, I heard the same prognosis at least a dozen times.

...just imagine the damage a liberated General Holder would do?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Colorless, Tasteless but Not Dangerous: a review of WHITER SHADES OF PALE: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, From Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbrews By Christian Lander (DWIGHT GARNER, 11/15/10, NY Times)

The conceit of Mr. Lander’s books is that he’s explaining, like some cross-cultural docent, the absurd cultural tastes of white people — in his universe they’re as skittish and insecure as they are hypocritical and self-satisfied — to baffled nonwhites. The white people under Mr. Lander’s microscope are emphatically not those who enjoy Nascar, Sarah Palin, bratwursts, deer hunting, Metallica or “Ice Road Truckers” in any way except ironically. People who do gravitate toward these sort of things, he warns, sotto voce, might be “the wrong kind of white person.”

“Stuff White People Like” contained mini-disquisitions on things like “Wes Anderson movies,” “hardwood floors,” “making you feel bad for not going outside,” “acoustic covers,” “carbon offsets,” “public radio,” “hating their parents,” “not having a TV” and “knowing what’s best for poor people.” Funny, but also shooting fish in a barrel.

In “Whiter Shades of Pale,” Mr. Lander’s targets are more far-flung, and it’s a treat to watch him take aim. He takes note of the industries, in addition to classical music, that survive solely on white guilt: “Penguin Classics, the S.P.C.A., free-range chicken farms, and the entire rubber bracelet market.” About the chef Anthony Bourdain’s TV show — during which Mr. Bourdain eats arcane dishes and complains about tourists — the author writes, “There hasn’t been a show this reaffirming to white people since ‘Seinfeld.’ ”

He explains sea salt’s current vogue: “When white people think about regular salt, all they can think about is sodium and poor health. When they think about sea salt they think about France.”

Many of his observations are more pointed. About picking your own fruit: “When white people harvest a crop it’s known as ‘berry picking.’ ” About flea markets: “Once again white people have taken over something that poor people used to like and made it extremely expensive.” At a “Mad Men” theme party, he says, “you can severely curtail the amount of fun by saying, ‘I’m glad this isn’t really 1960 or else I’d be serving all of you.’ ”

Mr. Lander displays little knowledge of whiteness studies as an academic field, nor does he evince any awareness of its classic texts, including Toni Morrison’s “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” (1992) or David R. Roediger’s “Wages of Whiteness” (1991).

But his project does toy smartly with the relatively new notion that, as put by J. Craig Venter, among the first to sequence the human genome, “Race is a social concept, not a scientific one.” In Mr. Lander’s comic universe, the bar of entry into the white world is low and open to people of every race. You simply need to develop some slightly odd enthusiasms and deploy ease and irony whenever possible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Will Obama's KSM policy destroy U.S. credibility and boost terrorist recruitment? (Byron York, 11/14/10, Washington Examiner)

President Obama is reportedly near a decision on the future of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The options are: 1) Trying KSM in civilian court in the United States; 2) Trying him before a military tribunal in Guantanamo; and 3) Holding him in indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

Option 1 is not possible because of widespread, bipartisan opposition to bringing KSM to the United States. Option 2 is not possible because it would "alienate [Obama's] liberal supporters," according to the Washington Post, and perhaps just as important, force Obama to admit his previous policy was wrong. So it looks like Option 3 will be the administration's choice, because it does not require Obama to do anything.

The only consequences of keeping KSM in indefinite detention would be -- if one takes Obama's 2008 campaign statements literally -- to undermine the Constitution, destroy U.S. credibility around the world, and deliver a boost to terrorist recruitment.

...for the UR to acknowledge how much stuff it turns out W was right about.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


In Defense of Ben Bernanke (ALAN S. BLINDER, 11/15/10, WSJ)

All in all, it looks like the nation and the world need an Economics 101 refresher. So let's start with the basics.

The Fed's plan is to purchase about $600 billion of additional U.S. government securities over about eight months, creating more bank reserves ("printing money") to do so. This policy is one version of quantitative easing, or "QE" for short. And since the Fed has done QE before, this episode has been branded "QE2."

Here's the first Economics 101 question: When central banks seek to stimulate their economies, how do they normally do it? If you answered, "by lowering short-term interest rates," you get half credit. For full credit, you must explain how: They create new bank reserves to purchase short-term government securities (in the U.S., that's mostly Treasury bills). Yes, they print money.

But short-term rates are practically zero in the U.S. now, so the Fed wants to push down medium- and long-term interest rates instead. How? You guessed it: by creating new bank reserves to purchase medium- and long-term government securities.

That sounds pretty similar to garden-variety monetary policy. Yet critics are branding QE2 a radical departure from past practices and a dangerous experiment.

The next charge is that QE2 will be inflationary. Partly true. The Fed actually wants a bit more inflation because, now and for the foreseeable future, inflation is running below its informal 1.5% to 2% target. In fact, there's some concern that inflation will dip below zero—into deflation. The Fed, thank goodness, is determined to stop that. We don't want to be the next Japan now, do we?

But might the Fed err and produce too much inflation? Yes, it might, leaving us with, say, 3% inflation instead of 2%. Or it might err in the opposite direction and produce only 1%. Neither outcome is desirable, but each is quite tolerable. To create the fearsome inflation rates envisioned by the more extreme critics, the Fed would have to be incredibly incompetent, which it is not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Hail to the Chiefs: The presidency has grown, and grown and grown, into the most powerful, most impossible job in the world. (Daniel Stone, 11/12/10, Newsweek)

Can any single person fully meet the demands of the 21st-century presidency? Obama has looked to many models of leadership, including FDR and Abraham Lincoln, two transformative presidents who governed during times of upheaval. But what’s lost in those historical comparisons is that both men ran slim bureaucracies rooted in relative simplicity. Neither had secretaries of education, transportation, health and human services, veterans’ affairs, energy, or homeland security, nor czars for pollution or drug abuse, nor televisions in the West Wing constantly tuned to yammering pundits. They had bigger issues to grapple with, but far less managing to do. “Lincoln had time to think,” says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. “That kind of downtime just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Among a handful of presidential historians NEWSWEEK contacted for this story, there was a general consensus that the modern presidency may have become too bloated. “The growth is exponential in these last 50 years, especially the number of things that are expected of the president,” says presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, who had dinner with Obama and a handful of other historians last summer. Obama aides speaking on background say that the president’s inner circle can become stretched by the constant number of things labeled “crises” that land on his desk—many of which, like the mistaken firing of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod in Georgia or the intricacies of the oil cleanup in the gulf, could easily be handled by lower-level staff. “Some days around here, it can almost be hard to breathe,” says one White House official who didn’t want to go on the record portraying his boss as overwhelmed. Another senior adviser says that sometimes the only way to bring the president important news is to stake out his office and “walk and talk” through the hall.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Above all others (Ralph R. Reiland, November 15, 2010, Pittsburgh Tribune)

Patrick Gaspard, former community organizer, ex-lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union and now director of Obama's Office of Political Affairs, is quoted in a 2008 New Yorker article describing what Obama said to him during his job interview: "I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm gonna think I'm a better political director than my political director."

In his biography of Obama, "The Bridge," David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, quotes White House senior adviser and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett: "I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. ... He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability -- the extraordinary, uncanny ability -- to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. ... So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. ... He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do."

Talk about a "yes man" -- or a devotee woman. The boss is so "extraordinary," so above the "ordinary" man, that he's been long-term bored to death -- untaxed, unhappy, uncanny and unchallenged.

The key to this image is that he can never be allowed to actually do anything, and thus demonstrate himself inferior at the task. He must always remain only potentially better than anyone else. That's why being president has been fatal to the imaginary Obamessiah they built up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


I hate to tell you: Phrases that announces ‘I’m lying‘ (Erin McKean, November 14, 2010, Boston Globe)

These contrary-to-fact phrases have been dubbed (by the Twitter user GrammarHulk and others) “but-heads,” because they’re at the head of the sentence, and usually followed by but. They’ve also been dubbed “false fronts,” “wishwashers,” and, less cutely, “lying qualifiers.”

The point of a but-head is to preemptively deny a charge that has yet to be made, with a kind of “best offense is a good defense” strategy. This technique has a distinguished relative in classical rhetoric: the device of procatalepsis, in which the speaker brings up and immediately refutes the anticipated objections of his or her hearer. When someone says “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but...” they are maneuvering to keep you from saying “I don’t believe you — you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”

Once you start looking for these but-heads, you see them everywhere, and you see how much they reveal about the speaker. When someone says “It’s not about the money, but...”, it’s almost always about the money. If you hear “It really doesn’t matter to me, but...”, odds are it does matter, and quite a bit. Someone who begins a sentence with “Confidentially” is nearly always betraying a confidence; someone who starts out “Frankly,” or “Honestly,” “To be (completely) honest with you,” or “Let me give it to you straight” brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quip: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

“No offense, but...” and “Don’t take this the wrong way, but...” are both warning flags, guaranteed to precede statements that are offensive, insulting, or both. “I don’t mean to be rude, but...” invariably signals the advent of breathtaking, blatant, write-in-to-Miss-Manners-style rudeness. (And when someone starts out by saying “Promise me you won’t get mad, but...” you might as well go ahead and start getting mad.)

So if a friend is making a mistake, has a bad habit, etc. and you'd rather not be the one to tell them but feel compelled to because of the friendship, should you skip the qualifier?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


Free trade deals boost Turkish exports (, November 15, 2010)

The increase in Turkey’s exports between 2000 and 2009 has been 268 percent, while exports to countries with which Turkey has a free-trade agreement, of FTA, in place have surged by 524 percent.

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November 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


A triumph for moral authority: When strong regimes show their fear of weak individuals, their own vulnerability stands revealed. So it is with Burma's generals (Isabel Hilton, 15 November 2010, Independent)

All who watched Aung San Suu Kyi's short walk to freedom on Saturday had waited a long time for a moment that was full of both joy and uncertainty about the future.

As millions around the world caught their first glimpse of this resolute and courageous woman, who has borne her nearly two decades of confinement with dignity and integrity of purpose, other moments in recent history inevitably came to mind: would her release signal that change is coming to Burma, as that of Nelson Mandela did in South Africa? Would she be able to lead a people-power revolution, as Corazon Aquino did in the Philippines in 1986, or Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia in 1989? Would her return to public life in Burma bring the first rays of a political dawn, or will darkness return?

There are as many reasons to hope as to fear a new disappointment, but whatever the final impact of her release, there is no questioning the power of her presence. However we marshal the many arguments against the likelihood of a restoration of democracy to Burma, the mesmerising impact of those first

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Retail sales rise is led by higher auto purchases (AP, 11/15/10)

Retail sales, helped by strong demand for autos, increased in October by the largest amount in seven months. [...]

For October, sales at auto dealerships increased 5 percent. That gain had been expected given reports from automakers that total October sales rose to an annual rate of 12.3 million units, the best monthly showing since the government's Cash for Clunkers program had sent sales surging in August 2009.

G.M. Offering Price Range Rises to $32 to $33 (MICHAEL J. DE LA MERCED AND NICK BUNKLEY, 11/15/10, NY Times)
General Motors is looking to price shares in its initial public offering to $32 to $33, higher than the previously estimated price range of $26 to $29, people close to the matter tell DealBook.

The size of the common stock offering will remain the same, meaning that G.M. could raise more than $11.8 billion at the midpoint of the new price range. [...]

Several analysts have said that the current range appeared low, given G.M.’s business performance in recent quarters. People involved in the offering process said that the company and the federal government had sought a price that would attract high demand.

“Fortunately, things at G.M. have gone as well or better than we could expect,” Steven Rattner, the former head of the Obama administration’s auto task force, said at a conference in Detroit on Monday. “It’s clear now that this offering is going to be a huge success. It’s clear now that demand is enormous, and it’s clear that the price will be higher rather than lower.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Food production a bright spot in gloomy economy (DINESH RAMDE, 11/15/2010, AP)

While the recession took a toll on manufacturing and other industries, one part of the economy has remained a bright spot over the past few years: food production.

Across the nation, food producers are seeing enough growth that many are expanding and investing in new equipment.

...can you have a "recession" accompanied by increased consumption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Safer Social Security (PETER ORSZAG, 11/15/10, NY Times)

The proposal put forward last week by Alan Simpson, the former Senate Republican leader, and Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, has four main elements.

First, it would make the payroll tax more progressive by increasing the maximum earnings level to which it applies. Over the past several decades, as higher earners have enjoyed particularly rapid wage gains, a growing share of their wages has escaped the tax because they have been above the maximum taxable level. Today, about 15 percent of total wages are not taxed. The chairmen recommend gradually raising the maximum threshold so that, by 2050, only 10 percent of total wages wouldn’t be taxed — decreasing the 75-year Social Security deficit by more than a third.

Second, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles recommend indexing the age at which full Social Security benefits can be received to increases in life expectancy. This age is already increasing to 67, and under the proposal the gradual rise would continue, to 68 by 2050. A better approach would be to leave the full benefit age alone and instead directly reduce the monthly benefits as life expectancy rises, to keep average lifetime benefits roughly constant. But the chairmen’s approach would by itself narrow the Social Security gap by about a fifth.

The third suggested change is to make the formula for determining Social Security benefits more progressive, by reducing future payments to high earners while increasing them for people at the bottom. These adjustments would close at least another third of the projected deficit. And they would also help offset a little-noticed trend: affluent Americans are increasingly living longer than others. This pushes the Social Security system toward being less progressive, as higher earners collect benefits for more years.

Finally, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson would have Congress adjust the cost-of-living index that’s used to determine annual increases in Social Security benefits so that it would measure inflation more accurately. Making this switch would fill in more than a quarter of the long-term deficit, because the new index would grow more slowly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Gay rights activists chain themselves to White House gate (AFP, Nov 16, 2010)

Gay rights activists briefly handcuffed themselves to the White House's north gate on Monday, urging President Barack Obama to repeal a ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Court upholds NH law allowing pledge in school (DENISE LAVOIE, 11/15/10, AP)

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Friday affirmed a ruling by a federal judge who found that students can use the phrase "under God" when reciting the pledge.

A lawsuit was filed by parents and The Freedom From Religion Foundation against the Hanover School District and the Dresden School District, located in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The appeals court found that the primary effect of the law is "not the advancement of religion, but the advancement of patriotism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


How to avoid Japan's economic mistakes (Robert J. Samuelson, November 15, 2010, Washington Post)

It's hard to remember now that in the 1980s Japan had the world's most-admired economy. It would, people widely believed, achieve the highest living standards and pioneer the niftiest technologies. Nowadays, all we hear are warnings not to repeat Japan's mistakes that resulted in a "lost decade" of economic growth. Japan's cardinal sins, we're told, were skimping on economic "stimulus" and permitting paralyzing "deflation" (falling prices). People postponed buying because they expected prices to go lower. That's the conventional wisdom - and it's wrong.

Just the opposite is true: Japan's economic eclipse shows the limited power of economic stimulus and the exaggerated threat of modest deflation. There is no substitute for vigorous private-sector job creation and investment, and that's been missing in Japan. This is a lesson we should heed.

Japan's economic problems, like ours, originated in huge asset "bubbles."

...which is why they haven't been able to fix it. A nation with a declining population has to have a burst property bubble.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Gores global-warming geeks (Kyle Smith, 11/11/10, NY Post)

Bjorn Lomborg, who (like Al Gore) is not a climatologist but a gadfly with training in political science, says global warming is an important problem and praises Gore for drawing attention to the issue with "An Incovenient Truth." But "Cool It" -- complete with its own slide show and witty graphics -- amounts to a devastating rebuttal to Gore-ism. [...]

Lomborg, a blond who looks like a Beach Boy, started on his journey when he read a book by Julian Simon that laid out all the ways in which the world was getting better -- man was producing more food, reducing pollution, etc. Preposterous!

Lomborg spent six months trying to refute the book, failed, and decided to adapt his perception of reality to fit the facts. Now he deploys a slide show pointing out that the most common solution to global warming -- the cap-and-trade system backed by Enron, GE and BP -- would have a massive price tag, but few benefits.

He reckons that a dollar spent fighting HIV/AIDS would lead to $40 worth of benefit in the developing world, a dollar spent taking on malaria would have $14 or so worth of benefit -- but implementing the Kyoto plan would yield only 25 cents in benefits for every dollar in costs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


China to play role in General Motors IPO (AP, 11/14/10)

Chinese automaker SAIC, GM's partner in China, is finalizing plans to buy a roughly 1 percent stake, worth about $500 million, in GM's IPO, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. SAIC is owned by the Shanghai city government. [...]

GM 's Nov. 18 stock offering will reduce the U.S. Treasury's stake in the company from 61 percent to 43 percent, and will help payback the more than $50 billion that taxpayers invested in GM to keep it from collapsing. More stock offerings will happen in the next year or so, letting the government fully divest from the automaker. [...]

Chris Theodore, president of consulting firm Theodore & Associates, says SAIC's investment in GM is likely an attempt to strengthen its ties with the automaker. Theodore, who was part of a group that tried to take over Volvo before it was sold to China's Geely group, says SAIC isn't the kind of company that can branch out into U.S. sales. Most of its models use GM technology and are essentially GM cars.

"They rely on GM for a lot of their profitability," Theodore says.

Michael Maduell, president of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a California-based group that watches sovereign wealth fund investments, says global investors are looking at the U.S. because they believe the overall market is undervalued. Other potential investors in GM include Abu Dhabi's Mubadala and Singapore's Temasek, which are both known for actively investing in companies, Maduell says.

Investors are "looking at emerging markets, like China and India, but all those assets are overvalued," Maduell says. "America still has a lot of fantastic investment opportunities in real estate and small- to mid-cap stocks."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


No Camelot 2.0: The decline of liberal idealism. (James Piereson, November 22, 2010, Weekly Standard)

In truth, the Camelot ideal never fit Obama, who brought to the presidency a sense of ambivalence about the American future and America’s role in the world. It is hard to play the role of inspiring leader while counseling one’s citizens to scale back their expectations. While President Obama is capable of eloquence, his attempts often fall short because they are accompanied by an undertow of caution and pessimism. It is hard to imagine Obama saying, as Kennedy did, that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Such bold calls to arms were perfectly consistent with the liberalism of Kennedy’s time, but for many reasons are at odds with the liberalism of today. For better or worse, Obama’s ambitions do not approach the high ideals of Camelot—and he and his admirers might be better off if they acknowledged that.

A defeat can be a terrible thing to waste, especially if it provides one with an incentive to reassess what it is possible to achieve. President Obama is not going to bring about a revolution in the consciousness of our time. Nor will he permanently change the terms of our politics. It was this kind of thinking, based upon arrogant presumptions of greatness, that led to his defeat. By abandoning greatness, however, Obama may yet find a way to survive—and find a role for himself through which he might make a lasting, positive contribution. In doing so he might permit the rest of us to put to rest at last the shattered dreams of Camelot.

...and, contra Mr. Piereson, one ought not too quickly posit a difference between JFK and the UR headed towards their re-election bids:
The "Kennedy myth" and the Democratic party's crushing victory in November 1964 have obscured Goldwater's national appeal. Trends appeared favorable to the Arizonan. His popularity was growing, and Republican state, county, and precinct chairmen expressed support. Kennedy had grown accustomed to 70 percent-plus approval ratings, but he saw his popularity plummet to 57 percent in October 1963. The rising hostility toward the president was not limited to southern states, as is often asserted. Two-thirds of the public disapproved of Kennedy's spending record; 56 percent criticized his inability to work with Congress; and nearly half believed he was pushing racial integration too quickly. His approval rating fell substantially among Republicans, independents, Protestants, and people over fifty years of age. In the East, his popularity dropped 16 percent, with greater declines in the midwest, far west, and south, respectively. Even his support among Catholics and Democrats fell by eleven points.

Goldwater, moreover, made gains in trial runs against Kennedy. In February 1963, the president had commanded a 67 to 27 percent advantage, but nine months later, Goldwater, still unannounced, had narrowed the gap to sixteen points. Kennedy's civil rights initiatives and the Arizonan's conservative states' rights message ignited enthusiasm for the Republican in the South, where Goldwater outpolled the president by wide margins. The senator's popularity in the Old Confederacy and his appeal in the west gave rise to the "Southern strategy." This electoral scheme posited that the GOP could win presidential and congressional victories without relying on opposition strongholds in northeastern and middle-Atlantic states. Even Dixie Democrats feared that the conservative could sweep all 164 southern and border-state electoral votes.

The Kennedy administration had been contemplating the upcoming campaign for months prior to the assassination, and the president predicted that Goldwater would win the Republican nomination. Although confident of re-election, JFK conceded possible defeat in the south and anticipated "a hard, close fight" in many states. "Among the political professionals," noted journalist Stewart Alsop, there was "a feeling that Goldwater just might make it all the way to the White House."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


l-Qaida ideologue’s arrest blow to Middle East jihadis (YAAKOV LAPPIN , 11/15/2010, Jerusalem Post)

The arrest on Sunday of al-Qaida ideologue Omar Bakri Muhammad by Lebanese security forces in Tripoli is a blow to the al-Qaida network in the Middle East.

Should Bakri Muhammad’s appeal against his life sentence fail, the Lebanese state could succeed in doing what Britain could not in the two decades the cleric lived in the UK, and place the al-Qaida recruiter behind bars.

Bakri Muhammad’s recent claim that he would “not spend one day in prison” in Lebanon has been proven false, showing once again that Middle Eastern governments are far less tolerant of Salafi Islamism than their Western counterparts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Interview with Terrorism Expert Bruce Riedel: Coup in Pakistan 'A Real Possibility' (Der Spiegel, 11/14/10)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some people believe a jihadist takeover is already more likely in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.

Riedel: I don't think it is imminent or inevitable. It is probably not even the most likely outcome. But for the first time, it is a real possibility. It could come in one of two ways. The Pakistani Taliban insurgence could grow and grow and grow, or, more likely, you could have a coup from inside the military by jihadist sympathizers. There is a lot of unrest in the Pakistani army because of their ongoing operations against militants. We could wake up one morning and have another Zia ul-Haqq in power in Pakistan, a committed jihadist, only this time without the Soviet Union as his enemy.

...than that the enemy make out target acquisition easy?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Sun writer endures waterboarding (OLIVER HARVEY, 11/12/10, The Sun)

Soon the soft texture of the towel was being wrapped around my features.

A slight pause and then the splash of water. I had resolved to remain calm, hold my breath, at least make a token resistance.

But in the few moments it took for the water to seep through the towelling I was already gagging, fighting for air, desperate for breath.

My interrogator's shouts of "confess, confess" added to the panic, the darkness of my blindfold to the disorientation.

The water was now pouring down my nostrils and into my lungs, I was choking and my mind a fog. Like a nightmare you can't wake up from, the water kept coming. And then I could stand it no more.

Bolt upright, my blindfold ripped off and coughing up liquid I wailed: "I'm drowning."

I had lasted 12 seconds of this revolting and inhumane practice.

My personal opinion?

This is no "interrogation technique" but torture pure and simple with no place in a civilised society.

I would have told my interrogator anything they wanted to hear to make it stop.

...but ought not be used to extract intelligence from terrorists? I'm afraid I'm missing the moral standard being applied here.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 AM


Helen Mirren: British humour is cruel (The Telegraph, 11/14/10)

She singled out British comedy as an example. "I prefer the finesse of French humour. English humour is harsher, more scathing, more cruel and more surreal too, as illustrated by Monty Python and the TV series Little Britain, where situations are far-fetched and over-the-top."

The 65-year-old actress, who won an Oscar for her role in The Queen, said her home country had become too Americanised. "England is constantly threatened by a savage assimilation. This isn't the case with France which remains furiously protective of its culture."

Which is why the English are funny and the French are not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


American Narcissus: The vanity of Barack Obama (JONATHAN V. LAST, 11/13/10, Weekly Standard)

There was the time he bragged about how one of his campaign volunteers, who had tragically died of breast cancer, “insisted she’s going to be buried in an Obama T-shirt.” There was the Nobel acceptance speech where he conceded, “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war” (the emphasis is mine). There was the moment during the 2008 campaign when Obama appeared with a seal that was a mash-up of the Great Seal of the United States and his own campaign logo (with its motto Vero Possumus, “Yes we Can” in Latin). Just a few weeks ago, Obama was giving a speech when the actual presidential seal fell from the rostrum. “That’s all right,” he quipped. “All of you know who I am.” Oh yes, Mr. President, we certainly do.

My favorite is this line from page 160 of The Audacity of Hope:

I find comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.

So popularity and fame once nourished him, but now his ambition is richer and he’s answerable not, like some presidents, to the Almighty, but to the gaze of his personal conscience. Which is steady. The fact that this sentence appears in the second memoir of a man not yet 50 years old—and who had been in national politics for all of two years—is merely icing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


Arab-Americans: Detroit's Unlikely Saviors (Bobby Ghosh, 11/13/10, TIME)

To disprove the charge that Detroit is in terminal decline, Nafa Khalaf offers himself as Exhibit A. In 1999, when he co-founded his business, which builds water systems and other public works, "people were saying the city was dying," Khalaf recalls. "They said, 'You shouldn't be doing business here.'" But since then, his firm, Detroit Contracting, has thrived and expanded. Employing 23 people, the company brings in more than $20 million a year in revenue. "And 90% of my business is in Detroit," he says triumphantly. "Does that sound like a dying city to you?"

When I remind Khalaf that his optimism flies in the face of the city's litany of problems — a shrinking population, chronic unemployment and overstretched services — my skepticism only encourages him to press on. What others see as an urban disaster zone, Khalaf views as a land of opportunity. The Motor City, he says, gave him chances that would have been inconceivable in his native Iraq. Khalaf went to Detroit's Wayne State University in 1986 to study engineering and was so impressed with the city that he never returned to his homeland. "You want to know if Detroit has a future? Ask us Arabs," Khalaf says. "We believe in this place."

Remarkably, that sentiment is shared even by those who never saw Detroit in its glory years — people like Sami, an Iraqi refugee who arrived this summer during the height of the nationwide furor over the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero. (Unsure of how candid he should be in his new home, he gave his first name only.) Although troubled by the controversy, Sami has no doubt he's picked the right place to start his new life. So what if he hasn't yet found a job. It's just a matter of time before one of the restaurants or stores on Warren Avenue, which connects Detroit to the nearby city of Dearborn, needs another busboy or odd-job man. The path from there is already paved in his mind: "I will save up for a couple of years and open a kebab shop ... then another one, and another one. If McDonald's can have restaurants all over the Arab world, then why can't I have kebab shops all over America?" As we walk down the street, he points to the brightly lit stores, many of them run by Arab Americans. "All of them got a chance to start something in this city," he says. "My turn is next."

Khalaf and Sami speak for a community that is growing and prospering alongside Detroit's decay, one of the largest concentrations of Arabs outside the Middle East. The four-county region of southeastern Michigan has a population of at least 200,000 of Middle Eastern origin; some estimates put that number far higher. In Dearborn, home to Ford Motor Co., one-third of the citizens have Middle Eastern ancestry — including Rima Fakih, the first Miss USA of Arab descent.

For Detroit, a city in critical condition, this new blood could make a difference.

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November 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Manny Pacquiao doesn't scale it back (Bill Dwyre, November 14, 2010, LA Times)

Pacquiao did what his camp, and especially his trainer, Freddie Roach, said he would. He methodically sliced apart a man who had five inches on him in height, six inches of reach and 16 pounds by fight time.

The Congressman from the Sarangani district of the Philippines, a boxing wonder, countered off most of Margarito's plodding charges with flurries of combinations. By the fourth round, Margarito's face was a mess and Pacquiao was in control.

By the 11th round, the cut under Margarito's right eye, inspected in his corner after each round, was so bad and Pacquiao was doing such damage that Pacquiao kept glancing at the referee, expecting him to step in and stop it. He even admitted after the fight that he had backed off a bit in the last two rounds because he didn't want to damage the eye any more.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


'Soul-searching' Obama aides: Democrats' midterm election losses a wake-up call (Anne E. Kornblut, 11/14/10, Washington Post)

The advisers are deeply concerned about winning back political independents, who supported Obama two years ago by an eight-point margin but backed Republicans for the House this year by 19 points. To do so, they think he must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington.

Even more important, senior administration officials said, Obama will need to oversee tangible improvements in the economy. They cannot just keep arguing, as Democrats did during the recent campaign, that things would have been worse if not for administration policies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Expert: past 10 days have been worst of President Obama's 'political life' (Kenneth R. Bazinet, 11/13/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

After watching his party take a beating in the midterm elections, Obama wasn't able to secure even a symbolic victory on a trip that was expected to give him plenty of opportunities to claim a win.

"This certainly was the worst 10 days of his political life," said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio. "Given that he's not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House ... if he doesn't do it in foreign policy that's a big problem for him.

"He came back with bupkis [Yiddish for 'nothing']."

Obama's inauspicious 10-day, four-nation trip included a failure to land an anticipated slam dunk free trade agreement with South Korea.

No ten days could ever be as definitively disastrous for the UR as the single day of August 28, 2008 was (although August 23 wasn't auspicious either and that gives him a five day stretch). But that evening of the 28th he gave not just a weak convention speech rhetorically but one that squandered an opportunity programmatically.

Up until then he had campaigned on nothing and it had worked quite well. He looked likely to be the next president. But in anticipation of that eventuality it was imperative for him to begin running on an agenda so that he could dictate the terms of his first couple years, which is genuinely the exclusive window for getting anything done in a presidency. Instead, he stuck to pabulum and left himself with an administration about nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Did President Obama Turn Full Circle in India? (ANDREW B. WILSON, 11/12/10, Weekly Standard)

Barack Obama traveled halfway around the world, traveling to Mumbai and New Delhi last week. He also executed a remarkable 179-degree turn in his political and economic thinking. In India, he declared himself to be a proponent of free trade, globalization and deregulation.

Now that is an amazing change for this president. Whether it is a cause for hope, however, is a different matter.

Seeking, as he said, to dismiss the “old stereotypes,” Obama laughed at the idea that “There still exists [in the U.S.] a caricature of India as a land of call centers and back offices” used by U.S. companies to “ship jobs and profits abroad.” Now that might seem a little strange, as he and his union friends have been promoting those very “stereotypes” ever since the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign.

But so it went.

Traveling to India made him act American.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Myth of Baseball’s Creation Endures, With a Prominent Fan (TIM ARANGO, 11/13/10, NY Times)

[I]t came as a surprise when a letter surfaced recently on the Internet in which the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, wrote an author who inquired of his views on baseball history: “From all of the historians which I have spoken with, I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball.’ I know there are some historians who would dispute this, though.” [...]

“The thing that amazes me is the durability of this idea,” said Lawrence McCray, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the chairman of the origins committee at the Society of American Baseball Research. “You just don’t run into people now who think of this as historically accurate.”

The circumstances of the mythmaking have long been embraced as a quirky and colorful chapter of the game’s past. Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the town where Doubleday supposedly invented the game in 1839, treats the story as fiction.

“The Doubleday Myth Is Cooperstown’s Gain” is the headline of an article in a book published this year by the Hall of Fame. “The Doubleday Myth has since been exposed,” Craig Muder, a Hall of Fame official, wrote in the book. “Doubleday was at West Point in 1839, yet ‘The Myth’ has grown so strong that the facts will never deter the spirit of Cooperstown.”

In fact, according to the baseball historian John Thorn, the only documented connection between Doubleday and baseball is a letter he wrote in 1871, while commanding a regiment of African-American soldiers in Texas, asking his superiors to “purchase baseball implements for the amusement of the men.”

Most historians contend that baseball directly evolved from English games like rounders and cricket and that it has even earlier roots in bat and ball games stretching as far back as 2500 B.C. in Egypt, where the pharaohs played a game called seker-hemat.

Instead of denoting one founder of baseball, the historiography has coalesced around a collection of men who advanced the game toward its modern version. Among the most prominent are Alexander Cartwright, credited with developing many rules of the modern game in New York City in the 1840s and with helping to form the New York Knickerbockers, and Henry Chadwick, a pioneering journalist in scorekeeping and statistics. Others, Thorn said, include Daniel Lucius Adams, a Knickerbockers player credited with establishing 90 feet as the distance between bases, and Louis Fenn Wadsworth, credited by some for setting the standards of nine players and nine innings.

“One of the things that distinguishes baseball from football and basketball is there is no clear inventor of the game,” said Andrew Schiff, who wrote “The Father of Baseball,” a biography of Chadwick. “Chadwick is called ‘the Father of Baseball’ not because he invented it but because he nurtured the game as it developed.”

Thorn is finishing a book about baseball’s origins titled, “Baseball in the Garden of Eden: A Secret History of the Early Game,” scheduled for publication in March. He said Selig’s apparent beliefs were testament to the power of myths in American culture and the connection between baseball and youthful innocence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Clean Energy Driven Job Growth Is A Return To The Stone Age (Mark Mills, 11.12.10, Forbes)

At the risk of sounding something like a Green Grinch, let me be the first to say that I truly hope that America's recovery does not come on the back of a clean tech job revolution. [...]

Why in the world would anyone want the energy sector, in whatever form it might take, to be the engine of American employment recovery? Sure, at one time in history (and today in subsistence cultures) nearly 100% of employment was anchored in fuel jobs: food for humans and their animals, and fuel for heat and cooking. That, thankfully, isn't the case anymore.

The underlying fact-of-merit here is that about 5% of employed Americans work in businesses that produce energy, and 95% work in energy-consuming businesses. This is a good thing. In a perfect world, we would have an even smaller share doing the production. We would, to use the economists' term, increase labor productivity, not decrease it. In the reductio ad absurdum, one person could control the technology that supplied all the energy needs of 310 million citizens. Productivity is what grows economies, makes people wealthier and helps businesses create more jobs--not jobs in "energy," but jobs overall. It has always been thus.

Agriculture provides the seminal example of this phenomenon. Total farm employment in both relative and absolute terms has, as every elementary school student knows, collapsed from early American days. Setting aside the farmers' vaunted place in American politics and social history (and I'm biased here--my father grew up on a farm and I spent my fair share of time on one), this has been a very good trend for America, and the world. America moved from a 19th-century economy with agriculture accounting for over 70% of employment, to just a couple percent of jobs today. Even in the 20th century farm productivity (the measure of labor-hours per unit output) grew from a post-WWII level of 14 labor-hours to yield 100 bushels of corn, to below three today; a seven-fold gain in productivity. That's the kind of gain that deserves a "Hoorah."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The 2010 Verdict (James Ceaser, 11/13/10, RCP)

There was accordingly an additional factor that played in this election outcome that was hardly noted or tested in the polls. It was a cultural clash between an elite and much of the public, between liberal intellectuals and the Obama administration on the one hand and the mass of Tea party activists on the other. The one has shown disdain and the other has responded with resentment. It is impossible, then, not to say that the person of Barack Obama was a major factor in this election, for when he was not himself the leader he became the frequent enabler of this dismissal of middle America. That Obama would have to descend from the lofty heights that he inhabited during the campaign and after his election was something that no sane observer, and no doubt Obama himself, could fail to have foreseen. But this loss of bloated charisma has never been the real problem. It has instead been his demeanor as president. Obama modeled himself on Abraham Lincoln, and it is painful in retrospect to draw the contrast in how they have behaved. One showed humility, the other arrogance; one practiced sincerity, the other hypocrisy; one made efforts at cultivating unity, the other seemed to delight at encouraging division: and one succeeded in becoming more and more a man of the people, while the other, despite his harsh populist appeals, has grown more distant.

Elections in America serve two functions-- a "formal" function of filling the personnel for the constitutional offices, which takes place in every election, and an "informal" function of signaling what the people want, which takes place in a meaningful way only in certain elections, where national public sentiment has congealed on a common message or theme. The situation in Washington now reflects a conflict stemming from the results of these two functions. On the formal side, the array of forces puts neither party in full control. Democrats hold the presidency, Republicans will now firmly control the House, and the senate appears likely to swing in ways no one can now foresee. The Democrats, who now derive their power from this formal situation and rely on officials chosen in elections conducted two and four years ago, will emphasize the constitutional authority of the offices. They represent for the moment the conservative position. On the informal side, Republicans claim not just their seats and numbers in Congress, but the weight and power of the majority as expressed in the clear and powerful message delivered on election day. This claim cannot, of course, cancel the formal array of power--we are a nation governed by laws and institutions--but there is nothing amiss in reminding those in offices that they cannot stray too far for too long from the wishes of the majority without straining the fabric of authority in a democratic system. The informal function, while it should not be overvalued, should not be undervalued, either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Obama=Bush?: President Obama isn’t the new Carter, but he just might be the new (first) Bush (James Verini, November 14, 2010, Boston Globe)

[W]here Carter, a notorious micromanager and hand-wringer, appeared to bog down in the carpet fibers of the presidency, a common complaint about Obama is that he’s in the clouds. Where Carter was said to have a morose and pedantic outlook, Obama is accused of being, rather, cerebral and aloof — related charges, maybe, but not the same. Recounting Carter’s fumbling Mideast statecraft in his book “A World of Trouble,” Patrick Tyler described an “obsessive technocrat who wore his idealism like a crucifix and his pragmatism like a slide rule clipped to his waistband.” That’s not Obama.

Yet there is a recent one-term president he resembles. George H.W. Bush doesn’t often come up in discussions of Obama, but two years into Obama’s term, the two presidents’ tenures bear a striking resemblance. So too do their governing styles and temperaments, and even, unlikely though it may seem, their speech. Here are two leaders “buffeted by circumstance,” as the presidential historian Bert Rockman characterized Bush, whose same signal qualities in repulsing buffets and discussing them with the public — sobriety, patience, and, yes, prudence, to use Bush-impersonator Dana Carvey’s favorite Bushism — are often enough their least appreciated.

...that GHWB has three significant accomplishments to balance out his several mistakes: (1) he oversaw the successful and rather smooth dismantling of the Soviet Bloc; (2) he began the drawdown from the Cold War/Iraq War, even at the political cost of a Democrat-favored tax-hiking budget deal to reorder the fiscal house; and (3) he led the hugely successful S&L rescue.

That record puts tremendous pressure on the UR to get the following done in his remaining two years: (1) establish independent nations in South Lebanon, Western Pakistan and Palestine; (2) pass some serious budget measures, even at the political cost of Republican-favored spending cuts; and, (3) since the TARP was handed on to him by W, find some way to goose the housing market that can distinctly be credited to him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


2010 elections highlight Obama's eroding base (Liz Sidoti And Jennifer Agiesta, 11/14/10, Associated Press)

Near the midpoint of his presidency, Barack Obama's diverse voter coalition reveals giant cracks and he faces major work repairing his standing among independents in states crucial to his re-election chances. Catholics. Older people. Women. Young adults. They shifted toward Republicans in this month's elections and failed to support Obama's Democratic Party as they did in 2008. [...]

Exit-poll questionnaires vary state to state, but on several issues that dominated the campaign this year, cross-state analyses are possible.

His job performance rating was more negative than positive among voters in states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Obama won them all in 2008. In Indiana, where Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964, just 37 percent approved.

Among independents:

_More said their vote in a Senate race was to express opposition to Obama rather than to show support. This was true in every state where exit polls asked the question, and by margins of 2-to-1 or better in states such as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

_Majorities disapprove of Obama in all states but California, Delaware, Hawaii and Vermont, which traditionally lean Democratic during a presidential election. Obama's job performance rating is lowest in West Virginia, where 76 percent disapprove. In Indiana, 69 percent of independents disapprove, and in perennially contested Ohio, 65 percent disapprove.

Anyone else reminded of The Inferno by that opening?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Dubya's Rehab Tour (Kinky Friedman, 11/14/10, Daily Beast)

W., I understand, is sleeping better these days. He is setting up his new library, working with Clinton to help Haiti, greeting returning soldiers from Iraq at the airport, and dreaming, perhaps, of pursuing his only hobby, clearing brush. As the author Frederick Exley once observed, "What good are dreams if they come true?" This notwithstanding, in W.'s case, they seem to be. History is clearing the brush from his legacy. [...].

Indeed, in surprisingly diverse areas around the country, Bush is now polling better than President Obama. The Bush-era tax cuts remain very popular with the American people. Bush will always be remembered as a fighter against AIDS in Africa, a friend to Israel, a supporter of NASA, and a feared but respected enemy of dictatorships the world over. Obama, who often seems to be none of these things, may be the helping the hand of history put lipstick on the pig of Iraq by championing a war even more foolish.

Legacies, at best, are studies in contrasts. History does not always get it right, but sometimes it does. Sam Houston, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill were cursed and reviled, called "traitor," "ape," "cowboy"; they are seen today as visionaries and portraits of greatness. There is no question that George W. Bush is a man with a spirit of generosity which extends even to his enemies, who snipe at him constantly and blame him for everything under the sun. He is also a man with the God-given ability to laugh at himself. So what if, praise Allah, Iraq keeps turning toward the good and becomes the second true democracy in the entire Middle East? Was it all worth it? Men and women of future generations may well say yes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


Dark Ride: Thomas S. Hibbs on Film Noir and the Quest for Redemption: Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption by Thomas S. Hibbs (Thomas F. Bertonneau, The University Bookman)

Thomas Hibbs, author of The Arts of Darkness, stands somewhat apart from the French interpreters of noir, even as he liberally adjusts a strict and more or less canonical definition of the generic term to suit his own purposes. Far more sympathetic to social norms than previous commentators, Hibbs makes a case, sometimes persuasive in context, that noir can encompass Technicolor production, teen-oriented television serials, and science fiction thrillers, and that it need not endorse the positions of Sartre-like hopelessness and cynicism. For Hibbs, Noir indeed gives voice to an anguished religious need that reflects Blaise Pascal’s Christian anthropology, than which none could be more appropriate to the distorted age of which modern people are the heirs and in the labyrinth of which they exist. According to Hibbs, following Lucien Goldmann and Sarah Melzer, Pascal presciently diagnosed the ills of modernity, such as the reduction of life to market activity, the loss of self in diversion, and the dissolution of a moral framework rooted in faith even while a need to believe in something persists. Pascal sees in man the creature “doomed to seek with groans,” as many noir characters do even without fully grasping that their lives have become so many keening quests. “Of course, Pascal’s goal,” Hibbs writes, “is to exhibit the fit between that dark conception of the human condition and the Christian doctrine of redemption.” For Hibbs, noir, while displaying the surface features of a prevalent atheism, nevertheless takes life from a deeply seated and essentially religious faith in the reality of transcendence. It is enough, in Hibbs’ analysis, for a noir character simply to become aware of his perdition to tilt the genre in the direction of affirming actual morality. [...]

In The Arts of Darkness, the one case that a reader would expect to call for the greatest pleading turns out to be among the most convincing of candidates for election to the noir canon—Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For non-cognoscenti, Buffy concerns a high school cheerleader who, having none but the usual ultra-banal adolescent ambitions, suddenly and unwillingly finds herself selected to be a vampire-slayer in the eternal metaphysical war between the powers of good and evil. Like The X-Files, Buffy ran for too many seasons to sustain its often darkly comic and sometimes genuinely tragic Gothic vision of contemporary life as taking place on a Manichaean battlefield of the terrible existence of which ninety-nine per cent of people have no inkling. In its first three seasons, however, the series kept up its underlying seriousness even while its creators indulged in deliberate camp and self-mockery. (A measure of self-directed humor also surfaced healthily in The X-Files.) For some episodes of The Vampire Slayer one might even be willing to risk the description “the passion of Buffy,” as the serial protagonist must endure the excruciating burden of her unbidden moral responsibility.

Like Sam Spade or Mike Hammer, Buffy knows that sometimes, for moral reasons, one must meet violence with violence. She must inure herself to the cost of fighting for the good. Hibbs comments: “For Buffy, the lesson of Faith is that the slayer must resist the temptations to power, lust, and jealousy in herself... Buffy’s realization of her destiny is not a matter of conformity to an abstract and impersonal code of duty; rather it is for the personal good of others, indeed for her own good,” using the phrase in the moral sense.

Hibbs knows that filmmakers might adopt aspects of the noir esthetic because to do so has become chic. The noir vocabulary, plagiarized for a superficial appeal, is vulnerable to such debasement. “Abandoning the task of communication,” writes Hibbs, “many neo-noir films are simply decadent, conveying the aristocratic nihilism of the amoral superhero or wallowing in a surrealist dream world.” At its best, noir represents film in a serious engagement with moral issues in a distorted modern context. Arts of Darkness is a “must” for any serious student of film, but it will also have much to teach the curious amateur.

Perhaps we ought not blame the modern practitioners too much for sinking into the nihilism that has always haunted the genre, after all, the original artists were protected from this failing by the movie code, which forbade having criminals ultimately benefit from their crimes and thus forced the structure of a morality play on them whether they wanted it or not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


Auster After 'Sunset' (STEVEN KURUTZ, 11/12/10, WSJ)

How do you think Americans are dealing with the financial crisis?

Compare it to what's going on in France. They're rioting in the streets every day. Over what? Raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. The French go into the streets when they're angry. But Americans, when they suffer, when they lose their jobs, when they lose their houses, they feel guilty. So it's everyone's private failure and there's a feeling of shame rather than anger.

That's the secret of our success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 AM


A Very Long Ride (Alex Hanson, 11/13/10, Valley News)

The difficult emotions surrounding her parents' divorce sent Linny Kenney in search of a horse. Horses weren't new to her. She got her first pony, and later a horse, when she was growing up in Bath, N.H. But a few years of wandering after graduation from Plymouth State left little time for horses -- until she needed them.

“Horses have been what I have turned to whenever I was frustrated about anything,” Kenney said. She also revived a childhood dream: to ride across the country. On March 1, she headed east from Los Angeles with her Arabian gelding, Sojourner, and friend Walter Rowland.

Sitting in the kitchen of Jim and Ginger Wimberg's Weathersfield home, Kenney and Rowland, both 29, were near the end of the trail and the beginning of something else. They plan to reach Kenney's childhood home in Bath on Nov. 20, taking the next week or so to traverse the Upper Valley.

A trek across the country yields two storylines -- one about the traveler and one about the country itself. Kenney wanted to know whether love and goodness still flourished across the land, and if so, how. She wanted to know if she could persevere through the hard times. The trip has been a success on both counts, and in ways neither she nor Rowland expected.

“We've just gotten all kinds of people's day-to-day stories,” she said, calling them “an example of how open and trusting people are in this country.”

“We've learned so much about ourselves and about people in general,” Rowland said. “The main thing,” he added, is that “everybody is good at their core and most people are good all the way through. Open and generous, caring and trusting.”

Aside from their overnight stays in a tent, all of their lodgings, mostly at farms or ranches, were donated. Strangers all across the country fed them, let them wash clothes, gave them places to rest when they were worn out from the road, then helped them on their way. Sojourner often was an icebreaker, but Jim Wimberg said that he could tell right away that he would be happy to have Kenney and Rowland under his roof.

“Without saying anything, they look like really good people,” he said. They stayed with the Wimbergs Wednesday and Thursday night. Rowland worked with Christian Wimberg, one of the Wimbergs' sons, at TeleAtlas in Lebanon after college. Wimberg said the young travelers gave him the sense that “the country's in pretty good shape.”

“If that's part of the country, I'm not worried. We're just going through a bad time, and things’ll get better again,” Wimberg said.

November 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


Pittsburgh treated to vintage Game 7 screening: Stars come out for game's first viewing since original broadcast (Jenifer Langosch, 11/14/10,

Some came in suits, others donning vintage Pirates apparel. There were those who came with vivid memories of a game -- arguably the greatest in Pittsburgh sports history -- that was played 50 years ago at Forbes Field. Others arrived with memories that had been crafted simply through the stories that they have been told.

But they all came to relive and to remember and to celebrate. With the unseasonably warm weather a fitting tease, there was, indeed, a baseball game to be played in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

Approximately 1,000 people packed the downtown Byham Theater to be among the first to view one of baseball's greatest World Series games since the day it was played. A copy of the NBC telecast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Pirates and Yankees was unveiled by MLB Network less than a year after being discovered in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby's home.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Sight of Meat Puts People at Ease, Study Suggests: Finding surprised researchers who expected a more aggressive response (Robert Preidt, 11/13/10, HealthDay News)

That feeling of goodwill when family and friends gather for the Thanksgiving meal may be due to the fact that the sight of meat on the table calms people, a new study suggests.

The researchers in the psychology department at McGill University in Montreal were surprised by their finding. They had expected that seeing meat would make people more aggressive.

"I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively," study author Frank Kachanoff said in a McGill news release.

"I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior," he explained.

Kachanoff thought meat would trigger aggression in people because he believed this type of behavior would have helped our primate ancestors survive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


The irresistible appeal of the train movie: Slide show: In the wake of "Unstoppable," we look at 10 films that capture the magic and symbolism of rail travel (Matt Zoller Seitz, 11/12/10, Salon)

The release of the new Tony Scott action picture "Unstoppable," which stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as railroad employees trying to stop an explosives-laden runaway train that's, well, unstoppable, is but the latest chapter in cinema's long affair with the locomotive and all its forms. (It's an obsession that Scott himself keeps revisiting: Just last year he directed a hyperkinetic remake of one of the great train films ever made, Joseph Sargent's "The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three.") Freight trains, passenger trains, elevated trains, bullet trains, monorails, subways: If it's on rails, you can bet it's been lovingly, often spectacularly photographed, and has served as the location for pretty much any situation you can imagine.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Spheres of Influence: FACTS ARE SUBVERSIVE: Political Writing From a Decade Without a Name By Timothy Garton Ash (George Packer, NY Times Book Review)

The discouraging facts of the past decade don’t lead him to abandon the idea, but they complicate it. Velvet revolutions don’t belong exclusively to the West, but “the best chances are to be found in semiauthoritarian states that depend to a significant degree, politically, economically and, so to speak, psychologically, on more democratic ones — and most especially when the foreign states with the most passive influence or active leverage on them are Western democracies.” Garton Ash, now in his mid-50s, remains an idealist with his feet on the ground: “Whether velvet revolution has a future as well as a past will depend, in the first place, on the will and the skill of people in the places concerned; but it will also depend, in smaller measure, on us.”

Garton Ash’s previous collections, “The Uses of Adversity” and “History of the Present,” covered Europe during the hopeful 1980s and the muddled 1990s. Europe is his abiding passion as well as his area of expertise, and there are several essays in “Facts Are Subversive” on the potential for peaceful, democratic Europe to serve as a model for the world, one that Europeans themselves seem determined to squander. But the nature of the European Union is not the stuff of high literary-political drama. History’s center of gravity has moved elsewhere: the major events of the recent decade have forced Garton Ash outside the realm he knows best, into the Islamic world and the United States.

Inevitably, perhaps, these essays lack the fingertip feel of his other work, the sure touch that comes from years of consideration. “Islam in Europe” landed Garton Ash in controversy when it was published in 2006. He sticks the label “brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist” on the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and in doing so he seems to classify her as the equivalent opposite of the radical Islamists who have put her under a death threat. In a subsequent debate with Hirsi Ali before the Royal Society of Arts in London, Garton Ash claimed that he had been misunderstood, abjured both the phrase and any ill or condescending intent, and announced that when it comes to the principles of a free society, he is himself a fundamentalist. The essay, though, makes it clear that his critics did not misunderstand him.

Why doesn’t Garton Ash see in Hirsi Ali a figure of conscience like his friends from the Iron Curtain days? Because her scathing denunciations of what is cruel and unfree in Islam are not “showing the way forward for most Muslims in Europe, at least not for many years to come.” This is true, but it isn’t the most important truth. Hirsi Ali isn’t a youth leader or social activist with a responsibility to show European Muslims “the way forward.” She’s a dissident from the world of Islam who has been driven by personal suffering, and also by her treatment in liberal, multicultural Europe, to a radical rejection of any compromise between her former faith and the secular society she has embraced.

“Writers are not diplomats,” Garton Ash says in another essay. But he wants to live in a Europe where millions of believing Muslims feel welcome so that they don’t turn to jihad, and Hirsi Ali’s exacting standard makes it harder. This is a complicated matter, and Garton Ash is honestly working his way through it. That doesn’t make him a weak-kneed appeaser of Islamist ideology — there is plenty of evidence, in this essay and others, that Garton Ash has a keen sense of the threat and will not abandon his liberal convictions in the hope that it might disappear. But he doesn’t feel the oppressiveness of Islamic societies in his bones, as Hirsi Ali does, and as he felt it of Communism. He is, first and last, a European.

Consider that Mr. Packer believes that a decade in which states like India, Turkey, Brazil, and Indonesia (to pick the four biggest and most important) have liberalized/Westernized rapidly--and done so almost entirely peacefully--to have been a disappointment. Then add the progress towards self-determination and self-government that has been accomplished somewhat by force or the influence of force in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, The Lebanon, Palestine, etc. (and within formerly Islamicist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood) and look at where they all were at the end of the 20th century. The ability to look at these results and be discouraged requires a deep skepticism about liberal democracy itself--similar to the despair of many anti-Communists during the Cold War--and the likelihood that it will prevail in the long run. Importantly, it also depends on the belief that non-European peoples are so fundamentally different that they will not eventually organize their societies around the well-established pillars of the End of History--democracy, capitalism, protestantism--even though it is the only metastructure under which they will thrive. It is at least odd to find this commonality between the Decent Left and the Right.

The Islamists Are Not Coming: Religious parties in the Muslim world are hardly the juggernauts they've been made out to be. (CHARLES KURZMAN, IJLAL NAQVI, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010, Foreign Policy)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Why Making Dinner Is a Good Idea (Jonah Lehrer, November 11, 2010, Wired)

This experiment reminds me of a provocative 2003 paper, “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” by the economists David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro. They argued that the rise in the weight of the average American in recent decades has been largely caused by a technological shift in food production, which allows us to cook calories with ever increasing ease.* (In 1965, a married women who didn’t work spent over two hours per day cooking and cleaning up from meals. In 1995, the same tasks took about 50 minutes.) The economists illustrate their argument with a parable about the potato:

Before World War II, Americans ate massive amounts of potatoes, largely baked, boiled or mashed. They were generally consumed at home. French fries were rare, both at home and in restaurants, because the preparation of French fries requires significant peeling, cutting and cooking. Without expensive machinery, these activities take a lot of time.

In the postwar period, a number of innovations allowed the centralization of French fry production. French fries are now typically peeled, cut and cooked in a few central locations using sophisticated new technologies. They are then frozen at -40 degrees and shipped to the point of consumption, where they are quickly reheated either in a deep fryer (in a fast food restaurant), in an oven or even a microwave (at home).

Today, the French fry is the dominant form of potato and America’s favorite vegetable. This change shows up in consumption data. From 1977 to 1995, total potato consumption increased by about 30 percent, accounted for almost exclusively by increased consumption of potato chips and French fries.

Why do the microwave and frozen dinner inexorably lead to obesity? According to the economists, the cheapness of calories (both in terms of price and time) has led us to dramatically boost consumption. Food stops being something we make and create — it doesn’t require very many lever presses, so to speak — and becomes something we simply ingest. Eating just gets easier.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


When California Flirted With Fascism (Conor Friedersdorf, 11/13/10, American Scene)

On several occasions, I’ve recommended Kevin Starr’s multi-volume history of California. Here’s a passage that is particularly striking, from page 176 of Endangered Dreams:

In early 1935 the City of Los Angeles established a Committee on Indigent Alien Transients, which reflected the bias of the city. Astonishingly, the committee openly defined an indigent alien transient ‘as being a transient entering the state of California without visible means of support and whose legal residence is foreign to the state of California.’ Thus the Committee, for all practical purposes, took California out of the Union. The City of Los Angeles would soon attempt to seize control of the state.

Long skilled in the techniques of rousting transients out of town after jailing them on vagrancy charges, the Los Angeles Police Department played an important role on the committee, on which the deputy chief of police sat as chairman. On 4 November 1935 the Committee on Indigent Alien Transients issued a report calling for the establishment of checkpoints manned by police and health officials at every major point of entry into the state. Transients who could not prove California residence, the report recommended, should be put into camps, preferably operated by the State Relief Administration, where they would be fingerprinted and their backgrounds checked for a criminal record. The report also called for “Vagrancy Penal Camps” for transients arrested on vagrancy charges. These penal camps would serve as labor pools for work upon roads, parks, and other public projects. Police should monitor all common carriers, railroads especially, and all main arterial highways in an effort to apprehend indigent alien transients seeking to enter the state. State and local officials, meanwhile, should form a statewide committee to supervise these activities: an extra-parliamentary task force responsible for sealing off the borders of California from transient migration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Survival of the Godliest: Does strong religious belief provide an evolutionary advantage? (Phillip Longman, November 11, 2010, Big Questions)

[T]oday’s strongly religious people tend to have a relatively large number of children, whereas secularists increasingly have few, if they have them at all. If you believe in evolution (and what secularist doesn’t?), then you have to take this thoroughly naturalistic explanation for God’s comeback into account.

To be sure, in countries rich and poor, under all forms of government, birth rates are declining across the globe. But they are declining least among those adhering to strict religious codes and literal belief in the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran. Indeed, the pattern of human fertility now fits this pattern: the least likely to procreate are those who profess no believe in God; those who describe themselves as agnostic or simply spiritual are only somewhat slightly less likely to be childless. Moving up the spectrum, family size increases among practicing Unitarians, Reform Jews, mainline Protestants and “cafeteria” Catholics, but the birthrates found in these populations are still far below replacement levels. Only as we approach the realm of religious belief and practice marked by an intensity we might call, for lack of a better word, “fundamentalism,” do we find pockets of high fertility and consequent rapid population growth.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Sociology, three quarters of the growth of conservative Protestantism in the United States is explained by the compounding effect of this population’s higher birth rates over the last century as compared with mainline Protestants. Moreover, the correlation between fundamentalist faith and high fertility continues as we travel still further along the spectrum of religious belief and practice. So, for example, the “Andy Weaver” Amish, who are perhaps the strictest of all in their rejection of modernity, have higher fertility (average 6.2 children per family) than the do the New Order Amish, (4.8 children) who starting in the 1960s made such concessions to progress as allowing electricity into their homes.

Similarly within Israel, ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, with an average of nearly seven children per family, are far outbreeding merely Orthodox Jews, to say nothing of more secular Israelis. Accordingly, we now find a profound generational difference in Israeli society that reverses the pattern of history that even many religious people once supposed would inevitably lead to the decline of ancient beliefs and customs. Today, just 2.3 percent of Israelis over age 80 are Haredi. But such is the demographic momentum of this sect that 16 percent of all Israeli children under 10 are within its fold.

When confronted with the fact that they are being outbred, secularists often respond that many if not most children born into highly religious families will grow up to reject the faith of their fathers — such is the assumed allure of freedom and individuality. This thought comports with the life experience of the many members of the Baby Boom generation, who shook off the bonds of traditional authority in the 1960s and 1970s, and who cannot imagine why the rest of humanity will not eventually catch on and catch up.

Arguing against this proposition, however, are some stubborn demographic facts. Among fundamentalist families, it turns out, the apple does not fall far from the tree. And the more demanding the faith, the more this rule applies.

Only five percent of children born to the most conservative Amish, for example, move on to other faiths or lifestyles. The defection rate is higher among New Order Amish, Mormons and other comparatively less demanding fundamentalist communities, yet they still hold on to the majority of their children. Moreover, what defections they may experience are more than offset by converts, with the net flow favoring conservative faiths, according to poll data gathered by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Thus we see 21 percent of converts leaving liberal and moderate denominations for more fundamentalist ones, and only 15 percent going the other way. There are many swirls and currents that affect us all as individuals, but between higher fertility and more successful indoctrination, the main demographic tide of history is clearly flowing in favor of fundamentalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Distracted NH drivers are a target (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON, 11/12/10, Union Leader)

Between 30 and 35 police officers were on detail Friday morning in the Manchester, Bedford, Merrimack and Amherst area, focusing heavily on the Everett Turnpike, Route 101 and Interstate 93 and 293 corridors. Typically, about eight patrol cars would be monitoring those four regions on a normal morning. Once a month, officers will hit the roads in this unprecedented effort to bring public awareness to motorists about the dangers of distracted driving and attempt to change their bad habits.

Police made more than 300 motor vehicle stops Friday on the F.E. Everett Turnpike, Interstate 93 and Route 101 from Nashua to Londonderry. Police said 194 warnings were issued and 109 traffic citations delivered in a three-hour span as part of Operation Safe Commute.

Drivers are texting, speeding, eating, reading, tailgating, and the list goes on, according to Lt. Chris Aucoin of the New Hampshire State Police, who said people are rushed and anxious to get stuff done -- even behind the wheel.

"It is dangerous, and it only takes a few seconds to look away and something on the road can change," he said.

"Every time I think I've seen it all, something new surprises me," says Trooper Phil Akstin as we patrol in the Bedford toll area. He says it is increasingly common to see drivers texting. Akstin, who has been a state trooper for about seven years, says when he first started patrolling the highways, drunken driving was the biggest concern.

Now, if people are swerving or crossing the yellow line, it is often because they are answering their phone, making a phone call or texting, not drinking and driving, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Manny Pacquiao, Boxing's Biggest Star: Pacquiao is a worldwide phenom the U.S. is only now catching up to. On Saturday night he'll fight in front of 50,000 people at Cowboys Stadium. (Allen Barra, 11/12/10, Daily Beast)

Emmanuel Dapidran “Manny” Pacquiao (pronounced pak’ jau) is a phenomenon. Sportswriters have been hitting air trying to find comparisons between him and other great names in boxing history. They’ve failed because there really aren’t any to make. Pacquiao’s story is so incredible that, had it been a script, Sylvester Stallone would have rejected it. (Manny does, however, have a number of television shows under his belt, including Show Me Da Manny, a Filipino sitcom in which his mother appeared with him.)

Let’s start at the beginning. Pacquiao has come to mean so much to so many in so short a time that it’s easy to forget he would have been none of these had he not been a fighter first. He’s currently the WBO Welterweight Champion, which probably means nothing at all to you and so little to me that I’m not even going to look up what WBO stands for. (It’s one of those alphabet boxing groups that claims to have authority over the entire sport–there are at least five or six of them.)

Voted “Fighter of The Decade” by the Boxing Writers Association of America and three-times named “Fighter of The Year” by the BWAA and Ring magazine, he has won titles in seven different weight categories. He goes for number eight Saturday night against a pretty good Mexican-American fighter, Antonio Margarito, for the vacant junior middleweight title of the WBC. (I’m not going to look up that one, either.) By fight time, Margarito could outweigh Pacquiao by as much as 15 pounds–Pacquiao will probably step into the ring at around 150. Margarito will also have an advantage of several inches in height (Manny is just 5’ 7”) and reach, as have most of Manny’s opponents.

There is practically no one left in the lighter weight classifications for Pacquiao to test himself against, so of late he has been fighting bigger men. His record, 51-3-2 with 38 knockouts, sounds pretty impressive, but that’s only part of the story. Since walking into Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles nine years ago, he has lost only one fight, a close 12-round decision to Erik Morales, himself a three-time champion, in 2005. Since then, Pacquiao has been virtually invincible.

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November 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


The Blue State Budget Crisis (Michael Gerson, 11/12/10, Real Clear Politics)

While massive state budget shortfalls are not limited to predominantly Democratic states, they are concentrated in them. "In California and New York," says John Hood of the John Locke Foundation, "the fiscal crisis flirts with bankruptcy." Explanations include rising Medicaid costs, increased spending on higher education, and the long-term challenge of funding public pensions. At the same time, says Hood, "All the major sources of revenue have cratered." The states doing worst are the ones, such as California and New York, that had irresponsible budgets going into the recession. States that were fiscally responsible during good economic times, such as Indiana, have had a softer landing.

The political crisis in many states has been delayed by President Obama's 2009 stimulus package, which temporarily plugged gaps in state budgets, and by a variety of budget gimmicks. Illinois, for example, has simply delayed payouts to doctors providing Medicaid, leaving about $6 billion in unpaid bills that will be eventually covered by the issuing of debt.

But now comes the reckoning.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


PROFANITY ALERT: the original is crazy catchy, but if you sing it aloud you're going to get in trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


The Danger of Cosmic Genius: In the range of his genius, Freeman Dyson is heir to Einstein—a visionary who has reshaped thinking in fields from math to astrophysics to medicine, and who has conceived nuclear-propelled spaceships designed to transport human colonists to distant planets. And yet on the matter of global warming he is, as an outspoken skeptic, dead wrong: wrong on the facts, wrong on the science. How could someone as smart as Dyson be so dumb about the environment? The answer lies in his almost religious faith in the power of man and science to bring nature to heel. (Kenneth Brower, December 2010, The Atlantic)

In August 2009, Dyson appeared on the Charlie Rose show. His inimitable voice—somehow both diffident and firm, its original British accent overlaid by an American one—caught me in transit of my living room, and I pulled up a chair. Dyson has aged well. He has kept himself trim, not to say scrawny, and what he radiates in his 80s is a kind of wizened boyishness. I smiled at the familiar mannerisms. Freeman and his son, George, share an odd, cryptic style of chuckling in which the chin drops, the eyes get merry, and the shoulders shake with laughter, but no sound comes out.

Among intelligent nonexperts who have weighed in on climate change, Freeman Dyson has become, now that Michael Crichton is dead, perhaps our most prominent global-warming skeptic. Charlie Rose began his interview with questions about the climate. Dyson answered that he remained very skeptical about the dangers of global warming. He did not believe the pronouncements of the experts. He did not claim to be an expert himself, so he would not argue the details with anybody; he had not given much time to the issue and did not pretend to know the real answers, but what he knew for sure was that the global-warming experts did not know the answers, either.

Dyson did not deny that the world was getting warmer. What he doubted was the models of the climatologists, and the grave consequences they predicted, and the supposition that global warming is bad. “I went to Greenland myself, where the warming is most extreme,” he said. “And it’s quite spectacular, of course, what you see in Greenland. But what is also true is, the people there love it. The people there hope it continues. It makes their lives a lot more pleasant.”

Dyson argued that melting ice and the resulting sea-level rise is no cause for alarm. He said that the release of increasing volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a very good thing, as it makes plants grow better. The important thing to remember, he said, is that the planet is warming mainly in places that are cold, and at night rather than during the day, so that the phenomenon is essentially making the climate more even, rather than just making everything hotter.

“Have we been kind to the planet?” Rose asked at one point.

“Yes. I would say, on the whole, yes.”

When Rose expressed surprise at this answer, the physicist backtracked slightly.

“No, the fact is, of course, we’ve done a lot of damage to the planet, but we also repair the damage. I grew up in England, and England was far more filthy then than it is now. We had the industrial revolution first, so England was much more polluted than the United States ever has been, and England now is quite comparatively clean. You can go to London and your collar doesn’t get black in one day.”

The question that phrases itself now, in the minds of many, is: how could someone as smart as Freeman Dyson be so dumb?

That humanity has been kind to the planet is not a possible interpretation, not even for a moment—certainly not for anyone who has been paying the slightest attention at any point in the 4,700 years of human history since Gilgamesh logged the cedar forest of the Fertile Crescent. That we repair our damage to the planet is a laughable assertion. It is true that the air is better now in London, and in Los Angeles too. Collars do blacken more slowly in both those places. Some rivers in the developed world are somewhat cleaner, as well: the Cuyahoga has not burned in many years. But it is also true that the Atlantic is afloat with tar balls, and that detached sections of fishnet and broken filaments of longline drift, ghost-fishing, in all our seas. Many of the large cities of Africa, South America, and Asia are megalopolises of desperate poverty ringed by garbage. Vast tracts of tropical rain forest, the planet’s most important carbon sink, disappear annually, burned or logged or mined. Illegal logging is also ravaging the slow-growing boreal forests of Siberia. The ozone hole over Antarctica continues to open every southern spring, exposing all life beneath to unfiltered ultraviolet rays. African wildlife is in precipitous decline. Desertification continues in the Sahel, turning that semi-arid zone into just more Sahara. Frogs are vanishing everywhere. We are in the middle of a mass die-off, the “sixth extinction,” this one caused not by volcanoes or collisions with asteroids and comets, as before, but by mankind—with species disappearing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate prevalent over the 65 million years since the previous great extinction. That one was caused by an asteroid strike—the cataclysm that ended the Cretaceous Period, killing off the dinosaurs and nearly everything else alive. It is wonderful that Dyson, in his trips home to London, finds less soot on his collar, but this is perhaps not the best measure of planetary health.

Many of Dyson’s facts on global warming are wrong, as the scientists who have done actual research on the subject point out, but more disconcerting is the selective way he gathers his information and the peculiar conceptual framework into which he inserts it.

It is true that plants grow better with increases in carbon dioxide. (Photosynthesis is the conversion of carbon dioxide and sunlight into organic compounds, so the more CO2 and sunlight, the better, up to a point.) If a plant’s survival depended only on its metabolism—if all it had to do was photosynthesize—then increased CO2 in the atmosphere might indeed be a good thing. But plants happen to grow in these little universes we call ecosystems, where they are sustained by complex webs of interdependency with fungi, microbes, animals, and other plants. Much of this mutually dependent life is adapted to narrow temperature and rainfall regimes, and these biomes are collapsing everywhere.

Plants do grow better with increased CO2, but not when deprived of water. Water is a vanishing commodity in the American West, where I live, and where, like the Australians and Sudanese and many others, we are enduring a succession of increasingly prolonged and severe droughts. Drought is a paleontological fact in the American West, but the latest desiccations have a new signature, and my region’s climatologists, hydrologists, foresters, and water managers are nearly unanimous in their conviction that what we are seeing now is climate change, the anthropogenic kind, a consequence of too much CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Drought-induced stress increases plants’ susceptibility to disease, and tree diseases are epidemic now in my home landscape and elsewhere. Plants grow better with increased CO2, but not when they are dead snags.

The planet, Dyson assured Rose, is warming mainly in places that are cold; it is not getting hotter so much as the climate is evening out. This is a peculiar analysis. The fact is that the planet is getting hotter, by small but enormously consequential increments. That the warming is most pronounced in cold places is true, but this is no consolation to the creatures that live there. I recently returned from reporting on diminishing sea ice and the decline of penguin populations and krill stocks on the Antarctic Peninsula, the western side of which, over the past half century, has been warming at five times the world’s average rate. I feel obligated to put in a word for the elephant seals, fur seals, crabeater seals, leopard seals, whales, penguins, albatrosses, petrels, and other members of that cold-adapted, krill-dependent fauna. Dyson’s implication that an evening out of global temperatures might somehow be a neutral or beneficial phenomenon is astounding. Temperature differentials at different latitudes and altitudes are a prime driver of planetary weather. Weather patterns, needless to say, are full of consequence not just for penguins and seals, but for all life everywhere.

How could someone as brilliant as Freeman Dyson take the positions he does on global warming and other environmental issues? [...]

In the June 12, 2008, New York Review of Books, in an essay called “The Question of Global Warming,” Dyson reviews books on that subject by William Nordhaus and Ernesto Zedillo. He writes,

All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth.

After halfheartedly endorsing this idea of stewardship, Dyson goes on to lament that “the worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists”—have “adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet.” This is a tragic mistake, he says, for it distracts from the much more serious problems that confront us.

Environmentalism does indeed make a very satisfactory kind of religion. It is the faith in which I myself was brought up. In my family, we had no other. My father, David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club and the founder of Friends of the Earth, could confer no higher praise than “He has the religion.” By this, my father meant that the person in question understood, felt the cause and the imperative of environmentalism in his or her bones. The tenets go something like this: this living planet is the greatest of miracles. We Homo sapiens, for all the exceptionalism of our species, are part of a terrestrial web of life and are utterly dependent upon it. Nature runs the biosphere much better than we do, as we demonstrate with our ham-handedness each time we try. The arc of human history is unsustainable. We cannot go on destroying natural systems and expect to survive.

Freeman Dyson does not have the religion. He has another religion.

“The main point is religious rather than scientific,” he writes, yet never acknowledges that this proposition cuts both ways, never seems to recognize the extent to which his own arguments proceed from faith. Environmentalism worships the wisdom of Nature. Dysonism worships the indomitable ingenuity of Man. Dyson often suggests that science is on his side, but lately little of his popular exposition on planetary matters has anything to do with science. His futurism is solidly in the tradition of Jules Verne, as it has been since he was 8 and wrote “Sir Phillip Roberts’s Erolunar Collision.” On the question of global warming, the world’s climatologists and scientific institutions are almost unanimously arrayed against him. On his predictions for the future of ecosystems, ecologists beg to differ. Dysonian proclamations like “Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over” are not science. (His argument here, which is that cultural evolution has replaced the Darwinian kind, is at best premature and at worst the craziest kind of hubris.) [...]

Freeman, for his part, seems to have settled more deeply into his own secular religion, becoming a prominent evangelist of the faith. He is in such a scientific minority on climate change that his views are easy to dismiss. In the worldview underlying those opinions, however—in the articles of his secular faith—he makes a kind of good vicar for a much more widely accepted set of beliefs, the set that presently drives our civilization. The tenets go something like this: things are not really so bad on this planet. Man is capable of remaking the biosphere in a coherent and satisfactory way. Technology will save us.

In “Our Biotech Future,” a 2007 essay in The New York Review of Books, Dyson writes,

Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures … New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora.

He goes on to predict that computer-style biotech games will be played by children down to kindergarten age, games in which real seeds and eggs are manipulated, the winner being the kid who grows the prickliest cactus or the cutest dinosaur. “These games will be messy and possibly dangerous. Rules and regulations will be needed to make sure that our kids do not endanger themselves and others.”

One always searches Dyson’s prognostications for hints of irony. Surely this vision of powerful biotechnology in the hands of housewives and kindergartners—godlike power exercised by human amateurs as amusement—is a Swiftian suggestion, Dyson’s try at “A Modest Proposal.” But nowhere in this essay will you find a single sly wink. Dyson is serious.

How is it possible to misapprehend so profoundly so much about how the real world works?

Mr. Dyson would seem to believe that Man can change the environment significantly, both for good and ill. Mr. Brower would seem to believe that Man can change the environment significantly, but only for ill. It's an argument within a religion, not between them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Bill Clinton praises Bush book (MIKE ALLEN, 11/12/10, Politico)

"I think people of all political stripes should read it," Clinton said in a statement Friday. [...]

"The book may not change the minds of those who disagree with decisions President Bush made, but it will help you to understand better the forces that molded him and the convictions that drove him to make those decisions.

"I hope 'Decision Points' will help my fellow Democrats to see why I like George Bush, in spite of our differences, and will encourage all Americans, whatever our politics, to be more open to listening to and working with those with whom we disagree. America needs that now." that when you search for it at Amazon Tony Blair's book comes up too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


The high cost of low prices: Our bizarre obsession with vanity gadgets allows us to feign class equality -- and that's bad for everyone (David Sirota, 11/12/10, Salon)

At the level of logic -- i.e., the level of Best Buy showroom decisions -- cheap seems to make financial sense. The printer may quickly die, but why worry if printer prices keep dropping? New televisions may last only half as long as they once did, but what's the big deal if those televisions now cost a third of what they used to?

At what level is it not a good deal to get a superior product cheaper?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Hot Counties Turn Red (Danny Yadron, 11/12/10, WSJ)

Voters backed GOP House candidates in 44 of the 50 fastest growing counties of the U.S., based on a 2009 study by the U.S. Census Bureau. Counties that fall in more than one House district were counted as Republican if voters mostly backed the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Stop the world I want to get off: Obama's global merry-go-round and the three brass rings (David Rothkopf, November 12, 2010, Foreign Policy)

The frustrations and missteps of this trip, especially those encountered in Seoul, could have been easily avoided. First, the United States could be somewhat less disingenuous about our economic policies. I am a supporter and admirer of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in most things, but his line that "We will never seek to weaken our currency as a tool to gain competitive advantage or grow the economy…" has to go down as the howler of the month, and may qualify for howler of the year honors next month. In the wake of QE2 and longer-term easing, money-pumping policies -- which are clearly designed to offset what are seen as unfair Chinese currency practices -- the United States is guilty of promoting precisely the race to the bottom that earned such broad condemnation from Europeans, Asians, and other emerging powers in Seoul.

The failure of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement talks is also due to American misplays. Long ago in this space I warned about the mistake of giving too much authority to the office of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in appointing senior officials at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. This week, Baucus' influence apparently triggered the breakdown of the Seoul talks. Sources suggest that the Montana senator pushed for greater beef market access beyond what the Koreans had repeatedly said were their limits. The result: A deal the president promised would be done this week floundered -- and its prospects do not look good.

Should the White House, then, have been as surprised and disgruntled as it was this morning by the two column New York Times lead headline "Obama's Economic View Rejected on the World Stage"? Heck no. Them's the facts. What's more, like the election results, perhaps it was a message the team needed to see written out in bold dark type.

...can usually escape trouble for awhile when they go abroad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


The Greatest One-Off in Movie History: The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton's only film, influenced Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers. (Elbert Ventura, Nov. 9, 2010, Slate)

Shot by the great Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer on Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter is a magic lantern of a movie. Cortez remarked that only two directors he worked with understood light, "that incredible thing that can't be described": Welles and Laughton. Refracted through the prism of a child's nightmare, it is a movie of skewed perspectives and shadow play. Preacher's entry into John and Pearl's lives, one of the great first encounters in movies, is a baroque coup:

John's nightmare will only get worse. As Preacher insinuates himself in the children's hometown, only the boy intuits the evil within. Pauline Kael called it "one of the most frightening films ever made," but its scares come not from Grand Guignol horrors or gotcha moments. There's something deeply primal at work here: The subterranean charge coursing through the picture is our childhood terror of having no grown-up left to turn to. The fatherless John sees his mother meet and fall in love with the Preacher; the townspeople are no less captivated by the charismatic madman. In perhaps the movie's most famous scene, the Preacher tells a parable that also gestures toward Laughton's grand theme:

In memory, The Night of the Hunter stands out as a chase movie—which is strange because much of it actually stays put. But there's a good reason for that trick of the mind. At the movie's heart is a pursuit, as the children, abandoned by adults, escape from the Preacher and drift downriver on a skiff. Evoking biblical legend and American lore, the river sequence is one of the greatest in all of cinema:

At the end of that ride is refuge. Like Moses rescued from the riverbank, John and Pearl are found by an old lady, Mrs. Cooper (the great Lillian Gish), a Mother Goose figure who becomes their guardian. (Further evidence of Laughton's film sense: when she first brings the children home, Mrs. Cooper walks briskly across the screen from right to left, the camera tracking along with her—in emphatic opposition to the left-to-right movement of the chase.)

It is with the appearance of Gish that Laughton's movie, already remarkable, deepens into a grander statement of formal and thematic purpose. Laughton considered Gish the lynchpin of the entire project. For Laughton, the way to get at truths was through the simplest forms: fairy tales, Bible stories, and, of course, the silent pictures. D.W. Griffith's greatest star, Gish was for Laughton a living, breathing avatar of the elemental power of the movies.

But Gish embodies more than that. Shimmering with righteousness and good American sense, her pious Mrs. Cooper is the crucial counterweight to Mitchum's Preacher. Her presence broadens the movie's scope, helping it rise above a mere critique of American parochial fundamentalism to an encompassing portrait of humanity's complexity. Just as LOVE and HATE both reside in the soul of man, so do faith and religion serve a corrosive purpose but an ennobling one as well. If Preacher (and, to a lesser extent, the sanctimonious townsfolk who can't spot iniquity when it's staring them in the face) represents blinkered zealotry and certainty, Mrs. Cooper redeems the purpose of faith, emblematizing Christian compassion and strength. Religion as double-edged sword reaches its expressive apogee in a climactic scene, with Preacher laying siege to Mrs. Cooper's house, singing a gospel hymn—only to be joined in song by the old lady, singing her own words of devotion...

...includes Youtube bits of the referenced scenes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Tragedy of the technocrats (Steve Randy Waldman, Interfluidity)

Paul Krugman laments that we have been “mugged by the moralizers” and admonishes us that “economics is not a morality play“.

But the thing is, human affairs are a morality play, and economics, if it is to be useful at all, must be an account of human affairs. I have my share of disagreements with both Krugman and DeLong, but on balance I view them as smart, well-meaning people who would do more good than harm if they had greater influence over policy. But they won’t, and they can’t, and they shouldn’t, if they exempt themselves from the moral fray. One of the stereotyped insults economists throw at one another is that a piece of analysis is “partial equilibrium”. The phrase is shorthand for coming to a conclusion based on assumptions that could not survive the circumstances under which the conclusion would obtain. I don’t want to single out Krugman and DeLong, but technocratic economists in general engage in partial equilibrium social science when they ignore moral concerns and the constraints “legitimacy” places on feasible policy.

It should be no surprise that human collectives choose policies destructive of GDP or employment growth when they deem those policies to be wrong or unjust. Individual human beings act against their material interests all the time, providing full employment for economists who endlessly study the “ultimatum game“. Political choice combines diffuse personal costs with powerful moral signifiers. We should expect politics, including the politics that determines economic policy, to be dripping with moralism. And sure enough, it is! This doesn’t mean that policy outcomes are actually moral. (There’s a hypothesis we can falsify quickly.) But exhortations to policy that cannot survive in terms of moral framing are nullities. They are no less absurd than proposals to “whip inflation” by demanding increased production while simultaneously imposing price ceilings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Robert Randolph And The Family Band In Concert (World Cafe, 11/12/10)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Henryk Gorecki, Composer Of 'Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs,' Dies At Age 76 (Thomas Huizenga, 11/12/10, NPR)

Gorecki was little known outside Poland until a 1992 recording of his Symphony No. 3, subtitled the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," shot up the charts, eventually selling well over a million copies, and was heard on radio stations around the world.

The symphony, which Gorecki wrote in 1976, is centered on three texts — including a prayer inscribed by a teenager on a cell wall of a Gestapo headquarters — which the composer turned into haunting laments, backed by simple, slowly churning surges of beautiful music.

But in 1976, such music was frowned upon by academics, and the symphony, as Gorecki recalled through an interpreter in a 1995 NPR interview, received a cool reception.

Henryk Górecki, Polish composer, dies (The Telegraph, 11/12/10)
-OBIT: Polish composer Henryk Gorecki dies at the age of 76 (BBC, 11/12/10)
His early works were avant-garde in style, and later influenced by folk music of his native land.

By the 1970s he had developed the monumental style for which he became famous.

He was often at odds with the communist authorities in Poland and withdrew from public life in the 1980s to concentrate on composing.

His Symphony No. 3, which dealt with themes of war and separation in a slow, stark style, became the best-selling record by a contemporary composer.

Gorecki had completed his fourth symphony, the premiere of which was shelved on account of his illness.

Henryk Górecki, RIP (Gregory Wolfe, 11/12/10, Commonweal)
It is said that when a Los Angeles classical radio station first played the Symphony No. 3 (”Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) by the Polish composer Henryk Górecki in the early 1990s, cars could be seen pulling to the side of the freeways because the drivers’ eyes were full of tears. The symphony, which incorporated included a 15th-century lament, a Silesian folk song, and words written by a teenage girl on the wall of her Gestapo prison cell, brought Górecki international acclaim.

Górecki has often been grouped with composers like Arvo Paert and John Tavener–they’ve been called the “holy minimalists.” But Górecki’s music ranged beyond minimalism and cannot be so easily pigeon-holed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Why Cliff Lee buyers ought to beware: The history of free agency is littered with starting pitchers who went bust (Mark Simon, 11/11/10,

ESPN Stats & Information has compiled a list of all of the free-agent signings since the 1990-91 offseason.

In that span, there have been 52 instances in which a pitcher signed a contract of four years or more.

How many of those have been success stories? It depends on how you want to define success.

We're going to use two stats to measure it -- starts and adjusted ERA+.

Starts is self-explanatory. You figure if the pitcher is healthy and pitching well, he'll have a bunch. An injured or ineffective pitcher won't.

Adjusted ERA+ is a stat tracked by that measures how much better/worse a pitcher's ERA is than his peers that season, making slight tweaks for the ballpark in which he primarily pitched.

If a pitcher has an adjusted ERA+ of 120, it means he was 20 percent better than the rest of the league. That's a good rating. (For reference, CC Sabathia's 3.18 ERA matched to a 134 ERA+ in 2010; Andy Pettitte's 3.28 ERA rated a 130.)

If he has an adjusted ERA+ of 80, he's 20 percent worse (100 minus 80) than the league. Javier Vazquez (5.32 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (5.25 ERA) had ERA+ of 80 and 81, respectively.

You figure if a team gives a pitcher a four-plus year deal, it has high expectations for that pitcher's durability and skill, perhaps hoping for 30 starts a season and an adjusted ERA+ of 120 or better over the life of the contract.

How many times out of the 52 did the pitcher hit that criteria?


Two of those were pitching versions of Superman -- Greg Maddux from 1993 to 1997 and Randy Johnson from 1999 to 2002.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


A Deficit of Nerve: Obama's commission has ideas that Republicans can use. (WSJ, 11/11/10)

The chairmen are on better ground arguing for fundamental tax reform that would swap lower rates for fewer loopholes and "tax expenditures." On the latter, the draft is right to put the mortgage interest deduction on the table, as taboo as that is in Washington. If we've learned anything from the last decade, it ought to be that our many housing subsidies have led to a misallocation of capital with few benefits. Canada has no such deduction but a higher rate of home ownership.

Ditto for the employer deduction for health insurance, which costs some $200 billion a year and has also distorted incentives by creating a system of third-party payments. Individuals who bear little responsibility for their health-care expenses have little incentive to reduce costs, much less lead a healthier life-style that would save money over time. Refocusing this tax benefit on the needy while encouraging wealthier consumers to economize would help health markets and the federal budget.

The chairmen also take aim at the corporate tax rate, proposing in one option a reduction to 26%. Everyone to the right of knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker's economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement.

The draft also proposes spending cuts, albeit far too timidly. Its discretionary spending proposals would take outlays down only to 2010 levels, though Republicans have already promised to take them back to 2008. We wonder if this is a bow to Democrats who think that spending at 25% of GDP should be the new normal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Obama's G-20 Misfire (Zachary Karabell, 11/11/10, Daily Beast)

hatever Obama’s personal stature, this isn’t an argument that other countries are buying. The problem isn’t a looming currency war or any imminent backlash—global currencies are so linked that no one can retaliate without doing themselves great harm. The problem is that in the search for common frameworks to create a more stable future, the United States government is advocating policies that treat the world as a 20th-century collection of nations rather than a 21st-century mishmash of competing and intertwined state and non-state actors.

The U.S. is hardly alone in clinging to this anachronism. One could argue that all governments see the world through the lens of national sovereignty. But the steadfast mantra, coming from the United States and urged on the leading nations of the world, that global imbalances caused the recent crisis is a bigger problem than if a similar perspective were coming from, say, Argentina.

For all Obama’s creativity and nimbleness, his international economic team embraces an orthodox economic view of the global system that treats trade deficits or surpluses, current account deficits or surpluses, and differing patterns of consumption and production as imbalances in need of correcting. But just because that thesis has been repeated endlessly doesn’t make it true. In a world where trillions of dollars in public and private capital flows unimpeded daily, where every major company in the world has constructed global supply chains extending through dozens if not hundreds of countries, where any individual good may be manufactured in five or 10 countries, what is the point of holding each country to some theoretical notion of “balance”?

Take the ubiquitous BlackBerry, made by a Canadian company whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange; whose devices may be produced with rubber from Malaysia, chip sets from Korea or Taiwan, assembled in a plant in Mexico, Hungary or China, with intellectual property from the United States; shipped on Greek container ships to Long Beach, California, over CSX rails to a German T-Mobile store in New York. Is that an import from Mexico, or from Canada, or from anywhere?

Or take current accounts. If China has a $2.6 trillion surplus, over half of which is then invested in U.S. Treasury bonds, how is that purely a current account deficit, when the money is pumped directly into the U.S. economy?

There is no orthodoxy that the UR questions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Social Democrats call for alcolocks on new cars (The Local, 12 Nov 10)

The Social Democrats have proposed that all new cars sold in Sweden should come equipped with ignition locks to prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated.'s one of those inevitable safety innovations that the Right will waste tremendous energy fighting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Bush Agonistes? Not Quite: In an interview, the former president makes the case for his 'freedom agenda' and defends his record on the economy and spending (Kim Strassel, 11/10/10, WSJ)

If his book has an overriding theme, it is Mr. Bush's case for his "freedom agenda." He defines it broadly: from Afghanistan and Iraq, to his African AIDS work, to tax cuts. One major criticism of his Iraq policy is that the turmoil in that country has empowered Iran, which continues to move toward a bomb.

"The notion that we went into Iraq and therefore the Iranians became emboldened—it was the opposite," Mr. Bush says. "The Iranians, it turns out, suspended their program," he continues, referring to a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate finding that Tehran had halted its weapons program in 2003. He says that it wasn't until mid-2005 that Iranian elections brought to power Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who announced the process of nuclear enrichment would accelerate.

As for those who feel Mr. Bush wasn't aggressive enough, the president disputes the notion that Iran can be compared to Iraq. "Diplomacy was just beginning in Iran, the world was just beginning to focus," he says. Mr. Bush takes credit for "helping focus" that attention.

One revelation in the book is the degree to which Mr. Bush's Iran strategy hinged on internal political revolt. His goal, on the one hand, was to "slow down" the Iranian "capacity to develop a weapon," which he chose to do with sanctions. On the other hand, his administration tried to "speed up" the ability of reformers to institute change. He writes of his belief that the success of the surge and a free Iraq would "help catalyze that change," and he points to last year's massive street protests following Ahmadinejad's re-election.

What about the critique that Afghanistan was left to fester while the president dealt with Iraq, setting up a return of the Taliban and the need for President Obama to send more troops? "What I say is, we had a large coalition of troops in Afghanistan and it looked like we were making progress." He notes that "when it became apparent that the NATO coalition was not able to cohesively deal with the Taliban," he ordered a 2006 "silent surge" in Afghanistan—a 50% troop increase. "We were plenty capable of doing two things at the same time."

Mr. Bush writes that one of two major "setbacks in Iraq" was not finding WMD. He writes it still gives him a "sickening feeling." I ask why, given the myriad reasons he lays out for removing Saddam. The problem, he says, was what the lack of WMD meant for the public's perception of the war.

"The world is better off and more secure without Saddam Hussein in power. But so much of the case—and so much of the focus—was on WMD, that the failure to find it made the task of convincing the American people to hang in there harder." The Bush doctrine rested on "going on offense." And in Mr. Bush's mind, this failure risked a "wave of isolationism that would effect U.S. security" by putting Americans off future pre-emptive action.

Should he have fought back harder against those who accused him of lying about WMD, as Karl Rove argued in his memoir? "His point is that I should have gotten in their face about the lying, and I chose not to do that because I thought it would diminish the presidency. . . . You start calling names, it makes it even harder to hold the support of the American people." [...]

Then there are the anecdotes about Jacques Chirac, who at several points lectures the U.S. on the folly of morality or idealism. When I ask the president if he wants to expand, he starts, stops, and gives that Bush chuckle. "Let's just say he wasn't a freedom-agenda guy."

Mr. Bush devotes his final chapter to the financial meltdown: The White House anxiety he describes nearly equals his narration of 9/11. He heaps most of the blame on Wall Street. As for too-loose Federal Reserve policy, which many see as the groundwork for the housing bubble, Mr. Bush refers to "easy money" only once among a list of contributing factors.

I ask if anybody ever specifically warned him about the Fed's feeding of the mortgage beast. "No, not really. I think that the only place, the main place, where we get credit for having seen a potential crisis is Fannie and Freddie." (The administration's proposed reforms were blocked by Congress.) "The crisis blindsided us."

While a Democratic Congress this year passed a slew of financial regulations, Mr. Bush argues this wasn't "a lack-of-regulation crisis, except for the extent to which Fannie and Freddie were allowed to run wild. . . . This was a regulated house of cards—regulators were watching it all. . . . This was a crisis that was caused in large part by bad business decisions."

If that was the case, why weren't more banks left to fail? Did the administration discuss what particular institutions were too big to fail? "No," Mr. Bush answers, adding that he believes in letting the market punish bad decisions but in this case the economy was in the balance. "We didn't want any of them to fail because we were really worried that there would be a domino effect."

Unprompted, he adds that this fear is why the administration bailed out General Motors. Did he genuinely believe that a GM bankruptcy would cause an economic freefall? "That's what I was told. I think at that point in time it would have been still pretty risky." I must still look skeptical because he adds: "I hope I conveyed in the book this sense, that we were," he throws his hands in the air, as if to summon the anxiety of those weeks. "We were pretty risk-averse at this point. We really were."

Why did the administration inject TARP money directly into banks—a move that tarred healthy banks along with sick ones—rather than proceed with the original idea to buy up toxic assets? "Because it was too cumbersome. It was an interesting idea, but it wasn't going to work quickly enough. Whose assets? How do you buy them? . . . We didn't have a lot of time." With capital injections, the money went "boom, right into the system."

Will the fact that the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression happened on his watch overshadow his accomplishments on the war on terror? Again, that confidence. "Naaaaah. I think history will eventually say that the Bush administration dealt with this in a way that saved the economy. . . We didn't have a depression—and I thought one was coming. I did."

One perception the president is determined to shift is that of his spending record. "Decision Points" contains one graphic: a table comparing, among other things, President Bush's average spending-to-GDP (19.6%) to that of Bill Clinton (19.8%), Bush 41 (21.9%), and Reagan (22.4%). It also shows that his deficit-to-GDP was 2%—half that of Bush 41 and Reagan.

I come armed with a slew of spending questions. Why didn't he veto more GOP spending bills? Why didn't he use the war as a reason to cut back on domestic spending? But he shuts me down by referring to the chart. I point out that, chart or no, there is a perception he oversaw fiscal profligacy.

"Yes, there is," he concedes. "I think the Medicare reform caused certain conservative writers to say 'Bush has been fiscally irresponsible.' And they did not look at the facts. And the facts are that we have a very solid fiscal record"—despite spending "a lot of money" on war, homeland security, and Hurricane Katrina.

But what about 2003 Medicare reform, which saw Republicans add a major new prescription drug entitlement? He rejects the premise of the question. "The entitlement already existed, and the entitlement was Medicare. And that's the threshold question—should we have Medicare? If the answer is no, my attitude is fine, go debate it. If the answer is yes, then let's modernize it." The prescription-drug program is about allowing Medicare to give seniors a "$15 drug in order to prevent a $30,000 operation that your taxpayer money would be committed to paying."

Congress will soon be debating the fate of the Bush tax cuts. They were the centerpiece of his 2000 campaign and have been an unadulterated supply-side victory. As the memoir notes, what followed the 2003 legislation—which included important cuts in top marginal rates, capital gains and dividend taxes—was 46 consecutive months of growth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Bush Cuts Loose With Administration Alumni (Chris Stirewalt, November 11, 2010, Fox News)

When asked what he didn't get to do as president that he wanted, Bush talked about his failed effort to reform Social Security. He told the audience, a capacity crowd at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce auditorium, that he wished that they had dealt with immigration first - before it became such a hot button - and then turned to entitlement reform.

Bush lamented resistance to his Social Security plan among congressional Republicans, attributing it to short-term electoral concerns.

Bush was relaxed both in his remarks in during the question and answer session, riffing on topics and making many jokes.

"He seemed less guarded and like he was having a good time," said the former insider. "It was kind of a return to the more freewheeling President Bush we used to know."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Deficit Panel Leader Tweaks White House (JANET HOOK and JOHN D. MCKINNON, 11/12/10, WSJ)

The Democratic co-chairman of a deficit-reduction panel convened by the White House said that the blueprint he unveiled Wednesday was the product of lengthy discussions with Republicans, and he appeared to question past efforts by the administration to engage with the GOP on fiscal matters.

"I told people in the White House I had spent more time listening to people in the opposition party than they had done as a whole group," said Erskine Bowles, in an interview the day after he and Republican co-chairman Alan K. Simpson released a proposal for deep spending cuts and broad tax changes touching almost every aspect of the federal budget. [...]

Although the plan drew criticism from the political left and the right, complaints from liberal Democrats were especially pointed. A proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age rankled liberals, who this fall gathered the signatures of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers and candidates urging the commission to reject cuts in retirement benefits. Democrats said the plan was skewed toward spending cuts, which accounted for about 75% of the projected savings. making Mr. Bowles his chief of staff.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Map narrows for Obama reelection (JONATHAN MARTIN | 11/11/10, Politico)

Last week’s midterm elections saw the trio of conservative-leaning states Obama captured in 2008 — Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana — return to their Republican tendencies while more traditional swing states also broke sharply toward the GOP.

Perhaps most worrisome for Democrats, Rust Belt and Midwest states that had been trending toward the party even before Obama’s election saw Republicans pile up victories. In places such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where the president won with double-digit margins two years ago, the GOP captured offices up and down the ballot and demonstrated that they remain politically competitive in those states. [...]

Democratic consultant Paul Begala noted that of the eight states that went from red to blue between 2004 and 2008 on the presidential level, Democrats won either the governor’s race or a Senate race in just two of them — Nevada and Colorado — during the past two years. Combined, those two are likely to deliver just 15 electoral votes in 2012.

“If Obama holds the Kerry states and carries only the states in which Democrats prevailed in 2010, he loses,” Begala said.

What many in the party believe — and more now are willing to voice publicly — is that 2008 may have been a referendum on President George W. Bush and that Obama’s victory was owed in large part to exhaustion with the outgoing administration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Obama is a free-trade catastrophe (Phil Levy Friday, November 12, 2010, Foreign Policy)

President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan.

Unlike some of the trade agreements the United States has pursued in the last decade, this one is with an economically significant partner. KORUS could bring billions of dollars of new trade opportunities and the Obama administration had cited it as one part of its National Export Initiative, a plan to double U.S. exports in five years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The Zealotry Of Free Thinkers: Many philosophes ended up gouty and spherical, despite the austerities: a review of A Wicked Company by Philipp Blom (Michael Burleigh, 11/11/10, WSJ)

The radicalism of Mr. Blom's group of thinkers consisted of advocating democracy over monarchy and aristocracy; racial and gender equality; the right to choose one's individual way of life; freedom of thought and expression, including freedom of the press; and, finally, religious toleration, including the right to believe in nothing at all. Most important, they thought there were no fields of human activity that might not benefit from the application of philosophic reason. [...]

As Mr. Blom concedes, the more mainstream Enlightenment thinkers were appalled by the social implications of his radicals' views. And even the radicals themselves seemed to have had their doubts. Voltaire was not alone in wishing dark religion upon his servants, to inhibit their thieving fingers, even though he remained a deist himself. Rousseau was also, rightly, worried about the coldness of a purely material universe. And consider a love letter that Diderot wrote in 1759 to his mistress, Sophie: "If there were a kind of law of affinity among our organizing principles, if we could make up one shared being . . . if the molecules of your dissolved lover could become agitated, move and seek your molecules scattered through nature!" Poor Sophie.

Unfortunately, Rousseau's instrumental view of "civic" religion would lead, directly, to the grotesqueries of the Jacobins' Cult of Reason—personified by the fat actress Désirée Candéille prancing about half-naked as the "Goddess of Reason" in Notre Dame in 1793—and to the state's systematic murder of those who rejected such secular cults, a prefigurement of the age of Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

Mr. Blom seems to be celebrating the thinkers of the radical Enlightenment for positing "a world of ignorant necessity and without higher meaning, into which kindness and lust can inject a fleeting beauty." That view of the world is certainly embraced by their intellectual descendants today. But judging by the crowds of people I recently saw mob Pope Benedict XVI on a grim London public-housing estate, it may take more than Mr. Blom's book to make the radical Enlightenment broadly appealing, especially since the pope's message combines faith, love and reason.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Tea-Totaler (Hillary Chabot, November 11, 2010, Boston Herald)

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — a sometime Tea Party darling who’s been tagged as a potential 2012 target after the Bay State’s Democratic landslide in last week’s elections — yesterday downplayed the importance of the controversial conservative movement and its new foothold in Washington.

“I’m not sure who they are,” said Brown when asked about the election of senators with reported Tea Party ties.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 AM


Israel, like Obama, seeing importance in India ties (Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi · November 11, 2010, JTA)

President Obama’s trip to India this week highlights India’s growing importance to the United States. Similarly, cooperation between India and Israel is expanding, as the importance of each country to the other increases.

India, Israel and the U.S. have much in common. They are three major democracies on three continents and are allies to one another. They share the same values of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to vote, strong judicial oversight, women’s rights and more. All three are waging battles against extremist fundamentalists who have launched terrorist attacks against them.

India is the world’s largest democracy, with a population of 1.2 billion, and a growing global economic power. It can have an enormous influence on Israel’s strategic position in the world militarily, diplomatically and economically. India has a real and active interest in the Middle East because of its massive reliance on oil from Iran and other Arab countries that have sustained its economic growth while, to a frightening degree, given money to mullahs who want to destroy Western values and Israel.

Yet in recent years, India and Israel have joined together in counterterrorism efforts and have increased trade and economic ties significantly.

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November 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Democrats angry over Obama tax deal talk (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 11/11/10, Politico)

[I]n the eyes of liberal and moderate Democrats alike, President Barack Obama has blinked — even before the new House Republican majority takes office.

Between Obama’s weekly address Saturday and comments Wednesday by his senior adviser David Axelrod, the White House has made clear that it intends to compromise — ceding to Republican demands to extend the high-end tax cuts temporarily in exchange for renewing the middle-class tax cuts due to expire at year’s end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


'Breaker' Morant legend poised for a rewrite (Paola Totaro, November 11, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald)

Fairfax Media has confirmed that the British Secretary of Defence, Dr Liam Fox, has delivered a letter to former Australian military lawyer James Unkles after considering new evidence which, if accepted, could pave the way for a review or even a royal pardon. [...]

Most Australians know the story of Breaker Morant thanks to the 1980 award winning film starring Jack Thompson, Brian Brown and Edward Woodward. But for close to a century, controversy has surrounded the trials of Lieutenants Morant and Peter Handcock, who were found guilty of the murder of 12 prisoners of war in the dying days of the Boer War.

A third soldier, George Witton, also from the largely Australian Bushveldt Carbineers, was sentenced to life but was freed in 1904 after the presentation of a petition of more than 80,000 signatures to King Edward VII. All three officers had insisted they had simply been following orders.

Commander Unkles believes that the men were acting under direct orders from Captain Hunt, who had been a friend of Morant but who was murdered and his body mutilated by Boer fighters shortly before.

It has also been argued that British forces chief, Lord Kitchener, had issued an informal order that troops fighting the Boers, including the Bushveldt Carbineers unit, should not take prisoners.

Commander Unkles, who has doggedly pursued the campaign to petition the Governor-General to grant a royal pardon for the three on behalf of their descendants, is adamant that the passing of time since the men's convictions is irrelevant. [...]

"The passing of time ... does not diminish the errors of injustice," he said.

"They were treated unfairly."

He said the petition was also a vehicle to demonstrate to the public that due process and fairness were hallmarks of Australia's democratic system.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Kevin Rubs It In (MAUREEN DOWD, 11/10/10, NY Times)

Here are my random thoughts for 2010:

To Sarah Palin: Mirror, mirror on the wall, you’re the fairest of them all. You don’t need to run for the presidency.

To Nancy Pelosi: It’s hard to watch a noble ideal ravaged by facts. We’re going to need that military jet back.

To Keith Olbermann: A welcome, but all too brief, respite. Thank God you’re not handicapping horses.

To Chris Matthews: Is that tingle now a spasm?

To Jon Stewart: Good work and great rally! You tower above your critics.

To Alan Grayson: Good riddance.

To Eric Holder: Try suing the bad guys.

To Chris Van Hollen: Pickett was not promoted after Gettysburg.

To Jimmy Carter: You make my hair hurt.

To Vivian Schiller: Too bad the truth didn’t set you free — as in fired.

To President Bush : A 50-to-42 winner over Obama in a mock presidential poll in Ohio after doing absolutely nothing. A Nobel Prize is on the way.

MoDo and Tina Fey both play Liz Lemon, the lonely woman pretending to be a liberal because it's socially acceptable in her circles. But at night Ms Fey gets to go home to a husband and kid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


GM reports $2 billion in third-quarter earnings: Higher sales and cost-cutting are key to the automaker's third straight quarterly profit. It's on track to have its first full-year profit since 2004 as it prepares for a public offering next week. (W.J. Hennigan, 11/11/10, Los Angeles Times)

General Motors Co. posted its third consecutive profitable quarter Wednesday and is on track to have its first full-year profit since 2004.

The Detroit automaker's announcement of a $2-billion profit comes just days before its public offering Nov. 18.

Bolstered by higher auto sales, GM reported that revenue rose 28% to $34.1 billion in the quarter. Earnings per share jumped $1.20, compared with a loss of 73 cents a share a year earlier, the company said. [...]

A year ago, GM was fresh from bankruptcy protection. From 2005 to 2009, the automaker racked up about $88 billion in losses.

It emerged in June 2009 after the U.S. government bailed out the company and took a 61% stake through $50 billion in loans and stock purchases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Rep. Michele Bachmann drops out of House GOP race (USA Today, 11/11/10)

Rep. Michele Bachmann, a favorite of the Tea Party movement, has dropped out of the race for House Republican Conference chair, the party's No. 4 leadership post.

Bachmann, a Minnesota lawmaker and founder of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, endorsed rival Rep. Jeb Hensarling for the job. In a statement, Bachmann said her Texas colleague "has my enthusiastic support."

The Grand New—and Old—Party (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 11/06/10, WSJ)
Asked what he wanted to do in Washington in a Wednesday morning television interview, the senator-elect said that his kids were hoping to meet the Obama girls. He has made other concessions to the mainstream. He now avoids his dad's talk of shuttering the Federal Reserve and abolishing the income tax. In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad "symbol" of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky's share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it's doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. "I will advocate for Kentucky's interests," he says.

So you're not a crazy libertarian? "Not that crazy," he cracks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Ban Ki who? (Colum Lynch, November 10, 2010, Foreign Policy)

[I]n his memoir, Decision Points, the U.N.'s principal players barely merit a citation.

Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General who famously declared the U.S. invasion of Iraq illegal, is mentioned only once in the book: He appears with Bush and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at a White House photo op organized to announce U.S. financial support for the struggle against infectious diseases.

Ban Ki Moon, the former South Korean diplomat Bush backed to succeed Annan as the U.N.'s leader, doesn't merit any mention at all. Nor does Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian diplomat who helped the Bush administration cobble together an Afghan government after U.S. troops defeated the Taliban; nor Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat who died trying to help a U.S.-led coalition forge a new Iraqi government. Even John Bolton, Bush's combative U.N. envoy, is nowhere to be seen.

The lapse perhaps reflects the lack of interest in the details of U.N. diplomacy or in the role key U.N. figures played in the political drama surrounding Iraq. Bush is blunt about his disdain for U.N. diplomacy, noting that he never believed he required a U.N. imprimatur for his invasion of Iraq, and that he had only agreed to seek U.N. authorization as a favor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In his September 12, 2002 speech to the UN he offered the member states a chance to live up to their ideals and enforce their own resolutions against Iraq or we'd do it for them. They didn't. We did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Obama, Lee fail to sign free trade agreement (Bloomberg, 11/11/10)

U.S. President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung Bak failed to reach agreement on a free-trade accord, or FTA, and said talks will continue after the Group of 20 summit in Seoul. [...]

Obama has shied away from pushing trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in Congress amid high unemployment and opposition from some fellow Democrats and the party’s supporters in organized labor. Ford Motor and the United Auto Workers union have led opposition to the trade accord, citing the need to address South Korea’s tax and regulatory regimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


New Zealand’s Great Regression: New Zealand was once a beacon to the Western world for classical liberal reform. No longer. Where did it all go wrong? (Luke Malpass, October 20, 2010 , The American)

For followers of global politics and supporters of liberalizing reforms, New Zealand served as a shining example of brisk change. If the nation upset the non-communist world with its antinuclear policy in the 1980s, it also provided fertile ground for many of the ideas of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and, in the latter stages of reform, Joseph Schumpeter.

To understand the liberalizing period of 1984 to 1993, which was essentially an aberration in the modern political history of New Zealand, it is important to know just how out of character these reforms were for New Zealand. It is also important to understand the moribund state of the economy prior to the changes. It was, in popular language, considered a “Polish shipyard.” One of New Zealand’s most ardent reformers and successful entrepreneurs, Alan Gibbs, has called it a “feudal economy” and a “nonsense economy.” And nonsense it was. [...]

It has been argued quite persuasively that New Zealand’s history, especially since World War I, was marked by its search for security. New Zealand lost more soldiers per capita than any other nation in World War I—and this shaped its society and the way it viewed the world for a long time. The legacy of the Great War was exacerbated by the emasculating experience of the Great Depression and the subsequent trauma of World War II. Protectionist walls were erected—security of living, certainty about life, and a “fair go” were given priority over dynamism, change, and international engagement. The 1950s and ’60s were New Zealand’s “golden years”—it had the highest living standards in the world in the 1950s, largely due to postwar export industries, particularly sheep products to the United Kingdom. But hidden behind this prosperity were the seeds of a long period of decline and a slow process of the stultification of society. The nation was complacent during the good times, and successive governments combined a “she’ll be right” attitude with a misguided belief in the long-term viability of protectionist policies. It took 40 years for the consequences to hit home.

When they did, the nation responded with radical reforms in 1984. From being one of the most closed-off economies in the world, New Zealand became one of the most liberalized. When the Fourth Labour Government was elected in 1984, almost every area of the economy except the stock market was heavily regulated with tariff and quota protection import licenses and the granting of monopolies. As part of its protectionist policies, government imposed a total wage and price freeze for almost two years in 1982. The government owned about half of the economy and provided cradle-to-the-grave welfare.

Education, healthcare, welfare, and risk insurance were all (and still largely are) free and public. Many industries had some form of protection through quotas, tariffs, monopolies, import licensing, or subsidies. The top rate of income tax was 66 cents in the dollar. Inflation and unemployment were in the double digits and the overvalued dollar on a fixed exchange rate.

By 1989, the Labour government, led by Prime Minister David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas, had halved the top rate of tax to 33 cents in the dollar and introduced a universal goods and services tax (GST or consumption tax). It removed all support for agriculture, removed or began dismantling the tariff wall, floated the dollar, and turned many loss-making government departments into profit-driven, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and then privatized a swag of them. The principle of “user pays” was applied across the state sector to efficiently price government-provided goods and services. The Lange government set up an independent reserve bank with the sole responsibility of meeting inflation targets agreed upon with the government of the day.

In 1990, the conservative National government, led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Finance Minister Ruth Richardson, curtailed the welfare state and deregulated the labor market through the Employment Contracts Act. This ended a hundred years of centralized wage arbitration and conciliation, which was essentially centralized wage fixing facilitated by government and applicable for a set time period across whole industries, regardless of local conditions. To put an end to post-election budgetary surprises, the government introduced the Fiscal Responsibility Act. “Ruthanasia,” as these economic reforms came to be called, imposed a legal requirement to balance the budget and make full fiscal disclosure.

These reforms were substantial and remarkable for the fact that a social democratic Labour government did much of it and in a short period of time. But had history been different, Labour’s reforms might have gone much further. The government’s modus operandi was to operate a dovish foreign policy, with implied anti-Americanism, while simultaneously implementing the most extensive free-market reforms in the Western world. But this trade-off could only last for so long. Eventually, internal Labour Party divisions broke into open warfare. The government acrimoniously fell to pieces and replaced the prime minister twice before being trounced in the 1990 election. Had this not occurred, New Zealand may have had a flat tax of around 23 cents on the dollar and a wholly privatized economy.

Since then, three major factors have affected the impetus for liberal reform in New Zealand.

1) The pace of the original reforms. Both Douglas and Richardson subscribed to a “crash through or crash” philosophy, relying on an extremely quick pace of change to get through key reforms before opposition could be effectively organized. Although probably politically necessary, their liberalizing reforms substantially changed the political market by removing life’s certainties (at least those provided by government). The rapid societal changes gave an impetus to an electoral reform movement and changed New Zealand’s electoral system from a British-style, First Past the Post system to one of proportional representation. This has made it far more difficult to introduce coherent reform. These changes also made the population wary of reform, mainly because many of these painful changes included large-scale redundancies in state trading departments (government departments that owned whole businesses or industries such as forestry, railways, postal services, etc., and did not operate under a profit motive).

2) Nine years of Clark Labour government. Because the reforming Fourth Labour government collapsed so spectacularly, the reformers are regarded by some as the perpetrators of great class betrayal. Clark was able to paint the reforms of the 1980s as “the failed policies of the past.” This played into a narrative vilifying Rogernomics and the social democratic reformers of the 1980s as a bunch of free-market ratbags captured by the New Right and implementing an anti-democratic “big business” agenda.

3) Reform goes against the natural conservatism of New Zealanders, the National Party (which heads the current government), and natural inclinations of most politicians. It is perceived by the political class that a market for reform no longer exists, and reforming, conviction-based politicians are as rare in New Zealand as everywhere in the world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


With an eye toward appealing to foodies, Wendy's is remaking its fries (Emily Fredrix, 11/10/10, AP)

With an eye toward appealing to foodies, Wendy's is remaking its fries with Russett potatoes, leaving the skin on and sprinkling sea salt on top.

The fast-food chain has been changing its menu to focus on "real" ingredients to win more fans.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Interrogation Nation: The baby steps that have taken the United States from decrying torture to celebrating it. (Dahlia Lithwick, Nov. 10, 2010, Slate)

In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man. [...]

Those of us who have been hollering about America's descent into torture for the past nine years didn't do so because we like terrorists or secretly hope for more terror attacks. We did it because if a nation is unable to decry something as always and deeply wrong, it has tacitly accepted it as sometimes and often right. Or, as President Bush now puts it, damn right.

As a people we decided that it would be always and deeply wrong not to waterboard a terrorist to obtain actionable intelligence and protect innocent lives. What's revealing is that she and her ilk don't actually make an argument against that. They just begin with the assertion that torture is always wrong.

November 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


Arizona immigration law provoked exodus of Hispanics: Study (AFP, Nov 11, 2010)

A controversial immigration law in Arizona has likely provoked the voluntary departure of 100,000 Hispanics from the southern US state, according to a study released Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Mariners Broadcaster Niehaus Dies at 75 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 11/10/10)

From the Mariners' debut in 1977, Niehaus served as an instructor for baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest, a region void of the major league game sans the Seattle Pilots' one-year experiment in 1969. Adults and kids regularly tuned in on summer evenings to hear Niehaus try and put his best spin on what were among the worst teams in baseball during much of the club's history.

But no matter how bad the Mariners were, Niehaus never let the on-field product affect his approach to the game. He always brought enthusiasm and drama to some horrible teams, horrible games and horrible seasons.

"All of us in this business, guys, this is the toy department of life," Niehaus said before his Hall of Fame induction in 2008. "It's a narcotic. Anyone who is involved in this business, whether it be my end or (the writing) end or the front office end, we're lucky. We're lucky people."

Niehaus got into broadcasting as a student at Indiana. He worked for the Armed Forces Network in Los Angeles and New York before anchoring himself in the L.A. market in the late 1960s and early '70s, calling games for the California Angels and UCLA football. In 1976 at the baseball winter meetings, Niehaus was encouraged to interview for the lead play-by-play job with the expansion Mariners.

As much as Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki were responsible for making Seattle relevant in professional baseball, it was Niehaus telling their stories along the way.

"He was a consummate pro at everything he did," former Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner said. "I am going to miss everything about the guy — going to miss his face, his ugly white shoes and his awful sport coats. He was one-of-a-kind."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


A Conversation with Jacques Barzun (2010) from Leo Wong on Vimeo.

A conversation with Jacques Barzun, hosted by Jack Jackson, Sept. 12, 2010, SoL (Source of Light) Center, University Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, TX.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


The Enduring Myth of Gold’s Record High (DAVID LEONHARDT, 11/10/10, NY Times)

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

More than a month ago, Ryan Chittum of The Columbia Journalism Review noticed the epidemic of supposed gold records and urged those of us in the news media to stop. The actual record was set 30 years ago, when the price of gold, in today’s dollars, hit $2,387, or 71 percent higher than it closed on Tuesday.

This isn’t simply a question of math. Anyone who says gold is at a record high (or who said oil was several years ago) is getting the story wrong. Why? Because $10 today is not more valuable than $9 a few decades ago. Claiming otherwise is tantamount to saying that 10 rupees is more valuable than $9 because 10 is a bigger number than 9.

The notion that gold is more expensive than ever happens to fit with a larger narrative that also does not square with the facts — namely, that inflation is an imminent threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM

HOLY ----!:

Was the Wheel of Fortune One-Letter Solve Really a Miracle? (Chris Jones 11/10/10, Esquire)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Los Lobos: Tiny Desk Concert (Felix Contreras, 11/10/10, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

This past summer, the group released a new album called Tin Can Trust. Thankfully, for Los Lobos, there's always a new record: songs to sing along to, stories to compare our lives to, cumbias to dance to. This short blast from behind Bob Boilen's desk has something new, something old and something to dance to. So pull the chairs back and grab a partner — it's time to dance.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


All-Star Game to feature new Fantasy Draft (Adam Kimelman , 11/10/10,

Fantasy hockey will become reality at the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover.

A new format for this year's festivities will see the conference vs. conference approach replaced by a player draft, conducted by the All-Star players themselves, to determine the rosters for each team.

The 2011 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft will be Friday, Jan. 28, to kick off All-Star Weekend, which will be hosted for the first time by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Years ago, when other fantasy sports were in their infancy, in hockey leagues you could draft either Gretzky's goals or his assists, but he got treated as two players. Otherwise whoever had him automatically won.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


My head just exploded… (Andy, November 9, 2010, Baseball-Reference)

[O]f the 47 shortstops who get a fielding runs number in the PI in 2010, Jeter has the 46th-best total. Yeah, 45 shortstops generated better fielding run totals than he did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM

21-21 VISION:

Obama panel offers $4 trillion in deficit cuts (Jeanne Sahadi, November 10, 2010,

Set targets for revenue and spending: The report caps taxes at 21% of gross domestic product. It would limit federal spending initially to 22% of the economy and eventually to 21%.

Rein in spending: The proposal makes $200 billion in domestic and defense spending cuts in 2015.

Reform tax code: The report would lower income tax rates and simplify the tax code. It would also abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax and and reduce tax breaks.

Change Social Security: The report aims to make Social Security solvent over 75 years through a number of measures, including a less generous annual cost-of-living adjustment for benefits, and a very slow rise in the retirement age (from 67 to 68 by 2050; rising to 69 by 2075).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Bush: McCain’s Mistake (Louise Radnofsky, 11/09/10, WSJ)

Republican presidential nominee John McCain cornered President George W. Bush into convening a White House summit on the financial crisis – one that top administration officials thought could hurt the administration’s response to the crisis, Mr. Bush says in a new memoir. [...]

Just before the White House summit began, House and Senate Republican leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell had told Mr. Bush that GOP lawmakers couldn’t be relied on to vote for the plan, and Democrats, too, were complaining that “the executive branch was seizing too much authority,” Mr. Bush recalls.

Mr. Bush said that the failure of the first attempt to pass a bailout was “a disaster,” not least because “my party had played the leading role in killing TARP” and would now be blamed for the consequences. He adds that the stock market freefall that followed enabled the legislation to pass the House with the support of 63 Republicans, including most of the party’s leadership.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics (Clay Shirky, 11/08/10)

The “paywall problem” isn’t particularly complex, either in economic or technological terms. General-interest papers struggle to make paywalls work because it’s hard to raise prices in a commodity market. That’s the problem. Everything else is a detail.

The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can’t charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.

Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation–the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly–and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.

The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Any given newspaper competes with a few other newspapers, but any newspaper website compete with all other websites. As Nicholas Carr pointed out during the 2009 pirate kidnapping, Google News found 11,264 different sources for the story, all equally accessible.* The web puts newspapers in competition with radio and TV stations, magazines, and new entrants, both professional and amateur. It is the war of each against all.

...thus permanent deflation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Tax Cut Timing Is Proving Problematic for Democrats (JACKIE CALMES, 11/09/10, NY Times)

When one party controls the White House and Congress, it controls the calendar for what gets done and when. So how is it that Democrats ended up in such a fix over what to do about the expiring Bush-era tax cuts?

That is what many Democrats are asking.

By dint of calculation and miscalculation, after mixed messages and missed signals, President Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders delayed debate until before the midterm elections. They dared Republicans to fight for extending the tax cuts for the rich and, in so doing, “hold hostage” those for the middle class. But it was Democrats who blinked as their ranks splintered in the heat of a worsening electoral climate, and they delayed any vote until after the elections.

Now, with the tax cuts due to expire Dec. 31, the debate finally commences next week in a lame-duck session, with Democrats weakened, Republicans emboldened by the election results and the tepid economy continuing to provide some argument against letting rates rise even for the highest income levels.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


What’s So Great About America (ANDREW FERGUSON, 11/06/10, Weekly Standard)

President Obama—who in other venues, such as his Nobel speech, has given eloquent testimony to America’s uniqueness—last year made a now notorious remark that nicely summarized the off-the-shelf liberal view. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” The logic is straightforward. Since every people believes it’s exceptional, none is. And thus our belief in American exceptionalism merely shows how much we’re like everybody else; the assertion disproves itself. We all of us here on Spaceship Earth indulge in a kind of touching childish delusion, akin to a toddler’s belief that he’s the center of the universe. We really should grow up.

For many sophisticated Democrats the belief is not merely childish but dangerous. It distracts us from the urgent matters at hand. “This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating,” Kinsley wrote. “If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true.”

This strikes us—and will strike most Americans, we’ll wager—as the precise opposite of the truth. Americans through time have already done “what’s necessary to make” the country unique in all the world; that’s why Glenn Beck and all those Tea Partiers prattle endlessly on about the Founders. Thanks to the ingenuity, persistence, and sacrifice of earlier generations, our obligation now is to conserve the arrangements that make us exceptional, reaffirm them, and prepare to pass them on, with an abiding faith in personal liberty. And this much should be obvious: If Americans don’t believe “we’re the greatest country ever,” we won’t be for much longer.

Sounds like a campaign theme.

...we do have peers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


When Liberals Attack (TruthDig, Nov 10, 2010)

Glenn Greenwald of Salon and Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC share a lot of views, but the two got into a shouting match over the value of conservative Democrats in the aftermath of the tea party holocaust.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Extending Tax Cuts, but With a Catch: Top Democrats Link Keeping Bush-Era Breaks to an Overhaul of Tax Code; Republican Aides Say They Are Open to the Idea (JOHN D. MCKINNON, 11/10/10, WSJ)

Two top Senate Democrats floated the idea Tuesday of extending the Bush-era income-tax rates for a limited time only, and tying that move to an overhaul of the U.S. tax code or passage of policies to address the budget deficit.

The idea injects a new element into the ongoing political discussion about the tax breaks, which expire Dec. 31 unless they are extended, at a time of growing concerns about government deficits. The new proposals could lay the groundwork for a multi-year debate many experts say would be needed to overhaul the bulky tax code.

When you're offered a lever, take it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


an liberalism save capitalism from conservatism?: The resurgence of conservatism in American politics makes the question more urgent than ever (Michael Lind, 11/09/10, Salon)

The crackpot ideology of the economic right is libertarianism. Libertarianism and communism are equally crazy in opposite ways. Libertarians believe that it is possible to privatize everything without anarchy, while communists believe that it is possible to socialize everything without tyranny.

Neither Jeffersonian populists nor libertarian ideologues have the slightest clue about how to run a complex technological society in the 21st century. Why should they? Jeffersonianism is a program for a primitive society of small farmers of a kind that no longer exists anywhere. At least, once upon a time, there were genuine Jeffersonian agrarian societies in the real world. There has never been a libertarian country and there never will be, because the maximum of government authority allowed by libertarian theory is well below the minimum required by a functioning community.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Book review: 'Decision Points' by George W. Bush: The former president delivers an unexpectedly engrossing rehash of what he considers to be the pivotal moments of his eight years in office. (Tim Rutten, 11/09/10, LA Times)

Nearly midway through "Decision Points," Bush writes that, "History can debate the decisions I made, the policies I chose, and the tools I left behind. But there can be no debate about one fact: After the nightmare of September 11, America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil. If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it."

For that reason, Bush is singularly unapologetic and clear about the fact that he personally ordered the torture of key Al Qaeda members, who CIA interrogators were convinced held information of other planned terrorist attacks. (Bush also continues to insist that waterboarding is not torture.) When then-CIA Director George Tenet asked whether he had permission to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, Bush replied, "Damn right." Bush writes that about 100 "terrorists" were placed in the CIA interrogation program and that about a third "were questioned using enhanced interrogation"; three were waterboarded. All, according to Bush, gave up usable intelligence that thwarted other acts of terrorism. Other reports have contradicted that assertion, but Bush is firm on the point.

Similarly, he writes that his stomach still churns over the fact that he and the rest of the country were misled by faulty intelligence concerning Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but that the nation and world still are better off with the Iraqi dictator deposed. His only real regret, in fact, is that he failed to act more rapidly and decisively when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Many readers will be surprised by Bush's warm account of his cooperative relationship with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and his disappointment that they were unable to push through comprehensive immigration reform, which both felt was within a vote or two of their grasp. Given the contentious political use Karl Rove and other Bush aides made of abortion, readers also may be interested in the former president's unfailingly respectful discussion of the abortion-rights advocates with whom he disagrees. (There's also something amusing about Bush's account of urging the late Pope John Paul II not to waver in his pro-life convictions.)

Actually, one of the impressions that arises repeatedly in "Decision Points" is how much civility and bi-partisan cooperation matter to Bush. "The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing," he writes.

Looking back on his exit from office, Bush recalls, "I reflected on everything we were facing. Over the past few weeks we had seen the failure of America's two largest mortgage entities, the bankruptcy of a major investment bank, the sale of another, the nationalization of the world's largest insurance company, and now the most drastic intervention in the free market since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Russia had invaded and occupied Georgia, Hurricane Ike had hit Texas, and America was fighting a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was one ugly way to end the presidency."

There's a great deal in that statement of what this unexpectedly engrossing memoir suggests is the essential George W. Bush — a disarming candor, for example, combined with almost alarming off-handedness about the implications of what's being said. The man and the president portrayed in these pages is, at the same time, passive and strong; intelligent but not curious; a public person apparently at his best in private; willing to admit shortcomings, but not particularly self-critical; unfailingly civil himself, but happily surrounded by bare-knuckle partisans. There is a kind of pragmatic courage that makes a leader fearless of contradictions. Bush, for his part, seems oblivious to them. being exactly what he appeared to be.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Large cardinals: maths shaken by the 'unprovable': A shocking discovery has unsettled the world of numbers (Richard Elwes, 11/10/10, The Telegraph)

In the esoteric world of mathematical logic, a dramatic discovery has been made. Previously unnoticed gaps have been found at the very heart of maths. What is more, the only way to repair these holes is with monstrous, mysterious infinities.

To understand them, we must understand what makes mathematics different from other sciences. The difference is proof.

Other scientists spend their time gathering evidence from the physical world and testing hypotheses against it. Pure maths is built using pure deduction.

But proofs have to start somewhere. For all its sophistication, mathematics is not alchemy: we cannot conjure facts from thin air. Every proof must be based on some underlying assumptions, or axioms.

And there we reach a thorny question. Even today, we do not fully understand the ordinary whole numbers 1,2,3,4,5… or the age-old ways to combine them: addition and multiplication.

Over the centuries, mathematicians have arrived at basic axioms which numbers must obey. Mostly these are simple, such as "a+b=b+a for any two numbers a and b". But when the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel turned his mind to this in 1931, he revealed a hole at the heart of our conception of numbers. His "incompleteness theorems" showed that arithmetic can never have truly solid foundations. Whatever axioms are used, there will always be gaps. There will always be facts about numbers which cannot be deduced from our chosen axioms.

Gödel's theorems showed that maths meant that mathematicians could not hope to prove every true statement: there would always be "unprovable theorems", which cannot be deduced from the usual axioms. Most known examples, it's true, will not change how you add up your shopping bill. For practical purposes, the laws of arithmetic seemed good enough.

However, as revealed in his forthcoming book, Boolean Relation Theory and Concrete Incompleteness, Harvey Friedman has discovered facts about numbers which are far more unsettling.

The Enlightenment ultimately ends up right back at ineffability.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The Decider vs. The Agonizer (Howard Kurtz, 11/09/10, Daily Beast)

The president shook his head.

“Look, I’m not going to debate the issue,” he said. He had already decided.

Waterboarding was legal. Why? “Because the lawyers said it was legal,” George W. Bush told Matt Lauer.

But what if an American was taken captive in a foreign country? Bush cut Lauer off: “All I ask is that people read the book.” Case closed.

Twenty-five hours earlier, Bush’s successor was seen fielding this question: Had he lost his mojo?

“I think it’s--I think it’s a fair argument, you know, I--I think that over the course of two years, we were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that we stopped paying attention to the fact that, you know, leadership isn’t just legislation, that it’s a matter of persuading people,” Barack Obama told Steve Kroft.

The contrast could hardly have been sharper. Bush, with his short, declarative sentences, so sure of himself he felt no need to probe further on one of the most divisive ethical issues of his tenure. Obama, with his finely rendered prose, meandering around as he inspects the subject from various angles, almost like a think-tank analyst.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


2012 Could Be Worse Than 2010 for Democrats (US News, November 9, 2010)

Senate Democrats running in 2012 will be trying to hold their jobs in states where Republicans just scored major congressional and gubernatorial victories — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Virginia.

The Democrats' problems don't end with senators.

President Barack Obama carried those states in 2008, and he will need most of them to win re-election in two years. But this time they all will have Republican governors. These GOP governors can try to inhibit the president's policies and campaign operations. They also can help steer next year's once-a-decade House redistricting process in the GOP's favor.

Moreover, Democrats must defend Senate seats in hotly contested Missouri, and in four states that Obama has little chance of winning, assuming he even tries: North Dakota, Nebraska, West Virginia and Montana.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The George Bush I Know: As President Bush’s memoir Decision Points hits stores today, former campaign media adviser Mark McKinnon compares the book to the man he crossed the partisan divide to help elect. (Mark McKinnon, 11/09/10, Daily Beast)

The book does highlight, however, a fundamental difference between George Bush and Barack Obama. Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he's dealt. That's the George Bush I know.

When we were up to our knees in the snows of New Hampshire and got whipped by John McCain by 19 points, my advertising colleague Stuart Stevens started packing his bags. I asked what he was doing. "We're going to be fired," he said speaking from the experience of someone who had been in previous presidential campaigns when things went south. But Bush called us all into his room, looked us all in the eye, and said, "When we walk out of here and the defeat we've just been dealt, I want all your heads high. This is not your fault. It’s my mine alone. I let you down, and I apologize." And then he went out and gave a speech that Reagan's speechwriter Peggy Noonan told me looked like a victory speech if you turned the sound off. In contrast, when I saw John Kerry after the 2008 campaign (ironically in Paris), he said to me, "You guys did a really good job, and my team really $%&#$ it up." Amazing he would think that. Incredible he would say it. Astonishing he would say it to me.

Readers will be surprised by the number of examples in the book where President Bush takes responsibility for failures and talks about mistakes made—particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and New Orleans.

I was disappointed that President Bush wasn't able to govern in a bipartisan fashion as he did in Texas with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. Bush campaigned on the idea of changing the tone in Washington. But, then again, so did Barack Obama. They both discovered just how difficult, if not impossible, it is. And the recount poisoned the well for President Bush from the get-go, as many Democrats refused to even acknowledge him as a legitimate president. He writes, “The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs was deeply disappointing.”

...of George W. Bush would seem to be that he's our first president ever to understand his own administration.

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November 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


Two more House Democrats join GOP caucus (Aaron Gould Sheinin, 11/09/10, AJC)

[H]anner has served as a Democrat in the House since 1975 and Greene was sworn in in 1983, also as a Democrat.

Hanner and Greene join Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell in leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP in the wake of last week’s Republican sweep of statewide offices.

Their moves now give the Republicans 111 seats in the 180-seat chamber.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 PM


Joe Biden update (Andrew Malcolm, 11/09/10, LA Times)

Possibly the most important event of the vice president's day Tuesday is to meet at 2:15 with Earl Devaney. Everyone knows him as chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board -- the top guy monitoring the gazillion-dollar stimulus and the overdue economic recovery, and ensuring that the taxpayers financing same know all about it.

However, no one outside the room will know what goes on in that Biden-Devaney meeting. That's because the government meeting on government transparency has been closed.

...don't we all wish all his events were closed?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Bush's class Carter could learn something (Manchester Union-Leader, , Nov. 8, 2010)

[O]prah tries to get Bush to criticize, or at least comment on, President Obama's performance. Bush refuses.

"I don't think it's good for a former President to be out there opining on every darned issue," Bush said. "He's got a plenty tough job. Trust me. And there's gonna be plenty of critics, and he doesn't need me criticizing him. And I don't think it's good for the presidency. Other people have a different point of view."

That used to be the accepted view. Former Presidents didn't criticize sitting ones. Jimmy Carter, however, thought himself above such petty traditionalism. In his pursuit of relevance and attention, he publicly thumped Bush early and often. He even wrote an entire column in The New York Times criticizing Bush on the Iraq War.

The peanut farmer gives Millard Fillmore a close run for worst ex-president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Actor John Nettles receives honor from queen (AP, 11/09/10)

Nettles plays Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in the long-running mystery show, set in the fictional rural county of Midsomer.

He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, in a ceremony Tuesday at Buckingham Palace.

he 67-year-old also played a policeman in the 1980s show “Bergerac.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Cigna CEO: Don't repeal U.S. health law (Susan Heavey, Nov 9, 2010, Reuters)

Repealing the new U.S. healthcare law would be a waste of time, but there is room to improve it, the chief executive of health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N) said on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's in our society's best interest to expend energy in repealing the law," David Cordani told the Reuters Health Summit in New York. "Our country expended over a year of sweat equity around the formation of it." [...]

Still, Cordani said there is room to do more to further contain the United States' spiraling healthcare costs, such as expanding more consumer-directed options like health savings accounts and improving the nation's payment system.

Such changes should not be partisan, however, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Faces Struggle in Congress (ELISABETH BUMILLER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 11/09/10, NY Times)

Prospects for Congress to authorize repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy face new uncertainties as time runs out for the Senate to act and strong objections remain among Republicans and the most senior ranks of the military. [...]

The possibility that Congress will not act this year has further aggravated tensions between gay rights groups and President Obama, who campaigned on a promise to allow gay men and women to serve openly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Women voters shifted Republican in midterm election: Unmarried women in particular had been one of Democrats' most reliable bases. Some cited a lack of progress on fixing the economy; others had concerns over abortion rights in the healthcare law. (Matea Gold and Jordan Steffen, November 9, 2010, LA Times)

[D]isappointment and apathy translated into a jolting drop in female support this year for House Democrats, who won just 48% of the women's vote, down from 55% four years ago, according to exit polls. Republicans edged them out with 49% of the overall female vote, the best showing for the GOP — other than in 2002 — since the gender gap emerged in the 1980s, when women began to vote more Democratic than men.

That's in part because married women, who usually split their vote between the two parties, leaned more strongly Republican this year, according to Democratic voter surveys.

But Democrats also lost ground among single women, historically one of the party's most loyal demographic groups. Unmarried women still voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates this year, but by a narrower margin than in recent elections.

That's because half of white, unmarried women voted Republican this year, up from 39% in the last two election cycles, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Those who are, by definition, insecure ought not be voting for the party of freedom, which is why results differ so much for married vs. unmarried women.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Effing the Ineffable: How do we express what cannot be said? (Roger Scruton, November 4, 2010, Big Question)

Thomas Aquinas, who devoted some two million words to spelling out, in the Summa Theologica, the nature of the world, God’s purpose in creating it and our fate in traversing it, ended his short life (short by our standards, at least) in a state of ecstasy, declaring that all that he had written was of no significance beside the beatific vision that he had been granted, and in the face of which words fail. His was perhaps the most striking example of a philosopher who comes to believe that the real meaning of the world is ineffable. Having got to this point, Aquinas obeyed the injunction of Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus concludes with the proposition: “that whereof we cannot speak we must consign to silence.”

But Aquinas was exceptional. The history of philosophy abounds in thinkers who, having concluded that the truth is ineffable, have gone on to write page upon page about it. [...]

I too am tempted to eff the ineffable. Like my philosophical predecessors, I want to describe that world beyond the window, even though I know that it cannot be described but only revealed. I am not alone in thinking that world to be real and important. But there are many who dismiss it as an unscientific fiction. And people of this scientistic cast of mind are disagreeable to me. Their nerdish conviction that facts alone can signify, and that the “transcendental” and the eternal are nothing but words, mark them out as incomplete. There is an aspect of the human condition that is denied to them.

Moreover, this aspect is of the first importance. Our loves and hopes in some way hinge on it. We love each other as angels love, reaching for the unknowable “I.” We hope as angels hope: with our thoughts fixed on the moment when the things of this world fall away and we are enfolded in “the peace which passes understanding.” Putting the point that way I have already said too much. For my words make it look as though the world beyond the window is actually here, like a picture on the stairs. But it is not here; it is there, beyond the window that can never be opened.

It's all just a matter of aethetics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Large Hadron Collider creates 'mini Big Bang' with lead ions (Daily Telegraph, 11/08/10)

The Large Hadron Collider has succeeded in recreating a miniature version of the Big Bang by smashing stripped-down lead atoms together.

The reaction created temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun, which have not been reached since the first billionths of a second following the Big Bang.

This was expected to cause atomic particles such as protons and neutrons to melt, producing a "soup" of matter in a state previously unseen on Earth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


10 Questions for Stephen Hawking (TIME, 11/15/10)

What do you believe happens to our consciousness after death? —Elliot Giberson, SEATTLE

I think the brain is essentially a computer and consciousness is like a computer program. It will cease to run when the computer is turned off. Theoretically, it could be re-created on a neural network, but that would be very difficult, as it would require all one's memories.

So it's nothing like a computer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Clinton seeks closer ties with Australia on defense (RACHEL PANNETT, 11/08/10, WSJ)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to secure more access for the U.S. military in Australia as the final week of her Asia-Pacific tour draws to a close here.

A new defense pact, to be discussed in talks starting Monday, could ultimately see U.S. military personnel share Australian ports, training facilities and test-firing ranges, Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said ahead of the talks.

The negotiations, which fall under the U.S. Force Posture Review in the Asia-Pacific region, will also touch on the potential for greater cooperation on space monitoring and cybersecurity, officials said. They come amid growing concern about North Korean missile activity and cyberattacks on confidential military intelligence. Australia and the U.S. already have joint intelligence-sharing facilities such as Pine Gap, a satellite tracking station in central Australia.

Only took them two years to figure out the centrality of the Anglosphere.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Obama's strength is now his weakness: The charisma he once displayed so powerfully has dried up. Voters now complain of the President's coolness (Mary Ann Sieghart, 8 November 2010, Independent)

When President Obama redecorated the Oval Office, it was in various shades of beige. "I like taupe," he explained to The New York Times. Taupe is an abomination. It's a nothing colour. It doesn't shout "drab"; it murmurs it. What a tragic mutation from the vibrant red and blue of those Obama posters emblazoned with the word "HOPE". It is as if Obama's taste in decoration is a symbol of the energy that has leeched out of his presidency, culminating in those awful midterm election results last week. The virtues he had then have become his faults now.

Remember how appealing the "no-drama Obama" was during the presidential election campaign? We marvelled at his imperturbability. Nothing fazed him. His Republican opponent, John McCain, became increasingly tetchy during the campaign, which made voters wonder whether they wanted a President who might lose his rag under pressure. With Obama, there was never any danger of that. And, given that Lehman Brothers was collapsing and looked as if it might bring the world financial system down with it, a leader who was calm under duress seemed exactly what America – and the rest of the world – needed.

Two years on, US voters are beginning to question that judgment. They want their President to understand what they are going through, to empathise with their worry, their anger and their insecurity. They are either terrified of losing their jobs and their homes, or furious that it has already happened. They no longer want to be governed by someone with the demeanour (and decorating taste) of a Harvard law professor or a management consultant.
...he just was not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Obama's Best Speech: In India, the president defended free markets, free trade and free societies. (Brett Stephens, 11/08/10, WSJ)

[T]he president gave a terrific speech. Not that it was particularly eloquent. But for all my cavilling, he stood up for free trade, free markets and free societies. He also finally beat an honorable and unequivocal retreat from his July 2011 withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan. Here's a sampler from the speech, since the best of it seems to have escaped notice in most press accounts:

• Afghanistan: "While I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I have also made it clear that America's commitment to the Afghan people will endure. The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan—or the region—to the violent extremists who threaten us all." (My emphasis.)

• Pakistan: "We will continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe havens within their border are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice. We must also recognize that all of us have an interest in both an Afghanistan and a Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic—and none more so than India."

• Free trade: "Together we can resist the protectionism that stifles growth and innovation. The United States remains—and will continue to remain—one of the most open economies in the world. By opening markets and reducing barriers to foreign investment, India can realize its full economic potential as well."

• The sources of India's success: "Instead of resisting the global economy, you became one of its engines—reforming the licensing raj and unleashing an economic marvel." The "licensing raj" refers to the regulatory state that used to dictate all "private" economic decision-making in the country and still dominates the country's educational establishment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Case of the Vanishing Blonde: After a woman living in a hotel in Florida was raped, viciously beaten, and left for dead near the Everglades in 2005, the police investigation quickly went cold. But when the victim sued the Airport Regency, the hotel’s private detective, Ken Brennan, became obsessed with the case: how had the 21-year-old blonde disappeared from her room, unseen by security cameras? The author follows Brennan’s trail as the P.I. worked a chilling hunch that would lead him to other states, other crimes, and a man nobody else suspected. (Mark Bowden, December 2010, Vanity Fair)

The hotel engaged a law firm to defend itself from the woman’s lawsuit, and the firm eventually hired a private detective named Ken Brennan to figure out what had happened.

Foote was not pleased. It was usually a pain in the ass to have a private detective snooping around one of his cases. Brennan was right out of central casting—middle-aged, deeply tanned, with gray hair. He was a weight lifter and favored open-necked shirts that showed off both the definition of his upper pecs and the bright, solid-gold chain around his neck. The look said: mature, virile, laid-back, and making it. He had been divorced, and his former wife was now deceased; his children were grown. He had little in the way of daily family responsibilities. Brennan had been a cop on Long Island, where he was from, and had worked eight years as a D.E.A. agent. He had left the agency in the mid-90s to work as a commodities broker and to set up as a private detective. The brokering was not to his taste, but the investigating was. He was a warm, talkative guy, with a thick Long Island accent, who sized people up quickly and with a healthy strain of New York brass. If he liked you, he let you know it right away, and you were his friend for life, and if he didn’t … well, you would find that out right away, too. Nothing shocked him; in fact, most of the salacious run-of-the-mill work that pays private detectives’ bills—domestic jobs and petty insurance scams—bored him. Brennan turned those offers away. The ones he took were mostly from businesses and law firms, who hired him to nail down the facts in civil-court cases like this one.

He had a fixed policy. He told potential employers up front, “I’ll find out what happened. I’m not going to shade things to assist your client, but I will find out what the truth is.” Brennan liked it when the information he uncovered helped his clients, but that wasn’t a priority. Winning lawsuits wasn’t the goal. What excited him was the mystery.

The job in this case was straightforward. Find out who raped and beat this young woman and dumped her in the weeds. Had the attack even happened at the hotel, or had she slipped out and met her assailant or assailants someplace else? Was she just a simple victim, or was she being used by some kind of Eastern European syndicate? Was she a prostitute? Was she somehow implicated? There were many questions and few answers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Obama isolated ahead of 2012 (Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, November 8, 2010, Politico)

President Barack Obama has performed his act of contrition. Now comes the hard part, according to Democrats around the country: reckoning with the simple fact that he’s isolated himself from virtually every group that matters in American politics. [...]

His relations with business leaders could hardly be worse. Obama has suggested it’s a PR problem, but several Democratic officials said CEOs friendly with the president walk away feeling he’s indifferent at best to their concerns. Add in his icy relations with Republicans, the media and, most important, most voters, and it’s easy to understand why his own staff leaked word to POLITICO that it wants Obama to shake up his staff and change his political approach. [...]

But many Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed — in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job.

The guy doesn't even have any personal friends.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Pelosi, Reid May Have Passed Their Sell-By Date (Albert R. Hunt, Nov. 8, 2010, Bloomberg)

Republicans, after picking up 61 House seats, six Senate spots, seven new governorships and 680 additional state legislators, received two more gifts: Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

In U.S. elections where voters expressed disapproval with Washington, the decision of the House speaker to remain as the Democratic leader of the minority, following Senate Majority Leader Reid’s re-election in Nevada, means that the face of the congressional party will continue to be yesterday. After Pelosi’s surprise announcement Nov. 5, Republicans were jubilant. Leading Democratic strategists were despondent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The Arabs' worst enemy: themselves: Progress in the Arab world will come from self-reflection, not blaming Israel. (Walter Rodgers / November 8, 2010 , CS Monitor)

Recently a group of Arab journalists was at the White House when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was speaking. The US president had a tiny, wireless receiver in his ear, giving Obama an instant, simultaneous translation of Mr. Mubarak’s remarks. The Arab journalists became quite excited, mistakenly believing Obama really understood Arabic because he was nodding his head. They wanted to believe he was one of them.

In a small way, the incident illustrates how unrealistic are Arab perceptions of the world, and of the United States and its president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


A Republican Bonus in 2012: The GOP is poised to reap redistricting rewards. (Michael Barone, 11/08/10, National Review)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans gained about 125 seats in state senates and 550 seats in state houses — 675 seats in total. That gives them more seats than they’ve won in any year since 1928.

Republicans snatched control of about 20 legislative houses from Democrats — and by margins that hardly any political insiders expected. Republicans needed five seats for a majority in the Pennsylvania house and won 15; they needed four seats in the Ohio house and got 13; they needed 13 in the Michigan house and got 20; they needed two in the Wisconsin senate and four in the Wisconsin house, and gained four and 14; they needed five in the North Carolina senate and nine in the North Carolina house, and gained 11 and 15.

All those gains are hugely significant in redistricting. When the 2010 census results are announced next month, the 435 House seats will be reapportioned among the states, and state officials will draw new district lines in each state with more than one representative. Nonpartisan commissions authorized by voters this year will do the job in (Democratic) California and (Republican) Florida, but in most states it’s up to legislators and governors (although North Carolina’s governor cannot veto redistricting bills).

Republicans look to have a bigger advantage in this redistricting cycle than they’ve ever had before. It appears that in the states that will have more than five districts (you can make only a limited partisan difference in smaller states), Republicans will control redistricting in 13 states, with a total of 165 House districts, and Democrats will have control in only four states, with a total of 40 districts. You can add Minnesota (seven or eight districts) to the first list if the final count gives Republicans the governorship, and New York (27 or 28 districts) to the second list if the final count gives the Democrats the state senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


Republicans Are Poised to Increase U.S. House Gains in Undecided Contests: Election outcomes in nine Democratic-held districts remain in doubt (William Selway and Alison Fitzgerald, 11/08/10, Business Week)

Republicans may increase their control of the U.S. House that will be installed in January by picking up seats among nine Democratic-held districts where the outcome remains in doubt.

Just hundreds of votes separate the candidates in some of the undecided races, according to the Associated Press. Also, the re-election of Representative Tim Bishop, a four-term Democrat from New York's Long Island, was thrown into doubt after a fresh count of ballots, according to Republican challenger Randy Altschuler.

Republicans gained at least 60 seats in the House in the Nov. 2 election, the biggest swing in the party's favor since 1938.

"It's expected that Republicans will hold on and pick up a total of 63 or 64 seats, though recounts can occasionally produce a surprise," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM


Mr. President, some leadership, please (Eugene Robinson, November 9, 2010, Washington Post)

In his only interview since the GOP rampage, with Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes," Obama was reasonable, analytical, professorial - but also uninspired and uninspiring. I'm just being honest, if not generous; when Kroft asked whatever happened to Obama's "mojo," the president gave the impression that he's been wondering the same thing.

By uninspired, I mean there was no sense that Obama relishes the high-stakes political battles that are sure to come over the next two years. There was no hint, for example, that he looks forward to the opportunity to put Republicans on the spot about all the unrealistic budget-cutting they say they want to carry out. And by uninspiring, I mean that the president offered no vision of a brighter tomorrow. Instead, he sketched a future not quite as dim as the present.

Obama said he has learned that "leadership isn't just legislation" - that it's also "a matter of persuading people . . . giving them confidence and bringing them together . . . setting a tone." He acknowledged that "we haven't always been successful at that," then gave a demonstration.

"Do you get discouraged? Are you discouraged now?" Kroft asked.

"I do get discouraged," Obama replied, according to the transcript of the full interview. "I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand - as president you're held responsible for everything. But you don't always have control of everything, right? And especially an economy this big. There are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need. But I have fundamental confidence in this country. I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we've always come out on top. And I'm positive that the same thing is going to happen this time. You know, there are going to be setbacks, and we may take two steps forward and one step back, but the trajectory of this country is always positive."

Well, it may be unfair, but presidents aren't allowed to be discouraged.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Republicans May Yet Have Upper Hand in Senate (Gerald F. Seib, 11/09/10, WSJ)

More important, among those 23 Democrats who face voters in 2012 are a handful of incumbents from the kind of moderate to conservative states where Democrats took a beating last week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jon Tester of Montana, Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Joe Manchin, who just won a Senate race in West Virginia by separating himself from President Barack Obama and his party's congressional leaders, also faces voters again in two years because he was elected only to fill out an unexpired term.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, looks at this field and thinks he may see some votes for his side. He points in particular to his desire to roll back parts of this year's big health bill.

"There are 23 Democrats up in 2012 and only nine Republicans," he said in an interview. "I think there is a widespread belief on the other side of the aisle that [the health bill] was a huge mistake. There could be, who knows, a growing number of Democrats who think that was the wrong thing to do."

Mr. McConnell won't engage when asked whether Republicans will take the next step and try to persuade any moderate Democrats to switch parties, which has happened in the past when the winds shift. But he adds: "It doesn't require changing parties to change your mind."

So maybe there also are Democrats prepared to drift to the Republican side on issues beyond health—say, on spending cuts, tax levels and a new energy program built around such items as electric cars and clean-coal technology. On selected issues, that means Mr. McConnell actually might find it at least as easy as the Democrats' Mr. Reid to assemble a working majority.

Of course, there are distinct limits to how much that means in the ever-messy Senate. In a body where any 41 members can mount and sustain a filibuster to stop action, having a bare majority, real or functional, has limited impact.

November 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM

Golden Cheese Bread (King Arthur Flour)

* 1 cup lukewarm water
* 4 tablespoons softened or sliced butter
* 1 1/2 cups Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour
* 1 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1/4 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk
* 1/3 cup Vermont cheese powder, optional but good
* 4 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, optional but good
* 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
* *Reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon if you use the cheese powder.

Filling and Topping

* 1 1/3 cups shredded cheese: pizza blend, mozzarella, cheddar, or the cheese of your choice
* 2 1 /2 tablespoons melted butter


* 8 ounces lukewarm water
* 2 ounces softened or sliced butter
* 6 1/4 ounces Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour
* 6 ounces King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
* 1/2 ounce sugar
* 1 ounce Baker's Special Dry Milk
* 1 3/8 ounces Vermont cheese powder, optional but good
* 4 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, optional but good
* 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
* *Reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon if you use the cheese powder.

Filling and Topping

* 5 3/8 ounces shredded cheese: pizza blend, mozzarella, cheddar, or the cheese of your choice
* 1 1/4 ounces melted butter


1) Combine all of the dough ingredients, mixing and kneading to make a smooth, fairly soft dough.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure, cover it, and let it rise till very puffy, though not necessarily doubled; about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into chestnut-sized (about 1") pieces. Don't be too fussy here; the pieces don't have to be exactly the same size, nor do they need to be rolled into balls. Dividing the dough into half, then each piece into half again, etc. works well; you want to end up with 64 pieces of dough, more or less.

4) Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan, and line the bottom with parchment or foil. Grease the parchment or foil.

5) Place 16 dough pieces in the bottom of the pan, putting them close together. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese. Drizzle or brush with some of the melted butter.

6) Place another 16 pieces of dough atop the first layer. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese, and drizzle or brush with some more of the melted butter. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, making two more layers. Brush the top layer with butter, but don't sprinkle with cheese; that'll be added after the loaf is baked.

7) Cover the pan, and let the bread rise for 30 to 60 minutes, till it's slightly crowned over the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

8) Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers about 190°F.

9) Remove the bread from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a table knife or heatproof spatula. Wait 2 minutes, and turn it out of the pan onto a baking sheet. Carefully turn it right side up, sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/3 cup cheese, and return it to the oven for about 2 minutes, just till the cheese softens and starts to melt.

11) Remove the bread from the oven, and serve warm.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


The Hold Steady On Mountain Stage (NPR, 11/08/10)

Brooklyn-based rock band The Hold Steady released its fifth album, Heaven is Whenever, this year to much acclaim. The group performs an acoustic set for its first appearance on Mountain Stage, featuring songs from Heaven plus “Chips Ahoy” from 2006’s Boys & Girls in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Constitution Shmonstitution (William Hogeland, 11/08/10, Hysteriopgraphy)

In a piece in Saturday’s New York Times, offering perspective on the Tea Party’s reverence for the Constitution, Samuel G. Freedman wrote:

… Constitution worship has not historically been the province of any one political faction. Despite the Constitution’s tolerance of slavery, the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass intoned its language about equality and inalienable rights.

The gaffe is that the Constitution doesn’t say anything about inalienable rights or equality. That language is found — and pretty memorably too! — in the Declaration of Independence.

Gaffes are gaffes. I’ve made my share. This one is painfully revealing of a significant problem in liberal thinking. Freedman nodded, it happens, but so did his editors. A lot of people fussed with that piece before it went out. Nor has the error been corrected since, nor do I see any uproar about it online. That means the Tea Partiers, too, though hairtrigger sensitive to NYT slight (and they would have taken Freedman’s piece as a slight), read right past it.

So what’s the big hairy deal? Why am I knocking NYT and liberals who don’t their Constitution so much harder than I knock Christine O’Donnell for not knowing hers? Or, to put it the way David Tuttle (a cousin, and nice to hear from him even in this weird postmodernist manner) put it on my FB author page: Is the Times error so much worse than what David calls the Tea Party’s effort to deny separation of church and state?

Yeah. It’s a lot worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM

IN FACT....:

Obama backs permanent seat for India on Security Council (Ed Henry and Sara Sidner, 11/07/10, CNN)

In another major sign of growing ties between India and the United States, President Barack Obama on Monday backed a permanent seat for India in the U.N. Security Council.

"In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member," he said in an address to the Indian parliament.

The statement came as Obama made a wide-ranging address that envisioned closer economic and security ties between the United States and India, standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the world's largest democracy.

...they should get China's seat. Brazil should get France's. Australia gets Russia's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Mr. Peanut’s New Look? Old School (STUART ELLIOTT, 11/08/10, NY Times)

Mr. Peanut is getting a voice as part of efforts by the Planters parent, Kraft Foods, to revitalize the character, and the brand, for contemporary consumers. The voice is being supplied by the actor Robert Downey Jr. in an animated commercial that is to be introduced on Tuesday.

In another sign of how keen Kraft is to update Mr. Peanut, the commercial is to be previewed on the character’s Facebook page ( before it runs on TV and in movie theaters.

The humorous commercial will also unveil a new look for Mr. Peanut, meant to give him a more authentic appearance by evoking designs of the character that date to the 1930s and 1940s. He is now brown, rather than yellow, and sports — appropriately for a spokes-character — a gray flannel suit. bring back the old Mr. Peanut peanut butter grinder:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


New GOP senator could vote with Democrats on campaign finance bill (Susan Crabtree - 11/08/10, The Hill)

Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) could buck his Republican leadership in his first two weeks on the job and vote in favor of a campaign-finance transparency bill that the GOP’s top brass ardently oppose.

Back before CFR the GOP always pretended that while it opposed spending limits it thought political spending should be completely transparent. Now they must have something to hide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


A New Leader for the Democrats (NY Times, 11/07/10)

Nancy Pelosi has been an extremely effective speaker of the House for four years, shepherding hundreds of important bills toward passage and withstanding solid Republican opposition. Her work in passing health care reform and strong ethics oversight achieved what many thought was legislatively impossible. But is she really the best the Democrats can come up with as their leader as they slip into the minority?

Is National Rutabaga Week really important?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


GOP Sweetens its Offer to Manchin (Chris Stirewalt, November 08, 2010, Fox News)

GOP Sweetens its Offer to Manchin

Republicans are making some big promises to try to lure West Virginia Senator-elect Joe Manchin to cross the aisle.

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects - a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington.

It's one of Manchin's pet projects and could mean big money for the state's coal producers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Think the Earth is finite? Think again: When modern Malthusians insist that resources are finite, they only expose their historical illiteracy, misanthropy and social pessimism. (Brendan O’Neill, 11/08/10, spiked)

On 30 October, spiked editor Brendan O’Neill debated Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, at the Battle of Ideas in London. O’Neill’s speech is published below.

The main Malthusian idea I think we should challenge is the idea that resources are finite. The idea that the Earth itself is finite. The idea that we live on a finite planet and therefore we can only have a certain number of people, living in a certain number of homes, eating a certain amount of food.

Because it seems to me that the population-control lobby’s obsession with finiteness really exposes what it is all about. It reveals the historical illiteracy and the social pessimism that underpin the pseudo-scientific movement of Malthusianism. The Malthusians’ focus on finiteness explains firstly why they are always wrong about everything; secondly why they are so misanthropic; and thirdly why they put forward such illiberal proposals, dressed up, of course, in the language of ‘female empowerment’.

On the first point, Malthusians are simply wrong to say that resources are fixed, that we can measure and predict when they will run out. It seems commonsensical to say that the Earth is finite, and a bit mad to say that it isn’t, but it’s important to recognise how fluid and changeable resources are. It’s important to recognise that the usefulness and longevity of a resource is determined as much by us – by the level of social development we have reached – as it is by the existence of that resource in the first place.

Resources are not fixed in any meaningful sense. Resources have a history and a future, just as human beings do. The question of what we consider to be a resource changes as society changes.

So in Ancient Rome, one of the main uses of coal was to make jewellery. Women liked the look of this glinting black rock hanging around their necks. No one could have imagined that thousands of years later, coal would be used to power massive steam engines and an entire Industrial Revolution, forever changing how we produce things and transport them around the world.

Two thousand years ago, the only way people used uranium was to make glass look more yellow. It was used to decorate windows and mirrors. You would probably have been locked up, or subjected to an exorcism, if you had suggested that one day uranium might be used to light up and heat entire cities – or indeed destroy entire cities at the push of a button.

The exact same resource can do very, very different things, depending on social and technological development. It was social limits, not physical limits, which meant that Ancient Romans could not use coal to make things move and other ancient communities could only use uranium to make glass look yellow. And the main problem with resource-pessimists such as Malthusians is that they continually misinterpret social limits as physical limits.

Sic transit Darwinism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Another Democratic Congress? It could be awhile: If you're hoping for a quick turnaround in 2012, you might be disappointed (Mark Greenbaum, 11/06/10, Salon)

While Democrats’ historic loss of at least 61 seats (results are still pending in a handful of districts) can be traced to a diverse set of factors, the majority of the Democrats defeated were either elected to Republican-friendly seats in the wave elections of 2006 and 2008 or were long-term incumbents who represented heavily GOP districts. The seats in that latter category are likely gone for good, while many in the former are clustered in a handful of states where GOP state-level gains will ensure that they are fortified in next year’s redistricting trials, making them even more difficult for Democrats to take back than they were entering the '06 and '08 cycles.

The losses of Democrats like Rick Boucher (southeast Virginia coal country), Lincoln Davis (increasingly conservative central Tennessee), Chet Edwards (College Station, Texas), Jim Marshall (Macon, Ga.), Earl Pomeroy (North Dakota), Ike Skelton (the Ozarks) and Gene Taylor (Biloxi and Pascagoula, Miss.) are particularly painful for Democrats, given the treacherous political terrain they face in those districts. Democrats were incredibly lucky to hold these seats as long as they did, and they were able to because incumbents like Skelton (elected in 1976), Boucher (1982), Taylor (1989), and Edwards (1990) had adeptly burrowed themselves in. Democrats were always going to lose these seats when these representatives stepped down, but the tidal wave of 2010 washed them all away in one fell swoop.

Put another way, of the 20 most Republican-leaning House seats held by Democrats on Election Day, 17 of them fell. With Partisan Voting Index scores ranging from R+9 in Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin’s South Dakota at-large district to an unfathomable R+20 for Edwards’ Texas seat and Taylor’s south Mississippi district, it's a miracle Democrats held these seats for as long as they did. Altogether, Democrats dropped 25 seats this week with PVI ratings of R+6 or more. It’s difficult to envision the party winning many of these seats back in the short- or long-term future.

Looking at Tuesday’s results from another angle, around two-thirds of the seats Democrats lost were held by members elected in the '06 and '08 elections. With a small handful of exceptions, nearly all of these districts are Republican-leaning, though most not overwhelmingly so.

There's still a ways to go to a 60-40 Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Obama and the Runaway Train: The race, the case, a hope for grace. (PEGGY NOONAN, 10/31/08, WSJ)

The case for Barack Obama, in broad strokes:

He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.

Americans Vote for Maturity (Peggy Noonan, 11/07/10, WSJ)
On to the aftermath of the election. On Wednesday, President Obama gave a news conference to share his thoughts. Viewers would have found it disappointing if there had been any viewers. The president is speaking, in effect, to an empty room. From my notes five minutes in: "This wet blanket, this occupier of the least interesting corner of the faculty lounge, this joy-free zone, this inert gas." By the end I was certain he will never produce a successful stimulus because he is a human depression.

Actually I thought the worst thing you can say about a president: He won't even make a good former president.

Actually he'll be a great former president, because he can go join the UN where his essentially bureaucratic personality will thrive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Murkowski on cusp of win; how will she legislate? (BECKY BOHRER, 11/08/2010, AP)

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on the cusp of vindication after waging a high stakes — and long shot — write-in campaign to keep her job.

Initial returns show write-in ballots holding a 13,439-vote edge over GOP nominee Joe Miller, and though it’s not clear how many of those are for her or will be counted as valid, she’s confident enough in her winning to tell supporters that they’d “made history.” The write-in count starts Wednesday in Juneau.

While Mitch Daniels' state GOP was carrying everything in sight, Sarah Palin couldn't even get her pet Republican elected to the Senate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Wisconsin Evokes Democrats' Dilemma: GOP Triumph in Bellwether State Bodes Ill for Obama in 2012 (DOUGLAS BELKIN And NEIL KING, JR., 11/07/10, WSJ)

Mr. Obama bagged traditionally liberal Wisconsin and its ten electoral votes two years ago, part of a sweep that also included states that hadn't tilted Democratic for decades. That went into reverse Tuesday. The party suffered heavy losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two big states that had backed Mr. Obama in 2008, as independent voters swung to the right. Other presidential territory—Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina—swung back to the GOP.

The depth of the party's losses outside Washington, in state-level-contests, can be seen in this working-class city. The president won handily here in 2008 along with surrounding Brown County. Last week, Republicans carried all 18 races on the county's ballots, right down to the clerk of the court. The GOP took control of the governor's office, the state assembly and the state senate—the first time the state has reverted so abruptly to one side since 1938.

Democrats also lost a U.S. Senate seat and two U.S. House seats.

...when a Democrat has to fight just to win back PA and WI.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The Thinker: The president as intellectual and political philosopher. (PETER BERKOWITZ, 11/05/10, WSJ)

[James] Kloppenberg argues that, thanks to the ideas to which Obama was exposed and the moral and intellectual virtues he cultivated during his journey through the American academy—he was a student at Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law School and a faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School—he became an exemplar, in word and deed, of moderation, balance and accommodation.

Mr. Kloppenberg is certainly right to call attention to the effect on Mr. Obama's sensibility of "the developments in American academic culture since the 1960's." And he convincingly shows that Mr. Obama's two books, shorter writings and speeches contain thoughtful and sometimes eloquent variations on "a surprising number of the central themes in the American political tradition, particularly as it has come to be understood in the last half century."

But "Reading Obama" does not explain Mr. Obama's failure, in his first 22 months in office, to find common ground with conservatives and independents; his refusal to slow down and win over a majority before proceeding with large-scale reforms; and his readiness, as president, to vilify those who disagree with his policies and purposes.

According to Mr. Kloppenberg, Mr. Obama's uncommon experience—being the son of a white American woman and black African man, living abroad in Indonesia with his mother and her second husband, spending his teenage years in Hawaii in his white grandparents' home—nurtured a gift for seeing the world from a multiplicity of perspectives and for feeling empathy for a diversity of people. So, contends Mr. Kloppenberg, Mr. Obama was well prepared to absorb the best of what was being taught in philosophy, political theory and law at American universities in the 1980s and 1990s—above all, deliberative democracy and philosophical pragmatism.

Deliberative democracy has its roots in the writings of the philosopher John Rawls and in the recovery of the civic-republican tradition in America by, among others, the historian Gordon Wood. It emphasizes the benefits that come from citizens discussing opinions about politics and crafting compromises to achieve the common good. Philosophical pragmatism, for its part, was elaborated by William James and John Dewey. It was revived in the period in which Mr. Obama came of intellectual age, most notably by the philosopher Richard Rorty. It rejects absolutes and instead, as Mr. Kloppenberg writes, "embraces uncertainty, provisionality, and the continuous testing of hypotheses through experimentation." Both deliberative democracy and philosophical pragmatism celebrate open-ended conversation as the animating principle of constitutional democracy.

Consider this thesis, and the fact that Mr. Obama has no executive nor meaningful legislative experience, and you can see why he has been content to simply sign whatever Congress hands him. Arguably, the act of providing any sort of leadership at all would have violated this philosophy, which would explain Mr. Obama's disastrous style of "leadership": utter passivity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Obama's China Ambush:The President will skip China on his Asia tour, but his itinerary signals America's growing unease with the superpower's global clout. Peter Beinart on why Obama's cozying up to China's rivals this week—and how his policy is more hawkish than Bush's. (Peter Beinart, 11/08/10, Daily Beast)

The interesting thing about looking at American foreign policy through an Asia-centric, rather than Middle East-centric, lens is that it is suddenly no longer so clear who the hawks and doves are. President Obama began his dealings with Beijing in a conciliatory vein, but almost two years in, his policy is more hawkish than President Bush’s. He’s angered human rights types by restoring military ties to the Indonesian Special Forces and, according to The Economist, may cut a nuclear deal with Vietnam that allows it to enrich uranium outside of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And if Obama is more hawkish than Bush, the Democrats are, in some ways, more hawkish than the GOP. In September, when the House passed a resolution aimed at pressuring China to revalue its currency, Democrats supported it almost unanimously while Republicans were split. Paul Krugman regularly excoriates China for its currency policies. Nancy Pelosi has long excoriated it over human rights; in 2008 she urged Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

What makes the China debate different from foreign policy debates during the Cold War and the “war on terror” is the role of economics. Since the USSR offered few opportunities for lucrative trade and investment, American businessmen (with a few exceptions, like Armand Hammer) had no problem with the Republican Party taking a hard anti-Soviet line. Similarly, after 9/11, there was no powerful business constituency invested in maintaining ties to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. But China is different. If the neocons want a new cold war with China, they’ll have to take on corporate America in the process, which would make for very interesting times in the GOP. a way of making war on capitalism, not on communism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


America and India: The Almost-Special Relationship (JIM YARDLEY, 11/07/10, NY Times)

Mr. Obama’s trip is an attempt to reboot or refocus the relationship away from these disputes and de-emphasize the tangible goodies (for example, contracts) that politicians call “deliverables.” Instead, the two sides are discussing how they can partner on education, clean energy, agriculture, technological development and military cooperation. The thematic emphasis of the visit is on shared democratic values — a pointed dig at China — and what the two countries say are shared opportunities. [...]

K. Subrahmanyam, a leading Indian defense analyst, believes that India and the United States represent the inevitable and necessary partnership of the 21st century because China’s rise represents a threat to a global order based on democratic principles. He said that demographic trends, too, should bind the two countries together.

“If America needs a partner, Europe is aging, Japan is aging and China is going to age,” he said. “The only two major nations in the world who will not be aging, at least for the next 30 years, are the United States and India.”

We have too much in common not to be allies, but India has far enough to come for there not to be tensions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Republicans map out agenda of less (Lori Montgomery, November 6, 2010, Washington Post)

To make good on their campaign pledge to reduce the size of government, Republicans say they are planning a series of quick moves to slash spending soon after they take control of the House in January. Among the likely options: a massive rescissions package that aides said would slice 20 percent from most domestic agency budgets and enact $160 billion in additional cuts endorsed by visitors to Cantor's "YouCut" Web site.

Such a package would trim more than $260 billion from this year's $1.1 trillion budget for most government operations - the biggest one-year reduction at least since the military drawdown after World War II, budget experts said.

Because Republicans propose to exempt the Pentagon, veterans programs and homeland security from these cuts, liberal analysts said the reductions would decimate education funding, the National Park Service and other worthy programs.

...and propose a Long War drawdown.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


President Obama keeps his core staff intact: White House advisors stay in key posts, despite urging from some Democrats to bring in new blood after the election. 'The president needs a broader range of views,' says one. (Peter Nicholas, 11/07/10, Chicago Tribune)

Despite the historic defeat dealt to Democrats on Tuesday, President Obama appears to be resisting wholesale staff changes that would pry apart the circle of advisors he has relied on since the 2008 campaign.

Obama conceded he has made mistakes over the past two years, telling CBS's " 60 Minutes'' in an interview to be televised Sunday that he failed to clearly explain his decisions — a communications problem he said had diminished him as a leader.

But he shielded his staff from blame, saying: "I take personal responsibility for that. And it's something that I've got to examine carefully as I go forward.''

The communications have worked perfectly, which is why they have diminished him. He isn't a leader and there is nothing to communicate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Hold the Balloons (Yuval Levin, Nov 6, 2010, Weekly Standard)

The day after the election, Cantor released a document directed to Republican members and members-in-waiting that laid out his view of how the new Congress should operate. He highlighted the need to deal with entitlements, while acknowledging that so far Republicans have not been specific enough. He made repealing Obamacare—piece by piece if a wholesale repeal doesn’t work—the Republicans’ top priority.

One of the things the election demonstrated--though folks will resist the idea--is how similar our politics is to the rest of the Anglosphere's, here at the End of History. And the fact of the matter is that citizens of liberal democracies uniformly consider health care to be an entitlement. So when Mr. Cantor calls for both entitlement reform and the repeal of Obamacare in its entirety he's either being unserious or disingenuous. The GOP might well prefer to call mandatory private insurance something else as it reforms the basic idea, but the choice is only between that centerpiece of Obamacare or National Health, and we know which the Party prefers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 AM


Against humanism: Of course we should love, honour and cherish our species, says Mary Midgley. But should we have to worship it too? (Mary Midgley , New Humanist)

In the whole sweep of our lives the physical sciences play only a marginal part, and the positivist approach that tries to rely only on them is not really workable.

At this point it is worthwhile to look at the message of the next prophet who shaped this concept after Comte, Julian Huxley. Huxley was largely responsible for giving this idea the form that it has today and in particular for placing the whole area so deeply in hock to science – that is, to neo-Darwinian ideas about evolution. He did, however understand that something more was needed. He was more aware than most of today’s science-worshippers of the rest of culture, particularly of the varied spiritual territories that we lump together under the name of “religion”, and he made suggestions about how humanism could occupy some of them. In particular, he grasped the ontological trouble that was making modern materialism unworkable and tried to do something about it. He is worth looking at, both because he played a great part in causing our present troubles and because he did try to do something about them.

Like Comte, Huxley retained the concept of worship and he rooted it in anthropological thinking. He writes in his Essays of a Biologist (1923), “The most fundamental need of man… [has always been] to discover something, some power, some force or tendency, which was moulding the destinies of the world – something not himself, greater than himself, with which he yet felt that he could harmonize his nature.” He quotes Matthew Arnold’s statement of the need to recognise “a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness”. That power is (he says) not the human race itself but the evolutionary process that produced it and, behind that process, the whole evolving cosmos. Like Spinoza, he retains the term God and effectively equates it with Nature. “It is a simple fact that the conception which man has of the universe and its relation to himself exercises important effects upon his life. A name therefore is needed for this anthropological phenomenon. God is the usual name applied and we shall retain it in default of another, premissing that … we apply it here in a peculiar and perhaps somewhat novel sense. God in this sense is the universe, not as such, but as grasped as a whole by a mind.”

Within this universe, however, he sees the human race as having a rather peculiar role at the forefront of evolution. Huxley goes to great trouble to explain – what today’s theorists usually just take for granted – why it is that he thinks humanity should be considered specially valuable and important. This (he says) is because the mental qualities that it is developing through emergent evolution – especially its capacity for intelligent worship of the universe through science – are the growing-point of the whole cosmic process. These mental properties are not something alien to the material properties that the physical sciences study but are continuous with them, so any materialism that fails to recognise their continuity is mistaken. The still-surviving Cartesian dualism that treats mind as a separate substance from matter must therefore be abandoned. Mind must be taken to have been somehow present in the cosmos from the start. “We come, that is, to a monistic conclusion … that there is only one fundamental substance, and that this possesses not only material [but mental] properties. We want a new word to denote this X, this world-stuff; matter will not do for that is a word which the physicists and chemists have moulded to suit themselves, and since they have not yet learnt to detect or measure mental phenomena they restrict the word ‘material’ to mean ‘non-mental’.”

Huxley, in fact, saw clearly – what few of those who now exalt science seem to have noticed – that this exaltation does not make sense unless we somehow enlarge the notion of reality to make room for mind. Doing science is, after all, a mental activity; it can hardly constitute the purpose of a purely physical universe. More widely, of course, Huxley’s whole way of conceiving evolution as purposive is itself profoundly religious. Darwin himself avoided such thoughts, as do most of those who claim to follow him today. Yet people still do often take it for granted that Evolution, like Progress, is directional – an escalator bound to carry us, or at least our descendants, safely on to higher levels.

To the contrary, that's all Darwinism is and the only reason people (only people in the most developed societies, of course) accepted it. As Darwin himself put it:
I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.

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November 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


The Obama Agenda and the Midterm Wave (Ryan Lizza, 11/07/10, The New Yorker)

Andrew Prokop, a brilliant young political observer who helps me with research—especially anything requiring math and statistics—took a look at how incumbent Democrats voted on Obama’s big-three agenda items and their performance in their districts. What he found is pretty surprising.

He looked at how well a Democrat over-performed or under-performed based on his district’s Partisan Voting Index, which is a handy measure of how politically tilted a district is toward one party compared to the nation as a whole (you can find a full definition of P.V.I. here). The P.V.I. of Gene Taylor’s district is R+20, which means that in the last two Presidential elections it supported the Republican nominee over the Democrat by an average margin of twenty points. Taylor lost this district by only five points, meaning he actually over-performed by fifteen points compared to what you would expect based solely on the district’s P.V.I.

If you look at a a scatterplot of these results, the trend is pretty obvious: the more you voted for the three main items of Obama’s agenda—stimulus, health care, and cap and trade—the worse you did. [...]

My takeaway from all this? If a President has big majorities in Congress and commits to a bold and controversial agenda, he should stick with it to the bitter end, pushing the system as far as it will go during the two-year interval he has between congressional elections.

Of course, when Bill Clinton and George W. Bush enacted genuinely big reforms they were rewarded at the polls--in two unusually successful midterms ('98 and '02). But when Clinton, Bush and now Obama lost control of the agenda to their parties in Congress they got hammered--'94, '06, '10. And in all three instances they were punished just for the rhetoric of and about the congressional party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


The Democrats' Plight: Worse than it seems (Charles Lane, 11/07/10, Washington Post)

No, what's really bad for President Obama and his party is the likely impact of the 2010 Census and ensuing House of Representatives reapportionment on the distribution of votes in the 2012 Electoral College. [...]

Bottom line? Removing Ohio, Florida and Nevada from the analysis, because they are too unpredictable, it looks like Republicans can pretty much count on an additional 7 electoral votes (Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, 4 in Texas, and Utah, minus the loss of one vote in Louisiana) in 2012, while the Democrats can count on 7 fewer (losses in Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, offset by a gain in Washington).

To look at it another way, take the 22 states that voted for John McCain as the GOP base in the 2012 presidential election. That base is about to grow from 173 electoral votes to 180. And if Republicans hold it, they could get to 271 by carrying just six more states -- Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and Nevada -- each of which has voted GOP in a majority of the last ten elections.

As it happens, all six of these states, except for North Carolina, will have Republican governors next year, and all six, except for Nevada, will have Republican state legislatures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Assessing midterm losses, Democrats ask whether Obama's White House fully grasped voters' fears (Karen Tumulty and Dan Balz, 11/07/10, Washington Post)

Obama "is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he's not an extrovert. He doesn't gain energy by connecting with people," said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named while offering a candid criticism. "He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There's no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing."

William A. Galston, a Clinton White House policy adviser who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the midterm election revealed what had always been a "missing middle" to the Obama campaign message.

"Hope is a sentiment, not a strategy, and quickly loses credibility without a road map," Galston wrote in a paper released two days after the election. "Throughout his first two years in office, President Obama often struggled to connect individual initiatives to larger purposes."

With the public skeptical of and even hostile to his biggest accomplishments, including the economic stimulus package and the health-care overhaul, Obama fell back on a plea to voters not to turn back to failed Republican policies. That appeal "just missed what was happening with the country and with people," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.

Still, Democrats remain divided between their moderate and liberal wings over whether the president should continue to push hard with his agenda or move to the center to try to accommodate the Republicans in Congress.

What could turn that tension to open warfare within the party is the decision of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to run for the job of minority leader in the next Congress, despite the fact that she had become a symbol of what Republicans called big-government overreach.

He has no agenda to push, indeed didn't push anything that Pelosi/Reid passed. The problem is that with those two staying as the party leaders it is their agenda he's stuck defending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


GOP can streamline health law, improve malpractice system (Boston Globe, November 7, 2010)

[T]here is a way for the Republicans to improve on the law — by strengthening its anemic effort to reform this country’s dysfunctional medical-malpractice system. The current system fosters costly defensive medicine, provides benefits to too few deserving victims of physicians’ mistakes, forces doctors in many specialties to buy high-premium insurance policies, and discourages the open reporting of treatment errors, even though such information could lead to genuine improvements in medical care.

Congressional Democrats, many of them beholden to lawyers who like the tort system as it is, made only a token effort to fix the malpractice morass. The law calls for just $50 million to finance tort-reform demonstration projects, and places limits on what these projects can offer as alternatives to lawsuits. Republicans should propose a much more robust program of resolving medical errors in ways that make patients whole and help the health care system become as mistake-free as possible.

While they are at it, Republicans could also find Democratic allies to deep-six a revenue-raising mechanism in the new law that only an accountant could love: the requirement starting in 2012 that all businesses submit a form to the IRS for every purchase of more than $600. Yes, this whole new level of paperwork could head off some tax-dodging, but it is not worth the trouble.

That's a good start, but it's the small potatoes. The GOP and President Obama could make health care truly universal--starting at birth--with the use of HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


‘Blindsided’: A President’s Story (MAUREEN DOWD, 11/07/10, NY Times)

In his deftly crafted and utterly selective new memoir, W. is the president we all wished him to be: compassionate, bipartisan, funny, charming, instinctive, independent, able to admit and learn from mistakes — and a good dad, who sang his twin girls the Yale fight song as a lullaby.

Heck, after I finished reading it, I was ready to vote for the guy.

For the third time?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


What King James wrought: How the Bible still shapes the language (Jan Freeman, November 7, 2010, Boston Globe)

In the past week or so, anyone following the news might have read that Jon Stewart is “a thorn in the side of politicians”; that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada won reelection “by the skin of his teeth”; and that people in the newspaper industry “see the writing on the wall.”

That well-informed reader wouldn’t have been especially surprised to hear that these phrases all come from the same source, the Bible. It has long been an article of faith among speakers of English that biblical language — especially that of the Authorized, or King James, version, published in 1611 — has been immensely influential. The KJV, wrote linguist David Crystal in 2004, “has contributed far more to English in the way of idiomatic or quasi-proverbial expressions than any other literary source.”

But just how much was that “far more”? Not even Crystal knew, and with the KJV about to celebrate its 400th year, he set out to explore and tabulate its contributions to everyday language. Now, in “Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language,” he has some answers. The short one is “257” — that’s the number of familiar idioms, from “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis) to the whore of Babylon (Revelation), that he credits to the stature and popularity of the King James Bible.

This doesn’t sound like a lot, given some past claims that thousands of phrases are Bible-derived. But Crystal is counting only idioms — the expressions we use and modify freely with no reference to their origins. He excludes what he labels “quotations,” like “the meek shall inherit the earth” — Bible words that are rarely borrowed for reuse in nonreligious contexts. And even that 257 beats Shakespeare, who has fewer than 100 original phrases to his credit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on (Oliver Marc Hartwich, 11/08/10, The Australian)

We can trace the origins of this thought to the Gaia theory of British scientist James Lovelock. He claims that the planet is just like one big organism. "Gaia", as he called it, fights back against humanity because she has simply had enough of us. From such a perspective, epidemics, starvation, and natural disasters may well be the planet's response to the human disease.

It looks like Lovelock's followers are no longer satisfied leaving it to the planet to seek revenge on humanity. Rather, they would take matters in their own hands. Having identified humanity as the cancer on the face of the earth, they are advocating more hands-on approaches to reduce humankind's footprint on the planet. Or maybe even reduce the world's population. This is what the ANU survey confirms.

Let's not be fooled by these new disciples of Gaia, though. What is disguised by nice, touchy-feely slogans about sustainability, nature and the environment is often just misanthropy by another name. It has no respect for people in developed countries and is completely oblivious to the needs of people in poorer places.

Just consider the case of urban density. In order to save land from development, city dwellers are advised to live at much higher densities.

Gone are nice front patios and green backyards, leafy suburbs and playing fields. For the planet's sake, let's live on top of one another in tiny boxes, ideally next to busy train and tram lines, they preach. It's a victory of nature over the quality of life in our cities.

Things get even more cynical when our subservience to the planet dictates what we allow poorer peoples to do. The thought that millions of Indians would want to drive their own little cars drives Western environmentalists crazy. They would never admit it, but deep down they wish these poor Indians would just remain poor; all for the sake of the planet, of course.

Worshipping their new goddess nature, the environmentalists have forgotten something. We human beings may not all be cute and cuddly, but we deserve at least as much love and attention as our distant relatives in the animal kingdom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


NJ Gov.: Delaware ‘missed opportunity’ for Senate (AP, 11/07/10)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says the Senate race in Delaware was “a missed opportunity” for his fellow Republicans to pick up the seat long held by Democrat Joe Biden. [...]

Christie says he was proud to have endorsed Castle. [...]

Christie told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “I think Delaware was a missed opportunity to have a really good U.S. senator.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

November 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


A new power to the south (Boston Globe, November 7, 2010)

WHEN BRAZILIAN voters ended a mostly sedate campaign by choosing Dilma Rousseff as their new president, it was the culmination of historic changes that the United States ought to welcome and encourage. Rousseff and her mentor, outgoing president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, have pushed for a healthy combination of free-market economics, benefits for the poor, and a genuine respect for democracy. This mix has left Brazil increasingly prosperous — an economic record that puts to shame Venezuela’s constitution-altering President Hugo Chavez.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


How Obama Enables Rush (Rick Perlstein, 11/07/10, Daily Beast)

Political scientists are going crazy crunching the numbers to uncover the skeleton key to understanding the Republican victory last Tuesday.

But the only number that matters is the one demonstrating that by a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down.

What remains of the Left when even Friend Perlstein thinks the party that cuts taxes should be rewarded at the polls?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Saudis Warned U.S. of Attack Before Parcel Bomb Plot (ERIC SCHMITT and SCOTT SHANE, 11/07/10, NY Times)

Saudi intelligence officials warned the United States in early October that Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen was planning a terrorist attack using one or more aircraft, three weeks before a plot to send parcel bombs on cargo planes was foiled at the last minute, American and European officials said Friday.

The Saudi warning came days after American officials intercepted several packages in mid-September that contained books, papers, CDs and other household items shipped to Chicago from Yemen. The Americans considered the possibility that those parcels might be a test run for a terrorist attack.

Taken together, the Saudi warning and the suspected dry run provide a more detailed picture than American officials had previously described of mounting indications of a possible attack by the same branch of Al Qaeda that tried to blow up a passenger airliner over Detroit last Dec. 25.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


Yes, Jews Are Still Democrats: The right painted Obama as anti-Israel, hoping to pry Jewish voters from their Democratic roots. Nice try. Maybe the scare tactics were meant for conservative Christians instead (Eric Alterman, 11/07/10, Daily Beast)

Interesting, while Sestak could not squeak out a victory, he did even better with Jewish voters than did most Democrats, which was pretty damn good. Sestak polled 71-23 percent among Pennsylvania Jews over his Republican opponent Pat Toomey, according to a J Street poll; the same one that showed Jews, nationally, embracing Democrats by a 66 to 31 percent margin. Now compare this to 37 percent Democratic vote for white voters in general in House races, according to a CNN exit poll. What's more, the polling also demonstrates that the scare tactics vis-à-vis Israel were a non-starter for most Jewish voters, as it was identified as the most important issue in determining which party to choose by only 7 percent of voters, well behind the economy, health care and government spending.

Nothing matters except that the Democrats are the secular party and the GOP the religious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM


A GOP not for 'whites only' (Clarence Page, November 7, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

What's the most overlooked, underappreciated story from the midterm elections? My nominee would be the surprising new racial and ethnic diversity of Republican congressional and gubernatorial winners — even if we don't see as much diversity among the party's voters.

Republican contenders-of-color had a history-making night, which helps undermine the notion that the GOP is becoming a whites-only party. It's hard to say how much help the new diversity will be in winning over more nonwhite voters. But it already appears to be helping party leaders to become more comfortable with an increasingly multiracial, multicultural voting population. If their success at attracting ethnic minority candidates keeps up, it could attract nonwhite voters, too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Jobless rate holds, many quit looking (Ann Belser, 11/06/10, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

That brings the labor force participation rate, those people 16 years old and over who are either working or looking for jobs, down to 64.5 percent, the lowest it has been since 1984.

Before the 2001 recession, the labor force participation rate hovered around 67 percent, dropping to 66 percent through much of the decade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Best. Decade. Ever.: The first 10 years of the 21st century were humanity's finest -- even for the world's bottom billion. (CHARLES KENNY, SEPT. / OCT. 2010, Foreign Policy)

Consider that in 1990, roughly half the global population lived on less than $1 a day; by 2007, the proportion had shrunk to 28 percent -- and it will be lower still by the close of 2010. That's because, though the financial crisis briefly stalled progress on income growth, it was just a hiccup in the decade's relentless GDP climb. Indeed, average worldwide incomes are at their highest levels ever, at roughly $10,600 a year -- and have risen by as much as a quarter since 2000. Some 1.3 billion people now live on more than $10 a day, suggesting the continued expansion of the global middle class. Even better news is that growth has been faster in poor places like sub-Saharan Africa than across the world as a whole.

There are still 1 billion people who go to bed each night desperately hungry, but cereal prices are now a fraction of what they were in the 1960s and 1970s. That, alongside continued income growth, is why the proportion of the developing world's population classified as "undernourished" fell from 34 percent in 1970 to 17 percent in 2008, even at the height of a global spike in food prices. Agricultural productivity, too, continues to climb: From 2000 to 2008, cereal yields increased at nearly twice the rate of population growth in the developing world. And though famine continues to threaten places such as Zimbabwe, hundreds of millions of people are eating more -- and better -- each day.

We're also winning the global battle against infectious disease. The 2009 swine flu has killed more than 18,000 people so far, according to the World Health Organization. But its impact has been far less severe than the apocalyptic forecasts of a few years ago, fueled by nightmare scenarios of drug-resistant, Airbus-hopping viruses overwhelming a hot, flat, and crowded world. The truth is that pandemics are on the wane. Between 1999 and 2005, thanks to the spread of vaccinations, the number of children who died annually from measles dropped 60 percent. The proportion of the world's infants vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus has climbed from less than half to 82 percent between 1985 and 2008. [...]

Even the wars of the last 10 years, tragic as they have been, are minor compared with the violence and destruction of decades and centuries past. The number of armed conflicts -- and their death toll -- has continued to fall since the end of the Cold War. Worldwide, combat casualties fell 40 percent from 2000 to 2008. In sub-Saharan Africa, some 46,000 people died in battle in 2000. By 2008, that number had dropped to 6,000. Military expenditures as a percentage of global GDP are about half of their 1990 level. In Europe, so recently divided into two armed camps, annual military budgets fell from $744 billion in 1988 to $424 billion in 2009. The statistical record doesn't go back far enough for us to know with absolute certainty whether this was the most peaceful decade ever in terms of violent deaths per capita, but it certainly ranks as the lowest in the last 50 years.

...maybe the UR could tell us all to suck it up and get on with our rather easy lives?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Mavis Staples On World Cafe (NPR, 11/05/10)

At 69, Staples conti