December 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle: The first serious contenders for a mass-scale electric car are on the road. They've already changed GM and Nissan; will they change the world? (Eric Pooley, 12/30/10, Business Week)

The psychology of the American car buyer is the biggest roadblock Nissan must get past for the Leaf to become the hit that the company promises it will be. Nissan's chief executive officer, Carlos Ghosn, likes to point out that 95 percent of drivers travel less than 100 miles per day, making the Leaf practical for most. Yet practicality doesn't always translate into peace of mind. A recent study by Synovate Motoresearch showed that 60 percent of 1,600 U.S. consumers surveyed think their gasoline-powered cars are reliable. Only 30 percent of those surveyed think hybrid-electric cars are reliable (even after a decade of virtually trouble-free performance), and only 10 percent think electric cars will be trouble-free. "The main thing holding back electric vehicles is the customer," says John German, a former strategic planner for Honda (HMC) who is now a program director for the International Council on Clean Transportation, a green think tank in Washington. "It's risk aversion."

Nissan and GM missed the decade-long trend toward gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles—Toyota's (TM) Prius dominates that segment, which still accounts for less than 3 percent of all cars sold in the U.S. When Ghosn joined Nissan as chief operating officer in 1999, the company was flirting with bankruptcy; as CEO starting in 2001 he slashed 60 percent of its research and development projects but kept the costly battery program that led to the Leaf. In 2005 he also became chief executive of Renault, which owns 44.3 percent of Nissan, while Nissan holds 15 percent of Renault. The Renault-Nissan alliance has now spent more than 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) developing EVs and batteries, according to the company.

Both Nissan and GM began work on their new electric vehicles in 2006, when the rest of the auto industry had more or less given up on EVs after a brief foray in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When Nissan announced its project that year, "Nobody took us seriously," Ghosn, 56, says in a telephone interview. "We had many very ironic comments coming from our competitors about the illusion of the electric car."

The sniping never stopped. Former GM Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz, who helped develop the Volt, told Bloomberg News last year that all-electric vehicles were still years away from widespread adoption. "He's rolling the dice," Lutz said of Ghosn's battery-only approach. "I don't see it happening."

Until a next-generation battery emerged with better range at less cost, the industry decided, all-electric vehicles were too limited for the mainstream. (Some investors seem to agree these days. Last week electric car manufacturer Tesla's (TSLA) stock dropped 15 percent on the day the insiders' lock-up period expired.) Everyone remembered the fiasco of the first abortive EV era, from 1996 to 2003, when California required GM and other carmakers to offer the vehicles. The cars were too expensive to be profitable, so the carmakers succeeded in overturning the state mandate, then scrapped the program. In GM's case, the company crushed many of the cars, called EV-1s—a PR nightmare captured in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

Now, says Ghosn, "Everybody is competing for the electric car market. People who don't really have an electric car are saying, 'We have one, too.' Even the hybrids want to look electric, which was not obvious four or five years ago. My call was the right one. It doesn't always work out that way, so you're happy when you're vindicated."

...the acceptance will come out of their wallets.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Derailing This Gravy Train (Steve Forbes, 01.17.11, Forbes)

The fundamental pension reform that states and municipalities must enact is for elected officials and government workers to move to the equivalent of 401(k)s. No more defined benefit plan, under which promises are made so that state bureaucrats can retire with high benefits at fairly young ages. No more abuses of working overtime near retirement so the salary on which the pension is based gets steroidic boosts. At the least, new government-employee hires should have a 401(k)-type plan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Earth project aims to 'simulate everything' (Gareth Morgan, 12/27/10, BBC)

An international group of scientists are aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth - from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes' roads.'s called Earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Ritter's sex charges from 2001 unsealed (BRENDAN J. LYONS, December 27, 2010, Times Union)

Nearly two years ago, Ritter, of Delmar, watched his computer screen reveal that an anonymous person who had been exchanging sexually charged messages with him for 80 minutes was not a 15-year-old girl.

It was a cop from a small town in northeast Pennsylvania, alone in his station house and trolling the Internet for suspected child predators.

Ryan Venneman, a detective for the Barrett Township Police Department in Monroe County, had enough after Ritter allegedly transmitted streaming video of himself masturbating.

"(Y)ou know ur in a lot of trouble don't u," Venneman typed in a Yahoo chat-room message. "Im a under cover police officer u need to call me asap."

"Nah," Ritter answered. "Your not 15. Yahoo is for 18 and over. Its all fantasy. No crime. ... As far as I know, you're a 56 year old housewife."

The problem for Ritter, 49, a volunteer fireman and married father of two daughters, is that the encounter with Venneman is at least the third time he's been snared in an Internet sting case involving police posing as minors. Now, the past is coming back to haunt Ritter.

A Pennsylvania judge ruled last week that two Colonie case files involving Ritter be unsealed so they can be used as evidence against him at his upcoming trial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Reliance on Indirect Evidence Fuels Dark Matter Doubts: Pinning down the universe's missing mass remains one of cosmology's biggest challenges (Bruce Dorminey, December 30, 2010, Scientific American)

But the dark stuff itself has yet to be detected, either directly, in particle physics laboratories as a new subatomic particle, via neutrino telescopes also operating in the subatomic realm, or with concrete evidence of such hidden matter using telescopes operating in the electromagnetic spectrum. Some astrophysicists are hopeful that the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope will deliver corroborating, if still somewhat indirect, evidence for the mutual annihilation of dark matter particles in the galaxy.

"Dark matter comes about because people unquestionably find mass discrepancies in galaxies and clusters of galaxies," says Mordehai Milgrom, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Stars at the very edges of spiral galaxies, for instance, rotate much faster than can be explained by Newtonian gravity alone; the picture makes sense only if astrophysicists either modify gravity itself or invoke additional gravitational acceleration due to an unknown source of mass such as dark matter.

"The mass of visible matter falls very short of what is needed to account for the gravity shown by these systems," Milgrom says. "The mainstream assumes it is due to the presence of dark matter, while others, like me, think that the theory of gravity has to be modified."

One if the endearing things about Sciencism is the tendency to make fun of things like the elaborate gyrations that used to be dreamt up in order to preserve the orbit of planets around the Earth at the same time that you're torturing your own systems in order to preserve a failed paradigm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Vale Denis Dutton (Hal G.P. Colebatch on 12.30.10, American Spectator)

"It's a grave mistake in publishing, whether you're talking about Internet or print publication, to try to play to a limited repertoire of established reader interests," Denis said in a 2000 interview. "A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we'll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let's expand ourselves intellectually."

Certainly not everything re-published or made available at ALD was of the highest standard, but a great deal of it was. Denis told me he tried to avoid giving ALD a narrow image, but conservatives in particular have reason to be grateful for the forum he created – it opened magazines like TAS, Quadrant, City Journal and the Weekly Standard to the world, along with the sites of such as Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, Keith Windshuttle and Mark Steyn. The list goes on…

I know of no one who has done more for the international distribution of conservative ideas. For a professor of philosophy his contribution to the world would have been eminently practical even if her had done nothing else. And he did it from a provincial university at the bottom of the world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


The Pope Strikes Back (Theodore Dalrymple, Winter 2010, The Salisbury Review)

A great deal of the hostility to the Pope’s visit was likewise caused by his having been right, at least in some things, such as the insufficiency of consumerist materialism as a basis for a satisfactory existence. There are few human types less attractive, surely, than failed materialists, which is what the British, or at least so many of them, now are. They consume without discrimination what they have not earned: which is why many of them are so grotesquely fat as well as so deeply indebted. Indeed, there is scarcely any kind of debt or deficit to which we as a nation have not resorted in order to continue (at least for a time) on our vulgar and degraded way. A nation that behaves thus is quite without honour or self-respect, collective or individual. All this Benedict XVI has seen with a perfectly clear eye; and if what George Orwell once wrote, that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men, we might even call the Pope the George Orwell of our time.

Gratitude is seldom the reward of those who see an unwelcome truth more clearly than others; quite the reverse. But Benedict’s ‘crime,’ apart from being German, goes much further than his failure (or worse his refusal) to screen out the unpleasant consequences of consumerist materialism from his vision, which it is the duty of all right-thinking people. He lays down a ethical challenge to our utilitarian ways of thinking; in other words, he is a heretic to be excommunicated from the Church of Righteous Liberalism.

In pointing out some of the fallacies, oversimplifications, dangers and empirically unfortunate results of contemporary rationalist utopianism, the Pope is potentially provocative of the kind of spiritual crisis that John Stuart Mill recounts in his Autobiography. When he was twenty, Mill, who had hitherto been trained as a kind of calculating machine for the felicific calculus, asked himself a question, with (for him) devastating results:

Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be erected this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness answered ‘No!’At this my heart sank within me; the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been founded in the continued pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

In other words, Benedict XVI presents not a challenge to this or that piece of social policy, but to a whole Weltanschauung. And hell hath no fury like a questionable Weltanschauung questioned.

Here it is necessary for me to declare an interest, or rather lack of one. Just as one cannot write of the question of tobacco-control without declaring that one owns no shares in a tobacco company, so I must declare that I am not a Catholic, that I am not religious, that I am not therefore an apologist for the curia or anyone else. I am, in fact, not a systematic thinker at all, lacking the capacity or patience for it. And I disagree with the Pope on many things, but I do not therefore hate him.

The quite extravagant expressions of antagonism towards him — such, for example, as that consideration be given to arresting him for crimes against humanity — seem to me to bespeak a very odd, almost paranoid, state of mind. And while I hesitate always to use Freudian concepts, surely the idea of projection, the attribution to others of discreditable inclinations, thoughts or behaviour that one has oneself had or indulged in, is appropriate here.

...for a Bright to fear that reality is arrayed against him?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


No Medicine for You (Andrew Cline on 12.31.10, The American Spectator)

Why in the world would the government make you go to the doctor and get a prescription for an over-the-counter medication before you could buy it with a tax-free account created for the very purpose of encouraging people to save health care dollars rather than waste them on needless doctor's office visits?

Some say the change is a revenue-raiser for the government to help offset the cost of the health care law. Every dollar not put into these tax-free accounts is a dollar that gets taxed. But I think the reason was pure class warfare.

Reporting on the change, Kaiser Health News had this interesting analysis in June:

Many Democrats say HSAs are a tax shelter for healthy, affluent people who can afford to sock money away and leave it there to grow. A 2008 Government Accountability Office report found that the average household income of people with HSAs was $139,000, compared with $57,000 for all other taxpayers. Critics also say that requiring people to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for health care encourages them to cut back on care they need."

The Democrats snuck this provision into the health care bill (and they did sneak it in; after the bill was passed, the New York Times called the provision a "surprise" for consumers) in part to stick it to "the rich."

The Democrats are right, of course, but the point is that pretty much everybody is healthy until they're old enough that using an HSA to build affluence would make their late life medical spending easily affordable.

December 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Suddenly, the U.S. Is Where the Optimism Is (Rich Miller and Simon Kennedy, 12/30/10, BusinessWeek)

The battle to extend the Bush-era tax cuts was politically divisive, and the process agonizingly prolonged. Yet the decision to continue the cuts—and throw in a few others—is already producing something the U.S. economy needs: optimism. While U.S. growth has accelerated in recent months, the tax deal, signed into law in December, has suddenly made economists, consumers, and companies such as General Electric (GE) more confident about 2011. "That deal was measurably better than I had anticipated," says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics (MCO). "I feel sentiment shifting. It feels like business is ready to turn the light switch on."

The change in sentiment is all the more striking when compared with the rest of the world. Europe is stuck in its sovereign-debt morass, while China, India, and other emerging countries struggle to cap a rise in inflation. "The new, new, new normal is for the U.S. to be looking in pretty good shape," says Jim O'Neill, the London-based chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. It's "raising issues about the whole allocation of capital between so-called emerging markets and the U.S.," says O'Neill, who popularized investing in emerging markets by coining the BRIC moniker for Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index of U.S. stocks was up 12.8 percent for the year as of Dec. 28, vs. declines in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. It also exceeded the gains in the MSCI World Index, which tracks developed-nation equities. U.S. chief executives polled in the fourth quarter by the Business Roundtable were the most optimistic they've been in almost five years. Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive officer of GE, called President Barack Obama's tax cut and his Dec. 15 meeting with corporate leaders "real positives." Executives were pleasantly surprised that the budget deal included a temporary decrease in payroll taxes and a tax break for business investment.

Sadly, Democrats failed to pass the most important legislation they considered, the DREAM Act.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Feds probe Christine O'Donnell's campaign spending (AP, 12/29/10)

Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell to determine if the former Senate candidate broke the law by using campaign money to pay personal expenses, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of a client who has been questioned as part of the probe. The case, which has been assigned to two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents in Delaware, has not been brought before a grand jury.

Where there's a witch hunt there's a witch.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM

The Hold Steady Live at First Avenue (NPR: The Current, December 28, 2010)

The Hold Steady are no strangers to the Twin Cities, and they celebrated the Fourth of July this year with a couple shows in Minneapolis. The Current recorded the show from First Avenue (the second night of the two-night stint).

The Hold Steady

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


The priests who survived the atomic bomb: The remarkable survival of the Jesuit Fathers in Hiroshima has echoes in the Bible and in the story of Fatima (Donal Anthony Foley, 5 August 2010, Catholic Herald)

August 6 is also an important date in world history: the fateful day on which the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. On that day, a Monday, at 8.15 in the morning, an American B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped its bomb “Little Boy”, which fell to a predetermined detonation height of about 1,900 feet above the city. It exploded with a blinding flash, creating a giant fireball, which vaporised practically everything and everyone within a radius of about a mile of the point of impact. It is estimated that up to 80,000 people were directly killed by the blast, and by the end of the year, that figure had climbed considerably higher, due to injuries and the effects of radiation. Over two thirds of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed.

But in the midst of this terrible carnage, something quite remarkable happened: there was a small community of Jesuit Fathers living in a presbytery near the parish church, which was situated less than a mile away from detonation point, well within the radius of total devastation. And all eight members of this community escaped virtually unscathed from the effects of the bomb. Their presbytery remained standing, while the buildings all around, virtually as far as the eye could see, were flattened.

Fr Hubert Schiffer, a German Jesuit, was one of these survivors, aged 30 at the time of the explosion, and who lived to the age of 63 in good health

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


US bison ranchers struggle to meet consumer demand (STEVE KARNOWSKI, 12/28/10, Associated Press)

Bison grow slower than other livestock, and a heifer can't have her first calf until she's 3, said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association in Westminster, Colo. Beef cows can have calves at 2. Also, many producers are finding heifers more valuable for breeding than eating, which means fewer bison going to market — at least temporarily, he said.

The tight supply comes after bison farmers spent much of the past decade aggressively courting consumers by touting the health benefits of the low-fat, low-cholesterol meat. Bison caught on, and even in the economic slump, prices haven't discouraged consumers.

"Now our challenge is keeping up with that demand," Carter said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia. (Tino Sanandaji, 12/22/10, SuperEconomy)

Correcting for the demography:

In almost all European countries, immigrants from third world countries score lower than native born kids.

Why? No one don’t know exactly why. Language, culture, home environment, income of parents, the education level of the parents and social problems in the neighborhood and peer groups norms are among likely explanations. But it is generally not true that the schools themselves are worse for immigrants than natives. In welfare states, immigrants often (thought not always) go to the same or similar schools and have as much or likely more resources per student.

So the fact that immigrant students in mixed schools do worse than Swedish kids used to a few decades ago in homogeneous schools does not it out of itself prove that Swedish public schools have become worse.

Of course, the biggest myth that the media reporting of PISA scores propagates is that the American public school system is horrible.

The liberal left in U.S and in Europe loves this myth, because they get to demand more government spending, and at the same time get to gloat about how much smarter Europeans are than Americans. The right also kind of likes the myth, because they get to blame social problems on the government, and scare the public about Chinese competitiveness.

We all know that Asian students beat Americans students, which "proves" that they must have a better education system. This inference is considered common sense among public intellectuals. Well, expect for the fact that Asian kids in the American school system actually score slightly better than Asian kids in North-East-Asia!

So maybe it’s not that there is something magical about Asian schools, and has more to do with the extraordinary focus on education in Asian culture, with their self-discipline and with their favorable home environment.

There are 3 parts to the PISA test, Reading, Math, and Science. I will just make it simple and use the average score of the 3 tests. This is not strictly correct, but in practice it doesn’t influence the results, while making it much easier for the reader. (the reason it doesn't influence the results is that countries that are good at one part tend to be good at other parts of the test.)

The simplest thing to do in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison is to at least correct for demography and cultural background. For instance, Finland scores the best of any European country. However first and second generation immigrant students in Finland do not outperform native Swedish, and score 50 points below native Finns (more on this later).

On PISA, 50 points is a lot. To give you a comparison, 50 points is larger than the difference between Sweden and Turkey. A crude rule of thumb here is that 50 points is 0.5 standard deviations.

The problem is that different countries have different share of immigrants. Sweden in 2009 PISA data had 17%, and Finland 4%. It’s just not fair to the Swedish public school system to demand that they must produce the same outcome, when Sweden has many more disadvantaged students. Similarly schools with African-American students who are plagued by racism, discrimination, crime, broken homes, poverty and other social problems are not necessarily worse just because their students don’t achieve the same results as affluent suburbs of Chicago. In fact, the most reliable data I have seen suggests that American minority schools on average have slightly more money than white schools. It’s just that the social problems they face are too much to overcome for the schools. It is illogical to blame the public school system for things out of its hands.

So let’s start by removing those with foreign background immigrants from the sample when comparing European countries with each other. I define immigrants here as those with a parent born outside the country, so it includes second generation immigrants. This is fairly easy for Europe.

In the case of America, 99% of the population originates from other countries, be they England, Italy, Sweden, India, Africa, Hong-Kong or Mexico. If we want to isolate the effect of the United States public school system, we should compare the immigrant groups with their home country. For those majority of Americans whose ancestors originate from Europe, we obviously want to compare them with Europe. For some groups, such as Indians, this is inappropriate. The reason is that mainly the most gifted Indians get to migrate to America to work or study.

However, as I have argued previously, there is strong reason to believe that this problem of so called biased selection does not apply to historic European migration to the United States at the aggregate level. The people who left Europe were not better educated than those who stayed. Immigrants were perhaps more motivated, but often poorer than average.

So similar to my comparison of GDP levels, let us compare Americans with European ancestry (about 65% of the U.S population, and not some sort of elite) with Europeans in Europe. We remove Asians, Mexicans, African-Americans and other countries that are best compared to their home nations. In Europe, we remove immigrants.

The results are astonishing at least to me. Rather than being at the bottom of the class, United States students are 7th best out of 28, and far better than the average of Western European nations where they largely originate from. our unshakable conviction that the system was failing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The Road to 2012: The New New Hampshire: Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field are about to find a whole new set of players standing between them and first-in-the-nation primary victory (DAVID S. BERNSTEIN, December 29, 2010, The Phoenix)

It's hard to overstate what happened in New Hampshire on election day this past November. If political analysts described the national election results as a Republican tsunami, what happened in the Granite State was of Noah-like proportions.

Both congressional seats flipped from blue to red. The State Senate turned from a 14-10 Democratic advantage to a stunning 19-5 GOP edge. And in the 400-member House of Representatives, Republicans gained a staggering 124 seats — going from a minority to the largest majority the party has ever held.

But perhaps the biggest upheaval may lie not in those ballot-box gains, but in two GOP departures. US Senator Judd Gregg chose not to run for re-election this year, and former governor John H. Sununu announced this month that he will step down as state party chairman.

"New Hampshire politics, for most people's memory, has been two dominant political parties," says James Pindell, WMUR-TV political director. "Not Democrat and Republican, but Sununu and Gregg."

To be sure, nobody expects those two to fade entirely into the background after three decades each as Granite State kingpins. But neither has the power of office behind their persuasion any more.

This convergence of the New Hampshire GOP's sudden surge in power and absence of leadership has set the stage for two epic battles so far, and a third unfolding, between the party establishment and the Tea Party–based conservative outsiders.

The first came in the September US Senate primary, when Gregg's hand-picked successor, Kelly Ayotte, barely squeaked out victory, by fewer than 2000 votes, over outsider choice Ovide LaMontagne.

The conservative outsiders prevailed in round two, however: the choice of new Speaker of the House of Representatives. The huge influx of new, primarily conservative members lifted third-term backbencher Bill O'Brien — formerly of Massachusetts, where in the early 1990s he was law partners with Tom Finneran — to a narrow win over long-time leadership member Gene Chandler for the position.

Now, the third battle is shaping up in the race to succeed Sununu as state party chairman. The establishment, including Sununu himself, is backing Cheshire County Republican Chair Juliana Bergeron. The insurgents, including O'Brien, are behind former gubernatorial candidate and Tea Party organizer Jack Kimball.

You can be sure the presidential contenders have a close eye on the outcome. But so far, they've been shy about taking sides.

It's easy to see why. Which do you want to offend, the Sununu machine, or the Tea Party voters?

A lot of people now expect the 2012 primary field to split into two early races.

New Hampshire Tea Partiers, in the afterglow of their 2010 success, are already looking for a conservative, populist candidate, says Andrew Hemingway, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which endorsed more than 100 of the new Republican House members. "There's already been a shift in attention toward the presidential contest" among those activists, Hemingway says.

The state's establishment Republicans, on the other hand, will be looking for a more mainstream, electable candidate — one they hope will benefit from the large number of independents expected to vote in the Republican primary, with Obama's re-nomination a foregone conclusion.

It's not at all clear, however, which "influencers," if any, hold the key to those two paths.

We almost always pick the same guy, conservative enough but extremely experienced and from the mainstream of the Party:

2008 Senator John McCain
2004 President George W. Bush
2000 Senator John McCain
1996 Pat Buchanan
1992 President George H. W. Bush
1988 Vice President George H. W. Bush
1984 President Ronald Reagan
1980 Governor Ronald Reagan
1976 President Gerald R. Ford
1972 President Richard Nixon
1968 former Vice President Richard M. Nixon
1964 Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1952 General Dwight D. Eisenhower
1948 Governor Harold Stassen

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


To Each His Own Museum, as Identity Goes on Display (EDWARD ROTHSTEIN, 12/28/10, NY Times)

The placement of totem poles in classic museums of natural history, for example, is a consequence of 19th-century convictions, also imperial, that they were created by peoples who were closer to the natural world — part of natural history rather than the history of civilization.

To a certain extent, the identity museum is a polemical response to such museums. And revenge can be extreme. The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington — a pioneering example of the genre — jettisons Western scholarship and tells its own story, leading one tribe to solemnly describe its earliest historical milestone: “Birds teach people to call for rain.”

Through a gauze of romance, that museum portrays an impossibly peace-loving, harmonious, homogeneous, pastoral world that preceded the invasion of white people — a vision with far less detail and insight than the old natural history museums once provided.

Sometimes, though, the identity impulse is illuminating, as in the Nordic Heritage Museumin Seattle, which gives a Scandinavian angle to the settling of the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes it involves an unusual twist: the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia shapes an identity that emphasizes not its distinctions from the American mainstream, but its connections to it: identity is characterized as assimilative.

Then there are the two most recent examples. The President’s House site is where the nation’s executive mansion stood from 1790 to 1800. And a display there could have provided some unusual insight into the American past, because not only did George Washington, as he shaped the institution of the presidency, sleep there, so did nine of his slaves. On Independence Mall in Philadelphia, which is devoted to ideas of American liberty, it would have made sense for this site to explore the conjunction of these two incompatible ideas — slavery and liberty — particularly as both were knit into the nation’s founding.

Instead, during eight years of controversy, protests and confrontations, the project (costing nearly $12 million) was turned into something else. Black advocacy groups pressed the National Park Service and the city to create an exhibition that focused on enslavement. Rosalyn McPherson, the site’s project manager, emphasized in an interview that the goal was to give voice to the enslaved. Community meetings stressed that slaves had to be portrayed as having “agency” and “dignity.” A memorial to all slaves was erected, inscribed with a roster of African tribes from which they were taken — a list that has no clear connection to either the site or the city.

The result is more than a little strange. One black advocacy group’s leader, Michael Coard, who was placed on the site’s oversight committee, wrote an angry, influential essay on the Web site of his organization, Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, that was just in its analysis of historical neglect, but distorting in its all-consuming strategy. It would allow no differentiation and qualification, treating the site almost as if it were the Slave Market of Charleston.

Even in the context of 18th-century slavery, though, this house (long demolished) must have been unusual: its internal structure may have teetered with the nation’s own paradoxes, resisting easy characterization. There is no conclusive evidence, for example, that it held “slave quarters.” In a city with more free blacks than slaves, the house sheltered more indentured and paid servants than slaves; accounts suggest that sleeping quarters may have mixed both race and status. John Adams, who also lived in this mansion, didn’t even own slaves.

Moreover, the scanty historical background presented in the exhibition’s annotated illustrations is almost mischievously diminishing. During the 10 years in which Philadelphia was the national capital and Washington and Adams were shaping the new country there, what we see of the “upstairs” world is this: unrest (riots opposing Adams’s policy regarding France), protest (against the Jay Treaty), fear (a yellow-fever epidemic) and hypocrisy (Washington is shown with a disdainful look as he awards a medal to a proud Seneca Indian leader). And the architecture of the site makes it seem as though we are standing in an open-air ruin.

The result: an important desire to reveal what was once hidden ends up pulling down nearly everything else, leaving a landscape as starkly unreal as the one in which Washington could never tell a lie. It is not really a reinterpretation of history; it overturns the idea of history, making it subservient to the claims of contemporary identity politics.

This approach is even more sweeping in the exhibition about Muslim science, “1001 Inventions,” at the Hall of Science. It claims to show how a millennium-long Golden Age of Islamic science lasting into the 17th century anticipated the great inventions and discoveries of the Western world.

...wouldn't we rather they wreck the entire exhibit so we can ignore it rather than taint a portion of one we'd otherwise want to see?

December 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Lawmakers Finance Pet Projects Without Earmarks (RON NIXON, 12/29/10, NY Times)

No one was more critical than Representative Mark Steven Kirk when President Obama and the Democratic majority in the Congress sought passage last year of a $787 billion spending bill intended to stimulate the economy. And during his campaign for the Illinois Senate seat once held by Mr. Obama, Mr. Kirk, a Republican, boasted of his vote against “Speaker Pelosi’s trillion-dollar stimulus plan.”

Though Mr. Kirk and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers’ practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts.

Pork is governance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM

(via The Mother Judd):

Candied bacon sticks (Lisa Zwirn. Adapted from Tastings Caterers, 12/29/10, Boston Globe)

Vegetable oil (for the pan)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced bacon
2 boxes (3 ounces each) thin breadsticks, such as Alessi
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Brush lightly with oil.

2. Starting about 1 inch from one end of a breadstick, wrap the bacon around the stick. (Don’t worry about wrapping it snugly because as the bacon cooks it will tighten around the stick.) Leave at least 1 inch uncovered at both ends. For larger, broken sticks, cut the bacon to fit. Place the wrapped sticks in the pan, fitting them close together as needed.

3. In a bowl, combine the dark and light brown sugars. Sprinkle the mixture all over the bacon sticks. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until the bacon is cooked through and nicely browned. Carefully spoon off the fat from the pan. Cool the sticks for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack or a sheet of parchment paper to cool completely. If you wait too long to remove the sticks from the pan, the sugar will harden and stick to the pan. The sticks can be made up to one day ahead; store at room temperature or refrigerate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Palin Faces Gloomy New Poll Numbers (Scott Conroy, 12/28/10, RCP)

At first glance, 49 percent may appear to be a promising slice of the GOP electorate, but it is down dramatically from the 67 percent of Republicans who said that they were likely to support a Palin run when they were asked in a previous CNN poll conducted in December of 2008.

Sixty-seven percent of Republicans in the new CNN poll said that they were somewhat or very likely to support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2012, while 59 percent said the same of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The CNN poll was conducted by telephone from December 17-19 and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percent.

Compounding those dour numbers for Palin was the release on Tuesday of a series of Democratically-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) state surveys, which were conducted over the past couple of months. The PPP polls showed the former Alaska governor with low favorability ratings among voters in key battleground states.

Alaska Icy On Sarah Palin: Poll (HuffPo, 12-28-10)
Not many Alaskans, Democrat or Republican, are fond of Sarah Palin, a recent Public Policy Polling survey finds.

According to the poll, Palin has a dismal 33 percent favorability rating in her home state. That's a 12-point drop from last winter, a similar poll finds.

It's hard to argue her actions were more honorable than Jim Jeffords's or Arlen Spector's.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


Darwin, Design & Thomas Aquinas: The Mythical Conflict Between Thomism & Intelligent Design (Logan Paul Gage, Touchstone)

Given the active role of God in nature in Thomas’s system, one might think today’s Thomists would encourage the pursuit of signs of intelligent design in nature. Yet in recent years, some Thomists have shied away from ID. They do so not only because of lax scrutiny of the tensions just discussed but also because of three major misperceptions of intelligent design: first, that ID is “mechanistic”; second, that ID is a “God of the Gaps” theory; and third, that ID is inherently “interventionist.” While many Thomists harbor doubts about the more extravagant claims of Darwinian science, taken together these three factors make it almost impossible for some Thomists to embrace intelligent design. That is as unnecessary as it is unfortunate.

One of the defining hallmarks of modern Thomism is its strong rejection of early modern philosophy as seen in René Descartes and Francis Bacon. In general, modernists reduce Aristotle’s four causes down to only two causes and, as a result, reduce all knowledge to empirical knowledge. Both moves strike directly at Thomistic philosophy, so it is no surprise that they have aroused Thomists’ ire.

“Causes” in Aristotle’s sense explain why something is the way it is, and as Thomas explains, “there are four kinds of cause, namely, the material, efficient, formal and final.” Aristotle and Thomas would explain a marble statue by reference to its material cause (the marble), its efficient cause (the sculptor), its formal cause (the shape of the statue), and its final cause (the purpose of honoring Athena). A modernist, in contrast, sees only material man and marble at work. Ultimately, all is explained by atoms in motion—not by immaterial ideas, forms, or purposes. Thus for the modernist, knowledge is necessarily and exclusively knowledge of the empirical.

Some Thomists insist that ID is methodologically flawed because, they claim, ID, like modernism, rejects formal and final causation. This is incorrect. Far from rejecting final causation, ID theorists see ID as finding empirical evidence of purpose or teleology, for they see some features of nature as inexplicable apart from intelligent activity such as foresight and planning.

By reintroducing intelligent causes as a legitimate scientific pursuit, and by rejecting the Darwinian notion that material and efficient causes suffice to explain nature, ID theorists may well open the door for renewed attention to formal causes. Thomists should welcome ID as a partner.

Agency, Not Mechanism

Still, some Thomists insist that ID inherently views nature mechanistically. Those who say this consistently have in mind Michael Behe’s argument for the “irreducible complexity” of what are referred to in the scientific literature as “molecular machines.” They seem to forget that Thomas repeatedly used analogies between living objects and man-made artifacts. So they should hardly be offended that Behe would compare some aspects of microbiological structures to machines.

Besides, ID arguments propose the very opposite of mechanism—agency. Consider Stephen Meyer’s argument concerning the informational content of DNA. In Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that blind material causes are insufficient to produce the immaterial information content of DNA. An immaterial mind, Meyer claims, is a better explanation than any mindless, material cause.

Some Thomist critics go one step further and claim that ID concedes a modernist, Enlightenment view of science. Perhaps this is because ID proponents insist that ID arguments fall within the domain of natural science. But this criticism has things precisely backward: ID theorists challenge the Enlightenment notion that only matter matters, that science cannot take immaterial concepts like mental causation seriously. ID challenges this directly, noting that while materialist science may have seemed plausible in the age of steam, it is hardly plausible in today’s world of the information super-highway—run on the power of the invisible and the immaterial. According to ID theorists, accounting for nature in all its richness requires that we appeal not just to material but to personal causes as well.

Moreover, the claim that design is empirically detectable concedes nothing to the modernist idea that reason is limited to the empirical realm. Nor does anything in ID imply that only science can provide real knowledge. One can argue for empirical evidence of design and also defend, say, knowledge of divine revelation, moral knowledge, knowledge of abstract essences, and knowledge derived from philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

Not a “Gaps” Argument

The second confusion regards the claim that intelligent design is a “God of the Gaps” argument. As Thomist Edward Feser writes, “Aquinas does not argue in this lame ‘God of the gaps’ manner. . . . Paley did, and ‘Intelligent Design’ theorists influenced by him do as well.” Expressed more formally, a “gaps” argument is known as an argument from ignorance. These arguments base claims upon what one does not know rather than upon what one does know. Critics misconstrue contemporary ID arguments (and perhaps Paley’s as well) as, “I do not know how this feature of the natural world arose via material causes; therefore, God did it!”

Yet this, too, is simply a misunderstanding. ID is not an argument for God’s existence. Rather, it is an inference to an intelligent cause. Some people think ID theorists are being coy, but they just want to avoid overstating their argument. Thomas drew the same distinction in Summa Contra Gentiles:

For seeing that natural things run their course according to a fixed order, and since there cannot be order without a cause of order, men, for the most part, perceive that there is one who orders the things that we see. But who or of what kind this cause of order may be, or whether there be but one, cannot be gathered from this general consideration.

So there’s certainly nothing anti-Thomistic in distinguishing between a generic argument for design and an argument for God’s existence—even if the former might provide evidence for the latter.

...we ought to acknowledge for the IDers that they are indeed just being coy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


China bans English words in media (BBC, 12/21/10)

China has banned newspapers, publishers and website-owners from using foreign words - particularly English ones.

China's state press and publishing body said such words were sullying the purity of the Chinese language.

It said standardised Chinese should be the norm: the press should avoid foreign abbreviations and acronyms, as well as "Chinglish" - which is a mix of English and Chinese.

English is what metrics hoped to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


From the Pentagon to the private sector: In large numbers, and with few rules, retiring generals are taking lucrative defense-firm jobs (Bryan Bender, December 26, 2010, Boston Globe)

An hour after the official ceremony marking the end of his 35-year career in the Air Force, General Gregory “Speedy’’ Martin returned to his quarters to swap his dress uniform for golf attire. He was ready for his first tee time as a retired four-star general.

But almost as soon as he closed the door that day in 2005 his phone rang. It was an executive at Northrop Grumman, asking if he was interested in working for the manufacturer of the B-2 stealth bomber as a paid consultant. A few weeks later, Martin received another call. This time it was the Pentagon, asking him to join a top-secret Air Force panel studying the future of stealth aircraft technology.

Martin was understandably in demand, having been the general in charge of all Air Force weapons programs, including the B-2, for the previous four years.

He said yes to both offers.

In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest — pitting his duty to the US military against the interests of his employer — not to mention a revolving-door sprint from uniformed responsibilities to private paid advocacy.

But this is the Pentagon where, a Globe review has found, such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life at the lucrative nexus between the defense procurement system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and the industry that feasts on those riches. And almost nothing is ever done about it.

Sadly, the military is the Right's sacred cow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Is Obama's Muslim Outreach Working?: Public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years. (JOSHUA MURAVCHIK, 12/28/10, WSJ)

A poll out this month from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project sheds interesting light on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America—but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will "do the right thing regarding world affairs," 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is "often" or "sometimes" justified (as opposed to "rarely" or "never").

At first glance, these results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama's engagement project. A few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden.

It shows an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Fuel consumption falls in Iran after subsidy cut (Ali Akbar Dareini,12/29/10, Associated Press)

Fuel consumption has fallen by a fifth since the government began slashing energy and food subsidies earlier this month, a top government official said Wednesday, claiming an early sign of success in the controversial program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Freedom River: A Parable Told by Orson Welles (Open Culture, December 28th, 2010)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


England Overjoyed at Australia Cricket Win (Gavin Lower, 12/29/10, WSJ)

The singing of overjoyed English cricket fans roared from Melbourne bars and pubs long after their team secured an emphatic win against arch rivals Australia, retaining the prized Ashes trophy.

Under a clear perfect blue sky the English team wrapped up the Test match before lunch time Wednesday, giving their supporters an excuse to toast their success with early rounds of beer in celebration.

It was the first time England had retained an Ashes series in Australia since 1986-87.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Ruling could backfire on health-care critics: A step closer to much feared 'socialized medicine.' (Robert A. Burt and Theodore R. Marmor, 12/28/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

[Henry Hudson, the Virginia federal district judge] ruled that the individual insurance mandate was the only part of the health-care law that violated the Constitution. He left intact the provisions forbidding insurance companies from excluding applicants based on preexisting health conditions and from imposing caps on medical expenditures once the insured person became ill. The judge held that these provisions did not interfere with the liberty of individuals to choose whether to purchase insurance but only restricted the commercial activities of the insurance companies themselves.

As a matter of legal logic, this ruling may be coherent. As a matter of practical economics, however, the ruling would have a disastrously perverse effect.

Insurance companies could collect enough premiums to meet these new obligations about preexisting conditions and capped expenditures only if they could enroll large numbers of healthy individuals. If the restrictions stood alone without the mandate for individual insurance, too many people would wait until they were actually ill before purchasing health insurance.

No sensible company would offer open-ended insurance coverage under such circumstances. Since the health-care law without the individual purchase mandate would forbid companies from protecting themselves against financial loss, any sensible company would simply refuse to offer health insurance to anyone. Alternatively the companies might only offer policies with drastically limited coverage and high deductibles - which would in effect be health insurance for almost no one.'s obviously an anti-constitutional ruling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


We Hold These Truths Because They Are True (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 12.29.10, American Spectator)

In 1960 the venerable publishing house of Sheed and Ward released We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition by John Courtney Murray, S.J. It was a series of essays exploring "the American Proposition" which Abraham Lincoln cited in the opening lines of his Gettysburg Address.

Father Murray understood that, even in the 1950s, "the serene, and often naïve, certainties of the eighteenth century have crumbled." Thus, the "self-evident" truths of the Declaration of Independence "may be legitimately questioned."

"What ought not to be questioned, however, is that the American Proposition rests on the forthright assertion of a realist epistemology," asserts Murray. "The sense of the famous phrase is simply this: 'There are truths, and we hold them, and we here lay them down as the basis and inspiration of the American project, this constitutional commonwealth.'" Over and against positivists, Marxists and pragmatists, the Founding Fathers thought that "the life of man in society under government is founded on truths, on a certain body of objective truth, universal in its import, accessible to the reason of man, definable, defensible."

"If this assertion is denied, the American Proposition is, I think, eviscerated at one stroke," argues Murray. "For the pragmatists there are, properly speaking, no truths; there are only results. But the American Proposition rests on the more traditional conviction that there are truths; that they can be known; that they must be held; for, if they are not held, assented to, consented to, worked into the texture of institutions, there can be no hope of founding a true City, in which men may dwell in dignity, peace, unity, justice, well-being, freedom."

Murray says "we hold these truths because they are true. They have been found in the structure of reality by that dialectic of observation and reflection which is called philosophy."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Suspicious Death Ignites Fury in China (XIYUN YANG and EDWARD WONG, 12/29/10, NY Times)

The photograph is so graphic that it appears cartoonish at first glance.

A man lies on a road with his eyes closed, blood streaming from his half-open mouth, his torso completely crushed under the large tire of a red truck. One arm reaches out from beneath the tire. His shoulder is a bloody pile of flesh. His head is no longer attached to the flattened spinal cord.

The man in the photograph, Qian Yunhui, 53, has become the latest Internet sensation in China, as thousands of people viewing the image online since the weekend have accused government officials of gruesomely killing Mr. Qian to silence his six-year campaign to protect fellow villagers in a land dispute. Illegal land seizures by officials are common in China, but the horrific photographs of Mr. Qian’s death on Saturday have ignited widespread fury, forcing local officials to offer explanations in a news conference.

It is the latest in a string of cases in which anger against the government has been fanned by the lightning-fast spread of information online. In late October, the son of a deputy police chief in central China drunkenly drove his car into two college students, killing one and injuring another. His parting phrase as he drove away from the scene of the crime — “Sue me if you dare, my father is Li Gang!” — has since become a byword for official corruption and nepotism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM

Cory Chisel On Mountain Stage (December 28, 2010, NPR: Mountain Stage)

From Appleton, Wis., Cory Chisel comes from a family that made music together, instilling Chisel with a vast catalog of blues and folk music. Being the son of a Baptist minister also informs his singing and songwriting, as evidenced in "Born Again."

Chisel's 2008 EP Cabin Ghosts prompted touring spots with Rachael Yamagata, Josh Ritter and The Low Anthem, helping him build upon a strong regional following. Last year's debut full-length release, Death Won't Send a Letter, was produced by Joe Chiccarelli and features members of The Raconteurs and My Morning Jacket. His band, the Wandering Sons, is composed of longtime acquaintances Adriel Harris on vocals and organ, Miles Nielsen on bass, Daxx Nielsen on drums and Noah Harris on guitar and piano.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Era of Declassification (Zang Shan, 12/28/10, Epoch Times)

At that time, we started to realize that the target of China’s classification system is the Chinese people, and not the so-called “hostile foreign forces.”

Twenty years later, I was not surprised at all when the Chinese government pressed Google Earth to lower the resolution of Google Earth images of China. The Chinese regime does not care whether foreigners know the truth, but only whether its own people know the truth.

During a casual conversation, I got to know that the Chinese Communist Party spent quite an amount of money and political power to prevent secret files on China from being released when the former Soviet Union collapsed.

Understandably, any leak of secrets will create headaches for the Party. The secret documents recently released by WikiLeaks appeared to impact the entire world, but the most impacted is undoubtedly the Chinese communist regime.

It is said that there are no secrets in the Internet era. Anyone can release the truth on the Internet and include pictures, videos and documents. The Watergate incident in the 70’s, first reported by the Washington Post, was the most prominent investigative article of recent years. Today, almost all of the secrets that have shocked the world are now firstly announced on the Internet by unknown individuals or groups.

In addition to its monopoly of the sources of wealth and the arbitrary use of violence, the Chinese Communist Party's control over the flow of information is also important to its pyramid structure and grip on the country.

In China today, a large amount of information is published on the Internet which would have been regarded as classified secrets 20 years ago. The Internet era is an era of declassification, as well as the era of knocking down the authoritarian pyramid. This definitely frustrates the communist regime who stubbornly insists on maintaining its autocratic system.

In Michael Beschloss's book, Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair, he discusses how Ike kept flying the U-2 missions even though we knew they were at risk and were a provocation, because he wanted to keep getting visual confirmation that the Soviet military was so backwards as to offer us no danger. Of course, he didn't share that fact with the American people, not even after JFK started campaigning on the canard that we were falling behind them militarily. Essentially, the US government collaborated with the USSR in a deception that warped American policy for the worse for twenty years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Obama's Detainee Mess: The White House prefers indefinite detention to military tribunals (WSJ, 12/28/10)

White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely, while last week a Democratic Congress barred the Pentagon from spending money to transfer detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. mainland. Did we just wake up and discover this is 2003 and George W. Bush is still President?

No part of President Obama's agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


We misunderestimated him: Bush's memoir sells 2m copies in a month - nearly as many as Bill Clinton's sold in six years (Daily Mail , 23rd December 2010)

Former U.S. President George W Bush's memoir has sold an astonishing two million copies since it was released in early November - and it's not even in paperback yet.

'Decision Points', published both in hardcover and e-book form, is flying off the shelves, the Crown Publishing Group says.

By contrast, former president Bill Clinton's memoir, 'My Life', has logged sales of 2.2million copies since it was first published in 2004.

[A spokesman for Crown] claimed he could not think of any other hardcover nonfiction books in 2010 that had sold even one million copies, much less two.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM

HOLD ME CLOSER, TURKEY BASTER (via Bryan Francoeur--including Title):

Elton John Becomes a Father (VOA News, 28 December 2010)

Elton John and his partner David Furnish have adopted a baby born on Christmas Day: Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


3 elected Mississippi Democrats switch to GOP (HOLBROOK MOHR, 12/28/10, Associated Press)

State Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, state Rep. Bobby Shows and Simpson County Superintendent of Education Joe Welch announced the changes in their party affiliation during a news conference Tuesday at Mississippi Republican Party headquarters in Jackson. [...]

Shows, who is from Ellisville and has served in the House since 1992, said he's the same man he was when elected 19 years ago as a conservative Democrat. It's the Democratic Party, Shows said, that has changed.

Shows said there's an element of the Democratic Party leadership in Mississippi that believes the party is no longer a place for white conservatives.

Nor straight men.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Freeze! Drop That Discarded Dishwasher or I'll Shoot! (Gregg Easterbrook, 12/28/10, ESPN: TMQ)

The New York Times recently reported that unwanted appliances -- old washing machines and so on -- placed on the curb for disposal in New York City have been "disappearing." With scrap metal prices strong, what the article calls "thieves" have been driving along streets scheduled for used-appliance pickups -- in New York City, this happens by published schedule -- and taking away the unwanted junk before the city's officially approved recycler arrives. The "thieves" then sell the unwanted junk as scrap metal.

Set aside whether it's theft to take an unwanted item that has been discarded in a public place. New York City bureaucrats think so; they've instructed police to ticket anyone engaged in recycling without government sanction. Twenty years ago, New York City bureaucrats were demanding that citizens recycle whether they wished to or not, and imposing fines for failure to comply. Now if the average person is caught recycling, it's a police matter.

This issue is not the cleanliness of streets or the environmental benefits of recycling -- it's control of money. The New York City Sanitation Department pays a company called Sims Municipal Recycling about $65 million annually to pick up and recycle metal, glass and aluminum. Notice what's happening here? Recycling is supposed to make economic sense. If it did, the recycling company would be paying the city. Instead, the city is paying the company. Montgomery County, Md., my home county, imposed recycling rules saying they made economic sense. Now the county charges homeowners $210 annually as a recycling tax. If recycling made economic sense, government would pay homeowners for the privilege of picking up their valuable materials. Instead, New York City, Montgomery County and many other government bodies charge citizens for something they claim makes economic sense.

Recycling of aluminum makes good economic sense, given the energy cost of aluminum and the high quality of recycled aluminum. Depending where you are in the country, recycling of newspapers might make sense. Recycling of steel and cooper usually makes sense. But recycling of glass, most plastics and coated paper is a net waste of energy. Often the goal of government-imposed recycling program is to use lack of understanding of economics to reach into citizens' pockets and forcibly extract money that bureaucrats can control.

Notice what else is happening here -- New York City pays a company millions of dollars to do something "thieves" will do for free. The "thieves" harm no one, and could save New York City taxpayers considerable money. But then bureaucrats wouldn't be in control. And surely no-show jobs and kickbacks have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with New York City sanitation contracts.

December 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Denis Dutton, Founder of Arts & Letters Daily, RIP (Nick Gillespie | December 28, 2010, Reason)

Founded in 1998, Arts & Letters Daily was one of the first great aggregator sites, pulling together reviews, essays, studies, op-eds, and more from a vast array of sources that had suddenly become available at the click of a mouse. Only a dozen years on, it's hard to remember the excitement that such developments brought to those of us (read: all of us) who had been starved for content in ways that we didn't even understand. Back in 1994, Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postrel surveyed the coming age of info-plenty and dubbed it "The Age of the Editor." More information, she argued, was going to drive the need for good editors - folks who could sift through the gush of material and deliver quality connections - through the roof. As important, she stressed that we were going to need new meeting places that crossed all sorts of firmly established lines.

Abundance of information and media creates a role for bridges between subcultures. Indeed, one of my most important roles as editor of Reason is to act as a translator among at least four wildly different subcultures: the various policy establishments of Washington; the economists, political scientists, historians, and natural scientists of the academy; the small business owners of middle America; and the techies of Silicon Valley and cyberspace. In other words, Reason is the place where the readers of The New Republic,The Journal of Economic Literature, Science, Inc., and Wired find common ground.

And Arts & Letter Daily was where the world went to find common ground and hear a good argument or 10. Denis and his original crew of grad students and other helpers sifted through all the Web had to offer and, day after day, posted interesting material from folks on the right, the left, and, most memorably for those of us at Reason, from that once-small portion of political spectrum reserved for libertarians. There were days when a link at Arts & Letters not only put the author on a cloud for the rest of the day (you knew you were being read by folks who otherwise never would have heard of you, your publication, or your crazy ideas) but would crash our servers with traffic.

Arts & Letters was later joined by other sites such Scitech Daily which similarly created and fueled conversations that were once impossible to have; in 1999, the Chronicle of Higher Education bought it but wisely kept Denis at the rudder.

In effect, Denis created the world's greatest coffee house and magazine rack, a place where interested customers could dawdle all day while reading an endless stream of fascinating material pulled from the far edges of the galaxy. His personal site was more idiosyncratic but brilliantly showcases the mind of a man who made the world a vastly richer, smarter, more interesting place.

Denis Dutton dies; author, philosopher, brother to L.A. booksellers (December 28, 2010, LA Times)

Denis Dutton, the author, academic and philosopher who saw the Web as a place where intelligent ideas could flourish, has died in New Zealand at the age of 66, according to New Zealand news sources. Dutton was raised in Los Angeles and was the brother of booksellers Doug and Dave Dutton of the legendary Dutton's Bookstores in Los Angeles.

Dutton was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. In 1998, he founded the website Arts and Letters Daily, an aggregator of intellectual Web content that swiftly caught worldwide attention. His most recent book was 2009's "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution."

Our reviewer Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, wrote, " 'The Art Instinct' is an important book that raises questions often avoided in contemporary aesthetics and art criticism. ... His arguments against major figures in the philosophy and anthropology of the arts are often devastating -- and amusing."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Tax and Spending Compromise (Gary Becker, 12/26/10)

I view the maintenance of the Bush tax cuts as only the first important move of the American tax code toward a more effective income tax structure. That structure would have a broad-based low rate flat tax on personal incomes, with little, if any, taxation of corporate incomes, and with dividends and capital gains taxed as ordinary income. As the majority report of the recent National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed, the income base should be greatly broadened by eliminating the deductibility of interest on mortgages, and a variety of other special deductions that result from the political influence of various special interests.

I showed in a post last month (see 11/07/10) that even a one-half percent increase in the American long-term rate of economic growth would have a large effect in 20 years on both per capita incomes, and on the size of the US debt relative to its GDP, as long as the rate of growth in government spending was not allowed to increase along with the growth in incomes. Control over the rate of growth of spending is essential even with faster economic growth in order to try to prevent the debt to GDP ratio from becoming a major problem.

A broad-based flat income tax could have a relatively modest tax rate- perhaps about 25%- and still raise as much revenue as the tax structure that would exist if the Bush tax cuts were allow to lapse. A flat consumption tax would be even better than a flat income tax since such a consumption tax would not distort the incentive to save. However, this type of consumption tax is unlikely to be introduced as a substitute for the income tax. It could play a role as a supplement to the income tax if that combination were necessary to prevent a narrow-based progressive income tax system from being imposed.

The difficulty of replacing the tax on income with a tax on consumption is no reason not to try.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Professor, web entrepreneur Denis Dutton dies (The Press, 28/12/2010)

Born in California in 1944, Dutton received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California Santa Barbara in 1975 and joined the Canterbury staff in 1984.

He received international acclaim for his Arts & Letters Daily website when it was named the best website in the world, three months after it was founded in 1998, by The Guardian.

Dutton sold the site to the Washington DC-based Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999 for a reported US$250,000 but continued as its editor.

...but the web site is one of the high points of the Internet. (And not just because ALD has linked to us for years--surely the least read site cited.) Farewell, Friend.

-BOOK SITE: The Art Instinct
-VIDEO: ART AND HUMAN REALITY: A Talk With Denis Dutton (Introduction By Steven Pinker, [2.24.09, The Edge)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


In a Tale That Wags Dog Owners, They Rent Flocks for Bored Collies: Compulsive Sheep Herders Need a 'Job' to Entertain Them; 'That'll Do' (MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS, 12/27/10, WSJ)

Sue Foster knew what she needed to do when her border collie, Taff, was expelled from puppy school for herding the black Labs into a corner.

She rented some sheep.

Then she bought another border collie and rented some grazing land. Then she bought some sheep of her own. And a third border collie. Now, like the old lady who swallowed the fly, Ms. Foster keeps a llama to chase off the coyotes that threaten the lambs that go to market to finance the sheep that entertain her dogs.

Once upon a time, Americans got dogs for their sheep. Now they get sheep for their dogs. "I never dreamed it would go this far," says Ms. Foster, 56 years old.

Border collies, first bred along the frontier between England and Scotland, are compulsive herders, with instincts so intense they sometimes search for livestock behind the television when sheep appear on screen, says Geri Byrne, owner of the Border Collie Training Center, in Tulelake, Calif. Left unoccupied, they'll dig up the garden, chew up the doggie bed or persecute the cat.

Herding experts—yes, there is such a thing—say it's increasingly common for people who get border collies as pets to wind up renting or buying sheep just to keep their dogs busy. "It's something that's snowballing all the time," says Jack Knox, a Scottish-born shepherd who travels the U.S. giving herding clinics.

The Other Brother escaped to NH first, working summers on our uncle's farm and even moving up here to finish HS. But I didn't realize how native he'd gone until we were going past a a guy trying to cut the grass with a riding mower on a steep hill and he said: "I'll never understand why people like that don't just get some sheep."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Military strength eludes China, which looks overseas for arms (John Pomfret, 12/25/10, Washington Post)

The Moscow Machine-Building Enterprise Salyut on the east side of town has put up a massive Soviet-style poster advertising its need for skilled workers. The New Year's party at the Chernyshev plant in a northwest suburb featured ballet dancers twirling on the stage of its Soviet-era Palace of Culture.

The reason for the economic and seasonal cheer is that these factories produce fighter-jet engines for a wealthy and voracious customer: China. After years of trying, Chinese engineers still can't make a reliable engine for a military plane.

The country's demands for weapons systems go much further. Chinese officials last month told Russian Defense Minister Anatoly E. Serdyukov that they may resume buying major Russian weapons systems after a several-year break. On their wish list are the Su-35 fighter, for a planned Chinese aircraft carrier; IL-476 military transport planes; IL-478 air refueling tankers and the S-400 air defense system, according to Russian news reports and weapons experts.

This persistent dependence on Russian arms suppliers demonstrates a central truth about the Chinese military: The bluster about the emergence of a superpower is undermined by national defense industries that can't produce what China needs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Narrative and the Grace of God: The New ‘True Grit’ (STANLEY FISH, 12/27/10, NY Times)

The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious.

A third sentence, left out of the film but implied by its dramaturgy, tells us that the latter reading is the right one: “You cannot earn that [grace] or deserve it.” In short, there is no relationship between the bestowing or withholding of grace and the actions of those to whom it is either accorded or denied. You can’t add up a person’s deeds — so many good one and so many bad ones — and on the basis of the column totals put him on the grace-receiving side (you can’t earn it); and you can’t reason from what happens to someone to how he stands in God’s eyes (you can’t deserve it).

What this means is that there are two registers of existence: the worldly one in which rewards and punishment are meted out on the basis of what people visibly do; and another one, inaccessible to mortal vision, in which damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously.

It is, says Mattie in a reflection that does not make it into either movie, a “hard doctrine running contrary to the earthly ideals of fair play” (that’s putting it mildly), and she glosses that hard doctrine — heavenly favor does not depend on anything we do — with a reference to II Timothy 1:9, which celebrates the power of the God “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”

This and other pieces of scripture don’t emerge from the story as a moral kernel emerges from a parable; they hang over the narrative (Mattie just sprays them), never quite touching its events and certainly not generated by them. There are no easy homiletics here, no direct line drawing from the way things seem to have turned out to the way they ultimately are. While worldly outcomes and the universe’s moral structure no doubt come together in the perspective of eternity, in the eyes of mortals they are entirely disjunct.

The belief that you can dictate what God does by adjustments in your own behavior is a form of magic, not of theology.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Did first humans come out of Middle East and not Africa?: Israeli discovery forces scientists to re-examine evolution of modern man (Matthew Kalman, 28th December 2010, Daily Mail)

Recently, discoveries of early human remains in China and Spain have cast doubt on the 'Out of Africa' theory, but no-one was certain.

The new discovery of pre-historic human remains by Israeli university explorers in a cave near Ben-Gurion airport could force scientists to re-think earlier theories.

Archeologists from Tel Aviv University say eight human-like teeth found in the Qesem cave near Rosh Ha’Ayin - 10 miles from Israel’s international airport - are 400,000 years old, from the Middle Pleistocene Age, making them the earliest remains of homo sapiens yet discovered anywhere in the world.

The size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. Until now, the earliest examples found were in Africa, dating back only 200,000 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Lula's legacy, leaving behind a transformed Brazil (BRADLEY BROOKS, , 12/27/10, Associated Press)

Since Silva's first election in 2002, the middle class has grown by 29 million people — more than the population of Texas — creating a powerful new domestic consumer market. Another 20 million people — as many as in New York state — were pulled from poverty. The country that received a record $30 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund as it neared economic collapse in 2002 now lends money to the IMF, making up to $5 billion available for loans to other nations.

The value of Brazil's currency has more than doubled against the U.S. dollar. Inequality has been reduced, as the income of the poorest 10 percent of the population has grown five times faster than that of the richest 10 percent. Inflation has been tamed, unemployment is at a record low and illiteracy has dropped. By the time Brazil hosts the Olympics, it is forecast to be the globe's fifth-largest economy, surpassing Italy, Britain and France.

Early fears that the leftist union leader who battled Brazil's dictatorship would turn the nation socialist proved unfounded. Silva fought off the more radical wings of his Workers Party and used orthodox economic policies to lead the country to unprecedented growth. Under Silva, the economy expanded twice as fast per year as it did in the previous two decades, growing an average of 4 percent yearly.

Little as he'd want to hear it said, Lula is an heir of Pinochet. The Middle East and Africa will not be fully transformed until they produce such leaders.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Taliban Fighters Appear Blunted in Afghanistan (ERIC SCHMITT, 12/26/10, NY Times)

In many ways, much of the war in Afghanistan, particularly in the rugged eastern part, is a war against the Haqqani family, whose patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a legendary guerrilla fighter in the Central Intelligence Agency-backed campaign to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. His son Sirajuddin now runs the group’s daily operations from his haven in Pakistan, and he has made aggressive efforts to recruit foreign fighters from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Central Asia.

The Haqqani network is considered a part of the Afghan Taliban, and is a key ally and protector of Al Qaeda’s top leadership, whose members are believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s remote border regions. American and other Western intelligence officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, shields the Haqqanis in exchange for the network’s attacks against Pakistan’s archrival, India, in Afghanistan.

American intelligence officials say that the Haqqani network planned the attacks in 2008 in Kabul against the Serena Hotel and the Indian Embassy. It has also been linked to the suicide bombing of a C.I.A. outpost in Khost last December, and has held an American soldier, Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, since he was kidnapped after walking off his Army base in Paktika Province in June 2009. The Haqqanis finance their operations with timber smuggling, kidnapping ransoms and donations from wealthy Persian Gulf individuals, intelligence officials say.

NATO commanders and senior Obama administration officials take heart in the fact that the Haqqanis have not conducted a complicated attack in Kabul since a suicide bomber steered his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy on May 18. The attack killed 18 people, including 5 American soldiers and an officer from Canada, and wounded at least 47 civilians.

Allied officials attribute the tactical success to several factors. A sixfold increase in the past year in the number of Special Operations raids against insurgents, including the Haqqanis, has disrupted the militants’ operations. In the past three months alone, commandos have carried out 1,784 missions across Afghanistan, killing or capturing 880 insurgent leaders.

About one-third of those operations were directed against the Haqqani network, a senior NATO official said. He and two other NATO officials agreed to speak candidly about current operations if they weren’t quoted by name.

At the same time, 5,400 additional American ground forces have been deployed to eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total there to nearly 37,000. Combined with increased Afghan army, police and intelligence service operations in and around Kabul, the troop surge has hampered the Haqqani network’s ability to run suicide bombers in a crucial corridor between Kabul and Khost, adjacent to the group’s Pakistan sanctuary, allied commanders and independent counterinsurgency specialists say.

“We’re going after their networks — the I.E.D. suppliers and bomb makers, and lead fighters,” said the senior NATO official in Kabul.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


-REVIEW: of Every Riven Thing: A gifted poet struggles powerfully and movingly with questions of salvation, both physical and spiritual. (Elizabeth Lund / December 27, 2010, CS Monitor)

Wiman’s ability to love the unconventional or unlovely is one of the qualities that makes his work so memorable and, at times, endearing. In “Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone,” he recalls the tough grace and earthy wisdom of a waitress at the Longhorn Diner. She knew what to do – wordlessly – whenever one of the regulars died and his friends struggled with the transition. The poet, watching the drama unfold, understands her gesture, even as he looks down at his own “plate’s gleaming, teeming emptiness.”

These poems suggest that the strength and harshness Wiman experienced in Texas shape other experiences – and perhaps all of life. That duality becomes more prominent when the collection shifts to more recent memories of grueling treatments and the grief caused by one’s own mortality.

Wiman, who was raised a Baptist, sees every creature and object as riven (shattered or wrenched apart) and God as “a storm of peace.”

That storm continues throughout the book, because the God of riven things can’t offer much comfort or consolation.

-POEM:: Every Riven Thing (Christian Wiman)
God goes, belonging to every riven thing He's made
Sing his being simply by being
The thing it is:
Stone and tree and sky,
Man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing He's made,
Means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
Trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing He's made
There is given one shade
Shaped exactly to the thing itself:
Under the tree a darker tree;
Under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made
The things that bring Him near,
Made the mind that makes Him go.
A part of what man knows,
Apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing He's made.

-ESSAY: Gazing into the Abyss (Christian Wiman, Summer 2007,The American Scholar)

I was brought up with the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God. My experience has been just the opposite: a love of the earth and existence so overflowing that it implied, or included, or even absolutely demanded, God. Love did not deliver me from the earth, but into it. And by some miracle I do not find that this experience is crushed or even lessened by the knowledge that, in all likelihood, I will be leaving the earth sooner than I had thought. Quite the contrary, I find life thriving in me, a nd not in an aestheticizing Death-is-the-mother-of-beauty sort of way either, for what extreme grief has given me is the very thing it seemed at first to obliterate: a sense of life beyond the moment, a sense of hope. This is not simply hope for my own life, though I do have that. It is not a hope for heaven or any sort of explainable afterlife, unless by those things one means simply the ghost of wholeness that our inborn sense of brokenness creates and sustains, some ultimate love that our truest temporal ones goad us toward. This I do believe in, and by this I live, in what the apostle Paul called “hope toward God.”

“It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy,” Weil writes, “in order to find reality through suffering.” This is certainly true to my own experience. I was not wrong all those years to believe that suffering is at the very center of our existence, and that there can be no untranquilized life that does not fully confront this fact. The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love. To come to this realization is not to be suddenly “at ease in the world.” I don’t really think it’s possible for humans to be at the same time conscious and comfortable. Though we may be moved by nature to thoughts of grace, though art can tease our minds toward eternity and love’s abundance make us dream a love that does not end, these intuitions come only through the earth, and the earth we know only in passing, and only by passing. I would qualify Weil’s statement somewhat, then, by saying that reality, be it of this world or another, is not something one finds and then retains for good. It must be newly discovered daily, and newly lost.

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it, though not one whit more than the hours I have with my wife, with friends, or in solitude, trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion. And out of all these efforts at faith and love, out of my own inevitable failures at both, I have begun to write poems again. But the language I have now to call on God is not only language, and the wall on which I make my taps and scratches is no longer a cell but this whole prodigal and all too perishable world in which I find myself, very much alive, and not at all alone. As I approach the first anniversary of my diagnosis, as I approach whatever pain is ahead of me, I am trying to get as close to this wall as possible. And I am listening with all I am.

-POEM: Five Houses Down (Christian Wiman June 29, 2009, The New Yorker)
-POEM: Hammer Is the Prayer' (Christian Wiman (Christian Wiman)
-POEM: Gone for the day, she is the day (Christian Wiman , 10/19/10, Christian Century)
-POEM: Lord Is Not a Word (Christian Wiman, May 2010, Atlantic)
-POEM: From a Window (Christian Wiman, July/August 2008, Atlantic)
-POEM: Interior (Christian Wiman, Cortland Review)
-POEM: This Inwardness, This Ice (Christian Wiman, Aug. 20, 2002, Slate)
-POEM: This Mind of Dying (Christian Wiman, Harvard Divinity Bulletin)
-ESSAY: Hive of Nerves: To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life (Christian Wiman, Summer 2010, American Scholar)
IT IS A STRANGE THING how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of, God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs could be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure.

THE FIRST STEP in the life of the spirit is learning to let yourself experience those moments when life and time seem at once suspended and concentrated, that paradox of attentive oblivion out of which any sustaining faith grows. These moments may not be—and at first almost certainly will not be—“meditative.” They are more likely to break into your awareness, or into what you thought was awareness (“inbreaking” is the theological term for Christ’s appearance in the world and in our lives—there is no coaxing it, no way to earn it, no way to prepare except to hone your capacity to respond, which is, finally, your capacity to experience life, and death). This is why we cannot separate one part of our existence, or one aspect of our awareness, from another, for there is a seed of peace in the most savage clamor. There is a kind of seeing that, fusing attention and submission, becomes a kind of being, wherein you may burrow into the very chaos that buries you, and even the most binding ties can become a means of release.

Commute (2)

There is a dreamer
all good conductors

know to look for
when the last stop is made

and the train is ticking cool,
some lover, loner, or fool

who has lived so hard
he jerks awake

in the graveyard,
where he sees

coming down the aisle
a beam of light

whose end he is,
and what he thinks are chains

becoming keys . . .

KEYS TO WHAT, though? For I can’t end with that flourish of poetry and privacy. Art, like religious devotion, either adds life or steals it; it is never neutral; either it impels one back toward life or is merely one more means of keeping life at arm’s length. (The subject matter and tone of art have less to do with this than many people think: nothing palls the soul like a forced epiphany, and one can be elated and energized by a freshly articulate despair.) Keys to what? In this poem, the keys are, on one level, to the constraints felt in the earlier section (the miserable commute, the crush of others, the “screech and heat and hate”), which prove to be their own means of release (“what he thought were chains / becoming keys”). On another level, the keys are to the mysteries of death; or, rather, the key is to the blunt, immutable, physical fact of death (the train “graveyard”), which opens, if only for a moment, to reveal a mystery.

And now it’s over. Now the man on the train—like the man who imagined him (me!), like Paul God-struck outside of Damascus (alas, it wasn’t quite like that for me)—must move. Now the revelation either becomes part of his life or is altogether lost to it. Either his actions acquire a deeper purpose, and begin to echo and counterpoint each other, or the moment and the man slip back into unfeeling frenzy, and the screech and heat and hate of his days lock metallically around him again.

Death is the only lens for true transcendence, but, paradoxically, transcendence is possible only when we cease being conscious of our own death. I don’t mean that we are unconscious of our own death, but that we pass through what we think of as consciousness—that “apprehensiveness” I mentioned, that standing-apart-from and taking-hold-of—into something more profound. What you feel in amateur photographs—it’s a large part of the poignancy—is the pressure, or the lack of pressure, actually, of all the reality missing from the picture, which is really just a chopped-off piece of life. An artist, on the other hand, makes you feel just how much missing life is contained within a given image; it is as if the image is surrounded with, enlivened and even created by, the invisible, the unknowable, the absent. It’s not accurate to say that someone who has learned to see like this has forgotten that there is a lens between himself and life. It’s more that the lens has become so intuitive and fluent that it’s just another, clearer eye.

That dinner party with which I began this essay was a failure of mine—not of nerve, exactly, for nothing I have said in this essay had even crossed my mind at that point. No, it was a failure of consciousness, which is always a spiritual failure. I believe there is a kind of existence in which meditation and communication, epiphanies and busyness, death and life, God and not—all these apparent antinomies are merged and made into one awareness. I am a long way from realizing such perception myself, but I have lifted the lens to my eye—there is a sense in which it must be voluntarily lifted, even if, perhaps especially if, it has been roughly thrust there by circumstance—and am learning.

-ESSAY: Notes on Poetry and Religion: If we do not live out of time imaginatively, we cannot live in it actually. (Christian Wiman, Winter 2007, Harvard Divinity Bulletin)
i always find it a little strange to meet a poet for whom religion holds no instinctive resonance whatsoever. Most poets are sympathetic to the miraculous in all its forms, though they are also usually quite promiscuous with their sympathies. Still, there are exceptions. Thom Gunn used to say that there wasn't a religious bone in his body, and I can't recall a single instance from his work that uses religious language as a shortcut to the ineffable. (For an absolutely scrupulous use of religious language and imagery by an unbeliever, look at his "In Santa Maria del Popolo.") On the other hand, Gunn's work is virtually devoid of mystery (again, look at "In Santa Maria del Popolo"). It does not contain (or aim for) moments of lyric transcendence; it offers no ontological surprises. This is not necessarily a specifically religious distinction. Larkin, though his work is absolutely rooted in reality, and though it seems quite clear he didn't believe there was anything beyond it, could never completely repress that part of himself that yearned for transcendence, and his work is full of moments in which clarity of vision and spiritual occlusion combine to mysterious lyric effect. In Gunn's work, by contrast, you sense that there was no hunger which the world could not satisfy.

some of the saddest words i know are those keats is reputed to have uttered just before he died: "I feel the terrible want of some faith, something to believe in now. There must be such a book." Part of the pathos here is simply the fear and hunger; it is horrible to watch someone die in a rage of unbelief, and there is every reason to think that, had he lived a normal life, Keats would have come to a different accommodation with death, either with or without religious faith. Another part of the pathos, though, is in the fact that even here, even on his deathbed, Keats can only imagine deliverance as a book, as literature. Keats was a large-souled, warm-hearted, altogether companionable person, but the tragedy of his death was that he did not have a chance to outgrow his youthful devotion to "poetry"—to the idea of it, I mean. You cannot devote your life to an abstraction. Indeed, life shatters all abstractions in one way or another, including words like "faith" or "belief." If God is not in the very fabric of existence for you, if you do not find him (or miss him!) in the details of your daily life, then religion is just one more way to commit spiritual suicide.

-ESSAY: Milton in Guatemala (Christian Wiman, from Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet)
-ESSAY: Grace: Remembering Ruth Lilly. (Christian Wiman, 3/1/10, Poetry Foundation)
-ESSAY: To Let You Pass: Remembering Craig Arnold. (Christian Wiman , 10/01/09, Poetry Foundation)
-ESSAY: In Praise of Rareness: “The more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs.” (Christian Wiman, 1/08/07, Poetry Foundation)
-ESSAY: Canon Fodder: The editor of Poetry magazine writes about poems that should be famous (Christian Wiman, 7/14/06, Poetry Foundation)
-ESSAY: God's Truth Is Life (Christian Wiman, Image)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after being in prison for a year, still another hard year away from his execution, forging long letters to his friend Eberhard Brege out of his strong faith, his anxiety, his longing for his fiancée, and terror over the nightly bombings: “There are things more important than self-knowledge.” Yes. An artist who believes this is an artist of faith, even if the faith contains no god.

Reading Bonhoeffer makes me realize again how small our points of contact with life can be, perhaps even necessarily are, when our truest self finds its emotional and intellectual expression. With all that is going on around Bonhoeffer, and with all of the people in his life (he wrote letters to many other people and had close relationships with other prisoners), it is only in the letters to Brege that his thought really sparks and finds focus. Life is always a question of intensity, and intensity is always a matter of focus. Contemporary despair is to feel the multiplicity of existence with no possibility for expression or release of one’s particular being. I fear sometimes that we are evolving in such a way that the possibilities for these small but intense points of intimacy and expression are not simply vanishing but are becoming no longer felt as necessary pressures. Poetry—its existence within and effect on the culture—is one casualty of this “evolution.”

The two living novelists whose work means most to me are Cormac McCarthy, particularly in Blood Meridian, and Marilynne Robinson. Both of these writers seem to me to have not only the linguistic and metaphorical capacities of great poets, but also genuine visionary feeling. My own predispositions have everything to do with my preference, of course: I believe in visionary feeling and experience, and in the capacity of art to realize those things. I also believe that this is a higher achievement than art that merely concerns itself with the world that is right in front of us. Thus I don’t respond as deeply to a poet like William Carlos Williams as I do to T.S. Eliot, and I much prefer Wallace Stevens (the earlier work) to, say, Elizabeth Bishop. (To read his “Sunday Morning” as it apparently asks to be read, to take its statements about reality and transcendence at face value, is to misread—to under-read—that poem. Its massive organ music and formal grandeur are not simply aiming at transcendence, they are claiming it.) Successful visionary art is a rare thing, and a steady diet of it will leave one not simply blunted to its effects but also craving art that’s deeply attached to this world and nothing else. This latter category includes most of the art in existence (even much art that seems to be religious), and it is from this latter category that most of our aesthetic experience will inevitably come.

The question of exactly which art is seeking God, and seeking to be in the service of God, is more complicated than it seems. There is clearly something in all original art that will not be made subject to God, if we mean by being made “subject to God” a kind of voluntary censorship or willed refusal of the mind’s spontaneous and sometimes dangerous intrusions into, and extensions of, reality. But that is not how that phrase ought to be understood. In fact we come closer to the truth of the artist’s relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God—our individual subjectivity being lost and rediscovered within the reality of God. Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is not simply sterile but, since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge, blasphemous. “God’s truth is life,” as Patrick Kavanagh says, “even the grotesque shapes of its foulest fire.”

What is the difference between a cry of pain that is also a cry of praise and a cry of pain that is merely an articulation of despair? Faith? The cry of a believer, even if it is a cry against God, moves toward God, has its meaning in God, as in the cries of Job. The cry of an unbeliever is the cry of the damned, like Dante’s souls locked in trees that must bleed to speak, their release from pain only further pain. How much of twentieth-century poetry, how much of my own poetry, is the cry of the damned?

-PROFILE: Elegance in Overalls: the American Pastoral of Christian Wiman (Clive James, Financial Times, November 12, 2010)
-PROFILE: Christian Wiman (Image, Artist of the Month: July 2009)
-PROFILE: Featured Poet: Christian Wiman (Poetry Daily)
-INTERVIEW: An Interview with Christian Wiman (Book Slut, March 2009)
-INTERVIEW: An Interview With Poet Christian Wiman (Kevin Nance, 8.07.07, Poets & Writers)
-INTERVIEW: IWhat Poetry Demands: A conversation with Christian Wiman. (Aaron Rench, Books & Culture)
-REVIEW: of "Every Risen Thing: Poems" by Christian Wiman (Troy Jollimore, Chicago Tribune)
-REVIEW: of Every Riven Thing, Swan and Walking Papers (Brian Doyle, Christian Century)
-REVIEW: of AMBITION AND SURVIVAL: Becoming a Poet by Christian Wiman (Ken Tucker, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Ambition and Survival by Christian Wiman (Adam Kirsch, NY Sun)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Good sex 'comes to those who wait' (John von Radowitz, 28 December 2010, Independent)

Couples who avoid sex before marriage end up having happier, more stable relationships and a better time in bed, according to psychologists. An American study backs the straitlaced view that sex should wait until one's wedding night.

Researchers questioned more than 2,000 married individuals about their relationships, and asked them when they started having sex.

Analysis of the results suggested there were rewards for not getting physical too fast. Compared with those having sex early, couples who waited until they were married rated the stability of their relationships 22 per cent higher. They also claimed 20 per cent increased levels of relationship satisfaction, 12 per cent better communication and 15 per cent improved "sexual quality". The findings appear in the Journal of Family Psychology.

What's the hurry?

December 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


It's been awhile since we asked what everyone was reading, watching and listening to, and with many gift cards whizzing about it would seem a good time for recommendations. So what's on your iPod, Netbook, Kindle, bedside table?

BOOKS: Two Friends sent us books this Fall and I'm enjoying both. Now I just have to finish my own and then start posting reviews again....

MUSIC: Haven't found anything to knock this off the playlist lately. (Any ideas?):

TV/MOVIES: Finally getting caught up on Deadwood, which is every bit as good as everyone says:

and getting fired up for the best sporting event of the Winter:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening: “. . . The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) . . .” (Tom Wolfe, August 23, 1976, New York Magazine)

Every major religious wave that has developed in America has started out the same way: with a flood of ecstatic experiences. The First Great Awakening, as it is known to historians, came in the 1740s and was led by preachers of “the New Light” such as Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and George Whitefield. They and their followers were known as “enthusiasts” and “come-outers,” terms of derision that referred to the frenzied, holy-rolling, pentecostal shout tempo of their services and to their visions, trances, shrieks, and agonies, which are preserved in great Rabelaisian detail in the writings of their detractors.

The Second Great Awakening came in the period from 1825 to 1850 and took the form of a still wilder hoe-down camp-meeting revivalism, of ceremonies in which people barked, bayed, fell down in fits and swoons, rolled on the ground, talked in tongues, and even added a touch of orgy. The Second Awakening originated in western New York State, where so many evangelical movements caught fire it became known as “the Burned-Over District.” Many new seets, such as Oneida and the Shakers, were involved. But so were older ones, such as the evangelical Baptists. The fervor spread throughout the American frontier (and elsewhere) before the Civil War. The most famous sect of the Second Great Awakening was the Mormon movement, founded by a 24-year-old. Joseph Smith, and a small group of youthful comrades. This bunch was regarded as wilder, crazier, more obscene, more of a threat, than the entire lot of hippie communes of the 1960s put together. Smith was shot to death by a lynch mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844, which was why the Mormons, now with Brigham Young at the helm, emigrated to Utah. A sect, incidentally, is a religion with no political power. Once the Mormons settled, built, and ruled Utah, Mormonism became a religion sure enough . . . and eventually wound down to the slow, firm beat of respectability. . . .

We are now—in the Me Decade—seeing the upward roll (and not yet the crest, by any means) of the third great religious wave in American history, one that historians will very likely term the Third Great Awakening. Like the others it has begun in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing (the New Sufi and the Hare Krishna), meditation, and psychic frenzy (the marathon encounter). This third wave has built up from more diverse and exotic sources than the first two, from therapeutic movements as well as overtly religious movements, from hippies and students of “psi phenomena” and Flying Saucerites as well as charismatic Christians. But other than that, what will historians say about it?

The historian Perry Miller credited the First Great Awakening with helping to pave the way for the American Revolution through its assault on the colonies’ religious establishment and, thereby, on British colonial authority generally. The sociologist Thomas O’Dea credited the Second Great Awakening with creating the atmosphere of Christian asceticism (known as “bleak” on the East Coast) that swept through the Midwest and the West during the nineteenth century and helped make it possible to build communities in the face of great hardship. And the Third Great Awakening? Journalists (historians have not yet tackled the subject) have shown a morbid tendency to regard the various movements in this wave as “fascist.” The hippie movement was often attacked as “fascist” in the late 1960s. Over the past several years a barrage of articles has attacked Scientology, the est movement, and “the Moonies” (followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon) along the same lines.

Frankly, this tells us nothing except that journalists bring the same conventional Grim Slide concepts to every subject. The word fascism derives from the old Roman symbol of power and authority, the fasces, a bundle of sticks bound together by thongs (with an ax head protruding from one end). One by one the sticks would be easy to break. Bound together they are invincible Fascist ideology called for binding all classes, all levels, all elements of an entire nation together into a single organization with a single will.

The various movements of the current religious wave attempt very nearly the opposite. They begin with . . . “Let’s talk about Me.” They begin with the most delicious look inward; with considerable narcissism, in short. When the believers bind together into religions, it is always with a sense of splitting off from the rest of society. We, the enlightened (lit by the sparks at the apexes of our souls), hereby separate ourselves from the lost souls around us. Like all religions before them, they proselytize—but always on promising the opposite of nationalism: a City of Light that is above it all. There is no ecumenical spirit within this Third Great Awakening. If anything, there is a spirit of schism. The contempt the various seers have for one another is breathtaking. One has only to ask, say, Oscar Ichazo of Arica about Carlos Castaneda or Werner Erhard of est to learn that Castaneda is a fake and Erhard is a shallow sloganeer. It’s exhilarating!—to watch the faithful split off from one another to seek ever more perfect and refined crucibles in which to fan the Divine spark . . . and to talk about Me.

Whatever the Third Great Awakening amounts to, for better or for worse, will have to do with this unprecedented post-World War II American development: the luxury, enjoyed by so many millions of middling folk, of dwelling upon the self. At first glance, Shirley Polykoff’s slogan—“If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!”—seems like merely another example of a superficial and irritating rhetorical trope (antanaclasis) that now happens to be fashionable among advertising copywriters. But in fact the notion of “If I’ve only one life” challenges one of those assumptions of society that are so deep-rooted and ancient, they have no name—they are simply lived by. In this case: man’s age-old belief in serial immortality.

The husband and wife who sacrifice their own ambitions and their material assets in order to provide “a better future” for their children . . . the soldier who risks his life, or perhaps consciously sacrifices it, in battle . . . the man who devotes his life to some struggle for “his people” that cannot possibly be won in his lifetime . . . people (or most of them) who buy life insurance or leave wills . . . and, for that matter, most women upon becoming pregnant for the first time . . . are people who conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream. Just as something of their ancestors lives on in them, so will something of them live on in their children . . . or in their people, their race, their community—for childless people, too, conduct their lives and try to arrange their postmortem affairs with concern for how the great stream is going to flow on. Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, “I have only one life to live.” Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offspring’s lives and perhaps their neighbors' lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things. The Chinese, in ancestor worship, have literally worshiped the great tide itself, and not any god or gods. For anyone to renounce the notion of serial immortality, in the West or the East, has been to defy what seems like a law of Nature. Hence the wicked feeling—the excitement!—of “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a ———!” Fill in the blank, if you dare.

And now many dare it! In Democracy in America, Tocqueville (the inevitable and ubiquitous Tocqueville) saw the American sense of equality itself as disrupting the stream, which he called “time’s pattern”: “Not only does democracy make each man forget his ancestors, it hides his descendants from him, and divides him from his contemporaries; it continually turns him back into himself, and threatens, at last, to enclose him entirely in the solitude of his own heart.” A grim prospect to the good Alexis de T.—but what did he know about . . . Let’s talk about Me!

Tocqueville’s idea of modern man lost “in the solitude of his own heart” has been brought forward into our time in such terminology as alienation (Marx), anomie (Durkheim), the mass man (Ortega y Gasset), and the lonely crowd (Riesman). The picture is always of a creature uprooted by industrialism, packed together in cities with people he doesn’t know, helpless against massive economic and political shifts—in short, a creature like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a helpless, bewildered, and dispirited slave to the machinery. This victim of modern times has always been a most appealing figure to intellectuals, artists, and architects. The poor devil so obviously needs us to be his Engineers of the Soul, to use a term popular in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. We will pygmalionize this sad lump of clay into a homo novus, a New Man, with a new philosophy, a new aesthetics, not to mention new Bauhaus housing and furniture.

But once the dreary little bastards started getting money in the 1940s, they did an astonishing thing—they took their money and ran. They did something only aristocrats (and intellectuals and artists) were supposed to do—they discovered and started doting on Me! They’ve created the greatest age of individualism in American history! All rules are broken! The prophets are out of business! Where the Third Great Awakening will lead—who can presume to say? One only knows that the great religious waves have a momentum all their own. Neither arguments nor policies nor acts of the legislature have been any match for them in the past. And this one has the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes . . . Me . . . Me . . . . Me . . . Me . . .

...appalled by that BMW with the brat who never gets exactly what he wants until he can finally afford his choice of cars?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Jimmy Carter Vs. Guinea Worm: Sudan Is Last Battle (AP, 12/26/10)

This fight against the guinea worm is a battle former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has waged for more than two decades in some of the poorest countries on earth. It is a battle he's almost won.

In the 1950s the 3-foot-long guinea worm ravaged the bodies of an estimated 50 million people, forcing victims through months of pain while the worm exited through a swollen blister on the leg, making it impossible for them to tend to cows or harvest crops. By 1986, the number dropped to 3.5 million. Last year only 3,190 cases were reported.

Today the worm is even closer to being wiped out. Fewer than 1,700 cases have been found this year in only four countries - Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali and Sudan, where more than 95 percent of the cases are. The worm's near-eradication is thanks in large part to the efforts of Carter and his foundation.

"I'm still determined to outlive the last guinea worm," Carter told The Associated Press in a phone interview. The 86-year-old set that goal in the 1980s, when his center helped eliminate guinea worm from Pakistan and other Asian nations.

The Carter Center has battled the worm for 24 years through education and the distribution of strainers that purify drinking water. It has helped erase guinea worm in more than 20 countries, and it believes the worm will follow smallpox - which was wiped out in the late 1970s - as the next disease to be eradicated from the human population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


'Ship Of The Line': Sailing To Fantasy And Back (Abraham Verghese, December 22, 2010, All Things Considered)

When I was 10 years old, I went off to sea in a British frigate to battle Napoleon's navy and thwart his ambitions in Europe. I made this perilous journey courtesy of C.S. Forester and his wonderful novel Ship of the Line. It was in those pages that I first met Captain Horatio Hornblower, truly an unforgettable fictional character.

More importantl it was the first moment that I felt totally transported by a book, felt the little signals we call words do their magic alchemy, even though I had enjoyed reading well before that. However, that book took me from the boredom of a school vacation ruined by rain day after day, and transported me to 1810 and to the Catalonia Coast. I understood for the first time that reading was a collaborative venture — Forester provided the words, I provided my imagination, and together we made a mental movie in which I had ownership.

Hornblower, the protagonist, was full of contradictions: loved to be at sea but was prone to seasickness; courageous outwardly but full of self-doubt; a brilliant navigator and tactician but awkward with women and uncomfortable in social situations. I devoured the book, went back to the library and found it was one of a series, tracing Hornblower's career from lieutenant to admiral, with many a setback and tragedy along the way. [...]

Recently, in a bookstore, I found the entire Hornblower series available in an affordable paperback set. I raced home with them and was overjoyed to find that the books kept me just as engaged now as when I was a boy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Meet the Ethical Placebo: A Story that Heals (Steve Silberman, December 22, 2010, PLOS)

For a complex and somewhat mysterious set of reasons, it is becoming increasingly difficult for experimental drugs to prove their superiority to sugar pills in RCTs, which was the subject of an in-depth article I published in Wired called “The Placebo Problem,” recipient of this year’s Kavli/AAAS Science Journalism of the Year award for a magazine feature.

Only in recent years, however, has it become obvious that the abatement of symptoms in control-group volunteers — the so-called placebo effect — is worthy of study outside the context of drug trials, and is in fact profoundly good news to anyone but investors in Pfizer, Roche, and GlaxoSmithKline. The emerging field of placebo research has revealed that the body’s repertoire of resilience contains a powerful self-healing network that can help reduce pain and inflammation, lower the production of stress chemicals like cortisol, and even tame high blood pressure and the tremors of Parkinson’s disease.

Jumpstarting this network requires nothing more or less than a belief that one is receiving effective treatment — in the form of a pill, a capsule, talk therapy, injection, IV, or acupuncture needle. The activation of this self-healing network is what we really mean when we talk about the placebo effect. Though inert in themselves, placebos act as passwords between the domain of the mind and the domain of the body, enabling the expectation of healing to be translated into cascades of neurotransmitters and altered patterns of brain activity that engender health.

That’s all well and good, but what does it mean in the real world of people getting sick? You can hardly expect the American Medical Association to issue a wink and a nod to doctors, encouraging them to prescribe sugar pills for seriously disabling conditions like chronic depression and Parkinson’s disease. Meanwhile, more and more studies each year — by researchers like Fabrizio Benedetti at the University of Turin, author of a superb new book called The Patient’s Brain, and neuroscientist Tor Wager at the University of Colorado — demonstrate that the placebo effect might be potentially useful in treating a wide range of ills. Then why aren’t doctors supposed to use it?

The medical establishment’s ethical problem with placebo treatment boils down to the notion that for fake drugs to be effective, doctors must lie to their patients. It has been widely assumed that if a patient discovers that he or she is taking a placebo, the mind/body password will no longer unlock the network, and the magic pills will cease to do their job.

Now, however, a group of leading placebo researchers — including Irving Kirsch at the University of Hull in England (who I interview at length below) and Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard — has produced a little bombshell of a study that makes these assumptions obsolete. For “Placebos Without Deception,” the researchers tracked the health of 80 volunteers with irritable bowel syndrome for three weeks as half of them took placebos and the other half didn’t. A painful, chronic gastrointestinal condition, IBS is serious business. It’s one of the top ten reasons why people seek medical care worldwide, accounting for millions of dollars a year in health care expenditures and lost work-hours.

In a previous study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, Kaptchuk and Kirsch demonstrated that placebo treatment can be highly effective for alleviating the symptoms of IBS. This time, however, instead of the trial being “blinded,” it was “open.” That is, the volunteers in the placebo group knew that they were getting only inert pills — which they were instructed to take religiously, twice a day. They were also informed that, just as Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to drool at the sound of a bell, the body could be trained to activate its own built-in healing network by the act of swallowing a pill.

In other words, in addition to the bogus medication, the volunteers were given a true story — the story of the placebo effect. They also received the care and attention of clinicians, which have been found in many other studies to be crucial for eliciting placebo effects. The combination of the story and a supportive clinical environment were enough to prevail over the knowledge that there was really nothing in the pills. People in the placebo arm of the trial got better — clinically, measurably, significantly better — on standard scales of symptom severity and overall quality of life. In fact, the volunteers in the placebo group experienced improvement comparable to patients taking a drug called alosetron, the standard of care for IBS.

Meet the ethical placebo: a powerfully effective faux medication that meets all the standards of informed consent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


New Year's Ham Biscuits (King Arthur Flour)

* 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Perfect Pastry Blend
* 4 teaspoons Bakewell Cream*
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon mustard powder, optional
* ¼ teaspoon onion powder, optional
* ½ cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter
* 1 cup finely diced ham
* 1 cup grated or shredded cheddar cheese, with additional for topping, if desired
* 1 cup to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cups cold milk**
* *NOT Bakewell Cream Baking Powder; just plain Bakewell Cream.
* **Use the greater amount of milk if you use all-purpose flour; the lesser amount if you use Perfect Pastry Blend.

* 17 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Perfect Pastry Blend (15 ounces)
* 4 teaspoons Bakewell Cream*
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon mustard powder, optional
* ¼ teaspoon onion powder, optional
* 4 ounces cold butter
* 4 ounces finely diced ham
* 4 ounces grated or shredded cheddar cheese, with additional for topping, if desired
* 8 to 9 ounces cold milk**
* *NOT Bakewell Cream Baking Powder; just plain Bakewell Cream.
* **Use the greater amount of milk if you use all-purpose flour; the lesser amount if you use Perfect Pastry Blend.


1) Preheat the oven to 475°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.

2) Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

3) Work in the butter until the mixture is crumbly; some larger, pea-sized pieces of butter may remain intact.

4) Add the ham and cheese, stirring until well distributed.

5) Add the milk, mixing until everything is moistened.

6) Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (a silicone mat works well), and fold it over once or twice. Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a ¾"-thick circle, about 6" across.

7) Cut the biscuits with a 2" round cutter, or the cutter of your choice. Place them on the prepared baking sheet.

8) Brush the biscuit tops with milk or melted butter. Sprinkle with grated or shredded cheese, if desired.

9) Bake the biscuits for 6 minutes, then turn off the oven. Leave in the oven for an additional 7 to 10 minutes, until they're golden brown.

10) Remove from the oven, and serve warm; as is, or with butter.

...and served them up with a bowl of hot maple syrup. The warehouse sounded like the set of a porn film people were moaning so much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


What the Military Must Learn from the Church (Tim Drake, December 23, 2010, National Catholic Register)

This week, our elected officials voted to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. By so doing, for the first time in this nation’s history, they’ve opened the U.S. military’s combat forces to practicing homosexuals. It would behoove the military to take a look at how such an open policy toward homosexuals worked in another male fraternity, that is, the Catholic priesthood.

In Michael Rose’s 2002 book Goodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood, he explores the Church’s own period of openly accepting homosexual seminary candidates. Many seminaries celebrated the intimacies of homosexual relations, which are directly opposed to true “brotherhood.”

Rose describes the “lavenderization” of seminaries such as Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary and the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and the homosexual culture present there even into the 1990s.

It is this culture that gave rise to the ordination of homosexuals who later went on to become serial abusers, men like Daniel McCormack, who reportedly had engaged in homosexual relations prior to and during his time at Mundelein. After his ordination, Father Daniel McCormack molested at least 23 boys.

The connection between homosexuality and abuse was clearly demonstrated in 2004’s The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, otherwise known as the John Jay Report, which was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to the John Jay Report, 81% of the victims of clerical sexual abuse were males, the majority of whom were between the ages of 11-17.

Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has said that the report shows that the Catholic abuse crisis was “homosexual predation on American Catholic youth.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons has echoed that.

Sure, they'll be a less effective fighting force, but, on the other hand, they're much more likely to be put into combat situations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


War in Afghanistan: A 'breeze of change' blows in helmand: As British troops spend their 10th Christmas in Afghanistan, Thomas Harding reports on growing signs of success in the fight against the insurgency. (Thomas Harding, 12/256/10, The Telegraph)

[W]hile no one is clamouring to say it – there have been too many false dawns – there is a feeling in the air that, as yet another year of the campaign comes to a close, a corner has been turned.

Despite 2010 being the worst year for Nato fatalities, with 705 dead, the casualty rate in the last six months has dropped – and this with the "surge" of an extra 30,000 American troops. In the British sector of central Helmand, the number of deaths since July has fallen to 38, compared with 76 in the same period last year. Commanders are understandably reticent about trumpeting success in Helmand but they are getting close enough to whisper phrases such as "irreversible gains" and "unstoppable momentum".

They also mention "virtuous circles", one of which will become apparent in early spring with the next poppy harvest. If it is like last year's low yield – due in part to the farmers' fear of eradication, which led them to harvest too early – then there will be less money for the insurgents. That means fewer guns, bombs and hired foot-soldiers, which in turn means a less cowed population who will be more inclined to believe Nato's promises of security.

Helmand now has 30,000 troops where there were just 3,000 in 2006. This means that ground being taken is being held. A single platoon can now guard a village of 800; soldiers and villagers will get to know each other's faces and names, bonds are built and the locals point out where bombs have been hidden or inform when outsiders appear.

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December 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


An atheist view of December (Katie Glaeser, 12/23/10, CNN)

“Me personally,” [David Silverman, with the American Atheists,] jokes, “I do nothing. I roll in a ball and hide in the corner until it’s over.” But his wife, who is a practicing Jew, puts up a menorah in their house and celebrates Hanukkah with the couple’s daughter.

Silverman says some atheists are upset with Christmas because “Christians do not own the season.” In fact, he accuses Christians of stealing the holiday. “Christianity is one of over a dozen religions that named the winter solstice as their god’s birthday. This is not original,” Silverman says. “It’s not about being out against Christmas, it’s about Christmas being a monopoly.”

Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, disputes Silverman’s assertion. “For him to make that kind of claim is just flat out untrue," he says. "It’s Christ-mas.”

“Christ was born during this time. While there is a debate about whether the 25th was the actual date, no one debates it was called Christ-mas to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” says Tatum, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

As for atheists celebrating Christmas, Tatum says that’s their right. “We want them to embrace it,” he says. “Christmas is about peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. Whether you believe it or not that’s the reason Jesus came.”

Liz Turcotte will be spreading goodwill this Christmas but says it will be on her own terms, “Exchanging gifts and donating to charity are not religious statements but more of a chance to stop and show people you care.”

...and her to give unto others, then the holiday has served its purpose.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Not motivated? Make a game of it: The Internet is prompting some people to get it in gear. The rewards include virtual badges and group encouragement. (Zachary Pincus-Roth, 12/26/10, Los Angeles Times)

Companies such as Health Month have begun to harness people's innate craving for competition to turn the world into one giant virtual summer camp. Now that 97% of teens and more than half of adults play video games, companies have caught on to the medium's addictive powers. Websites and apps are using virtual points, levels, leader boards, badges and challenges to motivate people to stay healthy, watch television or read a newspaper. "Games are starting to creep into every aspect of our day," says Jesse Schell, a game designer who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.

In the tech world, gamification is now a full-blown movement, and the first Gamification Summit will take place in San Francisco in January, organized by Gabe Zichermann, author of "Game-Based Marketing." But while some believe this phenomenon is a motivation machine that will dominate lives in coming years, others think it's a manipulative fad that does not acknowledge how humans' brains really work.

Games with a sales twist have existed for years. Sweepstakes, frequent flier miles and the punch card you get at the frozen yogurt shop are all games of sorts, and the "serious games" movement has brought video games into military training, workplaces and therapy. But new technology allows gaming to extend its tentacles even further. Blackberries and iPhones can record and monitor personal information at all times. Social games such as FarmVille — in which an estimated 54 million monthly users harvest virtual crops to rise to higher levels while collaborating with Facebook friends — have introduced video games to new demographics and shown that simple, low-cost games can be engaging even when the prizes are virtual.

Gamification got a jump-start from Foursquare and other location-based social networks, which turn every outing into a contest. When you go to a bar or restaurant, you "check in" to that location on your Foursquare app and eventually earn badges, such as a "Pizzaiolo" badge, which you get when you go to 20 pizza places.

Companies are now bringing this model into other areas of life. gives students badges for ordering takeout. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post give badges for interacting with articles online.

Some of these games are standalone enterprises that make money by charging for apps or extra features, while others are created by existing brands to hook customers. An industry of third-party companies, such as Bunchball, Badgeville and BigDoor, help companies add these game elements.

A game can be particularly helpful in an area such as financial planning, in which it makes arduous tasks sexier. The personal finance site, which has more than 4 million users, introduced a "goals" feature, which makes a game out of buying a home or erasing your debt. "Personal finance is not necessarily the most exciting topic," says Stew Langille,'s vice president of marketing. "We wanted to add a layer of fun."

Liberty beats Security again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


World may recognise Palestine soon: Israel minister (AFP, Dec 26, 2010)

The comments from industry and trade minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer come after Ecuador formally recognised Palestine as an independent state on Friday, following the lead of other South American countries.

Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia gave formal recognition earlier this month while Uruguay said it will do so early in the new year.

"I would not be surprised if within a year the entire world, even the US, recognizes a Palestinian state, then we will have to explain how this happened," Ben Eliezer told reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Cables Portray Expanded Reach of Drug Agency (GINGER THOMPSON and SCOTT SHANE, 12/25/10, NY Times)

Like many of the cables made public in recent weeks, those describing the drug war do not offer large disclosures. Rather, it is the details that add up to a clearer picture of the corrupting influence of big traffickers, the tricky game of figuring out which foreign officials are actually controlled by drug lords, and the story of how an entrepreneurial agency operating in the shadows of the F.B.I. has become something more than a drug agency. The D.E.A. now has 87 offices in 63 countries and close partnerships with governments that keep the Central Intelligence Agency at arm’s length.

Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.

In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


HBO could hardly have asked for better plotlines than merely the convergence of hockey's two best players, but then they got lucky and the Caps went on a long losing streak just as the Pens were on a long winning streak. The contrast is naturally compelling and the artistic use of profanity by Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau has made him the breakout star of the series.

But it's the access to what's being said on ice--with players negotiating the terms of their fights and refs giving them the opportunity to go it--and to their lives off ice that's fascinating.

HBO’s 24/7 Penguins/Capitals proves mastery of the salty language arts (Scott Stinson December 16, 2010, National Post)

I admit to chuckling at the opening of HBO’s 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic (watch the teaser trailer) on Wednesday night, which included a viewer discretion warning due to violence and coarse language. There was no surprise that there would be sailor talk, but violence? Were they arming Sid and Alex with guns now?

It turns out there was plenty of violence. Within the opening moments, Penguins defenceman Deryk Engelland was bloodied from a fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr, and the camera zoomed in as a doctor put three stitches in his face. Ouch.

Engelland and Orr had already proven the need for the language warning — apparently NHL players really do say “do you want to [expletive] go?” before they fight — but it wasn’t until Washington coach Bruce Boudreau appeared that we got a taste of someone who is a rather enthusiastic practitioner of the salty language arts.

Boudreau, resplendent in a red mock turtleneck and red pants that did little to hide his considerable paunch, addressed his Capitals before a practice, as his team was mired in a losing streak. He casually dropped a few f-bombs, looking for all the world like an angry Santa, but without the hat or beard.

The Caps coach, in fact, has mastered the ability to use that particular curse in a number of ways: verb, noun, adjective, sometimes more than one in the same sentence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Downturn creates deep talent pool (Joe Taschler, 12/24/10, Journal Sentinel)

High unemployment drags on and business remains uneven, but for some companies in Wisconsin the economic downturn has produced a significant yet little-talked-about benefit: They have their best, most productive workers in memory.

"I've been here 35 years, and this is by far the best work force we've ever had, by a huge margin," said Scott Seljan, president of Seljan Co. Inc., a metal and plastic manufacturing job shop in Lake Mills.

While the nation's unemployment rate hovers around 10%, businesses say they are stronger for having been able to hire workers with solid experience and stellar work records - workers who had found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Myth and Memory in the American Identity (Wilfred M. McClay, October 12, 2005, The Lehrman Lectures - The Heritage Foundation)

Republicanism means self-government, and so republican liberty does not mean living without restraint, but rather living in accordance with a law that you have dictated to yourself. Hence the especially strong need of republics to recur to their founding principles and their founding narratives, in a never-ending process of self-adjustment. There should be a constant interplay between founding ideals and current realities, a tennis match bouncing back and forth between the two.

And for that to happen, there need to be two things in place. First, founding principles that are sufficiently fixed to give us genuine guidance, to actually teach us something. That such ideals should be open to amendment is, perhaps, the least important or valuable thing about them -- which is precisely why a living Constitution is not really a Constitution at all. This is why I compare a founding to a promise or a vow, which means nothing if its chief glory is its adaptability. The analogy of a successful marriage, which is also, in a sense, a res publica that must periodically recur to first principles, and learn to distinguish first principles from passing circumstances, is actually a fairly good guide to these things.

Second, there needs to be a ready sense of connection to the past, a reflex for looking backward. And that is no easy matter. Cultivating it ought to be one of the chief uses of the formal study of history. Or so one would think. But the fostering of a vital sense of connection to the past is, alas, not one of the goals of historical study as it's now taught and practiced in this country. Nietzsche saw a certain kind of abuse of history, along these lines, coming long before it was even a germ of a possibility on these shores. But it has reached a kind of full flower in the present day. This has been particularly true of the study of the American founding, as it has been for a century now, since the early sallies against the Founders by Charles Beard; but it is more generally true of the entire profession of history.

This is a highly ironic development. The meticulous contextualization of past events and ideas, arising out of a sophisticated understanding of the past's particularities and discontinuities with the present, is one of the great achievements of modern historiography. But that achievement comes at a very high cost, when it emphasizes the pastness of the past so much as to make the past completely unavailable to us, separated from us by a impassable chasm of contextual difference.

-Review of David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing (BrothersJudd)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Obama's insular White House worries his allies (Peter Nicholas, 12/25/10, LA Times)

Obama's executive style relies heavily on a cordon of advisors who were with him at earlier points in his career. In nearly every instance, as senior advisors have resigned, Obama has filled the vacancies with trusted confidants who are closer to him than the people they replaced.

Gone is Christina Romer, a UC Berkeley professor who chaired his Council of Economic Advisors. In is Austan Goolsbee, a longtime Obama campaign aide who is confident enough about his relationship with the president that at a celebrity comic night last year he joked: "Look, I'm not saying that in 1961 we were, like, separated at birth — in a village in Kenya — what I'm saying is that we're friends."

Out is Rahm Emanuel, the ambitious chief of staff now running for mayor of Chicago; in is Pete Rouse, who was chief of staff in Obama's Senate office and who helped chart Obama's rise from freshman senator to president.

Atop the pyramid is a quartet of longtime friends and campaign aides: senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and Rouse. Though Obama is likely to reshuffle staff next year and assign some people to different roles, none of the big four is expected to leave his orbit. Axelrod will leave the White House to begin planning for the reelection campaign, but his replacement is expected to be David Plouffe, who ran the 2008 Obama campaign.

For the foreseeable future Obama will be surrounded by a phalanx of aides utterly devoted to his political interests. That probably will focus the decision-making. But Democratic allies and even some White House officials are hoping he doesn't lean too far in this direction, creating an insular presidency.

With Republicans in charge in the House next year, the Democrats contend, Obama needs new faces who might be better suited to negotiate with a resurgent GOP and come up with a fresh alternative to the now-dated 2008 campaign message of "hope and change."

December 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


The Other Brother and I would like to thank you all for another enjoyable year of conversation and disputation. May you all--even the heathens--have a Merry Christmas.

Most of us have already gotten our gift from Santa--the O-pocalypse--and, happily, the GOP's victories seem to have drained much of the fever from the swamp. Folks may still think the UR is a gay Muslim Kenyan Socialist, but they're certainly less hysterical now that he'll be hemmed in by a Republican dominated House. A year or two of political compromise will drive the two wings to distraction, but for most of America it's a salutary prospect. Add in a growing economy and probable championships for the Pats, Celts, Bruins, and Sox and 2011 could be an especially good year in the Puritan Nation. We hope and pray that all of you have a great one.

As we try to do every year, we'll be reposting old Christmas stuff from the archives.

If you have a favorite hymn, carol, story, poem, essay, sermon, etc. of your own, please send it in and we'll add it.

Meanwhile, Be of Good Cheer,
The Brothers Judd

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


How Billy Graham Brought Us the Tea Party: And lo, there were Pentecostals in Southern California. (Tim Murphy, 12/24/10, Mother Jones)

Just before Christmas, George W. Bush traveled to North Carolina to pay a visit to the one man who, perhaps more than any other, made his political ascent possible: Billy Graham. But the aging evangelist's contributions go far beyond simply helping 43 sober up and find Christ on a beach in Kennebunkport. As a charismatic young preacher in the post-war era, Graham galvanized southern evangelicals who had migrated to the Golden State. Socially conservative, business-friendly, a new political brew fermented in the cul-de-sacs of Southern California. The results: Yesterday's religious right, today's tea party, and the Reagan and Bush presidencies.

Historian Darren Dochuk explains the 50-year process in his new book, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt. Mother Jones spoke with Dochuk recently about Sarah Palin, the tea party, and the next Billy Graham. [...]

MJ: One of Graham's ideas from the late 60s, which you occasionally hear today, is the idea of socially conservative blacks and conservative whites voting as a bloc. But instead you get the Southern Strategy. Were people like Graham serious?

DD: In the 60s, in response to Watts, I do think Billy Graham and other evangelicals were sensitive to racial issues. And I think they were naive. And ultimately they were incapable of offering any structural critique of racism. But at the same time they demonstrated some flexibility and an ability to cross racial barriers and create a colorblind coalition.

As many of us sang last night:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

On the other hand, the ideology of the Bright among us proclaims:
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.
Charles Darwin in a Letter to W. Graham July 3rd, 1881


At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the
civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace,
the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the
anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no
doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will
then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised
state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a
baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1882)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


The joy of train travel: From New Zealand to London (Robert Greenall, 12/24/10, BBC News)

International train travel has always had a romantic appeal, whether it's nostalgia for the age of steam, the thrill of a scenic mountain railway, or just the pleasure of watching the world go by and making friends with fellow travellers.

For longer journeys, most travellers nowadays shun rail in favour of air - few want to spend 36 hours on a journey that can be done in four.

But there are still plenty of good reasons to go by train. The joy of "slow travel" is that you see how the landscape changes - plus, you avoid the enormous carbon emissions that flying entails.

This year, I spent more than two months on a trip from Wellington, New Zealand to London, UK. I took only two short flights over water, and almost all of my overland journeys were by rail.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Can the U.S. give up its old yardstick?: Meteorologist Donald Hillger makes the case for switching to the decimal-based metric system, saying it will promote a better understanding and learning of science. (Lori Kozlowski, 12/24/10, Los Angeles Times)

In the supermarket, on the street and in bars, Europeans have long thought in units of 10 — fruit is weighed by the kilo, beverages dispensed by fractions of a liter and distances marked off in meters. Most Americans, meanwhile, still think in pounds, pints, feet and miles.

The metric system, or SI (short for the International System of Units, or Systeme International d'Unites in French), has roots that stretch to 1670, when French scientist and abbot Gabriel Mouton proposed a decimal system based on the circumference of the Earth. In the late 18th century, France became the first country to widely adopt this system.

The United States remains one of the few nations that has not implemented the metric system. President Ford organized the U.S. Metric Board in 1975 to get the nation to make the switch voluntarily. But the committee disbanded in 1982 with the status quo mostly intact. (These days, sodas are commonly sold in 2-liter bottles.)

Donald Hillger, a meteorologist at Colorado State University and member of the U.S. Metric Assn., explained to The Times why a nationwide metric conversion could help scientific understanding. [...]

Why do you think people have held onto the old system for so long?

They grew up learning one way. Everything has a bit of a steep learning curve at first. And though the metric system is fairly straightforward, it might take some time to get used to it. There is a bit of Americanism there, too — some people think metric is foreign or French.

By holding back, though, they don't realize it's only to our own detriment. We are the only major country still on our old system.

It's not the old system. It's the system.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Man in need finds wallet and moral compass (David Filipov and L. Finch, December 15, 2010, Boston Globe)

Maybe it was the holiday spirit. Maybe it was because it was the right thing to do.

Or maybe it was a little bit of both that inspired Brian Christopher to perform a simple act of kindness.

The 49-year-old Navy veteran was walking near City Hall Monday when something on the ground caught his eye. It looked like a comic book. Christopher, an amateur artist, picked it up.

It was a wallet with $172 in it. But no credit cards, license, or any other identification.

What would you do? While you are thinking about that, consider this: Christopher is homeless. He has no income. He has three children, ages 14, 12, and 10, in Maryland. He really, really could have used the cash.

December 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Obama vacation book list: Is he reading up on bipartisanship? (Peter Grier, December 24, 2010, CS Monitor)

News Alert! This just in: President Obama on his Hawaii vacation may be engaging in activities hinting that he’ll take a more bipartisan approach to governance in the new year.

OK, we’re reaching a little bit here, but reading is a big thing for Mr. Obama when he relaxes, and his book list apparently has on it at least one very interesting title: “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” by Lou Cannon.

...but does anyone really believe that this president is a reader? He just seems far too self-absorbed to be interested in the words and thoughts of others.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Ye Olde Yule Log Now Blazes in 3-D (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 12/24/10, NY Times)

It had to happen: the yule log in 3-D.

This latest refinement carries a whiff of retrofitted modernity, like a space capsule upholstered in chintz or a Microsoft Kinect game of croquet. But each generation has to find its own way to televise Christmas warmth, and a three-dimensional yule log is “Avatar” without blue people, “Saw 3D” with carols instead of bloodcurdling screams.

It can't be cheap to film all three hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Census: Fast Growth in States with No Income Tax (Michael Barone, 122/22/10, Washington Examiner)

[G]rowth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower. Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average. The other two, South Dakota and New Hampshire, had the fastest growth in their regions, the Midwest and New England.

Altogether, 35 percent of the nation's total population growth occurred in these nine non-taxing states, which accounted for just 19 percent of total population at the beginning of the decade.

...NH has a burgeoning Latino population...finally.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


A spirit is haunting the mullahs (AMIR TAHERI, December 24, 2010, NY Post)

[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran's working people at large.

There are several reasons:

First, the government's decision to end subsidies for bread, water, electricity and gasoline is beginning to hit low-income groups. By the government's own estimates, the end of subsidies could add more than 20 percent to the cost of living.

The government is trying to ease the burden for the poorest families through direct cash payments. But such payments don't cover more than half of the higher cost of living, according to official estimates.

Second, is the emergence of a new generation of activists among independent trade unionists. Older leaders such as Osnaloo, Shahabi and Mahmoud Salehi (a bakers' union leader who's also in prison) remain an inspiration. But the actual task of fighting for workers' rights has revolved to younger leaders.

Where the older leaders had been careful to steer clear of politics, the new leaders appear to believe that without political reform workers' conditions can't be improved.

Finally, international sanctions are beginning to bite, forcing the closure of thousands of private businesses and dozens of state-owned concerns.

The Labor Ministry says the Iranian economy is losing an average of 3,000 jobs a day -- and many workers blame Ahmadinejad's "adventurous" foreign policy.

The stage is being set for a showdown between Iran's workers and the Khomeinist establishment. The outside world, including the international media, had better pay more attention.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


The day Franz Klammer made us all yelp like sea lions: In his thrilling downhill victory at the 1976 Winter Olympics the Austrian seemed almost to be falling as much as skiing (Harry Pearson, 12/23/10, The Guardian)

Franz Klammer was the last of the big names to go. Looking back, I can see that the pressure on the 22-year-old was immense. He'd won eight out of nine World Cup downhills the year before, all three races in 1976. There were 66,000 spectators lining the course and surrounding the finish line, most of them Austrian. He was the favourite. The man who might have been his biggest rival, Switzerland's Roland Collombin had broken his back 18 months before. Klammer was on home territory. He had one chance. If he messed it up then, frankly, he was buggered.

The buzzer went. The crowd yelped like sea lions. Klammer dressed in the lurid colours of a DC comic superhero – bright yellow bodysuit, red boots and helmet – careened down the mountainside with such blatant disregard for his own safety it was like he was a teenage hoodlum joyriding in a stolen body. He leapt, he bounced, he bumped. His skis flew out at odd angles. He teetered perpetually on the edge of disaster. At times he seemed to be falling more than skiing. It was a performance of such reckless bravado and wild freedom it's hard to imagine that anyone watching – including Bernard Russi – wasn't urging the Austrian to succeed. Behind at the split, he recovered to win by 0.33 seconds.

Of all the sport I watched in the 1970s nothing – not Gordon Banks's save in Mexico, the Rumble in the Jungle or Emlyn Hughes hugging Princess Anne on a Question of Sport – made such an impression on me. Thinking about it now I realise something: I remember the whole of Klammer's run at Innsbruck in vivid colour. Odd, because I know for a fact that the television I watched it on was black-and-white.

Ditto. Recall that the games weren't shown live then--even the 1980 Men's hockey victory over the USSR wasn't shown live, if I recall--and you couldn't find replays all over the dial and the internet. By the time they showed the final runs I was supposed to be asleep and was watching on a black-and-white- under the covers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


BMW's Electric Automobile Revolution (Christian Wüst, 12/24/10, Der Spiegel)

All car manufacturers face the same problem -- even the most modern rechargeable batteries are too expensive, too weak and too heavy to power conventional cars, which are already excessively heavy even without the batteries.

"Integrating electric power into existing vehicle concepts is the wrong way, a dead end," declares Rainer Kurek, head of the Munich-based MVI Group, which develops car bodies and other components for the automotive industry. In his recently published book, Kurek urges vehicle manufacturers to take a completely new approach. "The current hype surrounding electric vehicles," the engineer writes, "is obscuring the fact that today's auto bodies have become far too heavy over the course of the last decades."

A first-series Volkswagen Golf from 1974 weighs 750 kilograms (1,653 pounds). A Golf from today's production series weighs around half a ton more. It's also an entire vehicle class larger than its predecessor, contains a standard eight airbags and can drive into a wall at 64 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour) without its occupants being seriously injured. Such an accident in the original Golf would have meant certain death.

Technological progress has long meant an inevitable increase in weight. The aluminum auto bodies used in Audi's luxury cars, for example, just barely manage to make up for the weight added by the all-wheel drive system that the brand has made its trademark. Hardly a technical revolution.

Now, though, BMW is attempting to break the cycle. Three years from now, the Munich-based company plans to offer an electric vehicle of a completely different construction type. The project, known as Megacity Vehicle (MCV), won't contain steel or aluminum bodywork. Instead, it will have a light alloy frame in the car floor and a body made of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP).

CFRP is a dull black material which has a chemical structure similar to that of diamonds. It is sturdier than steel and weighs less than half as much. The MCV body will be 250 to 300 kilograms (550 to 660 pounds) lighter than that of a conventional electric car of the same size, compensating fully for the additional weight of the batteries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Holiday Memories With Michael Feinstein (Grant Jackson, December 24, 2010, Marian McPartland Piano Jazz)

This week, Piano Jazz celebrates the season with a set of holiday favorites, as well as some surprises never heard on the program before. Guest host Michael Feinstein performs and presents tunes from the Piano Jazz archive, as well as some treasures from his own extensive collection of recordings by the masters of American popular song.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Makoto Fujimura - The Art of "The Four Holy Gospels" from Crossway on Vimeo.

The Artist and the Beautiful (Makoto Fujimura, 2/12/2010)

I was introduced to Hawthorne's delightful short story by reading Dr. Denis Donoghue's Speaking of Beauty. This title, too, is a subtle, but significant shift from books that speak directly "at" the subject of beauty, but alluding to the issue. Dr. Donoghue, a T.S. Eliot scholar at New York University, spoke for International Arts Movement's "Return of Beauty" conference on this subject in 2003, and subsequently released the book. I find this book, over the years, to be the best book on the subject of beauty available; he writes about beauty indirectly, delicately, giving a panoply of literary examples. He wisely points out that beauty, goodness and truth cannot be spoken of separately, or we will end up with an unhealthy imbalance. The book depends on literary examples, all of aesthetic delight, to illustrate this principle. Here, he describes Hawthorne's short story:

In the Artist of the Beautiful(1844) Hawthorne tells of Owen Warland, a young man who works as a watch-repairer but who lives his true life in search of the beautiful. He is gifted with an acute sense of the delicate and the minute. Mind and hand are turned toward the exquisite. Owen thinks of his work as a tribute to Annie Hovenden, whom he loves and regards as his ideal companion, the best recipient of the beautiful. For her he makes a metal butterfly that perches on one's hand.1

But, as with Hawthorne's other works, like the The Scarlet Letter, the lovers enter a dark labyrinth, as Annie ends up thwarting Owen's affection, and marrying a blacksmith instead. Annie gives birth to a child, and they name him Peter, after Owen's boss, a watchmaker who does not share Owen's passion for the exquisite. "The story turns," Dr. Donoghue notes, "some of Hawthorne's favorite polarities: light and dark, gold and iron, spirit and body, the beautiful and the useful." (pg. 12) One evening Owen finally decides to reveal this butterfly that took years to create. Hawthorne's precise language here is exquisite:

The firelight glimmered around this wonder-the candles gleamed upon it; but it glistened apparently by its own radiance, and illuminated the finger and outstretched hand on which it rested with a white gleam like that of precious stones. In its perfect beauty, the consideration of size was perfectly lost. Had its wings overreached the firmament, the mind could not have been more fulfilled or satisfied.2

Annie is delighted, but the transfixed vision is only given for a moment as the young Peter, a child with a blacksmith's hand, wipes at the butterfly, crushing it.

The blacksmith, by main force, unclosed the infant's hand, and found within the palm a small heap of glittering fragments, whence the mystery of beauty had fled forever. And for Owen Warland, he looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life's labor, and which was yet no ruin. He had caught a far other butterfly than this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptive to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the Reality.

The intrigue here, in the last paragraph of the story, is Owen's reaction to the incidental but brutal grasp by the blacksmith's infant. Owen's "placid" response is markedly counter to our expectation. This apparent "ruin of his life's labor" is dismissed by the words "which was yet no ruin," Hawthorne redirects our attention not to the immediate happenstance of devastation, but on the nature of memory and perception. "He had caught a far other butterfly than this." And an artist's triumph, according to Hawthorne, is in the ability to transcend the cruel reality, but to see the greater Reality behind it all. Owen understood that true beauty resided in the memories of butterflies, and the achievement of beauty--a symbol of perfection.

Dr. Donoghue acknowledges here the irreconcilable dualism between spirit and matter, the Idea and its embodiment ("Platonic discrepancy"). "According to the rhetoric of the story, " he analyzes, "the only thing that matters is that Owen has had his vision of beauty."3 The story must be titled "The Artist Of the Beautiful" because Beauty can, and should, transcend, and even consume the artist's efforts.

Call it wishful thinking on my part: but here is my initial mis-interpretation of the story, which I thought was called "The Artist AND the Beautiful." The artist's relationship to the beautiful is a dance, rather than sublimation. I thought initially, wrongly, that there might be a vision of reconciliation here, in which the appearing Reality compensates, and justifies.

But I am afraid Dr. Donoghue's interpretation is the correct one. Here, Hawthorne captures beauty in the similar way that the Japanese of old have called "mono-no-aware" ("pathos of things") and that what is truly beautiful must disappear, or be destroyed, in order to be truly beautiful. The duality of spirit and matter stands, and artists must embrace the impossibility of possessing, and creating, what is enduringly, solidly beautiful. In fact, in many of the copies of this gem of a short story, the last word of the story is not capitalized, but stated as flatly as "his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality."

As I spoke on this experience to various audiences, though, it began to dawn on me that my misreading, or overly enthusiastic reading, could also be useful. My bias toward a reconciled vision forces us to look at the context of when the story was written, and to dive into the swirls of intuitive links that can simultaneously reach the shores of theology and sciences. These speculations are useful, not just because of the various themes exposed, but also because they reveal the intuitive knowledge at the core of creativity: in every good story, there's a greater narrative behind it to tap into, and in every poem, we stand a good chance to journey beyond the author's intent. While this journey does not justify "reading into" the story beyond the boundaries set up by the author, what Hawthorne is pointing to is the possibility that our exploration of the beautiful can bring us closer to the Reality, which Owen Warfield embraced at the end. Art has the capacity to inhabit a world beyond itself, and a story can regenerate truthfully into another time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


A good year in Iraq (Washington Post, December 22, 2010)

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq's fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Refugee comfort zone: Olympic training and US citizenship for newborns: Refugee Bill Clinton Hadam finds a comfort zone in elite Olympic training. And his family now includes its first US citizens – newborn twins. (Mary Wiltenburg, December 22, 2010, CS Monitor)

In 2008, the Monitor began a year-long series that followed Bill (now 11), Igey (now 9), and their parents, as the newly arrived refugee family adjusted to life in the United States. When the project ended in September 2009, their future was uncertain. Today, challenges remain, particularly for Bill’s missing sister and nephew – and changes to the family have added new ones. But one thing seems clear: Although the boys won’t become citizens for another couple of years, they’re Americans now.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


WWII pilot who forever repaid rescuers dies at 94 (Timberly Ross And Charles Hanley, 12/23/10, Associated Press)

LINCOLN, Nebraska – Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and teacher of children, died Thursday morning. He was 94. Richard Hargesheimer said his father had been suffering from poor health and passed away in Lincoln.

On June 5, 1943, Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down by a Japanese fighter while on a mission over the Japanese-held island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific. He parachuted into the trackless jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until found by local hunters.

They took him to their coastal village and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health from two illnesses. In February 1944, with the help of Australian commandos working behind Japanese lines, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine off a New Britain beach.

After returning to the U.S. following the war, Hargesheimer got married and began a sales career with a Minnesota forerunner of computer maker Sperry Rand, his lifelong employer. But he said he couldn't forget the Nakanai people, who he considered his saviors.

The more he thought about it, he later said, "the more I realized what a debt I had to try to repay."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 AM


Pray for Coal: The most dangerous toys of all time (Paige Ferrari, December 2006, Radar)

In the spirit of the holidays, Radar presents the most dangerous toys of all time, those treasured playthings that drew blood, chewed digits, took out eyes, and, in one case, actually irradiated. To keep things interesting, we excluded BB guns, slingshots, throwing stars, and anything else actually intended to inflict harm. Below, our toy box from hell.

1. Lawn Darts

Removable parts? Suffocation risk? Lead paint? Pussy hazards compared to the granddaddy of them all. Lawn Darts, or "Jarts," as they were marketed, would never fly in our current ultra-paranoid, safety-helmeted, Dr. Phil toy culture. Lawn darts were massive weighted spears. You threw them. They stuck where they landed. If they happened to land in your skull, well, then you should have moved. During their brief (and generally awesome) reign in 1980s suburbia, Jarts racked up 6,700 injuries and four deaths.

The best part about Jarts was that they eliminated all speculation from true outdoor fun. (Is this dangerous? Hell yes, now chuck it!) And they were equal opportunity: All it took to play lawn darts was a sweaty grip. For good measure, it was also nice to have a small sibling around to stand on the other side of the house and tell you how your throw looked (and by how much you cleared the chimney).

The actual rules of lawn darts, as laid out by the manufacturer, were never important. No one is known to have used Jarts for their intended purpose. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that an accident involving a wayward spear and the semi-permeable head of a seven-year-old resulted in the toys' being banned from the market in 1988. Sadly, today's underage boys will never know the primal excitement of a summer's evening spent impaling friends before suppertime.

We had a saying in our family: if your skull isn't think enough top stop a Jart, the heck with ya, you must have been adopted anyway.

[originally posted: 2006-12-14]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM

Jingle Jams: A Holiday Mix From NPR Music (NPR, December 13, 2010)

We asked 10 of NPR Music's partner stations to send us 10 of their favorite holiday songs, so this continuous stream is packed with gems. From Bach to The Ramones to Louis Armstrong, it's a perfect playlist for those who wish to indulge in the spirit of the season while remaining glued to the computer. Whether you're shopping online or trudging grimly through another workday, let Jingle Jams serve as your soundtrack.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Tragic Right Turn (Paul R. Pillar, December 23, 2010, National Interest)

I once attended a speech by Golda Meir during a visit she made to the United States in the 1970s shortly after stepping down as prime minister of Israel. In talking about the advantages in resources the Arab states had over Israel, she jokingly blamed Moses. His mistake, said Meir, was that after leading his people across the miraculously parted Red Sea, he did not turn right—to where the oil was—but instead turned left. In fact a bigger wrong turn, which has caused modern Israelites more grief than anything Moses did, could be described as a turn to the right. That was the embarkation, after the 1967 Middle East War, on a program of colonizing the newly conquered portions of Palestine, notwithstanding the fact that another population already lived there, that there was no legal basis for the colonization, and that as a result the colonization became a major reason for Israel to remain isolated, beleaguered, and in a state of hostility with its neighbors.

Anyone who reads Ethan Bronner's article in Thursday's New York Times will have a hard time disagreeing with the proposition that the latest phase in the colonization is driving more nails in the coffin of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Bronner reports that in the three months since Israel ended a freeze on settlement construction, a settlement-building “boom” has begun. Even worse, the most rapid construction has been in the core of the West Bank, well away from the borders of 1967 and not part of the already heavily settled portions of the West Bank that would likely be given to Israel as part of any two-state agreement. Such construction is the most concrete (literally and figuratively) indication, to the Palestinians and to everyone else, of a lack of Israeli good will regarding a two-state solution. It both demonstrates and contributes to the growing impossibility of such a solution. And even if, despite all this, some sort of Israeli-Palestinian deal could still be struck, it would mean enormous resistance from an ever-growing body of settlers, disproportionately representative of the fanatical right, who would be on the Palestinian side of a negotiated line and would face evacuation. Given the solicitousness to the right on so many other issues, it is problematic to say the least that the Israeli government of the day would have the will or the capability to overcome such resistance.

...when the locals react to the Israeli Empire the same way the Jews reacted to the Roman.

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December 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


Songs of Songs: What are the 100 greatest Jewish songs ever? Tablet Magazine’s musicologists rank them all, from sacred to pop to hip-hop, from Rabbi Akiva to Amy Winehouse. (Jody Rosen and Ari Y. Kelman | Dec 21, 2010, Tablet)

What does Jewish music sound like? It’s been a vexing question for millennia—at least since the Israelites wept by the Babylonian riverbanks with harps in hand. A half-century ago, the great German-Jewish musicologist Curt Sachs came up with a litmus test. Jewish music, he wrote, is music created “by Jews, as Jews, for Jews.” You know the stuff: liturgical melodies, Yiddish folk songs, Zionist anthems, your Bubbe’s favorite lullaby.

But think of the music Sachs leaves out. What do we do with George Gershwin and Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, with the songs belted out by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies or Lou Reed at Max’s Kansas City—the whole messy sprawl of 20th-century American pop music history, which, fromI Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” toI’ve Gotta Be Me” to “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” has been inflected by the Jewish genius for passing and pastiche? And where, for that matter, does it leave Serge Gainsbourg, Israeli techno, Jonathan Richman, Yo La Tengo, or Ofra Haza? Or ”Hanukkah in Santa Monica”?

Perhaps a better answer to the Jewish musical conundrum is a famous quip. The story goes that the composer Jerome Kern and the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II were discussing the possibility of a musical based on the life of Marco Polo. Hammerstein said to Kern, “Here is a story laid in China about an Italian and told by Irishman. What kind of music are you going to write?” Kern replied, “It’ll be good Jewish music.”

Here, then, is our list of the 100 Greatest Jewish Songs. Some were created by Jews, as Jews, for Jews. Some are by Jews pretending to be gentiles—or by gentiles pretending to be Jews. If history has taught us anything, it’s that Jewish music is a dizzyingly broad and fluid category, encompassing an extraordinary range of sounds and styles and ideas and themes, from the sacred to the secular—from the normatively Jewish to the Jew-ish to the seemingly not-at-all-Jewish. Our list includes a bit of everything: sacred songs and synagogue staples and Yiddish ballads and Broadway showstoppers. There’s even some disco and hip-hop. All of them are great songs—and good Jewish music. [...]

3. “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

U.S. Highway 61, wrote Bob Dylan in his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One, “begins about where I came from,” stretching from southern Minnesota, near Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, to New Orleans. “Highway 61 Revisited” begins a bit further afield. “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’/ Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on,’ ” Dylan sings in the opening measures, as the song settles into a bluesy lope.

As always with Dylan, it’s impossible to untangle the strands of autobiography, mythology, and carnival barker gibberish. Many commentators have pointed out that Dylan’s own father was an Abraham—Abe Zimmerman—and that the songwriter’s retelling of the binding of Isaac may have personal resonance. But what is a Dylanologist to make of Georgia Sam, Mack the Finger, Louie the King, and the other cartoon characters that populate the song? And what about the burst of biblical mumbo-jumbo in the song’s fourth verse?:

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
My complexion she said is much too white
He said come here and step into the light he says hmm you’re right
Let me tell the second mother this has been done
But the second mother was with the seventh son
And they were both out on Highway 61

As always with Dylan, the meaning is blowing in the wind. What’s unmistakable in “Highway 61 Revisited” is the tone. Delivering Old Testament imagery and cosmic jokes in his most exaggerated nasal drawl, Dylan is part-prophet, part-provocateur, part-badchen, and full-time blabbermouth. In other words: He’s just so Jewish. (JR) [...]

8. “White Christmas” (1942)

“Not only is it the best song I ever wrote,” said Irving Berlin when he finished writing “White Christmas,” “it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.” There’s certainly a lot in it. Its dreamy scenery belongs to the same tradition as Currier and Ives’ wintry landscapes and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The melodicism is pure Broadway and Hollywood sophistication, but the maudlin sentiments—that vision of snow-blanketed yuletides “just like the ones I used to know”—has deeper, homelier roots, drawing on Stephen Foster’s antebellum nostalgia and Victorian parlor ballads, and ladling some Jewish schmaltz over the top.

“White Christmas” was released in the middle of World War II, in November 1942, the first Christmas season that American troops spent overseas. It stirred such homesickness that it became the definitive pop hit of the war—a “why we fight” song that never mentioned the fight. And that was just the beginning of its success. It’s doubtful any song has generated more total record sales. Bing Crosby’s definitive version stood as the top-selling pop single for more than a half-century.

Tonally “White Christmas” stands apart from the cheeriness of most Christmas songs: It’s as dark and blue as it is “merry and bright.” Some have attributed this plaintive quality to Berlin’s Jewishness—to the seasonal melancholy of a man doomed to view the holiday from a distance. But “White Christmas” is sneakier than that. “God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave Irving Berlin … ‘White Christmas,’ ” wrote Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. “If supplanting Jesus Christ with snow can enable my people to cozy up to Christmas, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” (JR) [...]

14. “Blitzkrieg Bop” (1976)

Jeffry Ross Hyman—aka Joey Ramone—cobbles together four chords, a cheerleader chant, and a gratuitous reference to the Nazi war machine. Presto: Punk is born. (JR) [...]

21. “Ol’ Man River” (1927)

There had never been a showtune like the centerpiece ballad of Show Boat—a meditation on race, class, the suffering of humanity, and the indifference of nature. Jerome Kern’s melody is indelible. Oscar Hammerstein’s lyric is philosophical. And the river in question—the mighty Mississippi—is eternal: It just keeps rolling along. (JR) [...]

25. “Hallelujah” (1981)

David and Bathesheba. Samson and Delilah. Bathing on the rooftop and bondage in the kitchen. Leonard Cohen’s 1981 ballad blends the biblical and erotic to create a Jewish gospel testimonial—a praise song to “the Lord of song” and, as Jeff Buckley once put it, “a hallelujah to the orgasm.” (JR) [...]

35. “Walk This Way” (1986)

It was a hipster Jewish record producer, Rick Rubin, who brought Run-DMC and Aerosmith together—a shotgun marriage of hip-hop and hard rock that transformed popular culture. (JR) [...]

79. “King Without a Crown” (2004)

Whatever you think of Matisyahu’s music—not to mention his Lubavitcher-cum-Deadhead ragamuffin reggae stylings—there’s no denying the powerful novelty of his shtick. As Jewish minstrelsy, it’s eyebrow-raising: In The Jazz Singer the immigrant striver Al Jolson wore blackface to cast off his Jewish patrimony and become American; three generations later, Mastisyahu dons Old World “Jewface” and becomes “black.” And how can you not stand in awe of man who rhymes “Fire blaze” with “Hashem’s rays”—and who put the lyrics “I want Moshiach now” and “Torah food for my brain” on MTV? (JR) [...]

93. “I’ve Gotta Be Me” (1968)

Sammy Davis Jr.’s answer to his Rat Pack confrere Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”: “Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong/ Whether I find a place in this world or never belong/ I gotta be me.” A deliciously bombastic piece of self-mythologizing from pop’s most famous convert to Judaism. (JR) [...]

100. “Loser” (1993)

Technically speaking, Beck Hansen is barely Jewish. (His maternal grandmother was a tribe-member.) His 1993 debut single, though—now that’s Jewish. Often described as a song of Gen X malaise, “Loser” is actually a headier concoction: some folk, some hip-hop, and some Dylanesque doggerel, all mashed-up with the nebbishy neurosis of Alexander Portnoy and Alvy Singer. It’s not a “slacker anthem”; it’s a schlemiel’s lament. (JR)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


The Man Who Saved Baseball (Andrew Sherman, 12/23/10, Jewish Exponent)

Cliff Lee is more than just the modern-day Sandy Koufax. At least to Philadelphia Jews, he is.

Let me explain. Sure, Mr. Lee may be a good 'ole Arkansas boy who enjoys a hunting expedition and has the (non-Jewish) good looks of a young John Wayne. No matter. The man was -- and, by declining to don Yankees pinstripes, still is -- the sheriff that Philadelphia Jews have longed for in our longtime battle with the city of New York -- and our insufferable relatives who call it home.

Maybe Judaism has nothing to do with this. But here's a thought: Until Cliff Lee set foot in the New York City subway system on the eve of game one of the 2009 World Series and rode the train up to the Bronx -- where he proceeded to strike out 10 Yankees in a dominating 6-1 win -- Philadelphia Jews felt powerless against the Bronx bombers, and by extension, their arrogant and wealthier New York relatives.
Cliff Lee
Photo courtesy of The Phillies

We all have one -- a rich family member living in New York, be it a cousin in Manhattan or Great Neck, or an uncle in Westchester. The relative (who you still love, unconditionally) with the air of superiority and over-the-top claims: New York's bagels are "the best!" they say. "Its pastrami -- the best! Its theaters and museums -- the best! "We've got Zabar's!" they tell you, "Bergdorf's! B&H!"

And, of course, they're also quick to point out: "We've got the Yankees -- best baseball team there ever was!"

It should be noted that Jews and baseball are like bagels and lox -- an odd combination from the get-go, and one that has stood the test of time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


GOP Memo on New START (JOHN MCCORMACK, 12/23/10, Weekly Standard)

President Obama entered office promising to rid the world of nuclear weapons and drastically cut US missile defense capabilities, as evidenced by his Prague speech and first budget submission to the Congress cutting the missile defense program by $1.4 billion. Now, at the end of his first Congress, in the course of completing his signature foreign policy achievement, President Obama has committed his Administration to a wholesale modernization of the US nuclear complex, including improvements to warheads, facility infrastructure, and all delivery vehicles of the triad. He has also committed to deploying an extensive missile defense capability, including the placement of a missile defense system in Europe with a capability directed against ICBMs, as well as the placement of missile defense interceptors in the former Soviet client states of Poland and Romania.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Osama bin Laden is dead (Robert Weiner and James Lewis, 12/23/10, The Washington Times)

CIA reports, doctors and biographers have asserted that bin Laden had (has) a range of diseases from typhoid to renal disease, Addison's disease, secondary osteoporosis and Marfan syndrome. Intelligence agencies think that in 2000, he had kidney-dialysis devices shipped to him in Afghanistan. His 1987 biography states that bin Laden was being treated with insulin for diabetes and suffered serious low blood pressure. Is it likely that the most wanted man in the world has been regularly receiving medical attention without detection for the past 10 years?

In 2008, former CIA case officer Robert Baer asserted, "Of course he's dead." In 2002 and 2009, Pakistani Presidents Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari separately stated that bin Laden was dead. In 2002, FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson stated that bin Laden "probably" was dead.

Since 2004, we have seen no new bin Laden videos; we've only heard audios. One video released in 2007 could be a compilation of older videos. So why does the intelligence community continue to support the impression that he's alive?

...why bureaucrats are pimping for bigger budgets. Once you acknowledge he died at Tora Bora
the ax man comes for national; security spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


It's all about 1825 (Chris Forsberg, 12/23/10, ESPN)

Earlier this month, Shaquille O'Neal started referencing the year 1825 and told perplexed scribes to figure it out. He kicked the campaign into overdrive during an early December visit to Philadelphia, repeatedly referencing the year once again as he described Boston's quest for another title.

"Our mission is 1825, go figure it out," Shaq said with a wink that night.

He soon revealed the reasons behind the number combination and, while it didn't catch fire then, he resumed his campaign after Wednesday's home triumph over those same 76ers. Shaq's out to make 1825 the biggest sensation since Kevin Millar's "Cowboy Up."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


START of a Pyrrhic Victory? (Dimitri K. Simes, Paul J. Saunders, December 23, 2010, National Interest)

[S]enator John Kerry’s statement that the treaty is “historic” dramatically lowers the standards for evaluating Senate actions, especially at a time when no one really fears a U.S.-Russian nuclear confrontation. Perhaps most telling is today’s coverage in the New York Times; notwithstanding the paper’s frequent editorials, news executives put the ratification vote on page six.

More important, the gains from ratifying New START cannot be separated from the process—and the process is likely both to limit New START’s benefits and to impose costs in other areas. The administration argued that ratification during the lame-duck session was essential to avoid any further gap in mutual verification. This is a weak argument, however, in that there has already been a substantial gap since the original START treaty expired, neither side suspects the other of planning a nuclear attack, and each side has a technical ability to monitor the other’s weapons. In fact, an administration official speaking at The Nixon Center a few weeks ago essentially admitted that verification would only become a problem over a longer time frame.

Notwithstanding efforts to make a strategic case, the administration’s decision to press hard for ratification now seems to have been largely politically motivated, whether due to concern about securing more Republican support in the incoming Senate, the desire for a foreign-policy accomplishment to show that the president could still lead after the midterm elections, or some combination of both. With this in mind, it should not be surprising that politics also shaded the approach of some Senate Republicans to the treaty. It was precisely the treaty’s nonhistoric character that virtually ensured it would be subject to political as well as substantive scrutiny.

Obama Is No Reagan on Nuclear Disarmament (Amanda Kempa, 12/23/10, Der Spiegel)
[N]o president since Reagan has been as committed to the goal of nuclear abolition as President Barack Obama. Unlike Reagan, however, Obama's vision of arms control is largely shaped by the Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Indeed, although it is clearly in the best interest of US national security, the logic underpinning the New START treaty is rooted in MAD. Until the Obama administration articulates a new vision of arms control for a post-Cold War, multipolar world as Reagan did for a bipolar one, the president's goal of nuclear abolition will not be realized.

During the Cold War, MAD came to dominate the nuclear relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The doctrine posited that nuclear deterrence rested on each side retaining the ability to inflict severe damage on the other, even if hit with a first strike. Reagan disliked MAD intensely. He found the idea of intentionally basing stability on the possibility of civilians being killed on a massive scale to be immoral and dangerous. As he put it, MAD was like an Old West standoff with "two westerners standing in a saloon aiming their guns at each others' head -- permanently."

Furthermore, Reagan appeared to understand another limitation of the doctrine: Even if mutual vulnerability deters your adversary from attacking you, how do you ensure it does not attack your allies? With your own population essentially being held hostage, how do you retaliate? At best, MAD makes the extension of reliable security guarantees to allies extremely problematic. At worst, it can prompt nuclear proliferation, with insecure allies feeling compelled to develop nuclear deterrents of their own.

Reagan's thinking on this dilemma focused on two main ideas: strategic missile defense (SDI) which would provide US allies with a credible security guarantee and that he hoped would eventually be globalized, coupled with arms control treaties whose ultimate objective was the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Thus, although for Reagan agreements that limited the number of nuclear weapons or improved verification procedures were a crucial first step in arms control, they were not an end in themselves. Hence his insistence that the name of US-Soviet arms control negotiations be changed from SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) to START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks), to underscore the point that the goal was to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons, not merely to limit them. The merits of Reagan's approach are debatable. However, the fact that it was a clear theoretical break with previous US arms control strategy that had been based on intentionally maintaining equivalence of forces and the potential for mutual destruction, is not. Reagan's goal was not to stabilize the system but to overturn it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


German Far Right Praises New Swiss Law (Der Spiegel, 12/23/10)

[I]t would appear that Switzerland has found an unwanted ally. At the end of November, Swiss voters passed a referendum mandating the swift deportation of non-citizens who have been convicted of certain crimes. Since then, the German far-right party NPD has handed out postcards praising the Swiss initiative.

The postcards depict an idyllic mountain landscape with the famous Matterhorn in the background. "The Swiss Example," they read. "Make Quick Work of Criminal Foreigners."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Very Religious Americans Lead Healthier Lives (Frank Newport, Sangeeta Agrawal, and Dan Witters, 12/23/10, Gallup)

Very religious Americans are more likely to practice healthy behaviors than those who are moderately religious or nonreligious. The most religious Americans score a 66.3 on the Gallup-Healthways Healthy Behavior Index compared with 60.6 among those who are moderately religious and 58.3 for the nonreligious. This relationship, based on an analysis of more than 550,000 interviews, is statistically significant after controlling for major demographic and regional variables. [...]

Very religious Americans make healthier choices than their moderately religious and nonreligious counterparts across all four of the Healthy Behavior Index metrics, including smoking, healthy eating, and regular exercise. Smoking is one area of particular differentiation between the very religious and less religious Americans, with the nonreligious 85% more likely to be smokers than those who are very religious.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Southern Iraqi City Eyes Break from Baghdad (AP, 23/12/2010)

It's a constant complaint in Basra, where a boom in foreign oil investment has spurred a push to create a self-ruled region in Iraq's south. The constitution allows provinces — or groups of them — to break away into autonomous regions akin to Kurdistan in the north, and Basra's provincial council has twice sought to hold a referendum, only to meet stalling from Baghdad. The movement is likely to rev up once more now that a new government in Baghdad was formed this week.

An autonomy move in Basra could further weaken Iraq's central government by dividing the nation and lead to tussles over control of oil, as have occurred between Baghdad and the Kurds. A breakaway Basra could also fall into turmoil as local factions vie for power — and could come under heavy influence of neighboring Iran, which already is looking to increase its economic ties with the mainly Shiite province.

Basra is strategically crucial for Iraq. With a population of about 3 million people, Basra is Iraq's second-largest province and home to about 70 percent of the country's proven oil reserves of 143.1 billion barrels. The province, located on the Persian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, is Iraq's only outlet to the sea and is the hub for most of Iraq's oil exports of nearly 1.9 million barrels a day to the international market.

Still, Basra looks like a city forgotten by history, battered by Iraq's repeated conflicts, starting with the 1980-1988 war with Iran through the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Impoverished residential settlements crowd its outskirts. Piles of garbage and pools of stagnant water and sewage mar its dust-covered streets where donkeys, stray dogs, sheep and goats roam. Some neighborhoods endure water and electricity shortages. The biggest new investment is coming from Iran — including a nearly $1 billion plan to build housing, hotels and a mall.

"While the foreign companies, mainly the oil ones, are entering Basra to tap into its resources, Basrawis are being crushed by deprivation and poverty," said Wail Abdul-Latif, a former lawmaker who is the chief architect of Basra's autonomy bid.

Oil promises a bright future for Basra. Of the 15 oil and gas deals Iraq has awarded to private firms since last year — the first deals of their kind in more than three decades — six are for fields in Basra province.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Surprise! AIG is a hot stock again. Seriously. (Paul R. La Monica, December 23, 2010,

AIG is one of the best performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year. That's not a misprint.

Shares of the insurer, which was at death's door in September 2008 before the government bailed it out to the tune of $182 billion, are up a stunning 86% this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Obama's (conservative) liberal agenda (Adam Serwer, 12/23/10, Washington Post: Plum Line)

New START is a modernization and extension of a treaty negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and signed by President George W. Bush. "Don't ask, don't tell" was a Clinton-era "compromise" -- and, while seeking its appeal, the Obama administration went to great lengths to appease all the relevant stakeholders and neutralize potential backlash. The Affordable Care Act closely resembles the Republican "free-market" alternative to Clinton's 1993 health-care proposal and the plan put in place in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Even many of the initiatives that failed had conservative bonafides. The 2010 DREAM Act was a much narrower version of legislation that had long been part of the moderate Republican agenda on immigration, having once been sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). And while some conservatives descended even further into climate change denialism, cap-and-trade was, like the Affordable Care Act, meant to be the "free market" environmentalist approach.

The Obama administration's agenda, by and large, reflected a liberalism chastened by past failures and willing to endorse more market-based solutions to problems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM

The Infamous Stringdusters On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mopuntain Stage,
December 23, 2010)

The members of virtuoso group The Infamous Stringdusters all contributed songs to the group's third release Things That Fly. Featuring Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, Jesse Cobb on mandolin, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Andy Hall on dobro, Andy Falco on guitar and Travis Book on bass, the members share vocal duties on their first appearance on Mountain Stage.

Live Shows (Internet Music Archives)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Let Us Pay: John Lanchester on the future of the newspaper industry (John Lanchester, 12/16/10, London Review of Books)

The global flagship of serious journalism, the New York Times, lost $74.5 million in the quarter to March 2009, and accepted an injection of $250 million in cash from the Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim; it emerged that the paper was carrying $1.3 billion in accumulated debt. And it is one of the healthier US newspaper companies: the Tribune group, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, had already gone bankrupt. In the UK, Times Newspapers lost £87.7 million in the year to June 2009, having lost £50.2 million in the previous year. These figures are not, by industry standards, especially bad. It was mayhem out there.

In the last few months, however, the tone of the conversation in the business has changed. It’s now not so much ‘We’re doomed!’, more ‘Quick, what’s the plan?’ For one thing, advertising has recovered. This isn’t so much to do with classified ads: those are gone, for the simple and clear-cut reason that it is no longer rational to put those ads in newspapers rather than online. Other forms of advertising, however, have slightly recovered, and rates of decline have reversed. One of the panic-making things about 2009 was that online newspaper ads shrank; that was terrifying, because online ads, although less lucrative than their print counterparts, were supposed to be the future of the news business. In 2010, online advertising has recovered for most papers, in most cases by double-digit amounts. The journalism being produced by newspapers now has more readers than ever before; in some cases, many millions of readers more. They are reading it for free online, of course, but still: it’s hard to be depressed by the thought that your product has a huge new audience. The Guardian, for instance, increased its online readership by 62 per cent during the year to December 2009, with a lot of that growth abroad; it had 37 million readers in the course of the year, and more readers in the US than the Los Angeles Times. It also earned £25 million from digital advertising. In the case of the LRB, the internet has helped the print circulation climb to 55,000, and 7000 of those readers have joined in the last 12 months. For the LRB, the internet offers a new way of getting readers outside the traditional channels of direct mail. The trouble with direct mail is that it’s expensive, and its audience is confined to an existing ‘universe’ of potential customers from mailing lists. The internet expands that audience to anyone with access to a web browser; in addition, the paper’s content becomes its own form of advertising. Another factor may be the length of the LRB’s articles: if you’re reading this online, your eyes are probably bleeding by now. So online works as a form of marketing without cannibalising the print circulation too much. That’s what seems to be happening, anyway. Besides, in the UK, customers are still buying, on average, 15 million papers a day. That is not a small number. The whole business is not about to disappear overnight.

There have been some unexpected successes. The Evening Standard was bought by the former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, and turned into a freesheet. This at the time seemed to me the craziest idea anyone in the business has ever had, turning a paying product into something that you just give away, and hoping that the increased (though free) circulation causes a sufficiently lucrative spike in advertising. It’s like jumping out of an airplane in the hope that you will land in a big enough pile of hay. But guess what? It worked. The Standard’s circulation is now at 700,000 copies, and it is – as you can tell just by looking at it from a distance – fuller of ads than ever. It seems bizarre to me that something I was willing to pay for is doing better now that it’s given away; also, despite the fact that the Standard is free I hardly ever read it because I don’t travel on the Tube at rush hour, so I rarely get to see a copy. But the rush hour thing is a central reason for the paper’s rebirth: as a Standard veteran explained to me, ‘there’s no mobile reception in the Tube – it’s as simple as that.’ For the first time in quite a while, it’s not all gloom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


The return of the population panickers: In 2010, more and more of the supposedly great and good signed up for the misery-fest that is neo-Malthusianism. (Tim Black, 12/23/10, spiked)

Admittedly, the Something Must Be Done clamour had been building before 2010. In 2008, we had the hyper-intelligent, hyper-unreadable Stephen Hawking telling us there would literally be no room on the planet by 2600. And then of course, in April 2009, Sir David Attenborough came out as an adversary of procreation and promptly joined the Optimum Population Trust. ‘I’ve never seen a problem’, he announced, ‘that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more’.

But such public statements were just a foretaste of what was to come in 2010. Pro-hunt, pro-posh Otis Ferry, son of fringe-merchant Bryan, got in first with an impossibly obnoxious turn-of-the-year Sunday Times interview: ‘[I] hate the thought of being accused of depriving poor Mrs Punjab of her [right to come here] but we’re all packed on to this tiny island, and I genuinely believe we are maxed out. But no one is brave enough to say there are too many people in this country.’

Otis clearly hadn’t reckoned on the bravery of the Balanced Migration Group. Including amongst their visually prophylactic number the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, self-styled Labour maverick Frank Field and Tory MP Nicholas Soames, these brave public figures bravely argued that there were simply too many people trying to live in Britain. Terrible transport and a dilapidated housing stock were not problems of transport and housing policy, they pointed out (bravely, I might add); no, they were problems of overpopulation. Little wonder that Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting was busy urging us to ‘grasp the nettle of overpopulation’. Grasping nettles! Now that’s what I call bravery, Otis.

Britain was no isolated hotbed of neo-Malthusianism in 2010. In the US, Great American Novelist Jonathan Franzen went so far as to foreground overpopulation in his Great American Novel, Freedom. In an interview this December, he noted that ‘on a bad day, taking a drive and trying to find some place that isn’t covered with sprawl, I feel like we’ve experienced cancerous growth rates. There once were these functioning cities, there was farmland, there was the wild. It seems like there was once some kind of balance. When you see sprawl plotted out on maps, it really has this cancerous look.’

Nevermind Ted Turner...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Israel Plans Public Appeal to Ask U.S. to Free a Spy (ISABEL KERSHNER, 12/21/10, NY Times)

Mr. Netanyahu has tried in the past to trade Mr. Pollard for pliancy in Middle East peace negotiations, in the hope that the release of the spy would appease conservatives in the Israeli government. Mr. Netanyahu made Mr. Pollard’s case a bargaining point with the Palestinians at the Wye Plantation talks in 1998.

Most recently, in September, Israeli officials tried to float a deal in which they would extend a temporary moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, a Palestinian condition for negotiations, in exchange for the release of Mr. Pollard.

In Washington, Obama administration officials indicated that Mr. Pollard’s release was unlikely.

For one thing, the Central Intelligence Agency has fought his release for years; the agency views him as a spy who deserves his life sentence, arguing the release of Mr. Pollard would send a bad message about how the United States viewed people who traded in American secrets.

Beyond that, Mr. Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted attempts by the Obama administration to extend a settlement freeze to aid peace talks with the Palestinians, is not exactly in good favor with the Obama administration right now.

White House officials said Tuesday that they had not received Israel’s official request yet. But the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, indicated that when the request did come, the answer would be no. “I am not aware that that’s something that the president is looking at doing,” he said.

Trade him for a withdrawal from the West Bank.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


In China, ‘Sterilization Enforcement’ an Unlikely Rung on Ladder to Success: Cadre promotion linked to enforcing birth control policies and sterilization quotas (Chen Yilian, 12/21/10, Epoch Times )

The case of a couple from China’s Yunnan Province, recently published online, shows how promotions and bonuses for local Communist Party cadres are linked to their dogged pursuit of the quotas set by higher-ups—including quotas on the most intimate of subjects, like a woman’s sterilization.

Song Banghui, his wife, and their two children live in Yudongxiang, Zhaotong City, Yunnan Province. Song described the repeated forced sterilizations of himself and his wife on a post online and in interviews; he says the incidents have left the two traumatized and physically incapacitated. They say local government official are indifferent to their suffering and are only interested in reaching sterilization quotas set by the state.

Song told The Epoch Times that in 1999, after their first child was born, he volunteered to be sterilized because his wife was not in good enough health to undergo the operation. He said after the operation he was no longer able to perform heavy labor.

In spite of his operation his wife became pregnant again, and gave birth to their second child. Song didn’t think that having the baby would be a much of a problem.

“I thought: even though we had a child unexpectedly, we are OK with the government because I have already been sterilized; the government is not likely to find fault with my family,” Song said.

But on July 30, 2004, local authorities forced his wife to also be sterilized. The operation was completed, and five and a half years passed without incident. Then, on Jan. 23 of this year, birth control agents came knocking at the couple’s door again: Mrs. Song was to undergo one more sterilization.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM

Trampled By Turtles On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 12/21/10)

Born as a duo between singer-songwriter Dave Simmonett and mandolin player Erik Berry, Trampled By Turtles grew into a group that quickly gained a reputation for lively stage shows and eccentric instrumental arrangements. The band outgrew its home base in Duluth, Minn., and has been on the road recently with The Infamous Stringdusters, who also appeared on this Mountain Stage show.

The material here is culled mostly from the group's breakthrough record Palamino...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Court Decision Gives GOP Control of Senate (Karen DeWitt, 2010-12-20, WXXI) -

The state's highest court ruled in the final disputed State Senate race in the seventh district on Long Island, and the decision means Republicans will once again control the Senate in January.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


W.H.: Polar bears not 'endangered' (ROBIN BRAVENDER, 12/22/10, Politico)

The Obama administration is sticking with a George W. Bush-era decision to deny polar bears endangered species status.

In a court filing Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service defended the previous administration’s decision to give the polar bear the less-protective “threatened” species designation, a move that will frustrate environmentalists who hoped for stronger protections under the Endangered Species Act.

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December 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM

Arcade Fire and The National Takeover 6 Music (BBC6)

Two of the bands destined to top the critics' lists of 2010's best albums - The Arcade Fire and The National - take over the 6 Mix. Arcade Fire multi instrumentalist Richard Reed-Parry and brothers Aaron & Bryce Dessner who play guitar and bass in The National have been long-term friends since meeting on the American alt-rock circuit, regularly appearing on the same festival bills worldwide. Both acts released new albums in 2010 - Arcade Fire with 'The Suburbs' and The National with 'High Violet', the latter winning Q Magazine's coveted 'Album of 2010' award last month. Their friendship was cemented when Richard from the Arcade Fire contributed to a number of songs on The National's latest LP, most notably playing double bass and guitar on 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks', and doing the vocal harmony arrangement on 'Conversation 16'. In this special 6 Mix, Richard, Aaron and Bryce team up to play a selection of music which has inspired and soundtracked their friendship along with some of their favourite new music from 2010.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM

This year, put the gift of good eating under the tree (Daily News Wire Services, 12/22/2010)

"The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook," by Brinna B. Sands (Countryman Press; $35). If you can make it with flour, it's in this indispensable commemorative edition from the famous flour miller. The book also covers the science of baking, from primers on leavening to notes on flaky pastry and hints for homemade pasta. A go-to reference for all baking needs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Rep. Maloney: 9/11 Bill 'Should Have Passed Nine Years Ago’; Obama ‘With Us in Spirit’ (Rick Klein, 12/22/10, ABC News)

A deal is at hand – finally – to pass the bill providing health benefits and compensation to 9/11 first responders.

To some members of the New York congressional delegation, it caps a nine-year-old fight.

“It is so fair, it is so right, it should have passed nine years ago,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told us today.

...that this has nothing to do with whether there are any actual health effects associated with 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


Friend Tim Furnish has posted the Which Terrorist Are You quiz at Facebook

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM

Janelle Monae On World Cafe (NPR: World Cafe, 12/22/10))

Janelle Monae is a fiery and energetic wonderball of a performer, one who sings, writes songs, dances and acts

Monae first tried her hand on Broadway, but soon realized that her true calling was music. And what a strange calling it is. Monae's music involves a futuristic vision centered around her android alter-ego, Cindy Mayweather, a hero and rebel within the android community. Her Metropolis EP, originally released on her own Wondaland Arts Society label and later on Bad Boy Records, opens the epic tale and serves as the first movement of her four-movement concept, which was later explored on this year's full-length, The ArchAndroid, one of NPR Music's Favorite 50 albums of 2010.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Siberian Fossils Were Neanderthals’ Eastern Cousins, DNA Reveals (CARL ZIMMER, 12/23/10, NY Times)

An international team of scientists has identified a previously shadowy human group known as the Denisovans as cousins to Neanderthals who lived in Asia from roughly 400,000 to 50,000 years ago and interbred with the ancestors of today’s inhabitants of New Guinea. [...]

Next, the researchers looked for evidence of interbreeding. Nick Patterson, a Broad Institute geneticist, compared the Denisovan genome to the complete genomes of five people, from South Africa, Nigeria, China, France and Papua New Guinea. To his astonishment, a sizable chunk of the Denisova genome resembled parts of the New Guinea DNA.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Obama administration readies indefinite detention order for Guantanamo detainees (Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornblut, 12/21/10, Washington Post)

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


When foreign policy realism isn't realistic (Michael Gerson, December 21, 2010, Washington Post)

Jackson-Vanik was both a rejection of Kissinger's realism and a preview of Reaganism. It asserted that oppressive regimes are more likely to threaten their neighbors, placing human rights nearer the center of American interests. It elevated standards of human dignity that were direct threats to regimes premised on their denial.

Henry Kissinger is not a simple villain, because he is not a simple anything. Complexity is his creed. In other circumstances, he was a friend to the state of Israel. He skillfully navigated a difficult patch in the Cold War. In later writings, he has recognized the role of idealism in sustaining American global engagement.

This 37-year-old quote does not characterize an entire career. But it illustrates the narrowness of foreign policy realism. It has a sadly limited view of power, discounting American ideological advantages in global ideological struggles.

Realists often hold a simplistic view of great-power relations, asserting that any humanitarian pressure on Russia or China will cause the whole edifice of global order to crumble. This precludes the possibility of a mature relationship with other nations in which America both stands for its values and pursues common interests.

And from this historical episode, it is clear that repeated doses of foreign policy realism can deaden the conscience. In President Nixon's office, a lack of human sentiment was viewed as proof of mental toughness - an atmosphere that diminished the office itself. Realists are often dismissive of Manichean distinctions between good and evil, light and darkness. But in the world beyond good and evil, some may be lightly consigned to the gas chambers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


2010 Census: NH grew 6.5 percent (DAN TUOHY, 12/21/10, New Hampshire Union Leader)

New Hampshire grew the fastest rate of any state in New England over the past decade, according to 2010 Census population estimates released Tuesday.

The state population of 1,316,470 was a 6.5 percent increase over the official head count in 2000. [...]

[Kenneth Johnson, professor of sociology and senior demographer of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire,] said the region's population gain was due to an excess of births over deaths and that many more people left New England than came to it during the decade. Since 2000, New Hampshire had 45,000 more births than deaths, according to Johnson's study of recent census estimates.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


An Advent Conversation with James V. Schall, S.J. (Ken Masugi, December 20, 2010, Claremont Institute)

Ken Masugi: Congratulations on the publication of your thirty-second book, The Modern Age (South Bend: St. Augustine's Press). How does this book differ from others of the same title?

James V. Schall: Thank you. I read somewhere once that any author, no matter how many books he produces, mostly says the same thing. There is truth in that. This is why you can usually tell that the same author abides through all of his books. The title, as I mentioned in the text, is the title also of a famous ISI journal, founded by Russell Kirk in 1957, in which I have written myself. One thinks too of Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World, Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, and Leo Strauss' felicitous phrase, "the modern project." Actually, if you check Google, you would be astonished at the variety of things that are labeled "modern age"—tobacco, musical groups, hairstyles, learned books, a move with Joan Crawford. Lots of folks want to get into the modern age, get out of it, or figure out what in blazes it is!

But I think it incumbent on everyone who thinks on these things to come to terms with what he means by "modern times" or "the modern age." So with this book, I further reflect on issues that I have taken up before. The title of Chapter 3 of At the Limits of Political Philosophy was "What Is Modernity?" Though the term has origins in literature and theology, it is of particular importance to political philosophy to grasp clearly the intellectual relationships of classical, medieval, and modern philosophy. I always write with Gilson's Unity of Philosophic Experience in the background of my mind. That is, ideas can be related to each other in content even when they seem far apart in time.

The efforts of Strauss and Eric Voegelin to argue that the classics were needed to save us from modern turns shocked many. But Strauss and Voegelin had a point with which we still have not sufficiently come to terms, the suspicion that something is inherently disordered about our modern souls. As Robert Sokolowski showed in his Phenomenology of the Human Person, we need to rediscover the basics of philosophy itself, not just its history, not just modern philosophy, as if modern philosophy is intelligible without reference to classical or medieval philosophy. We need actively to think them all through in our own minds, before we can further understand what and where we are.

The feeling that we have taken a radically wrong turn pervades our culture. We are, none the less, unwilling to take a cold look at what we have brought about precisely because we do not want to admit that the turn, in spite of some good things, was wrong at its core. That would require a change in the way we live. It is all, as I like to say, in Aristotle, the rejection of who, as Henry Veatch remarked, was at the founding of the modern age. Aristotle hovers over any return home.

KM: You maintain that "The modern age is characterized by the claim that man can propose his own final end, can decide the content of his own happiness." No doubt, in a manner he can do this, but is what he defines worth having?

JVS: Your question—"Is it worth having?"—in its own way, brings out the central theme of this book. Indeed, this "Is it worth having?" theme is why Benedict XVI's encyclical, Spe Salvi, is so fundamental for understanding the nature of political philosophy. We have had intimations all along from Nietzsche to Bury to Voegelin that the modern world is not nearly as "secular" in inspiration as it pretends to be. Rather it is an effort to accomplish the lofty goals that were found in the revelational tradition by means other than suggested there. Without this elevated background, our political ideologies and enthusiasms would simply never have happened.

KM: You proceed to show how such ambition leads to corruption of human reason and an assertion of divinity. This is what Voegelin called Gnosticism. Strauss, you argue, "notes that the elevated understanding of human nature from revelation remained even when its means of achievement were politicized."

JVS: Yes, the fundamental "corruption" of the human intellect is based on the assumption that nothing is found in the universe to which our minds are related. Gnosticism is what follows, namely, the use of our own practical intellects to propose what the world and our lives within it should look like. The Gnostic mind has nothing to "conform to" but itself.

The Strauss remark—similar things can be found in Voegelin—is extraordinarily perceptive. Quiet like Benedict, Strauss sees that the ends of everlasting life in happiness are proposed in Christian revelation. Their achievement requires grace. But their accomplishment is not to be found in this world. Yet, when faith is gone, these elevated ends remain demanding a "practical" response. The optimism of progress or utopianism ultimately comes from this forgotten grace's original addendum, as it were, to nature. Christianity in this sense has not been rejected. It has been relocated with a motivating force no longer dependent on faith, prayer, and good works. It depends rather on the technical/biological transformation of man and polity so that such ends are now produced in this world by man himself, by his "science." This is, as you put it, "an assertion of divinity."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism (Frank Newport, 12/21/10, Gallup)

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Nelson leads (PPP, 12/21/10)

Bill Nelson is unusually popular with Republicans and independents and would start out in a good position for reelection- unless Jeb Bush made a surprise decision to run against him. [...]

Nelson's going to start out as a decently strong favorite if any of those folks are the GOP nominee but it would be a different story if Jeb Bush got into the race. Bush continues to be well liked in the state, sporting a 51/40 favorability. Bush is universally popular with the Republican base, is unusually popular with Democrats at a 29% favorability, and is on positive ground with independents as well. In a hypothetical contest with Nelson he leads 49-44, taking a pretty substantial 23% of the Democratic vote and holding Nelson to a four point advantage with independents in contrast to the wide margins he has over the other contenders.

It would be a tragedy to waste his leadership qualities and experience in a legislature.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


When China Ruled the World: Or why the "China Century" will be the shortest on record (Thomas P.M. Barnett, 12/21/10, Esquire)

Step No. 1: Demographics, or the Birth of a Nation of Selfish "Little Emperors"

Deng got things rolling in 1979 with his controversial one-child policy, which has to date wiped an entire America's worth of souls (three hundred million) from the ledger. The demographic dividend was substantial: China's ratio of dependents-to-workers dropped steadily over the next three decades as fewer kids entered the system and the percentage of elders held steady.

That labor boost established the so-called China price by making its labor the cheapest in the dependable world. By inserting itself at the top of numerous global production chains, China became the assembler of last resort and thus consolidated Asia's existing trade imbalance with the West. Two and a half trillion dollars of accumulated reserve currencies later, China's economic "genius" is hailed around the planet, even if all it did was out-Asia the rest of Asia by pushing aside all the other piglets suckling at Mama America's teat.

But as the recent global financial crisis made clear, that pig-out strategy has exhausted itself, meaning China needs to rely more on internal consumption for future growth. That's no easy pivot to engineer, and yet it's made all the more imperative by this year's closing of China's demographic golden hour — meaning, from here on out, fewer new workers enter the labor pool (one-third less sixteen- to twenty-four-year-olds over the next twelve years), while many more elders exit it.

That dual dynamic will not only age China more rapidly than any nation in human history — by 2050 China will have more old people (four hundred million-plus) than America will have people (four hundred million) — it will dramatically drive up the price of its factory labor in coming years. That irreversible pathway is already presaged by last year's highly successful worker strikes along the industrialized coast, with wages lifted by a quarter on average. China's "factory girls" are looking to upgrade far more than just their wardrobe, and that means the nation will increasingly export low-end manufacturing jobs to all those neighboring capitalist running dogs (Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc.) nipping at China's heels.

As a result, China is forced to move up the production chain as rapidly as possible to generate the higher wages increasingly demanded by hard-pressed workers facing the "4-2-1 problem" — namely, four grandparents and two parents expecting their sole offspring to provide in their old age. But guess what? After being raised as "little emperors" within their pointy family pyramids, these young'uns ain't exactly looking to "eat bitterness" like their long-suffering parents did. They want careers and not just jobs, and will seek personal satisfaction in their modern lives, not merely lifelong sacrifice.

Some Western demographers have posited, due to the female shortage created by the one-child policy, that China will be forced to field a vast force — as in tens of millions strong — of wifeless men who'll gladly wage wars around the planet to burn off all those unrequited hormones. My guess is that mama's only boy, as overweight as he's fast becoming, will be looking for a cushier route to rid himself of all those ancestral expectations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Obamas make rare trip to church while in Hawaii (Mark Niesse, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama and his family took a break from their Hawaiian vacation to attend Sunday church services, a rare occurrence for a president who prefers to worship in private.

Spare us.

December 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Want to join our private college football group?

One of the features of The Seattle Times' free College Bowl Blitz contest is that you can compare your scores with that of your friends on a private page.

To join your friends' group, first sign up for the contest at, which enables you to win a grand prize overall. Then, after you log in, click on the "My Groups" tab, and then click on "Join a Private Group," and submit the following:

Contest URL:
Group Name: BrothersJudd
Group Password: ericjulia

Thanks and enjoy the game!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM

Spicy crisp-roasted chickpeas: A sophisticated update to the old nut bowl (Cathy Elton, 12/21/10, Salon)

These roasted chickpeas are delicious enough for the whole party to enjoy -- and still heart-healthy. They're not only full of fiber and protein, but they're also quite low-fat. What other snacks can you say that about? [...]

* 1 can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and thoroughly dried
* ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
* ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (more to taste)
* ¼ teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon black pepper
* 2 teaspoons olive oil


1. Toss everything together and spread on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until completely crunchy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


2010 Census Moves 12 Congressional Districts (SHERISSE PHAM, December 21, 2010, ABC News)

As demographic and redistricting experts predicted, Texas was the big winner, picking up four new House seats and capping seven consecutive decades of gains. The state now has a total of 36 seats.

Florida was second with two more seats, with the smaller Sun Belt states of Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Utah and Nevada picking up one each, and northwest Washington grabbing one as well. All but one of the gaining states have a Republican governor, implying long-term damage to Democrats for future elections. [...]

The biggest losers were in the Northeast and Midwest, with New York and Ohio losing two seats each. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania each lost one. [...]

The congressional gains also mean a change in Electoral College votes. If the 2008 Presidential election had been held with the newly reapportioned Congress, President Obama would have gotten six fewer electoral votes; the growth was primarily in states that favored his opponent, John McCain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


'Fatah asked Israel to attack Hamas before Gaza takeover' (YAAKOV KATZ , 12/21/2010 , Jerusalem Post)

Top Fatah members aligned with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israel to attack Hamas ahead of its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the American ambassador to Israel, according to a US diplomatic cable published on Monday by Wikileaks.

The disclosure could embarrass Abbas and his Fatah movement, which Hamas has accused of working with the Israelis.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM

Punch Brothers On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM

Louis Armstrong's Stuff Is Online Now (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 12/21/10, NPR)

[T]he Louis Armstrong House Museum has announced that it has created a searchable online catalog of much of Armstrong's stuff. This is fantastic news for researchers and lay fans alike; whether you're browsing for a specific date and time, or using the "random images" function, there's tons to browse through (and growing). And if one day you do make the pilgrimage to outer New York, perhaps you'll see the museum's new visitor center, which will house the entire archives and a small performance space across the street from the Louis Armstrong House itself. Groundbreaking for that building begins next spring. [Louis Armstrong House Museum: Online Catalog]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Approaching Referendum in Sudan: 'Already Flying the Flag of an Independent State' (Volkhard Windfuhr, 12/21/10, Der Spiegel)

Southern Sudan's regional representative in Cairo, Ruben Marial Benjamin, spoke with SPIEGEL about the approaching ballot.

SPIEGEL: On Jan. 9, 2011, Southern Sudan will vote on secession from the republic of Sudan. Are you certain that the majority will vote for secession?

Benjamin: Yes, we are already flying the flag of an independent state on our government buildings. [...]

SPIEGEL: What would be Southern Sudan's state religion?

Benjamin: Around 80 percent of Southern Sudanese are Christians. During the 20-year civil war, the Muslim north tried to convert the believers in indigenous faiths to Islam. But people turned to Christianity. We want to build a secular political system in which state and religion are strictly segregated.

Since no one cares about Africa, George W. Bush's liberation of South Sudan and Liberia are largely ignored.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Zoroaster and the Ayatollahs (Abbas Milani, 12/16/10, National Interest)

IT HAS become something of a commonplace to say that for more than a thousand years Iran has been defined by a bifurcated, tormented, even schizoid cultural identity: pre-Islamic, Persian-Zoroastrian elements battling with forces and values of an Arab Islamic culture. The paisley, easily the most recurrent image in the Persian iconographic tradition, is said to capture this tormented division. It represents the cedar tree that Zoroaster planted in heaven which was bent by the winds of Islamic hegemonic culture. Adapting in this way has been the key to the ability of Iranian culture to survive marauding tribes and invading armies. But Iran and its heavenly cedar bend only to lash back to their upright gait when immediate danger has passed and occasion for reasserting traditional values has arisen.

Some scholars have gone so far as to argue that even Shiism—since the sixteenth century the dominant and “official” religion of Iran—is in its fundamental structure nothing but a form of Iranian nationalism. Recent remarks by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that Iran’s leaders in the last thirty years are all, in fact, Arabs and that their claims of being descendants of the prophet (symbolized by the black turbans they wear) reassert their Arab blood show clearly the continuing tensions between Persian identity and the Islamism of the rest of the Shia Middle East. Nasrallah needs to convince his followers thus that these Arab brothers have left nothing of a “Persian culture” to survive. These controversial comments indicate both the prevalence among ordinary Arabs of this view that Shiism might be an “un-Islamic invention”—and Iranian in origin. To justify his fealty to the country’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Nasrallah had to first make him an Arab.

For much of the twentieth century, these two cultural elements have been at war for domination in Iran. In power from 1925 until 1979, Reza Shah Pahlavi and then his son Mohammad Reza Shah tried to accentuate the pre-Islamic component of the country’s heritage and dilute the Islamic element. The shah’s infamously lavish celebration of two thousand five hundred years of monarchy in 1971—the international glitterati were invited, food was flown in from Maxim’s de Paris, and the ruins of Persepolis were used as a backdrop and a reminder of days of glory gone by—was more than anything intended to accentuate this imperial, pre-Islamic past. Even the country’s calendar was changed. The year 1355 in Iran’s Islamic calendar (or 1976 CE) suddenly became 2535. The beginning of the Islamic calendar went back to the journey of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, from Mecca to Medina, while the new imperial time sought its genesis in the alleged birthday of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. As the tumult of the revolution began only two years later, in a gesture of concession to the opposition, the calendar was changed yet again. But neither the hubris of retuning the clock on a whim—earlier tried by the likes of Maximilien de Robespierre in France and Vladimir Lenin in the Soviet Union—nor hackneyed concessions to the opposition could alter the stubborn realities of Iran’s bifurcated culture, formed and ingrained over centuries.

No sooner had Ayatollah Khomeini and his clerical allies seized power than they not only began to reverse the pre-Islamic ardor of the Pahlavi era but they also moved to the other extreme, trying to dilute, diminish and at times altogether erase from cultural memory evidence of Iran’s non-Islamic past. Jahiliyyah, or the age of darkness, has long been a concept used by Islamist historians and ideologues to derisively describe what exists in a society before the advent of Islam. Now some fifteen hundred years of Iran’s imperial era was disparaged and diminished as jahiliyyah. In the early days of the revolution, some of the more ardent new Islamist victors moved to destroy Persepolis (and were forced to cease their destructive plans only in the face of stiff opposition both domestically and internationally), while one of Khomeini’s closest confidants, Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, the man infamously known as the “hanging judge”—a title he had deservedly earned for his role in the judicial murder of hundreds of ancient-regime leaders and the new-regime opponents—dismissed Cyrus as a sodomite Jew, hardly worthy of veneration by a pious nation. Even today, thirty years after the victory of the revolution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s zealots are taking their ideological hammer to the texts taught in Iranian schools, hoping to erase from the annals of history any sign of pagan “royal historiography.”

The clerics even tried to fight some of the most venerable rites and rituals of the nation. For a time, they focused their attention on eliminating, or at least diminishing in value, the ancient Persian habit of celebrating the vernal equinox as their new year (Nowruz). In retrospect, this anti-Nowruz crusade began even before the 1979 revolution, when in the sixties and seventies religious forces made a concerted effort to replace Nowruz with other religious holidays and feasts. While in those days many in society participated in these religious ceremonies only to spite the regime, since 1979 the tables have turned. Now, celebrating Nowruz is an easy way to show your sentiments about the ruling clerics. The clerical leaders have apparently reconciled themselves to the reality that they have failed in their crusade against the celebration. But their quixotic efforts at delegitimizing Persian habits have not ended. For the last three decades, they have also tried to dissuade the Iranian people from their ritualistic habit of jumping over fires on the last Wednesday of each year—said to symbolize the hope and desire to burn away the past twelve months’ troubles and travails. Even as late as 2010, Khamenei issued a new fatwa declaring the practice heresy and a form of fire worship. Yet both traditions are more alive and celebrated today than ever before. When a regime politicizes all cultural and personal practices, as do the clerics in Iran, then every facet of the culture, every gesture of personal behavior, every sartorial statement (from women’s defiant refusal to wear the forced veil to men’s insistence on wearing ties or shaving their faces) becomes a form of dissent and resistance.

The Persian language, spoken by a majority of Iran’s multiethnic society, and long considered a bastion of Iranian nationalism, has not been immune from the vicissitudes of this culture war either. While much was made of cleansing the Persian language of any Arabic words and influence during the Pahlavi era, Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies made an equally concentrated and futile attempt to infuse the language with more and more Arabic words, phrases and even grammatical structures. For them, Arabic is the language of God and of the Koran, while to the Iranian nationalists it is a detested tool of Arab and Islamic cultural invasion. Just as the effort to create a new “Islamic society” has failed, the attempt to introduce Arabic into the Persian language has also been unsuccessful. Not only is the Persian vernacular today replete with new, cleverly constructed Persian words, but a whole generation of parents are increasingly moving away from naming their children after religious figures, opting instead for names from Iran’s mytho-history, or newly minted names conjured or coined from the Persian vocabulary. In this sense, then, the 1979 revolution was only a moment in the centuries-old culture war to define the soul of Iran; yet another attempt in the long line of efforts to eliminate or diminish in influence certain components of the country’s bifurcated identity.

ADDING TO the complexity of this cultural dualism has been the temptation of modernity. For more than a century, Iran has faced the challenges of an increasingly global modernity—an interrelated set of changes that radically alter a society’s notions of self, identity, politics, economy, spirituality and aesthetic. Culture became the arena in which these battles were most intensely fought. Every discursive realm, from poetry and painting to sermons and stories, turned into at once “instruments” and loci of contention in a culture war between different narratives of selfhood and individual and collective identity.

In response to these formidable challenges, four starkly different cultural and political paradigms, each supporting or rejecting modernity from its own prism and based on its own set of axioms and ideals, emerged. All were vying for domination on the eve of the 1979 revolution. In a sense, the shah was “unkinged” by the very cultural forces he helped to create. He was himself an advocate of Western modernization, even modernity. He supported a woman’s right to vote and the right of religious minorities to practice their faiths (affording unprecedented assistance to Iran’s Jews and Baha’is in particular). He facilitated increased contact with the West, and the training of a large technocratic class, and finally offered patronage and support for experimentation with forms of art, all of course predicated on the society’s acceptance of his patriarchic, authoritarian personal rule.

In the last decade of his reign, inspired by the cultural sensibilities of his wife, Farah Pahlavi, a student of architecture before becoming queen, the shah’s stern political paradigm was accompanied by a well-supported effort to preserve hitherto-ignored elements of Iran’s cultural tradition. Everything from establishing an office entrusted with the task of finding and preserving classics of Persian music to attempts to renovate or preserve gems of Persian architecture flourished under the queen’s patronage and support.

Throughout the seventies, in the Shiraz Arts Festival, some of the most cutting-edge thespians and playwrights in the world put on radical and innovative shows. British director Peter Brook and his Polish contemporary Jerzy Grotowski brought their new experimental productions to the city. Conservative clergy attacked these performances as lewd and lascivious, intended to undermine “Islamic moral values,” yet they were not the only critics of this display. On the other side, the democratic and leftist opposition (which embraced modernity’s values through its support of the “rights of man”) dismissed the festival as the futile and expensive facade of tolerance created by an oppressive regime. For them, the shah’s authoritarianism, his “dependence” on the West and his “original sin” of participating in the 1953 CIA-backed removal of then–Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from power, trumped in value any cultural freedoms his regime offered or supported.

While the leftist, centrist and clerical opposition to the shah “overdetermined” politics to the detriment of cultural freedoms, the ruler, for his part, failed to understand what increasingly became the clear iron law of culture: men (and women) do not live by bread alone, and when a society is introduced into the ethos of modernity—from the rule of reason and women’s suffrage to the idea of natural rights of citizens and the notion of a community joined together by social contract and legitimized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s popular will—then it will invariably demand its democratic rights. That society will not tolerate the authoritarian rule of even a modernizing monarch capable of delivering impressive economic development. The shah tried to treat the people of Iran as “subjects” and expected their gratitude for the cultural freedoms and economic advancement he had “given” them. But he, and his father (and before them, the participants in the Constitutional Revolution at the turn of the twentieth century), had helped develop a new cultural disposition by creating a parliament and a system of law wherein the people considered themselves citizens and thought of these liberties as their right—not as gifts benevolently bestowed upon them.

...because Shi'ism is "modern," thanks to its resemblance to Judaism and Christianity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Tocqueville in America: The grand journey, retraced and reimagined. (James Wood, May 17, 2010, The New Yorker)

But Tocqueville also believed that American expansion westward was blessed by God, and though Damrosch’s book never hides its subject’s contradictions from the reader, it slightly obscures this less appealing figure. Damrosch deals relatively lightly, for instance, with Tocqueville’s religiosity. There was a crisis of faith as a teen-ager—he had the run of his father’s library—that left him full of doubt. Tocqueville wanted to remain a Christian, Damrosch says, but “more accurately he was an agnostic lamenting the loss of the faith of his earliest years.” This is technically accurate, but it plays down the obsessive religiosity of Tocqueville’s thinking, especially after 1835.

Repeatedly, he returns to three religious concerns: he earnestly believed that American democracy was providential; he thought that there was an intimate connection between social equality and Christian equality (since Christ had proclaimed the good news for all, irrespective of color and creed, and insisted that the last shall be first); and he lamented that, in France, religion was not on the side of equality but on the side of order and hierarchy. Seen in this stained-glass light, “Democracy in America” is obviously a nineteenth-century book about the fragility of faith, written on the threshold of the age of Darwin and Flaubert and Ernest Renan, a book as much about moral authority as about freedom, and about how to retain the former in an age of the latter—when, as he writes, “all the laws of moral analogy have been abolished,” and “the lights of faith are obscured.” The prestige of royal power has vanished, Tocqueville says, “without being replaced by the majesty of the laws.” Matthew Arnold could not have put it better.

Just as Rousseau, in “Discourse on Inequality,” is really writing a theological history of society’s fall (man has been expelled from an original Eden, into the corruptions of modern civil society), so Tocqueville is really writing a theological history of society’s rise, which culminates in the founding of America. Christianity, he felt, was inherently democratic and inclusive, and Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine: “it also blended at several points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories.” American democracy was thus a providential fact; North America was discovered for a reason—“as if God had held it in reserve and it had only just emerged from beneath the waters of the flood.” The greatest geniuses of ancient Athens and Rome had not been able to grasp that slavery was wrong, or that equality was the ideal state of man, because they were pagans: “it was necessary that Jesus Christ come to earth to make it understood that all members of the human species are naturally alike and equal.”

Religion is thus vitally beneficial, but not only because it equalizes. It also places crucial checks on equality’s equalizing tendencies—it cleans up its own joyous mess. Society, Tocqueville felt, needs religion’s emphasis on the afterlife. God guarantees the authority of morals (goodness comes from God), and, more generally, religion leads democratic man away from the narcissism and materialism endemic to non-aristocratic societies. Yet how does one continue to renew religious belief in an age of radical doubt? Tocqueville’s solution has a whiff of characteristic French cynicism, even of hypocrisy. It is basically what Voltaire called croyance utile, “useful belief.” Religion doesn’t have to be true, Tocqueville thought, but it is very important that people profess it. So, he writes, whenever religion has put down deep roots in a society, one must “guard against shaking it; but rather preserve it carefully as the most precious inheritance from aristocratic centuries; do not seek to tear men away from their old religious opinions to substitute new ones.” Materialism seems to have been a fearful abyss for Tocqueville, teeming with the devils of unbelief, nihilism, and disorder. In a pungent sentence, he avers that, if a democratic people had to choose between metempsychosis and materialism, he would rather have citizens believe that their souls will be reborn in the bodies of pigs than that they themselves are just matter.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Conservative Nation (James Piereson, October 2010, National Interest)

AMERICAN CONSERVATISM began decades ago as a movement of ideas and, notwithstanding its current popular appeal, has managed to maintain its original character. Thus David Brooks has observed that conservatives differ from other political sets in their apparent preoccupation with books, ideas and a handful of influential authors. One rarely hears of liberal groups discussing major works written by the intellectual architects of the welfare state, such as John Dewey, Herbert Croly or John Rawls, or sponsoring programs in honor of leading figures like John Maynard Keynes or John Kenneth Galbraith. One would be hard-pressed to identify an influential book or essay that sets forth the principles of contemporary liberalism as they relate to feminism, multiculturalism, diversity or economic planning. Conservative groups, on the other hand, regularly pay tribute in their programs to the founding fathers of conservative thought; the American Enterprise Institute sponsors an annual Irving Kristol Lecture, and the Manhattan Institute awards an annual Hayek Book Prize.

The texts that energize conservatives are not difficult to identify. The most influential of these publications are: (1) The Road to Serfdom, published by F. A. Hayek in London and in the United States in 1944, which developed the enduring case for classical liberalism; (2) Witness, published by Whittaker Chambers in 1952, and The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk in 1953, which provoked a renewal of Burkean conservatism, which in turn led to the founding in 1954 of National Review by William F. Buckley Jr.; and (3) the Public Interest, a quarterly journal founded in 1965 by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell which was the original forum for neoconservatism, a set of ideas that quickly found expression in other influential venues, such as Commentary magazine and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.

To a great extent, conservative thought evolved in the postwar period as these writers responded to developing events and also to one another. Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom during the war in response to the gathering momentum of socialism in Great Britain. His antidote was the recovery of the Whig tradition of classical liberalism, out of which the institutions of liberty and limited government first arose in Britain and America. Though Hayek claimed to be a liberal in the old sense, he was also a conservative in the American context because he sought to preserve the Founders’ Constitution of liberty. As a consequence, Hayek developed a far larger and more influential following in the United States than he was able to muster on the other side of the Atlantic.

The traditional conservatives, led by Buckley, Kirk and Chambers, found this approach too narrow and inadequate for the challenges posed by Communism and the Soviet Union. The Cold War, they argued, was not solely about preserving liberty but also about the conservation of the religious and moral tradition of the West. Because of their efforts, the postwar challenge to socialism was framed in terms of “conservatism” rather than in terms of Hayek’s vision of liberty and individualism.

The neoconservatives, for their part, developed their own synthesis in response to the unraveling of the American welfare state in the 1960s and a parallel rise in anti-American sentiment. From their point of view, the problem with the expanding social safety net was not that it threatened liberty but that it increasingly promoted disorder, crime, broken or unformed families, poor schools and a general loss of authority in society. The problem, in other words, was not that it led to collectivism but that it undermined the middle-class values upon which a successful commercial civilization must be based. Unlike the classical liberals and traditional conservatives, the neoconservatives were not in principle opposed to the welfare state but only to a liberal welfare state that did not uphold the ideals of family, order and community.

All of these writers were conservatives in one or another fundamental sense. An essential aspect of conservatism is the conviction that liberal institutions cannot prosper or even survive on the basis of their own internal resources; they will consume themselves by pushing one or another of their themes—freedom, equality or democracy—to a point of no return. According to the Whig tradition of liberty, republics follow a cycle of rise and inevitable decline as the people or their leaders gradually sacrifice their principles in the pursuit of money, security or power. Conservatives, most of whom respect this tradition of thought, are thus skeptical of liberal notions of inevitable historical progress that do not take into account the ever-present possibilities of corruption and decline. This is one of the key reasons conservatives have always looked for external supports for representative institutions, whether innationalism and patriotism, religion, family and community, or the various “little platoons” of society, as Edmund Burke called them, which provide direction and discipline for liberty and self-interest. Conservatives thus oppose liberal reforms and the further advance of the welfare state because they fear that these developments will erode those private associations and loyalties which sustain and support representative institutions.

As a consequence of this, conservatives look to authors and statesmen like Alexis de Tocqueville, James Madison, Joseph Schumpeter and, of course, Burke as important sources for their ideas. It was Tocqueville who wrote that American democracy needed to maintain an appreciation of aristocratic excellence to prevent the passion for equality from overwhelming liberty. Schumpeter, fellow Austrian to Hayek, argued that capitalism needed support from precapitalist institutions like the family and church to uphold the moral values that allowed it to thrive. Even James Madison, who hoped that the Constitution contained sufficient internal protections to maintain itself, acknowledged that an element of virtue in the public was necessary to the success of the republican experiment. The seminal conservative thinkers of our era are generally agreed on this larger point, though they have identified these external supports in different areas—Hayek in the founders’ Constitution, Buckley and his colleagues in religion, family and tradition, and Kristol and the neoconservatives in bourgeois virtues and patriotism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


The Coming Iraqi Business Boom: Foreigners can own 100% of Iraqi companies, must pay only a 15% flat tax on profits, and may take 100% of those profits home when and how they please. (BARTLE BULL, 12/20/10, WSJ)

The expected announcement of Iraq's new government marks the culmination of a remarkable process. The former bully-boy of the Arab neighborhood has become its only functional democracy. What may be the world's richest resource economy, once the closed shop of a murderous clique, is today wide open for business.

Driven by what many geologists consider the world's largest oil reserves, Iraq will probably be the world's biggest crude oil producer within a decade. The country currently ranks second to Saudi Arabia in official reserves, with 143 billion barrels. With much of Iraq's exploration still to come after a three-decade hiatus, and with Saudi Arabia's reserves substantially inflated and already in decline, Iraq could take the mantle as No. 1 in fairly short order.

Iraq last year signed 12 oil contracts that promise to take output from under two million barrels per day currently—less than Algeria—to over 12 million by 2016. This timeline is probably optimistic, but the contracts will likely see Iraq surpass Saudi Arabia's 10 million to 11 million barrels per day within a decade. And these figures include no contributions from Iraqi Kurdistan, from natural gas reserves, or from new oil fields, with which the lightly-explored country is replete.

The Saudi comparison suggests that as Iraq's oil production rises, its economy could grow approximately six-fold over the coming decade—gross domestic product is currently $66 billion—and add a mind-boggling $300 billion in annual GDP. This means one of the largest economic reconstruction and development booms in history.

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December 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Charles Portis' 'True Grit' story aims for revenge, redemption and loss: The 1968 novel, which has been reissued to promote the new film remake, is a balancing act between the goals of a teenager and a U.S. marshal in the West in the 1870s. (David L. Ulin, 12/19/10, Los Angeles Times)

"True Grit," rather, operates in the tradition of Thomas Berger's "Little Big Man" and David Shetzline's "DeFord," both of which were published, perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years of Portis' book. Laconic, Western, trafficking in the substrata of American mythos, it also has a lot in common with "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," as Donna Tartt points out in her afterword to a new edition of the novel released to promote the Coen brothers' movie remake, which opens Wednesday. Like Twain, Portis is a master of voice, of deadpan narration played for comic effect. And like Twain also, he respects his young narrator as a human being with a fully developed moral sensibility, even when the adults in the novel don't.

The story is pretty basic: 14-year-old Mattie Ross, of Yell County, Ark., hires a U.S. marshal named Rooster Cogburn to go after the man who shot and killed her father in nearby Fort Smith. It is the 1870s, and the pursuit takes them into Indian Territory, which, Cogburn keeps insisting, is no place for a teenage girl. He's right, but one of the abiding truths of the novel is that it is Mattie, and not Cogburn — or LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger who joins them — who is the real adult here, the only one with a sense of what's at stake. "I have never been one to flinch or crawfish when faced with an unpleasant task," she tells us early in the novel, in a typically matter-of-fact aside.

What this means is that Mattie will do what's necessary, no matter how challenging or difficult. The same is true of Cogburn, who functions as a kind of opposing axis, a force of chaos and ambiguity. If your only memory of him comes from Wayne's tough yet charming film portrayal, you're in for a surprise; the Cogburn of the novel is resolutely amoral, a former member of Quantrill's Raiders, the Confederate guerrillas who, in August 1863, massacred more than 150 civilians in Lawrence, Kan. Portis is subtle about the implications, but the message is clear: Here we have an untamed man, honorable only to a point, and willing to do almost anything to achieve his ends. That this might also be said of Mattie is one of the potent ironies of "True Grit," which becomes, in its way, an unlikely love story, the saga of how Cogburn and Mattie meet their match.

As is so often the case, the critical embrace of an artwork depends on the inaccurate belief by the Bright that challenges our mythos, when it actually affirms it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Inter-species mating could doom polar bear (AFP-Relaxnews, December 20, 2010)

Climate change is pushing Arctic mammals to mate with cousin species, in a trend that could be pushing the polar bear and other iconic animals towards extinction, biologists said on Wednesday.

“Rapidly melting Arctic sea ice imperils species through interbreeding as well as through habitat loss,” they said in a commentary appearing in the British science journal Nature.

“As more isolated populations and species come into contact, they will mate, hybrids will form, and rare species are likely to go extinct.” [...]

When mallard ducks were introduced to New Zealand in the late 19th century, for example, they mated with native grey ducks. Today, there are few, if any, pure grey ducks left.

In the case of “pizzlies,” the mixed heritage poses a survival risk: while showing the polar bear’s instinct for hunting seals, one such hybrid has the morphology of a grizzly, which is poorly adapted to swimming.

Kelly’s team recommended culling hybrid species when possible, as has been done for the offspring of red wolves and coyotes in the United States.

After all, isn't it up to scientists to design "species?"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Of Me I Sing (The Prowler, 12.20.10, American Spectator)

"You have Valerie [Jarrett] berating just about anyone who she even perceives has said something negative about the President," says one White House media aide. "She's constantly on her cell phone taking down some CEO or Senator or Congressional chief of staff for some slight, whether it actually was or not."

Then there are the manipulative advisers who create media events like the one at Arlington, Virginia's Long Branch Elementary School last week. Before heading over to the school, Obama was prepared to read Clement Moore's, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and leave it at that. But according to the White House source, a senior adviser and the White House advance staff informed him that the class had also requested that he read from his own book, Of Thee I Sing, which was recently published in the hopes of major holiday sales.

"It was purely to make him feel better and to generate publicity for the book," says the media aide.

The point of the presidency is not to sell your books.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Why Progressives Need CEOs -- Really (E.J. Dionne, 12/20/10, RCP)

The central question in our politics is whether we can break out of formulaic discussions that always end up in the same place. Here's one major test: Can progressives change their way of thinking about business? [...]

It's also important to recognize that there is no single business class or corporate model. Obama doesn't need to coddle CEOs so they will say warm things about him at parties in the Hamptons. He should figure out which parts of the private sector share an interest in reducing the dreadful inequalities that have metastasized over nearly four decades and in creating an economy that produces well-paying jobs.

There have been moments in our history when important elements of business were "progressive" in the sense of recognizing that social reform was in capitalism's long-term interest.

In a seminal 1995 article in The American Prospect about business opposition to President Clinton's health care reform, the political writer John Judis recalled that during the Progressive Era, "business leaders and organizations played an indispensable role in developing and promoting the social legislation that first blunted the sharp edges of laissez-faire capitalism." Judis' conclusion still rings true: that "without a business community moderately supportive of social reform, little is possible in the present era."

One would have hoped that even the Left had figured out, from the disastrous Obama presidency, that what they need is a president who's been a chief executive and knows how to run a large institution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


New Puzzle: Why Fewer are Killed in Car Crashes (JOSEPH B. WHITE, 12/15/10, WSJ)

The federal highway fatality data analyzed by University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle suggest that talking and texting behind the wheel are a smaller problem than, for instance, motorcycle deaths.

Messrs. Sivak and Schoettle found that in 2005, 2,369 fatal accidents were blamed on "inattentive" driving–including eating, talking or using a phone. By 2008, inattentive driving was blamed for 3,366 deadly crashes.

By comparison, the number of fatalities involving motorcycles grew by 14% to 5,129 deaths in 2008 from 4,492 in 2005. The researchers noted this trend is consistent with rising motorcycle ownership among "middle-aged men with little or no prior experience." [...]

Mr. Sivak says that when he looks at the causes of crashes, he zeroes in on alcohol. "That is the biggie," he says.

Alcohol and speed, he says, explain why so many people die on the highway alone, without hitting another car. Out of 34,017 total accidents in 2008 ascribed in federal data to a collision, about 62%—just over 21,000—involved a single-vehicle crash. Such deadly wrecks declined by 9% between 2005 and 2008, less than the 13% decline in deadly collisions overall.

So what's helping to reduce deaths? Technology deserves some credit, according to the data. Deaths in side-impact crashes declined between 2005 and 2008 at a faster rate than the decline for deaths overall. That suggests that side airbags are helping more people survive crashes, the researchers found.

The Michigan study found a nearly 20% decline in deaths among young drivers, age 16 to 25. Among the possible reasons: the increasing number of states that use graduated licensing programs that delay granting full driving privileges until teens have more experience, and rising teen joblessness. [...]

The number of deadly accidents in which there was no evidence that the driver swerved to avoid the crash, an indicator of excess speed, dropped by more than 20% between 2005 and 2008, according to federal data. (The number of such crashes is still quite high—nearly 23,000 in all for 2008.)

"The slower the speed, the more likely an avoidance maneuver is possible," the researchers wrote.

...just limit licenses to ages 25-65, ban motorcycles, and require passive breathalyzer technology.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Human rights are absolute (Rene Loth, December 18, 2010, Boston Globe)

CHINA’S BITTER protest of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo last week is broader than simple pique over the prize going to pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, currently languishing in a Chinese prison. In its fury, China challenged the very notion of universal human rights, saying they are merely “Western values’’ imposed in a kind of moral imperialism on the rest of the world. China even launched a rival Confucius Peace Prize to highlight Asian ideals and ethics.

No knock on Confucius — whom the Communist regime did not always revere — and the more recognition for world peace, the better. But the assertion that fundamental human rights are somehow just a matter of Western cultural whimsy, like wearing shoes indoors or using the Roman alphabet, can be used to rationalize all kinds heinous practices under the banner of “tradition.’’ [...]

“Either rights are indivisible and universal or they are not,’’ said Charlie Clements, director of the Carr Center on Human Rights policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “And if they are not, then you can have anyone denying citizens their rights.’’

Of course, the notion that enforcing human rights constitutes an attack on a nation’s deeply held traditions is not limited to China.

They import our values--whether they want them or not--and we import the trinkets they assemble at our direction until someone else offers to do it cheaper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Toy stores no longer corner market on child's play (Michael S. Rosenwald, 12/18/10, Washington Post)

The new toy hawkers know that children's wares have been an easy path to parents' wallets for eons, particularly during recessions. Older shoppers may recall that the original department stores placed children's items in the very back, so moms had to traverse the entire store, much as many supermarkets stock milk in the rear corner of the store.

But in many ways, the latest shift in the $21 billion toy industry represents yet another reordering of the brick-and-mortar world brought on by the digital revolution.

The trend toward adding unrelated product lines may seem to fly in the face of the niche marketing that has flourished in the Internet era, but retailers say going broader may be an answer to their woes.

The specialty toy industry has contracted significantly in the past decade as big toy chains swallowed smaller independents in a bid to stave off threats from Wal-Mart, Target and Costco. Popular chains such as Zany Brainy and Imaginarium are history. The only standalone toy store at Tysons Corner Center is Lego.

Toy industry executives say that contraction, along with the heavy influence of - which has shown that a business can establish itself by selling one thing (books) and then add many other products - has given nontraditional toy sellers confidence that putting puzzles, games and other delights on their shelves will not turn off consumers.

In fact, the surprise of finding an unexpected toy might be pleasant. About 40 percent of toy purchases aren't planned, according to the NPD Group. That's helped Green Toys Inc. sell lots of tugboats made from recycled plastic at Whole Foods. The company's jump-ropes and tool sets are also sold through EcoShoppe, a green-oriented line of stores operated by The Vitamin Shoppe.

"This is really an extension of what Amazon brought the world," said Robert von Goeben, who started Green Toys, based in San Francisco, in 2008. "They moved laterally, and they were very successful at that. Their shoppers got used to finding other items. We now know the Internet is one large buy-everything place, and the bricks and mortars now realize that there are successful lateral moves they can make."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Albatross, thought extinct, lays egg (UPI, 12/18/10)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a short-tailed albatross, once thought extinct, has laid its first-ever egg on Eastern Island in the Midway atoll. [...]

Short-tailed albatross were thought to have become extinct between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due to overhunting for their feathers which were used in women's hats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


New population count may complicate Obama 2012 bid (Charles Babington, 12/18/10, Associated Press)

The population continues to shift from Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states to Republican-leaning Sun Belt states, a trend the Census Bureau will detail in its once-a-decade report to the president. Political clout shifts, too, because the nation must reapportion the 435 House districts to make them roughly equal in population, based on the latest census figures.

The biggest gainer will be Texas, a GOP-dominated state expected to gain up to four new House seats, for a total of 36. The chief losers — New York and Ohio, each projected by nongovernment analysts to lose two seats — were carried by Obama in 2008 and are typical of states in the Northeast and Midwest that are declining in political influence.

Democrats' problems don't end there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


WikiLeaks cables detail Fidel Castro's doomed love for Obama (Rory Carroll, 12/17/10,

Barack and Fidel: like so many great love affairs it was doomed. But memory of the passion, or at least infatuation, lingers.

Having seen off 10 US presidents – all committed to his assassination, overthrow or isolation – Fidel Castro had more reason than most to beware the occupant of the Oval Office.

But Barack Obama was different. The octogenarian communist revolutionary fell for the young new president and became "obsessed", according to confidential US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Not even Fidel's Unicorn Rider?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Was Patton killed? (ROBERT K. WILCOX, December 19, 2010, NY Post)

Though he was a top general in Europe, had mysteriously requested a guard be posted outside his room, and rumors that he’d been murdered were rife, there was no autopsy. Bafflingly, the driver of the truck and his passenger or passengers disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Today, all reports and subsequent investigations of the crash — and there were at least five — have vanished.

It is a mystery for which even archivists have no explanation.

Was Patton, who foresaw the Cold War, wanted to fight the Russians to stop it, and was threatening to tell damaging secrets about how badly the war was run, assassinated?

The cause of death was ruled accidental, but two witnesses have emerged to dispute the official story. The first is Douglas Bazata, an Office of Strategic Services agent in World War II, the forerunners of the CIA. He claimed that he, an OSS assassin, was asked to kill Patton by OSS chief Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan. The order was the culmination of a long-running plot that had started as a non-lethal “stop Patton” plan.

Later, in interviews with me before his death in 1999, Bazata enlarged that scenario, claming that he, along with a Russian accomplice, set up the Dec. 9 “accident,” and that others — he believed Soviets — had finished the job in the hospital.

Though it is not well known, the OSS had an alliance with the NKVD, the Soviet spy network, during and after the war.

The other witness was Stephen J. Skubik, a Counter Intelligence Corps agent attached to Patton’s armies. After the war he continued working as a CIC agent amongst Soviet-dominated Ukrainians whom, he said, warned that Stalin had put Patton on a NKVD hit list. When he reported the plot to Donovan, the OSS chief jailed him. Following Patton’s death, he had to flee Germany in fear for his life.

During the war, Patton had angered the Roosevelt administration with his anti-Russian antagonism. FDR, believing the Soviets crucial to maintaining world peace, wanted them appeased and had acquiesced to their domination of Eastern Europe. “We’ve kicked the hell out of one bastard,” Patton lamented, only to “help establish a second one . . . more evil and more dedicated than the first.”

The meme is worth keeping alive not because there's any validity to it but because it illustrates the fundamental truth that Patton was right about how the war ended.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Obama Lets Colombia Hang (WSJ, 12/20/10)

Just when you think the White House may head in the right economic direction, someone reminds us why the unemployment rate is still 9.8%. In the latest example, spokesman Robert Gibbs disclosed late last week that President Obama plans to leave Colombia out in the cold when he pushes free trade deals in the next Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Politics in Iraq Casts Doubt on a U.S. Presence After 2011 (Steven Lee Myers, Thom Shanker and Jack Healy, 12/18/10, NY Times)

After parliamentary elections in March led to a protracted period of deadlock and deal-making, Mr. Maliki now leads an unwieldy coalition with parties pursuing conflicting agendas, including lawmakers allied with Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric in exile whose fighters actively battled against American and Iraqi forces until they were routed in 2008.

Their new partnership, which propelled Mr. Maliki’s nomination to a second term, will make it politically risky for him to now reverse himself. Even Ayad Allawi, the leader of a multisectarian bloc who has long been supportive of the Americans, said in an interview last week that there was not yet any consensus among Iraqi leaders to request an extension of the American military presence.

A growing confidence in Iraq’s security forces, coupled with national pride, has also become a factor. Mr. Maliki and others have adamantly ruled out the need for foreign troops to help the country protect itself.

That may reflect a degree of political posturing, but officials in both militaries point to the maturing capabilities of Iraq’s army and federal police, which now conduct day-to-day security without a great deal of direct American involvement.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, said in an interview that the American military role in Iraq “must take another shape,” providing training and weaponry, but not necessarily American boots on the ground.

“We are different than Afghanistan,” the general said, noting the comparative maturity of Iraq’s government ministries, including those overseeing security.

Thanks, W.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


Protection Rolls On: President Obama remains conflicted on trade. Consider this week’s ‘victory’ over China at the World Trade Organization. (Philip I. Levy, December 15, 2010, The American)

China safeguard cases differ from enforcement cases not only because they require no violation of rules (to my knowledge, no one argued there was any violation in the tires case), but also because the president retains ultimate discretion over whether the protection is a good idea. In the Bush administration, multiple Section 421 cases cleared the low USITC hurdle, but were then rejected by the White House. The main reason—at least for those decisions in which I participated—was that protection would not have helped anyone.

It can be tempting to think of China and the United States, economic behemoths both, as the only two countries in the world. That’s wrong, of course, and the error matters. These China safeguards only impede Chinese exports, not exports from the rest of the world. In the Bush administration cases, there was evidence that protection would just leave U.S. consumers paying higher prices while production shifted to other countries.

The same arguments applied in the tires case (see here), which was brought by the United Steel Workers, not the domestic industry. President Obama, unlike his predecessor, decided to proceed anyway. The good folks at the Democratic Leadership Council recently offered this assessment of the tire tariffs one year later: “Altogether, then, the tariff seems to have shifted the sources of imports, with China shipping fewer tires and others more, but made little apparent change in total tire-trade or employment.”

So what does this week’s WTO tires decision really mean? That the Obama administration’s protective measure was not illegal, only unwise and ineffective. That’s not much to celebrate.

Since before he took office, President Obama has been conflicted on trade.

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December 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Iran forces on alert as economic 'surgery' begins (Nasser Karimi And Brian Murphy, 12/19/10, Associated Press)

Security forces flooded Iran's capital in a warning against possible unrest as fuel prices surged 400 percent Sunday under plans to sharply cut government subsides and ease pressure on an economy struggling with international sanctions.

The so-called economic "surgery" has been planned for months, but was repeatedly delayed over worries of a repeat of gas riots in 2007 and serious political infighting during the standoff with the West over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

But the timing for the first painful steps — just after a first round of nuclear talks with international powers and a second planned for early next year — suggests one of the world's leading oil producers is feeling the sting of tightened sanctions. And it might open more room for possible compromises with world powers, including the United States, in exchange for easing the economic squeeze.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Saudi king may move ground zero mosque (David Eldridge, 12/19/10, The Washington Times)

Saudi King Abdullah, in an effort to quiet Muslim criticism in the United States, is quietly looking into moving the ground zero mosque to a less controversial Manhattan location, according to news reports surfacing Sunday.

New York lawyer Dudley Gaffin has contacted officials about the Saudi royal family's interest in moving the ground zero mosque to the shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital site in the West Village, the New York Post and other news organizations reported Sunday.

So, rather than a private effort by moderates to develop an abandoned factory, Newt Gingrich and company give us the world leader of Wahabbism taking over a former Catholic institution? Priceless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


The great RomneyCare denial (Jeff Jacoby, December 19, 2010, Boston Globe)

WHEN it comes to a government overhaul of health care, what is the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney?

The UR is a gay Muslim Kenyan Socialist while Mitt is the Right's choice for 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Charity for homeless tells people not to give money to beggars at Christmas: Thames Reach says seasonal generosity is spent on buying crack cocaine and heroin (Jamie Doward, 12/18/10, The Observer)

A major homeless charity is urging people not to give money to beggars this Christmas. The comments by Thames Reach, which provides support to more than 8,500 homeless people in London and surrounding counties every year, are likely to reignite the debate about the merits of giving cash to people who ostensibly live on the streets.

The intervention echoes comments made by the previous government's "homelessness czar", Louise Casey, who sparked a furore a decade ago when she described cash handouts to the homeless as "misplaced goodwill".

But Thames Reach is citing "overwhelming evidence that people who beg on the street do so to buy hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin". Outreach team members estimate 80% of people begging do so to support a drug habit. The research is corroborated by the results of drug tests by the police on a group of people arrested for begging in Westminster; 70% tested positive for crack cocaine or heroin.

"Giving to people who beg is not a benign act without consequences," said Mike Nicholas, a spokesman for Thames Reach.

One doesn't give beggars money to help them, just to make oneself feel better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Disinflation denial (The Money Illusion, 12/18/10)

One recent theme has been the supposedly unreliability of the core inflation rate, which is now below 1%. Critics (and cartoon bunnies) point to the fact that food and energy are an important part of the average American’s budget. When it’s noted that even headline inflation is barely over 1%, the attention turns to other prices. For instance, Congressman Ryan has recently argued that the Fed should focus on commodity prices. My initial reaction is to say “Yes! Let’s focus on commodity prices! Commodity prices are the best way to tell if money is too easy or too tight.” Think I’m being sarcastic? Then you are in for a surprise.

Before continuing, I’d like to remind readers that in late 2008 you could count on one hand the number of economists (in the entire world) claiming monetary policy was very tight. So let’s take a look at the change in commodity prices in late 2008:

That’s right, commodity price indices fell by more than 50%. That’s Great Depression-style deflation. And where was Congressman Ryan when the Fed was engineering one of the greatest deflations in world history? I don’t recall him or any of the other inflation hawks calling for easier money. But maybe I missed something. If so, I hope my readers will dig up all the stories of conservatives demanding easier money in the fall of 2008. In any case, it’s good to know that whereas back in late 2008 I was almost all alone in viewing money as being extremely tight, I now have the vast right wing conspiracy on my side.

Looking to the gold bugs for common sense is futile.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


The GOP Is Eating Obama's Lunch: Republicans stuck together and forced the president to sign the tax-cut extension. Eric Alterman on the stalled Democratic agenda and Obama’s worst flaw. (Eric Alterman, 12/17/10, Daily Beast)

Conservative Republicans beat down the liberal Democrats on Thursday night’s tax vote the same way they win everything: by sticking together and refusing to budge, even an inch… on anything. By caving early (and often), Obama managed to distance himself from this particular shellacking and even give some pundits the impression he had won something.

The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear looks at the passage of Thursday night’s tax deal as a sign that, potentially, President Obama might be “on the verge of one of his most productive months in office.” It’s a weird conclusion, (though to be fair, he poses it as a question). After all, as Brian Beutler observes in writing on the same topic, “Harry Reid's plan to get the federal government funded through the end of the fiscal year went up in flames, burning months and months of work by Senate appropriators and their staffs.”

For Obama, the center may be too far right (Washington Post, December 18, 2010)
Obama's approval ratings, however, have not risen as the tax fight has played out in Congress. Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist, said Obama squandered an opportunity to boost his standing by the way he handled the deal.

"He is trying to run back to the middle but neutered the political value of the tax compromise when he attacked Republicans as 'hostage takers' and condemned the agreement as he embraced it," he said. "The president gets no credit for moving to the middle when he confesses he really didn't want to. Instead, he looks smaller and more political."

There is a natural tendency to suggest that Obama is following the course that President Bill Clinton pursued after his party lost Congress in 1994. Using the infamous strategy of triangulation, Clinton positioned himself between conservative Republicans in Congress and the liberals in his own party.

"Triangulation" is a loaded word these days, particularly among many Democrats. White House officials caution, however, that triangulation is not Obama's goal. Which is to say that the president's political North Star will not necessarily be some imagined space in the middle of the ideological spectrum.

"His attitude is, 'We've got goals to move this economy forward, strengthen the middle class, deal with our long-term competitive challenges, and we shouldn't be dogmatic about how we achieve them,' " White House senior adviser David Axelrod said.

"We should be willing to embrace ideas of either party if they advance the goal," he added.

...managed to regain ownership of Welfare Reform by vetoing the first couple attempts and then hailing an identical bill as a vast improvement that he could sign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Predictable path of a red fascist dictatorship (David Burchell, 12/20/10, The Australian)

[H]ere's another ironclad certainty that should surely have revealed itself by now to even the most wilful, blinkered intellect. The decade-long populist autocracy of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela could only have ever taken the course of national calamity, as surely as it is that rivers run downhill or that tree branches bend towards the sun. It was always dolefully predictable that the Chavista regime - the last of the so-called national liberation movements, which in reality have liberated only their acolytes' minds from unwelcome thoughts - would turn, gradually but ineluctably, into a personal dictatorship of the crudest and most familiar kind, sustained by violence, cajolery, prejudice and looting of the public purse.

It was eminently foreseeable, too, that the final steps of this squalid effort in red fascism would be finessed by the limitless credulity of a gaggle of Western celebrities, whose mission on earth will not be complete until they have succeeded in redescribing freedom as unfreedom, and unfreedom as the purest mountain-stream of liberty, according to the topsy-turvy ordering of their tumescent political imaginations.

Thus the credulous cynic Noam Chomsky visits Caracas in royal splendour and maunders on, like an infatuated Westerner in Stalin's Moscow, about how excited he is "to see a better world being created". While John Pilger exercises his Methodist preacher's singsong certainty to peddle a farcical cult of personality according to which Chavez is a hero-teacher of his people, travelling with a bundle of books under his arm - "Orwell, Chomsky, Dickens, Victor Hugo" - to "build ordinary people's confidence in themselves".

And now we have a little cache of WikiLeaks cables from Washington's Caracas embassy to confirm the facts we already knew. Except that, by a black irony, the same airhead celebrities and harebrained scholars who have turned Julian Assange into a global sex symbol will be the least likely to read these WikiLeaks cables seriously, or to draw the appropriate conclusions. Instead, they will pontificate from the courthouse steps about our right to know, all the while protecting themselves from the consequences of this same freedom by their imperishable ignorance.

On the weekend an enabling law was passed by Venezuela's supine National Assembly granting Chavez unfettered authority for at least the next 1 1/2 years: time enough to administer the last rites to the country's remnant opposition media. It also marked the final unravelling of Chavez's toga of respectability, a garment that has been unfurling from his mystic Bolivarian body for some years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM

WHERE WAS THE UN? (via The Mother Judd):

Paul Revere’s Ride Against Slavery (JILL LEPORE, 12/19/10, NY Times)

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW published his best-known poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” 150 years ago tomorrow — the same day that South Carolina seceded from the United States.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Before Longfellow published those lines, Revere was never known for his ride, and Longfellow got almost every detail of what happened in 1775 wrong. But Longfellow didn’t care: he was writing as much about the coming war as about the one that had come before. “Paul Revere’s Ride” is less a poem about the Revolutionary War than about the impending Civil War — and about the conflict over slavery that caused it. That meaning, though, has been almost entirely forgotten. [...]

He secretly spent money he earned from his best-selling poems, like “The Song of Hiawatha,” to buy slaves their freedom. In 1856, when Sumner gave his famous “Crime Against Kansas” speech in the Senate, Longfellow congratulated him: “At last the spirit of the North is aroused.” That speech nearly cost Sumner his life — it so incensed a South Carolina representative, Preston Brooks, that he beat Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor.

The next year, Longfellow wrote to Sumner calling the Dred Scott decision heart-breaking, and wishing he could find a way to write about it: “I long to say some vibrant word, that should have vitality in it, and force. Be sure if it comes to me I will not be slow in uttering it.” On Dec. 2, 1859, the day John Brown was hanged, Longfellow wrote in his diary, “This will be a great day in our history, the date of a new Revolution quite as much needed as the old one.”

Pondering that new Revolution, Longfellow got to thinking about the old one. In April 1860, he began writing “Paul Revere’s Ride.” While he worked on the poem, he worried about the fate of the nation. Around the same time he went to see Frederick Douglass speak and read Sumner’s latest speech, which predicted that “the sacred animosity between Freedom and Slavery can end only with the triumph of Freedom.” In November, weeks after finishing “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Longfellow rejoiced in his diary that Lincoln had won the presidency; echoing Sumner, he wrote: “Freedom is triumphant.”

“Paul Revere’s Ride” was published in the January 1861 issue of The Atlantic, which appeared on newsstands on Dec. 20. It was read as a rallying cry for the Union. It is a poem about waking the sleeping, and waking the dead: “Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,/ In their night encampment on the hill.” The dead are Northerners, awakened, at last aroused. But the dead are also the enslaved, entombed in slavery — an image that was, at the time, a common conceit: Douglass called his escape “a resurrection from the dark and pestiferous tomb of slavery.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Simon and Garfunkel in the White House (Frank Schell, December 17, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

But we should not be surprised by the president's inability to define himself. This is the same man who as senator did not endorse the Iraqi troop surge but later as president sponsored an Afghan one. It is the same president who has personalized conflict with Republicans through righteous taunts, yet now genuflects to their new eminence and reluctantly endorses their conservative tax ideology as another form of stimulus. It is the same president who aligned himself with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, only to surrender the White House podium to the charismatic Bill Clinton, rush into the Republican tent for safety and excoriate his colleagues on the left for being "sanctimonious" and "purist." It is the same president who rejects American exceptionalism but embraces his own. that he's done so little and remained so inchoate that he may even have time to define himself in a form acceptable to voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


What Rawls Hath Wrought (John Gray, 12/16/10, National Interest)

[T]HE primacy of this ideal [,human rights,] is very recent. In the late 1970s, clearly a full thirty years after World War II, it all came about quite abruptly. And the ascendancy of rights as we now understand them came as a response, in part, to developments in the academy. As Moyn astutely notes, “In a tiny bibliography on rights composed by political theorists in 1978, next to no authors treated ‘human rights’ as such.” My own experience confirms the accuracy of this observation. When I began teaching political philosophy in Britain in the early seventies, rights theory was only one among several traditions, and by no means the one most closely studied. There were versions of utilitarianism, some scornful of rights (with Jeremy Bentham describing them as “nonsense upon stilts”), others that accepted that rights have important social functions (as in John Stuart Mill), but none of them asserted that rights were fundamental in ethical and political thinking. There were various kinds of historicism—the English thinker Michael Oakeshott’s conservative traditionalism and the American scholar Richard Rorty’s postmodern liberalism, for example—that viewed human values as cultural creations, whose contents varied significantly from society to society. There was British theorist Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, which held that while some values are universally human, they conflict with one another in ways that do not always have a single rational solution. There were also varieties of Marxism which understood rights in explicitly historical terms.

In all of these perspectives, human rights were discussed—when they were mentioned at all—as demands made in particular times and places. Some of these demands might be universal in scope—that torture be prohibited everywhere was frequently (though not always) formulated in terms of an all-encompassing necessity, but no one imagined that human rights comprised the only possible universal morality. “A universalism based on international rights,” as Moyn writes, “could count as only one among others in world history.” Until but a few decades ago, anyone who had been well educated understood that most of the varieties of universalism that have ever existed either lacked the very idea of rights (as in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas) or else invoked them in order to reach authoritarian conclusions (as did Thomas Hobbes).

Undermining the narrative of a virtually inevitable human evolution, the notion that rights are the foundation of society came only with the rise of the Harvard philosopher John Rawls’s vastly influential A Theory of Justice (1971). In the years following, it slowly came to be accepted that human rights were the bottom line in political morality. Early modern political theorists like John Locke may have asserted the importance of rights in ways that helped shape the American Constitution; but rights were dictates of natural law, which had to be obeyed because they emanated from God. Immanuel Kant’s view was essentially the same. The belief that rights are fundamental in political ethics is a late twentieth-century fancy. Interestingly, Rawls did not argue for any sort of global governance—as Moyn points out, Rawls accepted “the plurality of nations.” Also, unlike a later generation of philosophers, Rawls was conversant with other traditions of thinking and took them seriously. Moyn explains, “When John Rawls famously reclaimed individual rights . . . it had no apparent consequences for either the general or the philosophical ascent of human rights (an expression Rawls did not use).” Even so, it was Rawls’s work that was chiefly responsible for the triumph of the narrow type of liberalism that has since dominated Anglo-American political philosophy. The result was to promote a type of liberal legalism in which the rule of law was simply assumed, while politics was virtually ignored.

THE MOST damaging effect of Rawls’s work was the neglect of the state that it produced. The natural rights that were asserted in the early modern period by Hobbes and other thinkers were closely linked with the modern state that was emerging at the time. As Moyn notes, the “freestanding individual of natural rights . . . was explicitly modeled on the assertive new state of early modern international affairs.” Hobbes was insistent that the right to self-preservation can be protected by a state that accepts no limits on its authority to act—otherwise, there is only a “war of all against all” in which everyone must be on guard against everyone else. Other rights theorists such as Locke, more recognizable as liberals in a modern sense, wanted to impose substantive limits on what governments could legitimately do; but they too were clear that rights could only be respected in the context of an effective modern state. Human rights might in some sense exist prior to the state, but without the state they counted for nothing.

Consider interwar Central Europe, an example Moyn does not discuss. Most likely nothing could have prevented the dissolution of the Hapsburg monarchy, but the result of actively promoting its dismemberment, as Woodrow Wilson did, was a “war of all against all” among the fledgling nation-states, in which minorities were the losers (none more so than Jews, who had nowhere to go). This was not an unpredictable development, for as should be clear, human rights and the nation-state are inextricably joined. As Moyn puts it, “The alliance with state and nation was not some accident that tragically befell the rights of man: it was their very essence, for the vast bulk of their history.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which seems to embody the modern-day utopia, encouraged visionaries to look to a time when rights would transcend sovereign states, but still the focus on individual countries remained.

Indeed, for many in the period from the 1950s up to the 1970s, when human rights acquired their present focus on the moral claims of individuals, rights had meaning only in the context of a sovereign state. The full interpretation of equating human rights with a fundamental entitlement to national self-determination—the collective right to rule oneself and not be controlled by others—emerged only with the anticolonial movement.

Except that the antcolonial movement was two hundred years old by the 1970s:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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December 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


The last frontier: Waziristan, headquarters of Islamist terror, has repelled outsiders for centuries. Now the Pakistani government is making a determined effort to control the place The Economist, Dec 30th 2009)

Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.

For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. Waziristanis (who come mostly from the Wazir and Mehsud tribes) have repelled outsiders for centuries. Marauding down onto the plains of northern Punjab—now North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)—their long-haired warriors would rape, pillage and raise a finger to the regional imperialist, Mughal or British, of the day. No government, imperialist or Pakistani, has had much control over them. “Not until the military steamroller has passed over [Waziristan] from end to end will there be peace,” wrote Lord Curzon, a British viceroy of India at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

With 50,000 Pakistani troops now battling the Taliban in Waziristan, even that may be optimistic. One of the current drivers of the steamroller is Major-General Tariq Khan, head of the army’s 60,000-strong Frontier Corps (FC), whose forebears, rulers of neighbouring Tank, were often robbed by the hill-men. For him, Waziristan is “the last tribal area”.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Things Fall Apart: How Democrats gave up on religious voters. (Tiffany Stanley, December 18, 2010, New Republic)

On Election Day, Obama made modest but definite inroads among white evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics. He did eight points better than Kerry with Catholic voters; and with voters who went to church more than once a week, he lowered the GOP advantage from 29 to 12 percent. Voters who attended church monthly actually favored Obama over McCain, 53 to 46 percent (Kerry had lost these voters by two points). Once elected, Obama expanded a Bush-era creation, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP), and put Dubois at its helm, hiring a number of the party’s faith consultants to work under him. Obama and the Democratic Party seemed poised to command respect among the religious population they had so diligently pursued.

But, when Obama took office, the Democrats’ faith outreach began to fall by the wayside. Several of those who had led the religious aspects of the Obama campaign landed in the OFBNP, which is legally barred from electoral politics, and thus faith-based political outreach. “I accepted this position knowing it would be distinct from the electoral role,” Dubois told me. Another key faith operative, Mara Vanderslice, joined Dubois in the OFBNP, abandoning her nascent political action committee, the Matthew 25 Network, which had been formed to promote progressive Christian candidates. With Dubois and others quarantined in OFBNP, many of the strongest religious-outreach coordinators were removed from the efforts in which they had been so effective.

At the same time, the national party began to strip down its religious outreach programs. The DNC’s faith program had at least seven staffers on hand in the 2008 race; during the recent midterms, it downsized to one, who was also charged with African-American outreach—a throwback to the days when Democratic faith outreach meant showing up at black churches. To be sure, there are significant differences between midterm and presidential elections, but even taking this into consideration, several insiders say that the Democrats’ faith effort noticeably dropped within the last two years. According to Mark Silk, a professor at Trinity College who writes frequently on religion and politics, the Democrats “did take [faith outreach] seriously enough in 2008.” But, he says, “it didn’t happen in 2010.”

Current DNC Chairman (and former missionary) Tim Kaine has made vague statements denying that he would allow faith outreach to falter, but evidence of the DNC’s clear commitment to faith-based coordination is hard to come by. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will not confirm the amount spent on faith-based efforts during the midterms, but it seems likely that it was less than the reported $82,000 spent on faith outreach in 2008. “I haven’t met or talked to anyone who knows of specific activities that are happening out of the Democratic Party right now,” says Rebecca Sager, a sociologist who studied faith outreach during the last two elections. In the lead-up to the midterms, Sager embedded with the campaign of Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello, who ran a strong religious outreach program in 2008, and attempted to do the same in 2010. In 2010, however, the candidate received little encouragement from the national party to pursue religiously motivated voters, according to Sager. (He ultimately lost his re-election bid.)

The experience of Democratic political consultants, Eric Sapp and Burns Strider, whose consulting company, Eleison, specializes in Democratic faith outreach, further testifies to the newly diminished role of faith-based campaigning. In 2008, Eleison was contracted to work on over 40 campaigns. This year, it was not hired by a single campaign.

...they do deserve some credit for not trying to maintain a fiction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system: Authorities feared footage of gleaming hospital in Michael Moore's Oscar-nominated film would provoke a popular backlash (Amelia Hill, 12/17/10,

[T]he memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Cheapest Christmas ever (Steve Hargreaves, December 17, 2010,

Toys are 55% cheaper today then they were in 1980, according to the Consumer Price Index. And that's a raw number, not adjusted for inflation. If a toy was $100 in 1980, it's $45 now -- never mind the fact that $100 then would be worth $265 today.

Same is true for small appliances like coffee makers and toasters -- they're down almost 30% since 1998, the earliest year numbers are available.

Electronics are a particular bargain. Televisions are 93% cheaper now then they were in 1980. Radios and speakers are half what they were when Reagan was elected. [...]

The reasons for the plunging prices have to do with advances in technology, manufacturing, retailing, and the global economy.

Cue whingeing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Was Ronald Reagan a secret snitch?: During the 1940s, he simply told the FBI what he told others publicly about communist influences in Hollywood. (John Meroney, December 12, 2010, LA Times)

Did Ronald Reagan secretly give the FBI names of people he suspected were communists when he was a movie star and Hollywood labor chief in the 1940s?

This allegation resurfaced in the media just before Thanksgiving when the San Jose Mercury News, which published excerpts from Reagan's FBI file to great international acclaim in 1985, ran a column revisiting its original story about Reagan the snitch. It implies that Reagan was a shadowy operator in cahoots with the notorious FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, orchestrating their next Hollywood Red scare. [...]

In 1946, Reagan, then a SAG officer, vocally resisted communists as they tried to sway the guild and destroy the stagehands union. (SAG and the stagehands had been bulwarks against party infiltrators.) For this, Reagan became a marked man, and the FBI knew it. In an incident that probably appears in redacted sections of his file — but which he disclosed in his memoir — FBI agents appeared at his house on Cordell Drive, informing him of a secret Communist Party meeting where the keynote was "what to do about that son-of-a-bitching bastard Reagan."

As an "informant," Reagan couldn't add much to the bureau's existing intelligence because he wasn't a Communist Party insider. It operated covertly, holding its meetings in secret. Communists used aliases and code numbers. They shielded themselves behind fronts. And in truth, the FBI's strongest information came from whistle-blowers among party factions, and from undercover FBI agents and operatives.

But if Reagan wasn't providing the bureau with juicy details about communists, what is in the file? And what about the charge of "naming names"?

In one session in April 1947, Reagan and his then-wife, actress Jane Wyman, did describe two groups in the SAG leadership that consistently pushed the Communist Party line, regardless of the issue. But this wasn't clandestine information delivered by a secret snitch; Reagan was telling this to anyone who would listen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Winning in Afghanistan: The buildup of U.S. forces, completed only this fall, is already having a considerable positive impact, although public opinion hasn't caught on yet. (Peter Mansoor and Max Boot, December 16, 2010, LA Times)

[A]rmy Gen. David H. Petraeus has focused efforts on two southern provinces, Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban has been strongest.

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During a recent 10-day visit at his invitation, we found a classic, and successful, counterinsurgency campaign being conducted in the south. We drove around Kandahar city and saw markets flourishing. Children who once threw stones at American vehicles now wave at our soldiers. As we went north into the Arghandab River Valley — a Taliban stronghold until a few months ago — we found numerous American and Afghan outposts and soldiers patrolling on foot between them.

We spoke with one company commander who had just returned from a nighttime air assault to secure a village. But Arghandab is growing more secure, and officers are spending more time on governance. Everywhere we went, the message was the same: The Taliban was surprised by the capabilities and ferocity of U.S. forces, and it has largely retreated to regroup.

To be sure, fighting normally slackens in the winter; the extent of recent gains won't be clear until the spring. But when the Taliban returns, it will find many of its old stomping grounds fortified to resist incursions.

Coalition operations have cleared most insurgents not only from Arghandab but also from the nearby districts of Panjwai and Zheray. Similar progress is evident in the central Helmand River Valley in districts such as Nawa, Garmsir and Marja. They are now entering the "hold and build" phase of Petraeus' plan. Next year, the intention is to join the cleared "oil spots" — territory taken from insurgents — in Kandahar and Helmand, creating a broad swath of liberated territory in the Taliban heartland.

In these operations, U.S. troops are increasingly supported by Afghan forces. The Afghan army is fighting hard and earning the respect of the people. The Afghan police force isn't as far along. Many officers are still corrupt and ineffectual; others are on the right track, with the help of coalition mentors. One of the most promising developments is the Afghan Local Police — armed neighborhood watch organizations that are monitored by Afghan officials and mentored by U.S. troops. This program has the potential to significantly accelerate the growth of the security forces and to spread them to areas where coalition forces are thin.

All of these efforts have been helped by the decision at NATO's Lisbon summit last month to set the end of 2014 as the deadline for the transition of security responsibility to Afghan control. Afghan officials who only a few months ago were fretting that President Obama would pull out in 2011 are now optimistic that we'll stick around. The new timeline has even made President Hamid Karzai more accommodating, as evidenced by his restraint over the WikiLeaks revelations.

Two Achilles' heels could still hamper coalition attempts to translate tactical accomplishments into lasting strategic success: lack of good governance in Afghanistan and the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


In Israel, a rabbi who argues that anti-Arab measures are un-Jewish: Arik Ascherman, a Harvard grad who helped found Rabbis for Human Rights, is struggling to present an alternative voice amid rising anti-Arab and anti-foreigner sentiment in Israel. (Ben Lynfield, Correspondent / December 17, 2010, CS Monitor)

[T]he American-born rabbi[, Arik Ascherman,] is embroiled in two of Israel’s main conflicts today: the struggle with Palestinians over the West Bank and, within Israel, a rising tide of anti-Arab and anti-foreigner sentiment. The latter is starkly illustrated by an unprecedented rabbinical edict calling on Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews.

Both conflicts are at the heart of a debate over whether Israel can be live up to its ideal of being democratic as well as Jewish.

Not if Judaism is race, rather than a religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Obama’s Economic Ideology Is Cast Aside in a Fell Swoop (LAWRENCE KUDLOW, 12/17/10, NY Sun)

In a fell swoop, Obamanomics is out the window. Reaganomics 2.0 is now in the driver’s seat.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the story was the work of Mitch McConnell and John McCain (among others) to kill the 2,000-page, $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill in the Senate, along with its 6,600 earmarks totaling $8 billion. This budget monster dripped with contempt for voters and taxpayers. But business as usual was overturned.

I had an inkling of this when Sen. McCain told me in a CNBC interview earlier that night that, if need be, he would favor a government shutdown over passage of the spending bill. And now, under a short-term continuing resolution, the whole current-services budget baseline can be lowered by anchoring it to 2008 spending.

Hundreds of billions of dollars can be saved, producing a smaller government that will be, in effect, a tax cut for the private economy. The symbolism of overturning massive spending only two years after Obama’s debt-laden stimulus package is enormously important.

Just tell the UR what to do and he'll do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Dying well: Witnessing death enhances the lives of palliative care workers (Calgary Herald, December 12, 2010)

The idea of dying is a source of discomfort for many, but as a new study proves, death instils in its witnesses a healing wisdom which defies our habitual attempts to deny or control it.

University of Calgary researcher Shane Sinclair completed a cross-country study on the impact of death on palliative care workers and the results, recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, prove how wrongheaded society's ingrained thinking about end-of-life issues remains.

Sinclair's study is based on interviews with palliative care staff from doctors and nurses to janitors and volunteers in five major Canadian cities, including Calgary.

Overwhelmingly, workers revealed that constant exposure to dying patients allowed them to see meaningful truths which vastly enhanced their own lives.

Participants spoke of learning to live in the now and of having their minds opened to the unfathomable mysteries of existence. Many felt that being forced to confront their own mortality through their patients

made them better people and more effective, compassionate caregivers. While this exposure did not relieve their own fears of death, it did teach staffers about the important things in life and how to value them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


The President and the Passions (MARK LILLA, 12/19/10, NY Times Magazine)

Shortly before his party’s crushing defeat in last November’s elections, President Obama ruminated about why he and his policies had become so unpopular and offered the following thought. “The reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.” On another occasion, admitting that his administration “probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right,” he concluded that “anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R.”

If this is the way the president and his party think about human psychology, it’s little wonder they’ve taken such a beating. Their assumption seems to be that we are basically rational creatures who, left to our own devices, have little trouble discerning what our interests are and how to serve them. It’s only when our passions get the better of us, when we are angry or fearful or exuberant, that we make bad decisions. That’s really what’s the matter with Kansas, and with the Tea Party activists. So the administration has to work harder to “get the message out” and “sell” its program; to calm people it needs to give them clearer, more complete and more attractively packaged information about how it is working in their interests. Bring in the pie charts, by all means, but print them on glossier paper.

The wisdom of this approach depends on whether the underlying assumption about human nature is right. But is it? Not, at least, according to virtually every Western philosopher and theologian from antiquity to the 18th-century. From Plato to St. Augustine to Thomas Hobbes, the shared assumption was that human beings are fundamentally passionate creatures and that reason alone is too weak to contain our drives.

...than adopting the ideas of the Enlightenment in a Puritan nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


New 'bipartisan' tax deal: Reaganomics redux (Robert Reich, December 17, 2010, CS Monitor)

More than thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan came to Washington intent on reducing taxes on the wealthy and shrinking every aspect of government except defense.

The new tax deal embodies the essence of Reaganomics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Why do firms exist?: Ronald Coase, the author of “The Nature of the Firm” (1937), turns 100 on December 29th (Schumpeter, 12/16/10, The Economist)

The man who restored the pin factory to its rightful place at the heart of economic theory celebrates his 100th birthday on December 29th. The economics profession was slow to recognise Ronald Coase’s genius. He first expounded his thinking about the firm in a lecture in Dundee in 1932, when he was just 21 years old. Nobody much listened. He published “The Nature of the Firm” five years later. It went largely unread.

But Mr Coase laboured on regardless: a second seminal article on “The Problem of Social Cost” laid the intellectual foundations of the deregulation revolution of the 1980s. Eventually, Mr Coase acquired an army of followers, such as Oliver Williamson, who fleshed out his ideas. In 1991, aged 80, he was awarded a Nobel prize. Far from resting on his laurels, Mr Coase will publish a new book in 2011, with Ning Wang of Arizona State University, on “How China Became Capitalist”.

His central insight was that firms exist because going to the market all the time can impose heavy transaction costs. You need to hire workers, negotiate prices and enforce contracts, to name but three time-consuming activities. A firm is essentially a device for creating long-term contracts when short-term contracts are too bothersome. But if markets are so inefficient, why don’t firms go on getting bigger for ever? Mr Coase also pointed out that these little planned societies impose transaction costs of their own, which tend to rise as they grow bigger. The proper balance between hierarchies and markets is constantly recalibrated by the forces of competition: entrepreneurs may choose to lower transaction costs by forming firms but giant firms eventually become sluggish and uncompetitive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Unpopular Germany Faces 'Unpleasant' Years Ahead (Der Spiegel, 12/17/10)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to the European Union summit on Thursday and Friday knowing that her country's popularity in the rest of the EU is at its lowest ebb in decades. Berlin's opposition to a number of proposals for dealing with the euro crisis, from Eurobonds to an increase in the euro zone's bailout fund, has left many other member states questioning Germany's solidarity with its struggling neighbors.

Berlin is seen as insisting on economic prudence and savings measures at a time when it is enjoying the benefits of an export boom while its indebted EU partners struggle to deal with spiralling debt crises. And some see Merkel's insistence on a permanent crisis mechanism, which will be discussed at the summit, as having precipitated the need for the recent Irish bailout.

Yet Merkel is struggling to find a balance between meeting Germany's commitments to its European partners and not antagonizing taxpayers at home who are loath to pay for what they see as the more profligate ways of some euro-zone states.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Nothing like a Republican yarn (David M. Ricci, 12/10/10, Washington Post)

Right-wing talk about poverty, taxes, race, ecology, feminism, families, crime, education, multiculturalism – you name it – leads to a storytelling gap between Republicans and Democrats. Right-wing grievances, which Republicans assert repeatedly, add up to a grand narrative about, say, Judeo-Christian ethics, capitalist efficiency and governmental tyranny.

Meanwhile, Democrats may tell small stories that illuminate various policy issues. But left-wing people do not all tell the same tales, and the ones they do tell neither reinforce one another nor project a shared vision of where America is and what they propose to do about it.

The result, according to psychologist Drew Westen in “The Political Brain” (2007), is that "every Democrat who even talks with friends at the water cooler, has to reinvent what it means to be a Democrat, using his or her own words and concepts."

Democrats aren’t necessarily incompetent because they fail to compose a signature narrative. Rather, liberalism is intrinsically opposed to storytelling, and there’s the rub.

Since the Enlightenment, liberals have -- in the largest sense -- evoked science, theory, and facts to release citizens from many traditional restraints, whereas conservatives have -- generally speaking -- promoted traditional truths they regard as fostering decency and stability in American life.

The restraint that the Enlightenment rejected was Judeo-Christianity. The inability to tie your politics to the One Story is devastating in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Town Mute for 30 Years About a Bully’s Killing (A. G. SULZBERGER, 12/17/10, NY Times)

SKIDMORE, Mo. — The murder of Ken Rex McElroy took place in plain view of dozens of residents of this small farm town, under the glare of the morning sun. But in a dramatic act of solidarity with the gunman, every witness, save the dead man’s wife, denied seeing who had pulled the trigger.

The killing was a shocking end for a notoriously brutal man who had terrorized the area for years with seeming impunity from the law until he was struck down in a moment of vigilante justice. It was also the first major case for a young county prosecutor, not far removed from law school and just months into the job, who said he was confident that the case would be solved soon.

But the silence of the townspeople held. Now, nearly 30 years later, that prosecutor, David A. Baird, is preparing to leave office with his first and most famous case still unsolved.

No one has ever been brought to trial in Mr. McElroy’s death, and, although there is no statute of limitations on murder, most people around here suspect that no one ever will be.

“Once the shroud of silence fell, there was going to be no one talking,” said Cheryl Huston, whose elderly father had been shot by Mr. McElroy and who watched the killing of Mr. McElroy from her family’s grocery store but, like the others, said she did not see the gunman. “They could have pushed and dug, pushed and dug and gotten nothing.”

“We were so bitter and so angry at the law letting us down that it came to somebody taking matters in their own hands,” she said. “No one has any idea what a nightmare we lived.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Republicans Are Hypocrites on Healthcare Individual Mandate (Laura Chapin, December 17, 2010, US News)

You know, that dastardly individual mandate that was a Republican idea.

It was the individual mandate that Republicans touted as a "personal responsibility" pushback to President Clinton's healthcare reform efforts in the '90s.

The individual mandate that was backed by Republicans from Richard Nixon to Mitt Romney as a free-market solution to controlling healthcare costs--until it was incorporated into healthcare reform by President Obama.

Or as the AP put it back in May, "Republicans were for the individual mandate before they were against it."

Mandate universal HSAs and you've created a health care market. Mandate public health and you create a monopoly. There actually is a difference amongst mandates.

December 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


La House now GOP for first time since Reconstruction (Michelle Millhollon, December 17, 2010, The Advocate)

The Louisiana House swung Republican Friday with state Rep. Noble Ellington’s defection from the Democratic Party. [...]

Recent defections from the Democratic ranks in Louisiana include state Rep. Fred Mills, state Sen. John Alario, state Sen. John Smith, state Rep. Walker Hines and state Rep. Simone Champagne.

Ellington’s switch gave Republicans the additional member they needed to take control of the House.

There now are 53 Republicans, 48 Democrats and four House members without a party affiliation.

Democrats still dominate the state Senate with 20 members. The Republican have 18 senators and there is one vacancy.

Does the O-pocalypse never end?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 PM


In one (perhaps unintentionally Biblical) 1970's storyline in the comic, Odin came to Earth to try living as a human and took the name Orrin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Not Really 'Made in China': The iPhone's Complex Supply Chain Highlights Problems With Trade Statistics (ANDREW BATSON, 12/17/10, WSJ)

[R]researchers say traditional ways of measuring global trade produce the number but fail to reflect the complexities of global commerce where the design, manufacturing and assembly of products often involve several countries.

"A distorted picture" is the result, they say, one that exaggerates trade imbalances between nations.

Trade statistics in both countries consider the iPhone a Chinese export to the U.S., even though it is entirely designed and owned by a U.S. company, and is made largely of parts produced in several Asian and European countries. China's contribution is the last step—assembling and shipping the phones.

So the entire $178.96 estimated wholesale cost of the shipped phone is credited to China, even though the value of the work performed by the Chinese workers at Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. accounts for just 3.6%, or $6.50, of the total, the researchers calculated in a report published this month.

Yeah, but we're missing out on all those sweet, sweet jobs that Americans won't do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


In Iran: A Taboo Is Broken (Amir Taheri, 17/12/2010, Asharq al-Awasat)

The attempt to define, or rather redefine, Islam came in response to another debate provoked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his philosophical guru Esfandiar Masha'i who have been trying to market their "Iranian school" as a new brand, much to the chagrin of pro-regime mullahs.

A new poster that declares "the Iranian school is the way to progress and salvation" has just been put up in many government offices throughout the country.

As defined by Masha'i, the so-called "Iranian school" is a mixture of values espoused by Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, and the teachings of Islam which appeared over 1000 years later. Masha'i demands that Cyrus be acknowledged as being equal to the Semitic prophets mentioned in the Koran and the Bible.

Debating what is Islam and what is not may sound strange in a country whose rulers, since 1979, have claimed to represent "the truest of Islamic systems." It may be a sign that the ruling establishment, which consists of several thousand mullahs and their allies within the military and security services, is experiencing a loss of confidence.

Last year's split over the presidential election and the continued tensions caused by workers' strikes and growing middle class discontent have sapped the regime's claim of legitimacy. At the same time, there are signs that at least part of the clergy may be prepared to openly reject Khamenei's claim of being the Supreme Leader of Islam throughout the world.

Partly to address that problem, Khamenei has made an unusual visit to Qom, the "holy" city south of Tehran where many of the better known mullahs reside. However, the visit seems to have highlighted the split.

In one meeting, the "Supreme Guide" was faced with students of theology chanting "Where is your thesis of Ijtihad?"

In Shi'ism, no mullah could use the title of ayatollah without publishing an ijtihad thesis approved by at least one grand ayatollah. Khamenei, whose supporters call him ayatollah, has not done so.

Periodically, government-controlled media have published reports that Khamenei would soon publish his thesis, known as the "risala al-marjaiyah", promising that it will be "the greatest text of Islam in centuries."

Some prominent ayatollahs of Qom have already come close to challenging Khamenei's position.

Grand Ayatollah Asadallah Bayat Zanjani has rejected the claim that denying Walayat al-Faqih is tantamount to abandoning Islam. Grand Ayatollah Yussuf San'ei, for his part, sees the present system as "despotism using Islam as a pretext." Grand Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani has gone further by asserting that mullahs should not assume political positions. All three refused Khamenei's demand for a meeting during his recent visit to Qom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


White supremacists urge Thor boycott over casting of black actor as Norse god: Council of Conservative Citizens attacks Marvel for giving role of deity Heimdall to Idris Elba, star of The Wire (Ben Child, 12/17/10,

A US white supremacist group has called for a boycott of the Kenneth Branagh-directed superhero movie Thor on the grounds that a black actor has been cast in the role of a Norse god.

The Council of Conservative Citizens is upset that London-born Idris Elba, star of The Wire and BBC detective series Luther as well as a number of Hollywood films, is to play deity Heimdall in the Marvel Studios feature. The group, which opposes inter-racial marriage and gay rights, has set up a website, to set out its opposition to what it sees as an example of leftwing social engineering.

...that the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom has been cast as Yggdrasil.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Lotte Mart's cheapest fried chickens stir political controversy (Leo Lewis, 12/14/10, The Times)

The poultry-centric controversy began late last week when Lotte Mart, one of South Korea's biggest retailers, began selling its fried chicken at a level that undercut the prevailing market price by more than 60 per cent.

South Korea's presidential secretary for political affairs bristled in a blog that, even on a crude calculation of raw materials and processing, Lotte Mart appeared to be losing about 1200 won every time it sold a serving of fried chicken from one of its 82 stores.

That was the cue for a verbal bombardment from Kyochon Chicken, Goob-ne Chicken and hundreds of small restaurants and shops across South Korea that make their living from fried chicken, who fear they would be thrust out of business. Their trade body, the Korea Franchise Association, quickly weighed in with a threat of legal action and allegations of “fried chicken dumping”.

At first, the public shared their rage and seemed ready to be worked up by the media into passionate defence of the little guy against rapacious giants such as Lotte. Then they smelt the chicken, realised they could feed their families for roughly the price of a bus ticket and joined the monstrous queues at branches of Lotte.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Housing bust? So what? We still want to own (Les Christie, December 16, 2010,

The American Dream is still alive and kicking, including within immigrant and minority communities, according to a survey from mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

The housing crisis hasn't quenched the homeownership thirst, the company found. More than 51% of people said the bust did not change their willingness to buy a home and an additional 27% said it actually made them more likely to do so. [...]

Only 44% of African Americans own homes, for instance, compared with 71% of whites, but that disparity starts to vanish among families in stronger financial circumstances. African Americans' homeownership rises to 60% for those earning between $50,000 and $99,000, for example.

The survey findings have implications for Fannie's business model. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to account for just 46% of the population by 2050. Immigration will account for most of the population growth between now and then.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Senate Democrats give up bid to pass $1.1 trillion spending bill (CNN, 12/17/10)

In a dramatic twist played out on the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid conceded Thursday night he lacked the votes to bring up a $1.1 trillion spending bill designed to fund the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year.

Reid, D-Nevada, accused Republicans of withdrawing previously pledged support for the bill, and said he would work with the Senate Republican leader to draft a short-term spending measure that would keep the government running beyond Saturday, when the current spending authorization resolution expires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The Hopper Question: Why the American painter puzzles. (Morgan Meis

Is he a cliché? That's the question you keep coming back to when you look at the paintings of Edward Hopper. On the face of it, the current show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time," doesn't help answer the question. The show gives us paintings like “Soir Bleu” from 1914. We're at a café in France somewhere. Patrons sit at the tables. Right there in the middle, facing us, is a clown. He is wearing a white, frilly get-up and his face is painted white, too, with red lips and a couple of red stripes down the eyes. He is smoking a cigarette. This may, in fact, be the sad clown we've all heard so much about. I've toyed with the idea that “Soir Bleu” is making fun of itself. Or maybe it is making fun of us, the viewer? But, no. Hopper is a painter without any sense of humor, which is a troubling fact. He paints without wit, without self-awareness. We may have to accept the fact that Hopper painted the sad clown smoking a cigarette in the café because he felt it to be a poignant scene. He was so moved by the depressed clown that he went and painted one of the silliest paintings of the era.

Hopper spent time in Europe during the 1920s. He was living in Paris on and off when the ex-pat scene was at its very height. Impressively, it doesn't seem to have affected him much at all. That's what you want to admire about Hopper. His Americanness was so real, and so deeply rooted, that continental trends and ideas bounced right off him. He was still trying to find his way as a painter in the '20s. He had every reason to dabble in the trends. But he didn't. He didn't want to be an abstract painter. His mind was not blown by Cubism. He did not succumb to the excitement of any avant-garde. How many of us have ever shown that kind of resolution? It is not that Hopper lacked ambition. He wanted to be a great painter. He wanted to be relevant. And yet he stuck to his realism, to his representational style, to everything that was being rejected by so many of the celebrated painters of his day. Admirable.

Still, we wonder. Did Hopper stick to his guns for all the right reasons? Or was it all he could do? Was he an ugly American, so wedded to simplistic imagery that the finer points of Cubism or abstract painting would have been over his head? Did Hopper rely on cliché because that was all he understood?

All great art is cliched because what makes it great is the proximity the artist achieves towards representing the beauty of Creation. The modernism that Hopper rejected quits on this task, which is why it is ugly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


1927 Model T Triumphs Over 164 Modern Machines In Punishing Endurance Race (Murilee Martin, 12.16.2010, Pop Sci)

After four years, the 24 Hours of LeMons—endurance racing for $500 cars—has become one of the most competitive forms of motorsport on the planet. Most of the time, a team gunning for the bragging rights that come with a LeMons win will follow a standard formula: put a bunch of top drivers in a 20-year-old German or Japanese sports car. Not so with the Beverly Hellbillies; they've got the top drivers, all right, but their car is a 1927 Model T Ford pickup built by a crew of old-time hot rodders.

And it finished an incredible 9th out of 173 entries in a recent race.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The Worst of the Worst: Supermax Torture in America (Lance Tapley, Nov/Dec 2010, Boston Review)

James’s story illustrates an irony in the negative reaction of many Americans to the mistreatment of “war on terrorism” prisoners at Guantánamo. To little public outcry, tens of thousands of American citizens are being held in equivalent or worse conditions in this country’s super-harsh, super-maximum security, solitary-confinement prisons, or in comparable units of traditional prisons. The Obama administration— somewhat unsteadily—plans to shut down the Guantánamo detention center and ship its inmates to one or more supermaxes in the United States, as though this would mark a substantive change. In the supermaxes inmates suffer weeks, months, years, or even decades of mind-destroying isolation, usually without meaningful recourse to challenge the conditions of their captivity. Prisoners may be regularly beaten in cell extractions, and they receive meager health services. The isolation frequently leads to insane behavior including self-injury and suicide attempts.

In 2004, state-run supermaxes in 44 states held about 25,000 people, according to Daniel Mears, a Florida State University criminologist who has done the most careful count. Mears told me his number was conservative. In addition the federal system has a big supermax in Colorado, ADX Florence, and a total of about 11,000 inmates in solitary in all its lockups, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Some researchers peg the state and federal supermax total as high as a hundred thousand; their studies sometimes include more broadly defined “control units”—for example, those in which men spend all day in a cell with another prisoner. (Nationally, 91 percent of prison and jail inmates are men, so overwhelmingly men fill the supermaxes. Women also are kept in supermax conditions, but apparently no one has estimated how many.) Then there are the county and city jails, the most sizable of which have large solitary-confinement sections. Although the roughness in what prisoners call “the hole” varies from prison to prison and jail to jail, isolation is the overwhelming, defining punishment in this vast network of what critics have begun to call mass torture.

Of course it's torture. It's just cleaner than prior forms. Democracies specialize in making torture more humane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Interview with Flemish Separatist De Wever: 'Belgium Has No Future': Six months after the general election, Belgium still has no new government. Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, head of the country's largest party, wants to split Belgium into two states. In an interview that has caused a scandal in his country, he told SPIEGEL why the nation has "no future." (Der Spiegel, )

Belgium has sunk into political chaos. Following the parliamentary elections six months ago, all attempts to build a new government have failed. The country is divided into two camps that oppose each other, apparently irreconcilably: the socialists, who won the most votes in Wallonia, the French-speaking southern region of the country, and the nationalist conservatives in Flanders, the wealthier Dutch-speaking northern region.

The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) obtained the most parliamentary seats in June's elections. Its leader Bart De Wever wants to split Belgium into two. In an interview with SPIEGEL that was published in German on Monday, De Wever described how Begium is the "sick man" of Europe and has "no future in the long run."

The interview caused a massive outcry throughout Belgium. The French-speaking daily Le Soir called it "a bomb" intended to stir up the markets for Belgian government bonds. The Flemish newspapers were more sympathetic regarding the content of the interview, but criticized its timing.

De Wever himself said he regreted it if anybody felt insulted but confirmed the message of the interview. "I have my opinion and my analysis is accurate," he said. "There is nothing in the interview that is not true."

SPIEGEL: Mr. De Wever, how much longer do you think Belgium will last?

De Wever: I'm not a revolutionary, and I'm not working toward the immediate end of Belgium. And I don't have to do that, either, because Belgium will eventually evaporate of its own accord. What we Flemish want is to be able to control our own judiciary, as well as our fiscal and social policy. We feel that foreign policy is in better hands with the European Union. But the nation of Belgium has no future in the long run. It is too small for greater political ambitions, and it's too heterogeneous for smaller things like taxes and social issues.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


You Gotta Believe (Brian Trent, Utne Reader)

There is a certain irony in the case of the United States, a nation founded on Enlightenment principles of rationality and now so eagerly becoming a culture of raw, unquestioning belief. When we hear about an alleged culture war, we tend to think of it in political terms like gay marriage or abortion. The truth goes deeper. As in Chelebi’s era, our real battle is for critical thinking. It is about our fundamental approach to the universe and is nothing less than a line in the sand between the logical and the delusional.

America is not a nation precisely because it--like the rest of the Anglosphere--rejected the Enlightenment: "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."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


James Moody's 80th Birthday On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, NPR)

In 2005, James Moody celebrated his 80th birthday for a full year. On the actual birthday night in March, he joined the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at the Blue Note in New York. In May, Moody took his wife Linda on a cruise to Bermuda with a boatload of fans, including his ear, nose and throat man and his heart specialist, who gave a formal presentation about keeping your heart young through a good diet, exercise and love of jazz. Moody toured Europe with a quick trip between Turkey and Lebanon back to Indiana. (Who books these tours? Is all that flying good for your heart?) He and his All-Stars recorded an album together at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh. And then he came to The Kennedy Center.

The party was staged with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Orchestra, with NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton conducting; NEA Jazz Masters and great friends Jimmy Heath and Paquito D'Rivera on reeds; and new vocalist Roberta Gambarini, whom Moody personally and charmingly introduces on this episode of JazzSet. Danny Glover is the emcee. Jimmy Heath wrote a song with lyrics for Moody, and Heath's explanation of those lyrics to Glover provides a fine moment. The birthday man is young at heart and quick on his sax and flute on this happy occasion, and we have highlights.

It's painful to say goodbye to James Moody, but he gave us a closing line. Dee Dee Bridgewater signs off this JazzSet with his famous ending from "Moody's Mood for Love": "You can blow now if you want to; we're through."


James Moody, vocals, saxophones; Slide Hampton, musical director, trombone; Jimmy Heath, saxophone; Paquito D'Rivera, sax and clarinet; Roy Hargrove, trumpet; John Lee, bass; trumpets: Randy Brecker, Greg Gisbert, Frank Greene, Claudio Roditi; saxophones: Andres Boiarsky, Antonio Hart, Justin Robinson, Gary Smulyan; trombones: Jay Ashby, Steve Davis, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance; Roberta Gambarini, vocals; Marty Ashby, guitar; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Roger Squitero, percussion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


The Science Wars Redux: Fifteen years after the Sokal Hoax, attacks on “objective knowledge” that were once the province of the left have been taken up by the right. (Michael Bérubé, Winter 2011, Democracy)

What, you ask, was the Sokal Hoax? While I was chatting with my colleagues at the Postmodern Science Forum, New York University physicist Alan Sokal, having read Higher Superstition, decided to try an experiment. He painstakingly composed an essay full of (a) flattering references to science-studies scholars such as Ross and Stanley Aronowitz, (b) howler-quality demonstrations of scientific illiteracy, (c) flattering citations of other science-studies scholars who themselves had demonstrated howler-quality scientific illiteracy, (d) questionable-to-insane propositions about the nature of the physical world, (e) snippets of fashionable theoretical jargon from various humanities disciplines, and (f) a bunch of stuff from Bohr and Heisenberg, drawing object lessons from the uncertainty at the heart of quantum mechanics. He then placed a big red bow on the package, titling the essay “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The result was a very weird essay, a heady mix–and a shot heard ’round the world. For Sokal decided to submit it to the journal Social Text, where it wound up in a special issue edited by Ross and Aronowitz on . . . the “Science Wars.” Yes, that’s right: Social Text accepted an essay chock-full of nonsense and proceeded to publish it in a special issue that was designed to answer the critics of science studies–especially, but not exclusively, Gross and Levitt. It was more than a great hoax on Sokal’s part; it was also, on the part of Social Text, one of the great own-foot-shootings in the history of self-inflicted injury.

Cannily, Sokal chose Lingua Franca, a then-influential (since folded) magazine that covered the academy and the humanities, as the venue in which to publish his “gotcha” essay, in which he revealed that the whole thing was a great big joke. And as if on cue, Ross and Aronowitz fired back almost precisely as Sokal believed they would: Aronowitz called Sokal “ill-read and half-educated,” while Ross called the essay “a little hokey,” “not really our cup of tea,” and a “boy stunt . . . typical of the professional culture of science education.” Aronowitz and Ross had every reason to feel badly stung, no question; but the terms of their response, unfortunately, spectacularly bore out Sokal’s claim that “the targets of my critique have by now become a self-perpetuating academic subculture that typically ignores (or disdains) reasoned criticism from the outside.” It was not hard to wonder, after all: If indeed Sokal’s hokey boy-stunt essay was not really your cup of tea, why did you publish it in the first place?

For many people, the answer to that question was simple: because the theory-addled, jargon-spouting academic left, of which Social Text now stood as the symbol, really didn’t know squat about science and really was devoted to the project of making shit up and festooning it with flattering citations to one another’s work. It was what critics believed all along, and now they had the proof. The disparity of audience response was–and remains–stark: In my academic-left circles, Sokal’s name was mud, his hoax an example of extraordinary bad faith; everywhere else, especially on the rest of the campus and in the world of journalism, Sokal was a hero, the guy who finally exposed the naked emperor (and there was much talk of naked emperors) and burst the cultural-studies bubble that had so drastically overinflated certain academic reputations–and academic egos.

The damage to the academic left–and the sense of betrayal on the academic left–was especially severe because the Sokal Hoax followed in the wake of the early-’90s culture wars. Left-leaning humanists were used to taking brickbats from movement conservatives like D’Souza, Lynne Cheney, and Bill Bennett; we had watched Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms attack the National Endowment for the Arts, and we had seen Cheney appeal to Congress to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities–when she was no longer directing it. Even a few intellectually respectable people came unhinged by mid-decade, as when biologist E.O. Wilson declared, in a 1994 talk, “multiculturalism equals relativism equals no supercollider equals communism.” The fact that Sokal launched his critique in the name of the left was a real shock–indeed, it was simply unintelligible to some academic leftists, who insisted that all their critics were de facto conservatives (and even tried to label Sokal a “left conservative” as a result). But the hoax also played an important role in the intraparty squabbles on the left, insofar as it seemed to give ammunition to leftists who believed that class oppression was the most important game in town, and that all this faddish talk of gender and race and sexuality was a distraction from the real struggle, which had to do with capital and labor. Finally, in academic-hothouse politics, the hoax had any number of unintended side-effects, bolstering traditionalists’ beliefs that disciplines like women’s studies and science studies were just so much balderdash.

So what did the essay itself actually say? As a parody of certain academic styles and tics, it really was a tour de force–though most of the people celebrating it and denouncing it, I found, weren’t reading the thing all the way through. For most journalists, for example, the first paragraph was quite damning enough:

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

The passage I’ve italicized makes it look as if Social Text itself, by publishing the essay, is proclaiming its belief in the nonexistence of the external world. That’s basically how most people construed the hoax: as Sokal’s proof that theory-besotted humanists on the academic left deny the existence of the external world. It was Dr. Johnson’s stone all over again, except that this time the stone came flying through the window of a hip academic journal.

But imagine, dear reader, that this essay has been submitted to you, and that you have no reason to think that it is anything but an ordinary journal submission. How would you have read that first paragraph? The first two sentences are unobjectionable; one might even want to call them “true.” The third sentence carries the payload. And yet even that one is trickier than it looks–if you stop and ask yourself what it means that an actual, real-live, university-faculty physicist is saying such things. On one hand, I have to admire Sokal’s powers of mimicry: the fact that he speaks sweepingly and dismissively of “the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook” suggests that he was a quick study of the academic-theory left, and had learned that people who speak of the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook can usually expect to find a sympathetic readership at places like Social Text. On the other hand, why should anyone consider it strange that a physicist would be saying strange things about the physical world? Okay, so some physicist from NYU is challenging the idea that physics offers reliable knowledge of the external world that can be encoded in eternal laws. But don’t physicists say bizarre, counterintuitive things about the external world all the time? Isn’t it part of their job description, like talking about dark matter and dark energy and branes and eleven-dimensional strings and multiple universes and stuff that no reasonable person could possibly imagine on the basis of their daily lives?

As I argued in my 2006 book, Rhetorical Occasions, ever since the days of Bohr and Heisenberg, general readers have come to expect that physicists will not tell them that force equals mass times acceleration and that what goes up must come down; they expect that physicists will tell them that space-time is curved in the shape of a quantum donut whose jelly filling is composed of black holes that bend through Calabi-Yau space to produce “munchkins-branes.” So it’s curious–and telling–that Sokal’s essay goes on to cite Bohr and Heisenberg. But Sokal’s treatment of them is uneasy–and at one point, I think, Sokal gives away more of the game than he realizes. In “Transgressing the Boundaries,” Sokal notes that Bohr himself drew social implications from the principle of complementarity. The principle holds that two mutually exclusive definitions are in fact necessary for an adequate explanation of a phenomenon: light, for instance, is both a particle and a wave. “Bohr’s analysis of the complementarity principle also led him to a social outlook that was, for its time and place, notably progressive,” Sokal writes in an endnote, quoting from a 1938 lecture by Bohr:

I may perhaps here remind you of the extent to which in certain societies the roles of men and women are reversed, not only regarding domestic and social duties but also regarding behavior and mentality. Even if many of us, in such a situation, might perhaps at first shrink from admitting the possibility that it is entirely a caprice of fate that the people concerned here have their specific culture and not ours, and we not theirs instead of our own, it is clear that even the slightest suspicion in this respect implies a betrayal of the national complacency inherent in any human culture resting in itself.

So why does Sokal single out this passage for mockery? Is it as patently ridiculous as the idea that there is no external world? In the follow-up book Fashionable Nonsense, co-written with Jean Bricmont and published in 1998, Sokal argued that his target was humanists’ “fondness for the most subjectivist writings of Heisenberg and Bohr, interpreted in a radical way that goes far beyond their own views (which are in turn vigorously disputed by many physicists and philosophers of science).”

...the subjectivity of Science or of Academia?

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December 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Blake Edwards, director of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Pink Panther films, dies at 88: Actor-turned-director found fame with romantic classic but carved out a niche in comedy, particularly his collaborations with Peter Sellers, and with his wife, Julie Andrews (Andrew Pulver, 12/16/10,

Blake Edwards, the director of Breakfast at Tiffany's, 10 and eight Pink Panther movies, has died aged 88. One of Hollywood's most successful specialists in comedy, Edwards never won an Academy award for any of his films, but was given an honorary Oscar in 2004 citing "his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen." He married Julie Andrews in 1969 and directed her in a strings of films – most notably The Tamarind Seed (1974), S.O.B. (1981) and Victor/Victoria (1982).

Edwards was born in Tulsa in 1922 and started off as an actor, appearing in around 30 films between 1942 and 1948. He moved into scriptwriting, starting with the westerns Panhandle and Stampede, and then started directing in the mid-50s, honing his skills across a variety of genres. His aptitude for comedy became apparent with the Cary Grant vehicle Operation Petticoat, and thereafter he never looked back, creating a signature style of loose-limbed, freewheeling humour that astutely worked a fine line between high camp and chic smut.

...which were pretty uniformly bad. Rather, remember him as the creator of a decent tv show: Peter Gunn. The dichotomy makes one wonder if he wouldn't have been a better director during the Code era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Obama Echoes Coolidge, Reagan, in Praise of CEOs (Matthew Rothschild, December 16, 2010, The Progressive)

I don’t know why Obama felt the need to bow down to the chieftains of American business on Wednesday.

But there he was, sounding like a composite of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan.

Like Coolidge, who said, “The business of America is business,” Obama told the 20 CEOs: “We want to be boosters because when you do well, America does well.” [...]

Then he went on, like Reagan, and said, “I believe that the primary engine of America’s economic success is not government. It’s the ingenuity of America’s entrepreneurs.”

It's as easy as this: if business does well the next two years then the UR could be re-elected; if progressives do well he has no shot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Is the Evangelical Left Fizzling? (MARK TOOLEY, 12/16/10, Weekly Standard)

According to CNN's exit poll, 77 percent of self-described white evangelicals or born again Christians voted Republican. This number is actually higher than the 74 percent who supported George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, which was considered a high water mark for conservative evangelical activism. Seventy percent of white evangelicals and born-agains voted Republican in 2008 and 2006. The total white Protestant vote (including members of more liberal mainline denominations) was 69 percent Republican this year, compared to 65 percent in 2004 and slightly less in 2008 and 2006. Total Protestant and other non-Catholic Christian support for Republicans was 59 percent this year, compared to 57 percent in 2004.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


MLB.TV is the ideal gift for a baseball fan (Mark Newman, 12/16/10,

The ideal gift for any Major League Baseball fan has just arrived: 2011 MLB.TV Premium. now lets you give a yearly subscription to someone for $99.95 this holiday season, allowing that person to watch every out-of-market game streamed live during the next regular season. You will be able to send it to a friend or family member as an e-mailed gift with a message, and you won't have to stress over shipping deadlines or the possibility that someone will return your gift.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


A New Paul Revere: a review of The New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan (John Fonte , 12/20/10, National Review)

[F]or this reviewer Hannan’s most trenchant advice appears in the chapter entitled “America in the World.” Hannan, who has spent eleven years in the European Union (EU) capitals of Brussels and Strasbourg, minces no words in analyzing the EU, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the distortions of the new international law, and the challenge that the global-governance project and supra-nationalism present to democratic self-government everywhere.

Eschewing foreign-policy-speak, Hannan tells us that “the structures of the EU are intrinsically anti-democratic” and that “faced with a choice between democracy and supra-nationalism, the EU will always choose supra-nationalism.” The ICC “entrenches autocrats and weakens democrats”: “Never mind representative democracy, never mind natural justice. All that matters to the transnational elites [who run the ICC] is power.” Hannan rightly decries the transformation of international law that began in the 1990s: It is morphing into transnational law, and moving, slowly but steadily, from a being a system based on relations between nation-states to being a vehicle for global judicial activism that promotes an “anti-conservative,” politicized version of “human rights.”

Hannan notes that the Euro-integrationists have a very different worldview than the majority of Americans, who believe in democratic self-government. The Euro elites believe in global governance and supra-nationalism, and seek to promote their political model worldwide. Like the Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, Hannan recognizes that this view (and not simply crude anti-Semitism) is one of the major reasons for the EU’s consistent hostility to Israel’s attempts to defend itself. Israel’s acting as an independent, democratic state — deciding for itself when to use force in the defense of its democracy, rather than subordinating its decision-making to supra-national “rules” — is an affront to the core political principles of the EU.

Hannan argues that America does not have to “prove its internationalist credentials” by submitting to global authority. Nor does it have to choose between “Europeanization and isolation.” Instead, he suggests, the nations, businesses, common-law legal systems, accounting practices, and defense establishments of the Anglosphere (think India) offer an attractive (and clearly internationalist) alternative for trade, commerce, and alliances. Americans should remain true to their Jeffersonian principles of decentralization and pluralism, Hannan tells us; we should reject the global-governance agenda of political and economic “harmonization” and “integration” through “rules and bureaucracies,” and embrace voluntary arrangements among free peoples.

In my view, Hannan is right on the particulars. So what lessons can we draw for American conservatives? As noted, his concerns on the dangers of the Europeanization of domestic policy are already shared here in America. His arguments for America to stand firm on the “hard” issues of foreign policy such as Iran and other explicitly defense-related matters have also found support here. It is in the “soft area” of foreign affairs — America’s relationships with the U.N., EU, and ICC, and, most important, its stance towards democratic sovereignty, global governance, and supra-national authority — where Hannan’s warnings are now most needed.

...let alone to ours. Transnationalism is a failed dream.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Matt Ridley on Technology, Optimism and How It’s All Going To Be Fine: The science writer says we are obsessively pessimistic for no good reason. Everything will be fine – our ingenuity has always saved us. (Anna Blundy , 12/16/10, Five Books)

Before we start talking about the books tell me why you’ve chosen this topic.

Because it’s my new passion. Because I spent my youth being a pessimist about the future of the world, but then it dawned on me that things were getting better and all my friends were getting richer and I didn’t need to be a pessimist. And that all sorts of trends were going in the right direction and it was all basically down to technology in the end, and I wanted to understand what this process was that was creating technologies that raised living standards.

I wish I was one of your friends. [...]

The Ultimate Resource 2 by Julian Lincoln Simon

Excellent. Tell me what’s so optimistic about these books then. Let’s start with Julian Simon.

Julian Simon is really the god of this subject in many ways. He died terribly young in his 50s or 60s about ten or 15 years ago and he produced a series of books that were just riddled with numbers. He was a fanatic for digging up trends. So, for example, he traced the wheat price back to the Middle Ages, and he’d drawn a graph of it and shown that, except in the odd bad year, wheat prices have basically been falling since the Middle Ages. Wheat has been getting cheaper for people in terms of wages since then. Likewise a lot of pollution issues, etc, etc. He was amazing at digging out numbers and trends.

Wait. You mean the world is less polluted now than it was in the Middle Ages? That doesn’t sound very likely.

Well, in many ways it is. The amount of sewage you encounter in your water supply, for example. Simon’s big thing was the population explosion and how it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and nor was it any longer exponential and in fact it was slowing down. It was basically the conflict between population and resources that became an obsession in the early 1970s, with the publication of the Club of Rome’s report in 1970 which said that humankind is going to run out of metals, oil, gas and all these kinds of things. He said, no, what a resource is is human ingenuity turning something else into something useful. And if you look at the way we use resources we get better at finding them. We get better at finding things we hadn’t used before and we get better at refining them. So we produce more oil from the same oil field or we find new ways of getting metals out of ores. He said, look, the prices of metals have been falling for hundreds of years. Almost any metal you choose is getting cheaper, despite the fact that there are more people.

Eventually he was offered a bet by somebody called Paul Erlich, a famous doomster, who said: ‘I bet you that metals are going to get more expensive in the next year.’ Julian Simon took him up and said, OK, you name the metals and we will buy a basket of these metals in 1980, and in 1990 we will see who’s right. If they’ve got cheaper you pay me the difference, if they’ve got more expensive I pay you the difference. It was $1,000 on the table and Erlich chose the metals and, as he said, he wanted to grab the offer before somebody else picked up this incredibly easy win. Of course, Simon won by a mile: commodity prices fell during the 1980s.

Maybe that’s just because we’re using small children and slaves to dig them out?

Well, we’ve been doing that for a long time too. We’re doing it less.

Oh, are we? What great news.

Yup. The Potosí silver mine in Bolivia was run by the Spanish in the 1500s and had the biggest slave population of anywhere in the world, but they now use five big diggers. Show me a metal mine in the world run by slaves rather than diggers. Doesn’t exist. Anyway, the point was that Erlich reacted very badly to losing this bet and said: ‘The only thing the world is not running out of is imbecility.’ But Simon is a great hero. He took these people on and said there was something wrong with their model. Human beings are solution machines as well as problems; the ingenuity of human beings is what drives the world. For example, uranium ore. It is not a resource until someone invents nuclear fission. The idea of resources as sort of fixed things that you run out of is just wrong. It’s a negotiation between human ingenuity and what’s available in the world. So, for example, phosphorous. People say it’s going to run out, but what they mean is the really rich phosphorous ores will probably run out quite quickly.

I don’t even know what we use it for apart from matches, which we presumably don’t use all that many of.

It’s a fertiliser. It’s a huge, huge fertiliser. Of course, it doesn’t disappear. Pig shit is ten per cent phosphorous and it runs into rivers and into the sea and ends up in mud, so we can always use the mud as an ore. Eventually. See what I mean? A beautiful example recently is shale gas, which is the new and exciting form of energy that is going to save the world big time in the 21st century because we’ve always known that there is a lot of methane in shale but it has always been assumed that you can’t get it out. About ten years ago a Texan worked out how you can get it out and the result is that America has turned from being an importer of natural gas to an exporter and reckons that now, instead of having 20 years of natural gas supplies, it has probably several hundred years. China is about to do the same, and Poland, South Africa. The shale gas revolution is incredible. It’s a resource we knew was there but it wasn’t a resource if you couldn’t get it out. [...]

Thinking about why we like being pessimistic, I think that every generation has a theory that it’s going to be the end of the world when they themselves die. Because we know we’re going to die we partly want to imagine that so is everybody. Nuclear war, Aids, global warming.

I like that. That’s really good. Somebody said to me the other day that they think the reason for this is that the past is certain; we know we survived it and we are descended from the successful people in the past. But the future is uncertain. Anything could happen.

But it’s not uncertain. We are going to die.

You’re right. We are going to die. There’s a huge element of narcissism in this. Whenever I hear the phrase ‘We stand at a turning point in history’, my hackles rise. Everybody thinks they stand at a turning point. This tipping point, turning point metaphor that privileges your own generation in a form of chosen race is purely narcissistic and wrong.

Though she does redeem herself at the end, with a point made by Richard Gott

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Could there be a Tet Offensive in Afghanistan? (George F. Will, December 15, 2010, Washington Post)

The Taliban is culturally primitive, so any sign of tactical sophistication is unsettling. Although it is unlikely that the Taliban leadership has as nuanced an understanding of the importance and dynamics of American public opinion in wartime as North Vietnam's leadership did, Taliban leaders surely know that North Vietnam won the Vietnam War not in Vietnam but in America.

And they surely know the role played by North Vietnam's February 1968 Tet Offensive. Although U.S. forces thoroughly defeated the enemy, the American public, seeing only chaos and the prospect of many more years of it, turned decisively against the war.

Might the Taliban's tactics, techniques and procedures (in military argot, TTP) make possible a spike in violence in some way comparable to Tet in its impact on American opinion? No one knows this, or how another attack on America, perhaps launched from Yemen, might affect public support for what are explained as prophylactic operations in Afghanistan.

If it were even worth the effort, our entire strategy would be geared towards getting the Taliban to commit the sort of mass suicide that the Cong did, as they basically ceased to exist as a fighting force after Tet. And since there is no foreign power to pick up the slack in Afghanistan it would be determinative.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Into the unknown: Japan is ageing faster than any country in history, with vast consequences for its economy and society. So why, asks Henry Tricks, is it doing so little to adapt? (The Economist, Nov 18th 2010)

FOR a glimpse of Japan’s future, a good place to visit is Yubari, a former mining town on the northern island of Hokkaido, which four years ago went spectacularly bust with debts of ¥36 billion ($315m). It is a quiet spot, nestled in a valley at the end of a railway line. When the coal mines were working 40 years ago, 120,000 people lived there. But the mines have long since closed, and now there are only 11,000 people left, almost half of them over 65.

The town hall is like a morgue, with few lights on. In the past four years the number of civil servants has been cut in half, their salaries have shrunk by a third and they now have to mop their own floors, they complain. The town has embarked on an 18-year austerity drive to repay its debts. The public library has already closed down. This autumn six primary schools merged into one.

Even so the townspeople look anything but defeated. A group of 80-year-olds chatting in one café is the backbone of the local photography club. Delighted to have an audience, they show off black-and-white pictures taken in the 1950s, with children swirling around the school playground on ice skates.

Like Yubari, Japan is heading into a demographic vortex. It is the fastest-ageing society on Earth and the first big country in history to have started shrinking rapidly from natural causes. Its median age (44) and life expectancy (83) are among the highest and its birth rate (1.4 per woman) is among the lowest anywhere. In the next 40 years its population, currently 127m, is expected to fall by 38m. By 2050 four out of ten Japanese will be over 65.

Like Yubari, Japan is also deeply in debt. But whereas Yubari’s fiscal problems arose from a huge public-spending splurge aimed at wooing back its young people (at one point it had an international film festival and 17 cinemas), Japan at the start of its journey into the demographic unknown already has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world.

Japan is already full of Yubaris. <

Albert Jay Nock described why Japan has chosen to die:
Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


"Deadwood" rides again: A new release of the canceled HBO series brings it to glorious life -- and proves why Blu-ray actually matters (Matt Zoller Seitz, 12/10/10, Salon)

[[T]V shows with high production values such as "Deadwood" are in a unique, and in many ways more thrilling, class; watching them in high-definition is not like rewatching a feature film that you originally saw on a big screen -- a restoration of detail, a return to an ideal, original state. No, this is akin to getting a chance to stand close to a huge, elaborate mural that had previously been seen only in photographs, and admire the texture of the paint and the precision of the brushwork.

This is definitely the case with "Deadwood." The series was carefully lit, shot on 35mm film, and funded by one of the more generous budgets in TV history. Milch's set-builders, costumers and set decorators invested the title locale with more detail than the pixelated murk of regular TV could reveal. Blu-ray lets you appreciate tactile nuances of clothing, architecture and skin that once were submerged in electronic broth. The fine brushwork was always there. We just couldn't see it.

But it's not the details themselves that are revelatory. It's what the details tell you about the show -- and the mentality of the people who made it. "Deadwood" on Blu-ray does more than amp up the show's imagery. It burns away lingering misconceptions and distracting side issues and gives us a better sense of what the show truly was, and why it was great.

From its 2004 debut through its sudden 2006 cancellation, "Deadwood" earned praise for creator and head writer David Milch's musically elaborate dialogue and for its intense and colorful performances. But the series also drew barbs for its faithfulness to history (it stuck closer to the record than most period dramas while reserving the right to invent whatever it pleased), and for the veracity of its language. Some linguists pointed out that 1880s Americans did not use the F-word as often, or in as many grammatical variations, as characters on Milch's show; Milch replied that he'd thought about having the characters swear in period, using religious oaths instead of secular curses, but decided against it, because to modern, secular ears, 19th-century blasphemy sounds more quaint than shocking. (If the characters used period-accurate swear words, Milch told one interviewer, "They'd all wind up sounding like Yosemite Sam.")

These complaints always seemed off-point. But when you're looking at "Deadwood" in Blu-ray they seem downright irrelevant, like noting that Sergio Leone's version of the Old West bears little relation to the real thing, or that 1950s Hoboken dockworkers didn't sound like the characters in "On the Waterfront," or that mid-century Europe wasn't the soul-dead, depopulated urban wasteland depicted in Michelangelo Antonioni's existential dramas, or that "Apocalypto" misrepresents ancient Atzec culture. Like all those works, "Deadwood" is mainly a record of the contents of its creator's imagination. What you're seeing bears a certain kinship to fact, but it isn't meant to correspond precisely to anything that happened or anything that anyone said.

Milch was interested in history as a narrative infrastructure, something to enclose and support tales that could have been enacted by ancients in robes and masks. When Milch first approached HBO with an idea for an epic series about the birth and evolution of a community, it was set in ancient Rome; when HBO informed him that they had just ordered a show titled "Rome," Milch revised the concept and set it in 1880s South Dakota. If the cable channel had balked again, Milch might have transposed the series to medieval England or 1940s Tijuana or on the planet Noo-Noo. Whatever the final form, the series still would been "Deadwood": an ensemble drama about the relationship between individuals and society, with dialogue that sounded like an R-rated libretto minus the music, and situations that played out in a stylized space that evoked an immense, three-dimensional stage set -- a theater-in-the-round through which the viewer could wander, privileged and invisible, like the angels in "Wings of Desire." (At the end of Season 1, Sheriff Seth Bullock and the widow Alma Garrett regard each other through second-story windows on opposite sides of Deadwood's main thoroughfare; the direction alternates point-of-view shots gliding toward the characters from a camera that seems to be floating in the air above the street.)

Seen in high-definition format, the program doesn't look like "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" anymore, or "The Long Riders, or "Tombstone." It looks like "Deadwood" -- its own thing; sui generis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Left Out (Francis Fukuyama, January - February 2011, Francis Fukuyama)

Scandalous as it may sound to the ears of Republicans schooled in Reaganomics, one critical measure of the health of a modern democracy is its ability to legitimately extract taxes from its own elites. The most dysfunctional societies in the developing world are those whose elites succeed either in legally exempting themselves from taxation, or in taking advantage of lax enforcement to evade them, thereby shifting the burden of public expenditure onto the rest of society.

We therefore raise a different and more interesting set of questions regarding the relationship between money and power in contemporary America. All these questions come together, however, in a paramount puzzle: Why has a significant increase in income inequality in recent decades failed to generate political pressure from the left for redistributional redress, as similar trends did in earlier times? Instead, insofar as there is any populism bubbling from below in America today it comes from the Right, and its target is not just the “undeserving rich”—Wall Street “flip-it” shysters and their ilk—but, even more so, government policies intended to protect Americans from their predations. How do we explain this? [...]

This, then, is the contemporary context in which we raise the question of plutocracy in America: Why, given the economic history of the past thirty years, have we not seen the emergence of a powerful left-wing political movement seeking fairer distribution of growth? Why was Obama pilloried during the 2008 campaign for even using the word “redistribution”, when all modern democracies (including the United States) already engage in a substantial degree of redistribution? Why has anti-elite populism taken a right-wing form, one that sees vast conspiracies not among private-sector actors like bankers and hedge-fund operators, but among government officials who were arguably trying to do no more than protect the public against real collusions if not outright conspiracies? Why have there been so few demands for a rethinking of the basic American social contract, when the present one has been revealed to be so flawed? How can it be that large numbers of congressional Democrats and arguably the most socially liberal President in American history are now seriously considering extending, and even making permanent, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003? Is this not prima facie evidence of plutocracy?

There are several possible answers to these questions. [...]

A second explanation has to do with American exceptionalism. Many observers through the years have noted that Americans are much less bothered than Europeans by unequal economic outcomes, being far more concerned about equality of opportunity. The classic explanation for this has to do with the fact that America was (for recent immigrants, at least) a land of new settlement with few inherited status privileges, imbued with a Lockean liberal belief in individual opportunity. Americans tend to think that individuals are responsible for their own life outcomes; they often distinguish between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, the latter of whom are poor as a result of their being, in Locke’s phrase, “quarrelsome and contentious.” Americans care less about equality of outcomes than the possibility of social mobility, even if such mobility takes generations to achieve.

This Lockean emphasis on individual responsibility manifests itself in several distinctive ways. Large numbers of Americans, for example, favor abolishing all inheritance taxes (commonly denounced by the Right as the “death tax”), even though only a very small minority of them can ever hope to leave the world with sufficient assets to be subject to it. It also explains why Congress, with the support of President Clinton, abolished the New Deal program Aid to Families with Dependent Children as part of a broad welfare reform, under the rubric of legislation tellingly labeled the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.”

This aspect of American political culture is insufficient, however, to explain why there has been so little left-wing populism in the early 21st century. For despite their Lockean beliefs, Americans of past generations have supported substantial redistribution, not just during the New Deal and Great Society eras, but when the nation first imposed a highly progressive national income tax around the time of the First World War.

Perhaps the answer eludes because it is so obvious.

Why do Americans not support substantial redistribution now? Well, we have a tax code wherein very nearly half of us pay no income tax while the top 5% of wage-earners pay 60% of those taxes. We have exactly the sort of substantial redistribution that the Left thinks we should have. They can, of course, argue that it should be even greater, but that starting point is so high that we can hardly be surprised when most Americans just aren't much moved by the issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Mating Mystery: Hybrid Animals Hint at Desperation in Arctic (Janelle Weaver, Dec 15, 2010, LiveScience)

An odd-looking white bear with patches of brown fur was shot by hunters in 2006 and found to be a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. Apparently, grizzlies were moving north into polar bear territory. Since then, several hybrid animals have appeared in and around the Arctic, including narwhal-beluga whales and mixed porpoises.

The culprit may be melting Arctic sea ice, which is causing barriers that once separated marine mammals to disappear, while the warming planet is making habitats once too cold for some animals just right. The resulting hybrid creatures are threatening the survival of rare polar animals, according to a comment published today (Dec. 15) in the journal Nature.

A team led by ecologist Brendan Kelly of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory counted 34 possible hybridizations between distinct populations or species of Arctic marine mammals, many of which are endangered or threatened.

"The greatest concern is species that are already imperiled," said Kelly, first author of the Nature comment.

The ease and frequency of the mating demonstrates that they are neither species nor endangered.

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December 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 PM


Bob Feller: 1918-2010 (Drew Silva, Dec 15, 2010, NBC Hardball Talk)

Born November 3, 1918 in Van Meter Iowa, he went on to win 266 games over 18 big league seasons and retired after 1956 with a sparkling 3.25 career ERA and 2,581 strikeouts.

Feller struck out 348 batters and turned in a 2.18 ERA over 371.1 innings in 1946, his finest season.

But it was in 1941 that he made his biggest splash. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller became the first Major League Baseball player to enlist in the armed forces, joining the NAVY and serving as a gun captain on the USS Alabama during what might have been the prime of his baseball career. He served four years.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

...but you can't beat the film of his fastball being clocked vs. a motorcycle.

Rapid Robert Can Still Bring It: Like his legendary heater, Bob Feller comes at you fast and hard--and he's got a lot on his mind (Frank Deford, 8/08/05, Sports Illustrated)

It is difficult to imagine now what a marvel Feller was when he burst upon the scene in 1936, a callow youth of 17. Many athletes are great. Bob Feller was seminal. In that long-ago time, unlike nowadays, it was unheard of for teenagers to succeed in the big top of athletics. Children politely waited for their turn in the sunshine. Perhaps in all the world only Sonja Henie had previously excelled at so young an age in any sport that mattered, and, after all, she was but a little girl wearing tights and fur trim, performing dainty figure eights. Feller dressed in the uniform of the major league Cleveland Indians, striking out--fanning!--American demigods. In his first start Bobby Feller struck out 15, one short of the league record. Then, later in the season, he broke the mark, fanning 17, one for each year of his life, in the only professional team sport that mattered then in the United States.

He led the league with 240 strikeouts when he was still a teenager, in 1938. The next year he was best with 24 wins when he was still not old enough to drink. Six times he had the most wins, seven times the most strikeouts, and both of those totals might well have been in double figures had he not spent the heart of his career on a battleship. In 1940 he threw baseball's only Opening Day no-hitter, then went on to earn the pitchers' triple crown: most wins, most strikeouts, best ERA.

Cleveland, of course, took him to its bosom. "I don't think anything had ever happened like Feller," says Bob August, his contemporary and a native of the city who grew up to be a distinguished journalist there. "It was the Depression, and things were pretty bad here, and then this amazing kid came along. What a lift it gave us all. People today who don't know exactly what he did still seem to sense how special Bob Feller was to Cleveland."

To the nation, he was as much a sensation as a curiosity. The press called him Master Feller, and General Mills hired the phenomenon to endorse its cereals in tandem with the only minor more famous than he, Shirley Temple. Dutifully he went back to high school after his rookie season. The next spring he made the cover of Time magazine, and at a time when radio meant as much as television does now, NBC radio covered live, in its entirety, his graduation from Van Meter ( Iowa) High.

The boy was also the first athlete to be raised by his father to be a star. Bill Feller was a no-nonsense farmer, working 360 acres by the Raccoon River, but before little Bobby could walk, the father would sit on the davenport, roll a rubber ball to him and then hold up a pillow to catch the infant's return tosses. Bill Feller switched to growing wheat instead of corn because that took less labor, allowing more time for Bobby to play ball. In the winter they threw together on the second floor of the three-story barn, so that the boy could keep that magic appendage of his in shape. Bobby could throw a curve at the age of eight (and it never did any harm to his arm). He was beating whiskered high school teenagers when he was still in grade school. When the boy was 13, prefiguring that fictional Iowa field of dreams, father and son cut down about 20 big oak trees and carved out an actual diamond right there on the farm. Of course, they built a real mound. And a scoreboard and a refreshment stand, too, for the wide-eyed visitors who flocked to the farm and paid to see the boy wonder set men down.

Feller was raised Roman Catholic. One day the parish priest upbraided Bill for allowing his son to play on Sabbath afternoons. Bob still remembers. His father said this to the priest: "I'll never see you again." Thereupon he turned heel, and the Fellers started worshipping on Sunday mornings as Methodists, so that Bob might play on Sunday afternoons without sanctimonious censure from the clergy.

The bidding for Feller's services began. The family chose the Indians mostly because they were comfortable with Cleveland's scout, Cy Slapnicka, a no-nonsense Iowan like themselves. The following year, when there was some dispute about whether the Indians had observed the legal arcana in signing the prodigy, Judge Landis, the commissioner, was inclined to void the contract and put the lad on the open market. Now understand: Aided by the fact that he even looked like a wrathful Jehovah, Kennesaw Mountain Landis had put the fear of God into everybody in baseball for 15 years. Well, to his face, the farmer from the Raccoon River told the commissioner: Do that, mister, take my boy away from where he wants to play, and I'll haul baseball into court. Landis backed down. Feller never played with anybody but the Indians all his life. His statue now stands outside the team's park. "Bill Feller was one smart Iowa farmer," Bob Feller declares.

-TRIBUTE: Bob Feller lived a proud life: Outspoken Hall of Famer defended impressive pitching record and his country (Tim Kurkjian, 12/08/10, ESPN The Magazine)

Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and two days later, Feller -- the best pitcher in the game, and one of the highest paid players at $30,000 a year -- enlisted in the Navy; he was sworn in by former heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney. Feller didn't have to enlist. He had a deferment, he was caring for his ailing father, but he went to war anyway. Can you imagine a star baseball player doing that today?

Fifty-seven years later, I asked Feller why he enlisted. He screamed into the phone, "We were losing a war, a big war, we were losing big in the Pacific … any red-blooded American with a gut in his body would have gotten busy.'' Feller, an anti-aircraft gunner, screamed again, "We took back the Pacific. I can look anyone in the eye and say, 'I was there.' "

Feller earned eight battle stars as part of the chief gun crew of the USS Alabama, but he missed nearly four prime seasons due to military service. It cost him around 75 victories, which would have placed him near 350 wins, not to mention all the lost strikeouts, shutouts and complete games. And yet, he told me in 1997, without screaming, "I've never once thought about all the prime years that I missed, I did what I had to do for my country. We won that war. I'm as proud of serving as anything I've ever done in my life.''

-OBIT: Passing of an Iowa legend: Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller dies (Des Moines Register, 12/15/10)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Friend Ed Driscoll has dug out an old example of all comedy being conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


The Brighter Europe (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, 12/15/10. RCP)

It is particularly ironic that the shining star in this dark firmament is Sweden, long regarded as a socialist paradise. Sweden ceased to be that a long time ago, as many scholars have explained. This is a country where education and health care underwent the type of reform -- the adoption of choice and competition, a decentralization that returned power to parents, students and patients -- that causes howls of protest in the United States and other European nations. In 2009, the government expanded the reforms: Patients are now free to choose their care centers, and private companies are free to enter the system as primary health providers.

Over the years, Sweden did a much better job publicizing its multinationals -- Ericsson's technology, Ikea's furniture, Volvo's luxury cars, SCA's paper products, etc. -- than its gradual break from the socialist myth that fed the imagination of intellectuals and politicians.

The Swedes were able to build a highly interventionist model during part of the 20th century because they had accumulated, since the 19th century, an extraordinary amount of capital due to their innovative businesses. Their entrepreneurial rise had in part been rooted in a history of bottom-up structures -- a rule-of-law tradition and a peasantry steeped in private property -- that spared Sweden the feudal legacy that preserved stark class distinctions in other parts of Europe. The subsequent socialist era consumed part of the capital and sapped a big deal of the productive energy. But once it reached a crisis point, it was gradually reformed during part of the last couple of decades. The current government has gone further.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


INTERVIEW: The World Trade Center Is Still Standing in Philippe Petit’s Head (Chris Rovzar, 12/15/10, New York)

Where do you go to be alone?

At the top of WTC, which still stands, reaching the clouds, inside my head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Bing Crosby's Secret Baseball Tapes (Allen Barra, 12/15/10, Daily Beast)

Wednesday night, MLB Network will broadcast the Crosby copy of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, regarded by many as the greatest baseball game ever played. In a program recorded earlier this month at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the History Center in Pittsburgh, Bob Costas and MLB Network hosted an auditorium full of Pirates fans, including actor Michael Keaton, a native who saw the game when he was ten, and former Yankees and Pirates, including Bobby Richardson, Dick Groat, and Bill Virdon–though, sadly, not Bill Mazeroski himself, who missed the program due to illness.

If it’s true, as Bob Costas maintains, that “The real golden age of baseball was the 1950s and early 1960s” then the Mazeroski game, as it is known, is a cutaway view of baseball at its apex. In 1960, says Costas, “There was still just 16 big league teams, no watering down of the talent from expansion, and though pro football was on the rise, baseball was still unquestionably our national sport. But we can talk forever about what the game was like fifty years ago. This game shows us how it was played.”

Nick Trotta, senior library and licensing manager for MLB Productions, says “We have film footage going all the way back to 1905, but only a handful of complete baseball games before 1965.” Why? “For decades, it was the home park’s obligation to record a game, and the process was very costly. It’s a shame, but the truth is that nobody knew in which games Willie Mays was going to make a spectacular circus catch or Mickey Mantle was going to hit a 565-foot home run. We have newsreels of the great World Series moments, but very few entire games.”

“Finding the Mazeroski game is a blessing,” says Cornblatt. “It’s small window of an America of another time.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Inflation Remains Muted (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT And LUCA DI LEO, 12/15/10, WSJ)

So-called core inflation, which excludes energy and food prices and is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, inched ahead by 0.1%, the first move after three flat months.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires ahead of the release expected consumer prices to rise by 0.2% and core CPI to gain 0.1%.

The Fed considers core inflation a better measure of price trends because it excludes the most volatile components of the index.

The annual underlying inflation rate was 0.8%, well below the Fed's informal inflation target of between 1.7% and 2%. The Fed's policy-making committee Tuesday signaled that it thinks core inflation remains too low--a key factor in last month's decision to start buying $600 billion in Treasury bonds in an effort to boost investment and consumption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Incest Is Cancer (William Saletan, Dec. 14, 2010, Slate)

Incest is for hicks. That's the stereotype among educated liberals: Homosexuality is urbane, polygamy is for Mormons, and incest is for hayseeds. So when David Epstein, a Columbia University political scientist, was charged last week with third-degree incest for allegedly shagging his adult daughter, the blogosphere erupted. Conservatives called it another sign of moral chaos. Liberals said it was gross but shouldn't be prosecuted. One side defends the privacy of all consensual sex; the other side sees an inexorable descent from homosexuality to incest.

Let's try to come up with something better. If gay sex is OK, how can incest be wrong?

More significantly, if homosexuality is OK why is murder wrong? Having abandoned morality in cases where you don't like the result it renders how do you get to invoke it in cases where you do like the result?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM

DISHING IT OUT: Gifts for the cook in your life (Suzie Owsley, 12/15/10, he Times-Standard)

By now most of your friends may have all the gadgets needed to stock a kitchen. But do they have a piecrust bag? Available from the King Arthur Flour website (, this handy, plastic-zippered cover is used to roll out the perfect pie crust. After making the dough, place the disk in the pie crust bag and just roll it out.

Greenspan is a fan of this product. She recommends that you lightly flour the inside of the bag before rolling out the pie crust. King Arthur also sells hard-to-find Italian and French flours, and sourdough starters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Behind Bill Clinton’s Smile (Jonah Goldberg, 12/15/10, National Review)

[W]hat if Obama had gone another way? What if he had rejected both the Democratic and the Republican stimulus bills and gone for a one-year payroll-tax holiday of some kind, as many economists suggested at the time?

No bells, no whistles. No too-clever-by-half tax credits or subsidies. Just a straightforward suspension of some or all of the roughly $625 billion the government collects in payroll taxes. A 50 percent cut in the payroll tax, economist Lawrence B. Lindsey estimated during the stimulus debate, would have put $1,500 in the pocket of the typical worker making $50,000 a year. And it would have made hiring or keeping workers less expensive for employers.

After all, if you want more of something, tax it less. If you want less of something, tax it more.

Such a stimulus would have been very progressive because payroll taxes are decidedly regressive, hitting the working and middle classes harder than they hit the wealthy. According to American Enterprise Institute economist John Makin, payroll taxes amount to the primary taxes paid by the 60 percent of Americans who shell out comparatively little or nothing in federal income tax.

Ironically, this is exactly the argument the White House is making these days. As Clinton said Friday, “Every single unbiased economic study says the best thing you can do if you’re going to take a tax-cut path to grow the economy is to give payroll-tax relief.”

...then you'd have had to give that money back in the form of a debit card that expired on a set date.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Liberals giving up tax fight (Michael Gleeson and Ian Swanson, 12/14/10, The Hill)

A House liberal who has led the effort to stop President Obama’s tax compromise with the GOP says efforts to change the package are futile.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who just a week ago circulated a letter signed by 54 Democrats urging opposition to the deal, now says the “die is cast.”

“It is academic, OK. The bottom line is that it is a fast moving train and that has become clear and Washington is doing what it is finding easy to do,” he said in an interview with The Hill.

“Once the president entered into that agreement with the Senate Republicans even while talks with the House were supposedly under way, that set the tone for the weekend and now you got Americans excited about a trillion dollars that is going to be in effect given away,” Welch said.
Given back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Holbrooke and India: When irresistible force met immovable object (Chidanand Rajghatta, 12/15/10, TNN)

[I]n the solid, stolid Indian government, Holbrooke, the irresistible force, met the immovable object. "New Delhi must have caused the ruptured aorta," was the feeble joke in the Indian analysts' community, as news of the death of this much-admired and often-feared man trickled through the diplomatic world. [...]

The scuttlebutt in Washington was that Holbrooke wanted India, including the vexing Kashmir issue, in his brief. The "Raging Bull" aka Bulldozer was famously credited with hammering together the Dayton peace accord (which his admirers felt should have earned him the Nobel Peace Prize). He believed that resolving the Afghan situation was linked to ending the tensions Pakistan had with India, and at the end of that rainbow (according to his fan club), lay a Nobel Prize.

But New Delhi, questioning the line of argument linking Af-Pak to Kashmir, balked. The Obama administration was persuaded to keep Holbrooke's mandate restricted to Af-Pak, with the assurance that India would be happy to informally discuss its views on the region with him. For several months thereafter, Holbrooke tried to visit New Delhi, but there was always "scheduling problems" and the two sides struggled to find "mutually acceptable dates" – diplospeak for "you are not welcome just now."

In the meantime, private efforts were made to bring Holbrooke up to speed on regional history and its nuances. A fair-minded man of formidable intellect and voracious reading habits, he devoured books and films on the region – and the job was pretty much done.

When New Delhi finally consented to receive him in January this year, it was not the lion it expected, but a lamb. As Ambassador Timothy Roemer reported in his cable to Washington DC (disclosed by Wikileaks), Holbrooke, in his meeting with India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, "noted that he comes with a clear vision of the centrality of India to the strategic landscape in the region... He reiterated that his portfolio explicitly excludes India...Holbrooke assured Rao that he is in favor of Indian assistance programs in Afghanistan and is not influenced by what he hears in Islamabad."

Diplomacy wasn't an arena for him to vindicate American interests, just his own.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Holbrooke's Hole (Investors' Business Daily, 12/14/10)

Recorded as Holbrooke's crowning achievement are the Dayton Accords of 15 years ago, ending the Bosnian war. In fact, what this supposed peacemaking magician did then was identify the weakest link — the Muslim Bosniaks — and bully them into submission. And it didn't hurt that Holbrooke's talk was accompanied by U.S. action — in the form of airstrikes.

Funny how President Obama never sent the self-satisfied, condescending Holbrooke to try working his magic on convincing Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Bullying achieves nothing when there's no muscle behind it. It's telling that Holbrooke's brief, unplanned encounter at The Hague with Iran's deputy foreign minister in March 2009 came to nothing.

In Afghanistan, Holbrooke's curious job has been to annoy the government of President Hamid Karzai. In the spring, this diplomat's diplomat quite undiplomatically quipped that "almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with" the Taliban.

Karzai is a Pashtun himself, and as the American Enterprise Institute's Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, Afghan lawmakers accused Holbrooke of "inflaming ethnic and language conflict among Afghan people," and of making a statement "detrimental to the unity and solidarity between ethnic groups living in Afghanistan."

With some 40 million Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, Holbrooke soon had to issue a "clarification" on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, assuring Afghans that "I was not suggesting that all Pashtuns are part of the Taliban or all Taliban are Pashtuns."

As Majidyar noted, "The frequency of Holbrooke's meetings with Karzai's opponents led the Afghan president to believe President Obama wanted to oust him." least he didn't actually help overthrow our ally, the way JFK and Henry Cabot Lodge did in Vietnam.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


U.S. Hispanic Population Is Booming (Danielle Kurtzleben, December 14, 2010, US News)

In recent decades, the U.S. population as a whole has grown steadily, but the size of the Hispanic segment in particular has ballooned. The Hispanic population of the United States now stands at nearly 50 million, more than double its size in 1990. Recent census figures shed light on this trend, showing that Hispanic children are a driving factor in that recent growth, accounting for roughly one in four children under the age of 10 in the United States.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


US, New Zealand secretly resume intelligence ties: Report (AFP, Dec 12, 2010)

The United States and New Zealand ended a near 25-year break in intelligence collaboration last year but kept the news secret, according to a leaked cable published here today. [...]

Other leaked cables showed an increase in New Zealand co-operation with US intelligence agencies and military in recent years but again "emphasised that it is committed to avoiding publicity."

According to the cables, US and New Zealand officials doubted there was public support for the closer ties and preferred to keep them secret, the report said.

Of political personalities, current Prime Minister John Key is described as having a "strongly personal pro-American outlook" while former leader Helen Clark was seen as a "very controlling manager".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


A third Clinton term? (Marc A. Thiessen, December 14, 2010, Washington Post)

A Gallup poll showed that just 20 percent of Americans call themselves liberal, while 42 percent are conservative and 35 percent are moderate. After he spent his first two years in office alienating moderates and energizing conservatives, it should be obvious that Obama cannot succeed by appealing to the 20 percent liberal minority. This is a fact that the president appears to be grudgingly coming to accept. Letting taxes go up and fighting for principle might have pleased the left, but it would have alienated the rest of the country. So Obama cut a typical Washington deal. Both sides got what they wanted. Nobody had to pay for anything. It was Clintonesque - and that is why it has so angered the left.

Liberals worry that Obama will follow up by further emulating Clinton and working with Republicans to pass free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia (much as Clinton worked with Republicans to pass NAFTA) - and that this will be followed by more centrist compromises. They want Obama to champion amnesty, cap-and-trade, and other left-wing priorities - and damn the political consequences.

But the man who once said he would "rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president" might be having second thoughts. Perhaps this is why he invited a "mediocre two-term president" to the White House for a little political advice. Liberals may not care if 2012 is a repeat of the electoral drubbing they took in 2010 - but the guy at the top of the ticket apparently does.

And no matter who wins in 2012 they'll govern like Clinton and W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


The Inequality That Matters (Tyler Cowen, January/February 2011, American Interest)

In terms of immediate political stability, there is less to the income inequality issue than meets the eye. Most analyses of income inequality neglect two major points. First, the inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past twenty years as well. Bill Gates is much, much richer than I am, yet it is not obvious that he is much happier if, indeed, he is happier at all. I have access to penicillin, air travel, good cheap food, the Internet and virtually all of the technical innovations that Gates does. Like the vast majority of Americans, I have access to some important new pharmaceuticals, such as statins to protect against heart disease. To be sure, Gates receives the very best care from the world’s top doctors, but our health outcomes are in the same ballpark. I don’t have a private jet or take luxury vacations, and—I think it is fair to say—my house is much smaller than his. I can’t meet with the world’s elite on demand. Still, by broad historical standards, what I share with Bill Gates is far more significant than what I don’t share with him.

Compare these circumstances to those of 1911, a century ago. Even in the wealthier countries, the average person had little formal education, worked six days a week or more, often at hard physical labor, never took vacations, and could not access most of the world’s culture. The living standards of Carnegie and Rockefeller towered above those of typical Americans, not just in terms of money but also in terms of comfort. Most people today may not articulate this truth to themselves in so many words, but they sense it keenly enough. So when average people read about or see income inequality, they don’t feel the moral outrage that radiates from the more passionate egalitarian quarters of society. Instead, they think their lives are pretty good and that they either earned through hard work or lucked into a healthy share of the American dream. (The persistently unemployed, of course, are a different matter, and I will return to them later.) It is pretty easy to convince a lot of Americans that unemployment and poverty are social problems because discrete examples of both are visible on the evening news, or maybe even in or at the periphery of one’s own life. It’s much harder to get those same people worked up about generalized measures of inequality.

This is why, for example, large numbers of Americans oppose the idea of an estate tax even though the current form of the tax, slated to return in 2011, is very unlikely to affect them or their estates. In narrowly self-interested terms, that view may be irrational, but most Americans are unwilling to frame national issues in terms of rich versus poor. There’s a great deal of hostility toward various government bailouts, but the idea of “undeserving” recipients is the key factor in those feelings. Resentment against Wall Street gamesters hasn’t spilled over much into resentment against the wealthy more generally. The bailout for General Motors’ labor unions wasn’t so popular either—again, obviously not because of any bias against the wealthy but because a basic sense of fairness was violated. As of November 2010, congressional Democrats are of a mixed mind as to whether the Bush tax cuts should expire for those whose annual income exceeds $250,000; that is in large part because their constituents bear no animus toward rich people, only toward undeservedly rich people.

A neglected observation, too, is that envy is usually local. At least in the United States, most economic resentment is not directed toward billionaires or high-roller financiers—not even corrupt ones. It’s directed at the guy down the hall who got a bigger raise. It’s directed at the husband of your wife’s sister, because the brand of beer he stocks costs $3 a case more than yours, and so on. That’s another reason why a lot of people aren’t so bothered by income or wealth inequality at the macro level. Most of us don’t compare ourselves to billionaires. Gore Vidal put it honestly: “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

One of the problems for the Left/Right is that they've managed to convince themselves that our living standards have declined, a proposition that would make your grandparents want to smack them. As Mr. Cowen suggests, when inequality occurs at such a universally high level of affluence it's pretty hard to get people angry about it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


The 10 Percent Solution: How progressives can stop worrying and love a value-added tax. (Andrea Louise Campbell, Winter 2011, Democracy)

Much discussed in academic circles for decades, a VAT is now on the Washington agenda, the subject of many recent Beltway conferences. Most progressives reflexively oppose a VAT as regressive, and to be sure, it can be that. But properly structured, a VAT’s regressivity can be mitigated. If a VAT is truly under consideration, it is crucial for progressives to engage the debate and bring to the table a VAT designed to achieve not just fiscal balance but progressive goals as well. The plan outlined here would capitalize on the VAT’s attractive features–chiefly its ability to raise a significant amount of revenue with relative political and economic ease–while carefully blunting its regressivity. Linked to a set of strong protections for ordinary citizens, a VAT can be a key component of a progressive package benefiting lower- and middle-income Americans.

A VAT works by taxing the “value added” by each business in the chain of production; that is, the difference between the revenues that a business receives from the sale of goods and services it produces and the amount it pays for goods and services. Let’s say we have a manufacturer who makes a good and sells it to a wholesaler for $400 (for our purposes we’ll assume the good was made without purchases from another firm). The wholesaler then sells the good to a retailer for $900, who in turn sells it to a consumer for $1,000. Under a 10 percent VAT system, the “value added” by the manufacturer is $400, for a tax of $40; the value added by the wholesaler is $500, for a tax of $50; and the value added by the retailer is $100, for a tax of $10. The total tax collected is $100. Note that this is the same as a 10 percent retail sales tax on a $1,000 item, but the tax is collected from businesses at each stage of the process. Businesses pass these taxes on to the consumer, who would pay $1,100 instead of $1,000, and still pay state and local sales taxes.

More than 145 countries have a VAT, the chief exceptions being the United States and some Persian Gulf and African countries. Economists regard the VAT as a steadier source of revenue than an income tax because consumption constitutes a more stable base than income, which tends to vary greatly from year to year for individuals and particularly for corporations. By taxing consumption, a VAT encourages investment and capital formation, which foster economic growth. In addition, evasion is more difficult and less likely than under an income tax, as each business has a financial interest in ensuring the VAT it pays on purchases is accurately recorded so that it gets credit against its VAT liability. At root, however, what makes a VAT attractive is its ability to raise a substantial amount of revenue with relative ease.

That ease derives from the VAT’s design features. Both survey-based and experimental research show that taxes that are imposed a bit at a time rather than as a lump sum are far more popular with the public. Sales taxes, paid in small increments with each purchase without an annual tallying up, are regarded much more favorably than taxes extracted in a lump sum, such as the property tax, or taxes for which the annual total is known, such as the income tax. A VAT shares the advantageous features of the sales tax and is thus a way to fund government in manageable, incremental installments.

For precisely that reason, conservatives are generally wary of the VAT as a tax that is “too good,” a “money machine” that would fuel an unchecked expansion of government. According to Curtis Dubay of the Heritage Foundation, a VAT “would forever expand the size of government” and transfer billions “from productive private hands to the wasteful hand of government.” Or, referring to the country that first instituted the tax, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist quipped, “VAT is French for big government.” That said, some conservatives have been open to a VAT, although only as a replacement for a portion or all of the individual income tax or corporate taxes. Chris Edwards of the libertarian Cato Institute has said that a VAT is “worth considering,” but only as a substitute tax and only if listed separately on sales receipts so as to heighten its visibility and thwart future rate increases. that most of us are paying something for government and revenue needs to be capped at a set percentage of GDP.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Johnny Flynn On World Cafe (NPR, 12/14/10)

Harnessing inspiration from great writers such as Yeats and Shakespeare, Flynn is a connoisseur of words, which he sings with conviction and honesty. His songwriting is fleshed out by the warmly layered guitars, strings, trumpets and percussion of his band, The Sussex Wit.

Sitting down with World Cafe host David Dye, Flynn discusses everything from his rebellious roots to the process of writing his latest album. Two years after becoming the poster boy for the nu-folk scene, Flynn and his band released Been Listening in October.

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December 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


In Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews and Blacks (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 12/10/10, NY Times)

An indication of Nixon’s complex relationship with Jews came the afternoon Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, came to visit on March 1, 1973. The tapes capture Meir offering warm and effusive thanks to Nixon for the way he had treated her and Israel.

But moments after she left, Nixon and Mr. Kissinger were brutally dismissive in response to requests that the United States press the Soviet Union to permit Jews to emigrate and escape persecution there.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Granted, they were both vile men, but--aside from their honesty in private--how does what they said there differ from the views of any of those who opposed removing Saddam, because we shouldn't blow up the world over the regime's treatment of Kurds and Shi'a? And how many North Koreans have we let the Kims kill because safeguarding their lives "is not an objective of American foreign policy"? The reality is that once you strip away the talismanic quality of post-Holocaust Jews, there is no difference. The is what Realist foreign policy is: not caring about the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


House Dems stew over Obama's handling of tax deal (AP, 12/14/10)

Expressing hurt and bewilderment, Democratic lawmakers say Obama ignored them at crucial negotiating moments, misled them about his intentions and made needless concessions to Republicans.

The president has responded that he acted honorably and drove the best bargain he could. But even his explanations offended some longtime allies. Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed around news accounts of a Dec. 7 news conference in which Obama claimed that some liberals would feel "sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are" by refusing to compromise, even if an impasse hurt the working class.

"Hardly anybody in the Democratic caucus here feels that the president tried hard enough to deliver on his campaign promises," said Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, one of dozens of House Democrats defeated in last month's elections. Obama had House Democratic leaders "go through what turned out to be Potemkin meetings with his staff, when the real negotiations were being done elsewhere," he said. [...]

[T]he estrangement is notable because House Democrats have been Obama's most dependable allies in his first two years in office. They passed a politically risky energy bill to cap greenhouse gasses, only to see the Senate ignore it. When the Senate refused to make further changes to this year's hard-fought health care overhaul bill, House Democrats swallowed their anger and pride, accepting big concessions to keep it alive.

He was supposed to make concessions to the guys the American people just tossed out of office? Even someone with as little executive experience as the UR can figure out that's a losing strategy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Parents Fight Economics Book That Mentions Jesus (WMUR,, December 13, 2010)

Parents of a Bedford teenager are asking school officials to ban the use of a book that refers to Jesus Christ as a "wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist."

The 2001 book, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," documents author Barbara Ehrenreich's attempts to live on minimum wage as she critiques the nation's economic system.

Aimee and Dennis Taylor are fighting against the book being used as part of their son's personal finance class and pulled him from school over the dispute. They said they object to book's foul language, drug references and the author's characterization of Christianity

A lot of colleges started requiring incoming freshmen to read the book a few years ago and we got all kinds of e-mail from kids relieved to discover that someone else found it annoying at best, hollow at worst.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Black segregation in US drops to lowest in century (AP, 12/14/10)

America's neighborhoods became more integrated last year than during any time in at least a century as a rising black middle class moved into fast-growing white areas in the South and West.

Still, ethnic segregation in many parts of the U.S. persisted, particularly for Hispanics.

Segregation among blacks and whites fell in roughly three-quarters of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas as the two racial groups spread more evenly between inner cities and suburbs, according to recent census data.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


'Temporary' Tax Code Puts Nation in a Lasting Bind (JOHN D. MCKINNON, GARY FIELDS And LAURA SAUNDERS, 12/13/10, WSJ)

[T]he U.S. will have no permanent regime governing levies on salaries, capital gains and dividends, the Social Security tax, as well as a slew of targeted breaks for families, students and other groups. This on top of dozens of corporate-tax provisions that already were subject to annual renewal.

The level of uncertainty, unusual for developed nations, complicates planning and discourages hiring and investment, many economists and corporate executives say.

"I haven't seen anything like it, and it's hard historically to find anything like" the current and pending negotiations, says Mortimer Caplin, an Internal Revenue Service commissioner in the Kennedy administration who at 94 is just three years younger than the income tax itself. "This Congress has left an awful lot up in the air."

Just get rid of all taxes except a national consumption tax that the feds are required to utilize to raise a set percentage of GDP as revenue.

Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950 (Dennis Cauchon, 5/12/10, USA TODAY)

Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

"The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts," says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Real Evidence for Diets That Are Just Imaginary (JOHN TIERNEY, 12/13/10, NY Times)

“After you eat the first little cheeseburger at White Castle, your craving is probably greater than it was before you started your meal,” says Carey Morewedge, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the Science article. “But your craving is probably going to be lower by the time you start your eighth.”

At that point, you may stop ordering sliders and think you’ve lost your appetite for any food. But habituation is quite specific to the food you’re eating, as has been repeatedly demonstrated both by researchers and by pastry chefs. Restaurant patrons may feel they can’t eat another bite after going through the entree, but they suddenly feel peckish when the dessert cart arrives.

The experiments at Carnegie Mellon are the first to show that habituation to food can occur simply by thinking about eating, according to Dr. Morewedge and his colleagues Young Eun Huh and Joachim Vosgerau.

The habituation occurred as people imagined eating 30 M & M’s or 30 cubes of Kraft Cheddar, one at a time. They were shown photos of each M & M for three seconds, and each cube of cheese for five seconds.

The habituation effect didn’t occur when people imagined eating just three M & M’s or cubes of cheese. Nor did it occur when people imagined moving M & M’s one at a time into a bowl or doing other mental tasks, like feeding quarters into a laundry machine.

The effect required lots of mental eating, and it was specific to each food: the people who imagined eating chocolate didn’t lose their desire for cheese.

The imaginary eating didn’t make people feel any fuller, and it didn’t change their overall opinion of M & M’s or Kraft cheese cubes. They just didn’t feel like eating as much of it at that moment.

“Our desire for food has two components: liking and wanting,” Dr. Morewedge says. “We may very much like ice cream but not want to eat it for breakfast. Imagined consumption didn’t affect how much people in our experiments liked M & M’s, but did reduce how many they wanted to eat. Habituation is generally considered to be a motivational process.”

The importance of mind over stomach was demonstrated in 1998 in a striking experiment with two men whose mental functions were normal except for a severe form of amnesia. They were unable to remember an event for more than a minute. Their eating habits were studied on several days by researchers, led by Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania, who created a rather extended lunch period.

After each man ate his lunch, the food was cleared. In a few minutes, a researcher appeared with an identical meal and announced, “Here’s lunch.” The men always ate up without any complaint about feeling full. Then, after the food was cleared and another few minutes passed, a third lunch was served, and the men always dug into it, too.

In fact, one of them stood up after his third lunch of the day and announced that he would “go for a walk and get a good meal.” Asked what he planned to eat, he replied, “Veal parmigiana” — the same food he had just had for lunch.

When the researchers tried the same experiment on a control group with normal memories, the people all refused a second lunch. They, unlike the men with amnesia, consistently felt less hungry after eating, but the sensation apparently wasn’t just coming from their stomachs, as the researchers concluded.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


U.S. Illusions in Lebanon (ROGER COHEN, 12/14/10, NY Times)

Four years on, Hezbollah is stronger than ever. It has the more powerful of those two armies (the other being the Lebanese armed forces), a presence in government, veto power over Lebanon’s direction, and a leader — Hassan Nasrallah — whose popularity as the proud face of Arab defiance has never been higher.

Dahiye, the Hezbollah-controlled southern Beirut suburb flattened by Israel in 2006, now bustles with construction and commerce, including state-of-the-art juice bars and risqué lingerie stores. It feels about as threatening as New York’s Canal Street.

And America continues to dream, albeit in sobered fashion. Sure, the “new Middle East” has joined “axis of evil” in the diplomatic junkyard. But U.S. policy still involves an attempt to ignore reality.

Hezbollah, Iran-financed and Syrian-backed, has assumed a pivotal role in Lebanese politics. It’s a political party, a social movement and a militia for which the term “terrorist group” is entirely inadequate. It has also become the single most powerful symbol of what is known throughout the Middle East as “the resistance.”

This is an unpalatable truth. It’s also, I suspect, an enduring one. exactly what's new about the Middle East. How can the self-determination of peoples be unpalatable to America?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Frost at the core: Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are presiding over a system that can no longer change (The Economist, 12/09/10)

According to Alexander Oslon, a sociologist who heads the Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow, Mr Putin’s rule ushered in a breed of “bureaucrat-entrepreneurs”. They are not as sharp, competitive or successful as the oligarchs of the 1990s, but they are just as possessed by “the spirit of money” in Mr Olson’s phrase, the ideology that has ruled Russia ever since communism collapsed. By the end of the 1990s the commanding heights of the economy had been largely privatised by the oligarchs, so the bureaucrat-entrepreneurs began to privatise an asset which was under-capitalised and weak: the Russian state.

Unlike businessmen of Mr Khodorkovsky’s type, who made their first money in the market, the bureaucrat-entrepreneurs have prospered by dividing up budget revenues and by racketeering. “Entrepreneurs” who hire or work for the security services or the police have done especially well, because they have the ultimate competitive advantage: a licence for violence.

No one worries about conflicts of interest; the notion does not exist. (Everyone remembers the special privileges given to party officials for serving the Soviet state.) As American diplomats are now revealed to have said, the line between most important businesses and government officials runs from blurry to non-existent. Putting Mr Khodorkovsky in jail, or awarding a large contract to one’s own affiliated company, could be justified as a public good. Indeed, more people were in favour of locking up Mr Khodorkovsky, even though they knew it would benefit only a few Kremlin bureaucrats.

In 1999 the oil price started to climb and petrodollars gushed into Russia, changing the mindset of the political class. Mr Oslon points out that the most frequently used word in Mr Putin’s state-of-the-nation address in 2002 was “reform” and its variants. A few years later the most frequently used word was “billion”. Divvying up those billions has become the main business in Russia. Corruption no longer meant breaking the rules of the game; it was the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


The Fed's Policy Is Working: The rise of long-term Treasury interest rates is evidence that investors are bullish on growth. (JEREMY J. SIEGEL, 12/13/10, WSJ)

Long-term Treasury rates are influenced positively by economic growth—which encourages consumers to borrow in anticipation of higher incomes and causes firms to seek funds to expand capacity—and by inflationary expectations. Long-term Treasury rates are affected negatively by risk aversion: Seeking a safe haven, investors pile into Treasury bonds, running up their prices and lowering their yields.

The Fed's QE2 program has raised expectations of growth and inflation, sending long-term Treasury rates up. It has also lowered risk aversion, which implies rising long-term rates. The evidence for a decline in risk aversion among investors is the shrinkage in the spreads between Treasury and other fixed-income securities, the strong performance of the stock market, and the decline in VIX, the indicator of future stock-market volatility. This means that expectations of accelerating economic growth—and a reduction in the fear of a double-dip recession—are the driving forces behind the rise in rates.

Those who look only at interest rates to judge whether monetary policy is too loose or too tight are making a mistake that monetary economists have long warned against. As a colleague of Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, I remember him stressing that the extremely low interest rates of the early 1930s were not indicative of an easy monetary policy. They were instead the result of the Fed's drastically tight policy, which did not provide enough reserves to failing banks and drove the economy into the Great Depression.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM

10 kitchen-tool gifts any cook would appreciate (SUZANNE BOYLE, 12/14/10, News-Democrat )

Dough whisk - It's a wacky-looking tool, kind of a metal question mark that's turned onto itself, but ever since I bought it from King Arthur Flour, it's been indispensible when mixing any heavy dough, especially bread.

It's the biggest, sturdiest hand utensil I own; it stand 15 inches high! I'm pretty sure it'll never break.

I don't know how or why it works so well, but yeast and cookie dough doesn't glom onto it when you stir. It looks like it shouldn't mix well, but it does.'s dough whisk is made of beechwood and stainless steel and cost $14.95, plus shipping.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Lee Snubs Yanks to Rejoin Phillies (REUTERS, December 14, 2010)

Lee reportedly agreed on a five-year deal worth $100 million with an option for a sixth year that could make the contract worth $120 million.

Lee received bigger offers from other teams competing for his services but he will now join a formidable Phillies pitching staff that includes National League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

Rats! Even on a Yankee roster filled with contracts that will strangle them two years from now, his would have been the worst. On the upside, now we get to watch the Yanks make some really stupid moves to compensate for being out-manuevered all offseason.

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December 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


A Serious Man (ROSS DOUTHAT, 12/13/10, NY Times)

In the health care debate, for instance, it was Coburn who co-sponsored (with the ubiquitous Paul Ryan in the House) the only significant conservative alternative to the Democratic bill. Their Patients’ Choice Act, which would have replaced the tax deduction for employer-provided health care with a universal credit, was arguably a more “extreme” proposal than the milquetoast reforms Republicans rallied around instead. But it was also a more serious proposal, with a real chance of reducing costs and expanding insurance, instead of just shoring up the status quo.

Then came the financial reform debate, in which Republicans accused Democrats of perpetuating “too big to fail,” but offered counterproposals that often looked like business as usual for the financial industry. Coburn, again, was less conventional: He was one of only three Republican senators to vote for an amendment proposed by two Democrats, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Delaware’s Ted Kaufman, that would have taken the “extreme” step of capping the size of America’s largest banks.

“Capitalism works as long as you don’t have monopolies,” Coburn told me last week when I asked about that vote, “and when 65 percent of the deposits in this country are in nine banks, we’re still in trouble.” Again, his ideological rigor was a spur to creativity: it enabled him to consider the possibility that what was branded as a left-wing idea might actually be better for free markets than another round of regulation.

But Coburn’s most important vote was cast as a member of the White House’s deficit commission, when he chose actual fiscal conservatism over his party’s interest groups by voting to forward the panel’s recommendations to Congress for debate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Praying Muslims like Nazis, says Le Pen daughter Marine (AFP, December 14, 2010)

THE daughter of French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has compared Muslims praying outside overcrowded mosques with the Nazi occupation.

Marine Le Pen said at a weekend rally of the anti-immigrant National Front there were "10 to 15" places in France where Muslims worshipped in the streets.

"For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it's about occupation, then we could also talk about (that), because that is occupation of territory," she said at the gathering in Lyons, which was part of her bid for the party leadership when her father steps down in January.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


John Boehner Cries. Again. A Lot. (RUSSELL GOLDMAN, Dec. 13, 2010, ABC News)

John Boehner, the incoming Speaker of the House, the most powerful Republican in Washington, and a man who in a matter of days will be second in line for the presidency, has twice had an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people.

And on both occasions, he cried – a lot.

Like I tell the kids, if you take nothing else from my WASP upbringing at least learn that emotions should be ruthlessly repressed and never inflicted upon others. They don't care, don't bother them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Tea and Antipathy: Did principle or pragmatism start the American Revolution? (Caleb Crain, December 20, 2010, The New Yorker)

Tarring and feathering was so popular in New England in the seventeen-sixties and seventies that at least one observer thought Americans had invented it, though in fact it has been around since at least the twelfth century. What was it like? Pine tar, used to waterproof ships, is liquid at room temperature and, in most cases, was probably applied unheated. Feathers were obtained either from fowl (the smellier the better) or from cushions. The third and most essential ingredient was exposure. One customs agent was kept outdoors in his “modern jacket” until he was frostbitten. “They say his flesh comes off his back in Steaks,” a woman reported afterward. Victims felt a lingering shame, though the frostbitten customs agent, a resilient personality, petitioned King George III to dub him a “Knight of the Tarr.”

Few victims held the high social status of the elderly gentleman in Hawthorne’s tale, but he, too, seems to have had a historical model. Hawthorne was probably thinking of Thomas Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, whose Boston town house was destroyed, in 1765, by a mob upset by Parliament’s new stamp tax on the colonies’ newspapers, legal documents, and pamphlets. Hutchinson and his family fled their supper table just minutes before a crowd screaming “Liberty and property!” axed open the doors of their home. As Richard Archer notes, in “As If an Enemy’s Country” (Oxford; $24.95), a lively and sympathetic history of pre-Revolutionary Boston under British occupation, the rioters scattered or stole nearly everything inside, including jewelry, dishes, furniture, paintings, about nine hundred pounds in cash, and an archive of New England history that Hutchinson had spent thirty years collecting. “I see they threatened to pitch and feather you,” George III later observed, during a debriefing with Hutchinson, who by then had served as Massachusetts’s second-to-last royal governor. Hutchinson, a slender, fastidious man who liked to debate political philosophy, corrected him: “Tarr & feather, may it please your Majesty.”

“Insurgencies are not movements for the faint of heart,” T. H. Breen writes, in “American Insurgents, American Patriots” (Hill & Wang; $27), a scholarly, unnerving account of the American Revolution’s darker side—the violence, death threats, false rumors, and extremist rhetoric that introduced a new political order. Breen suggests that Americans today “have come to regard insurgency as a foreign and unpleasant phenomenon” and are now so imperial in outlook that we’d rather not remember that American revolutionaries, too, were irrational and cruel. The implied comparison with the contemporary insurgencies of Iraq and Afghanistan is interesting, but over the past two years the history of America’s first insurgency has taken on a new pertinence, as the Tea Party movement has laid claim to its anti-tax and pro-liberty principles—and has inadvertently reproduced its penchant for conspiracy theory, misinformation, demagoguery, and even threats of violence. Furthermore, in much the way that journalists have begun to ask whether shadowy corporate interests may be sponsoring today’s Tea Party, historians have long speculated that merchants may have instigated early unrest to protect smuggling profits from British regulators—that the start of the Revolution may have been Astroturfed. Archer’s history focusses on the years 1768 to 1770, and Breen’s on 1774-75; Benjamin L. Carp’s assiduously researched “Defiance of the Patriots” (Yale; $30) tackles the 1773 Tea Party itself. Breen is not concerned with the revolutionaries’ financial motives, and Carp sometimes takes the rebels’ rhetoric at face value. Nonetheless, the three books together offer a chance to ask new questions about the American Revolution, including one that the conventions of political sentimentality usually render unspeakable: Was the Tea Party even such a good idea the first time around?

All the King’s Men: a review of TORIES: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War By Thomas B. Allen (DAVID WALDSTREICHER, NY Times Book Review)
Was the Revolutionary War a “civil war,” as Allen’s subtitle puts it? It depends on what the term means. For Allen it means what the loyalist general William Tryon called “desolation warfare,” and others called “intestine” warfare, where civilians found themselves drawn into what, for later generations, would be “total war.” In an American context, however, “civil war” usually means a war that somehow involved slavery. Allen plays down the ways in which the Southern strategy — and previous frontier conflicts — led the British into a harder kind of war while encouraging the patriots to identify Africans and Indians as their enemies, along with any and all white men who did not swear allegiance to the new states.

Civil war, reprisals,'s all so familiar....

Against Rebellion: Why did some colonials remain loyal to the king? (THOMAS FLEMING, 11/17/10, WSJ)

Why did some colonials remain loyal to the king while most did not? Mr. Allen does not dwell on the subject—he is more interested in what happened than why. But others have considered the loyalists' motivations. Historian Leonard Labaree, in a pioneering study in 1948, found seven psychological reasons, including the belief that a resistance to the legitimate government was morally wrong and a fear of anarchy if the lower classes were encouraged to run wild. Another important factor: Unlike the rebels, who tended to come from families that had lived in America for several generations, many loyalists were born in England. These first-generation immigrants brought with them a sense of British liberty, steeped in obeisance to the king and his aristocrats, while in the colonies a longing for a "more equal liberty"—John Adams's declared goal for the rebels—had already taken hold.

One of the book's themes is that the conflict between the loyalists and rebels amounted to "America's first civil war." But not until the later pages, when the fighting with the British shifts to the South, does a semblance of civil war become evident. The Irish Presbyterians of the Southern backcountry had a history of feuding with wealthy coastal planters, who supported the insurrection. The ingrained antipathy for the planters, more than any fondness for King George, prompted the backcountry boys to ally themselves with the British—leading to vicious seesaw fighting.

A climax to this war within the larger war came in late 1780 with the battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, a purely American versus American, loyalist versus rebel fight. The rebels won a total victory, and in the process quashed British dreams of creating a native-grown loyalist army that might provide a decisive advantage.

The best section of "Tories" deals with black loyalists, the thousands of runaway slaves who responded to a British offer of freedom in return for military service. The British used these men largely as laborers, not fighters. In making peace at war's end the politicians agreed to return the runaways. But Gen. Guy Carleton, the last British commander in America, refused to do so. About 3,000 blacks were among the 80,000 loyalists who retreated to Canada and the West Indies when hostilities ended.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Tax Cuts Win Broad Bipartisan Support (Pew Research, 12/13/10)

The agreement between President Obama and congressional Republicans to extend tax cuts and unemployment benefits is getting strong bipartisan support. Overall, 60% approve of the agreement while just 22% disapprove.

There are virtually no partisan differences in opinions about the agreement – 63% of Democrats approve of it, as do 62% of Republicans and 60% of independents. Among Democrats, liberals are as supportive of the agreement as are conservative and moderate Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


As China Rolls Ahead, Fear Follows (DAVID BARBOZA, 12/12/10, NY Times)

[B]eijing is not just struggling with inflation, it is also trying to restructure its economy away from dependence on exports and toward domestic consumption in the hopes of creating more balanced and sustainable growth, analysts say.

China is also facing mounting international pressure to let its currency, the renminbi, rise in value. Some trading partners insist China is keeping its currency artificially low to give Chinese exporters a competitive advantage.

Beijing contends that raising the value of its currency would hurt coastal factories that operate on thin profit margins, forcing them to lay off millions of workers.

The most immediate challenge appears to be inflation, which some analysts say may be even more serious than the new figures suggest. Housing prices have skyrocketed. And prices for milk, vegetables and other foods have soared this year.

“The money supply is too large,” said Andy Xie, an economist based in Shanghai who formerly worked at Morgan Stanley. “They increased the money supply to stimulate the economy. Now land prices have jumped 20 times in some places, 100 times in others. Inflation is broad-based. Go into a supermarket. Milk is more expensive in China than it is in the U.S.”

In Shanghai, where the average monthly wage is about $350, a gallon of milk now costs about $5.50.

Wages have also risen sharply this year in coastal provinces amid reports of labor shortages and worker demands for higher pay. Many analysts expect more wage increases next year.

That may be good for workers, analysts say, but it will also change the dynamics of the Chinese economy and its export sector while contributing to higher inflation.

Beijing is now under pressure to mop up excess liquidity after state banks went on a lending binge during the stimulus program that got under way in early 2009. Analysts say a large portion of that lending was diverted to speculate in the property market.

In addition to restricting lending at the big state banks, Beijing recently moved to close hundreds of underground banks and attempted to restrain local governments from borrowing to build huge infrastructure projects, some of which may be wasteful, according to analysts.

Some economists say the real solution is for Beijing to privatize more industries and let the market play a bigger role. After the financial crisis hit, the state assumed more control over the economy.

Now, state banks and big state-owned companies are reluctant to surrender control over industries where they have monopoly power, analysts say.

“Inflation is not the most serious problem,” says Xu Xiaonian, a professor of economics at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. “The most fundamental problem we have to resolve is structural. We need more opening up and reform policies. Look at the state monopolies in education, health care, telecom and entertainment. We need to break those up. We need to create more jobs and make the economy more innovative.”

Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at Yale, agrees.

“The state economy and the local governments will be where the future problems occur,” Professor Chen said in an e-mail response to questions on Sunday. “They will be the sources of real troubles for the banks and the financial system.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Nick Clegg says 'big society' same as liberalism: Lib Dem leader backs Cameron's big idea as localism bill is published and plans set out for public service reforms (Patrick Wintour and Polly Curtis, 12/13/10, The Guardian)

The ideological bond between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will strengthen today when Nick Clegg describes the "big society" and liberalism as the same, and the two parties set out an agreed path to transform public services.

The joint six-point plan for public service reform, drafted by the decentralisation minister Greg Clark, will be published alongside today's localism bill.

The bill will grant new powers to local authorities and communities, decentralising power and putting in place the legislative tools to implement the Conservatives' big society project, under which volunteers and communities will take over control of services from the state.

In his foreword to the public service reform plan, Clegg, who has been under attack from some grassroots Lib Dems for being too close to the Conservatives, argues that both parties support the big society and a radical decentralisation of public services, even if they have used a different language to fight its cause.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The Collapse of the Guantanamo Myth: This week a Democratic Congress ratified Bush-era policy by refusing to fund any effort to shut the detention facility. (JOHN C. YOO AND ROBERT J. DELAHUNTY , 12/11/10, WSJ)

. In the Gitmo myth, President George W. Bush was a Lone Ranger acting without Congressional permission, and Gitmo was a law-free zone. But the American people never opposed capturing and detaining the enemy. And now Democratic Congress has ratified Mr. Bush's policy.

Freezing the Gitmo status quo will stop the release of al Qaeda killers, but it won't end the serious distortions in Mr. Obama's terrorism policy.

The administration relies on unmanned drones to kill al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan and Afghanistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta calls it "the only game in town." Drones take no prisoners, but they also ask no questions. Firing missiles from afar cannot substitute for the capture and interrogation of al Qaeda leaders for intelligence. (The real question now is whether CIA agents will decline to interrogate prisoners, thanks to Mr. Holder's criminal investigations into Bush policies.)

As long as no one is sent to Gitmo, the Obama administration will leave itself two options for dealing with terrorists: kill, or catch-and-release. Mr. Obama's drone-heavy policy means that more people will die—not only al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, but also innocent Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

The Gitmo myth also drove the Justice Department's push to prosecute al Qaeda leaders in U.S. civilian courts. Nowhere else did the Obama administration place its view of terrorism more clearly on display as a law-enforcement problem. The near-acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani, the al Qaeda operative who facilitated the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, by a New York jury last month has clearly revealed that path as a dead end—even if Mr. Holder remains in denial.

The simple alternative is to continue detentions at Gitmo. Detention is consistent with the rules of war, which allow captured combatants to be held indefinitely without requiring criminal charges to be filed. It also keeps our troops and agents in the field focused on finding and killing the enemy, not on collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses.

Using its constitutional power of the purse, the new Congress should continue to keep Gitmo in operation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Whitman: Palin quitting governor's job shows 'attitude' against constituents (Bridget Johnson, 12/12/10, The Hill)

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) said Sunday that Sarah Palin can't win a nationwide run for the White House, and pointed to the fact that the former Alaska governor left mid-term as an impediment to her support.

Whitman said that Palin could do well in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but pointed out that there will be a lot of competition among Republicans trying to keep President Obama from serving a second term.

She's too lazy to beat even Mike Huckabee in IA, a state that rewards organization above all, and she'd lose badly to Mitt in NH. If she thought governing a backwater like Alaska was too hard a job she's not going to put in the work required to run for president, nevermind accept the pay cut.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Britain 'more Thatcherite now than in the 80s' says survey (Polly Curtis, 12/13/10, The Guardian)

Britain is now more Thatcherite than when Margaret Thatcher was in power, with people much less supportive of the welfare state and the redistribution of wealth than in the 1980s, according to an authoritative study of the country's mood.

New Labour oversaw the biggest recorded shift to the right in public attitudes on those measures, despite a surge in concern about the scale of the wealth gap between rich and poor.

Sympathy towards benefit claimants has evaporated, along with support for redistributive tax and spend policies, over the past 20 years, with Labour governing during a period of significant hardening of attitudes towards the poor, the annual results of the British Social Attitudes survey reveal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Government Unions vs. Taxpayers: The moral case for unions—protecting working families from exploitation—does not apply to public employment. (TIM PAWLENTY, 12/12/10, WSJ)

Reformers would be wise to adopt three overriding principles.

First, we need to bring public employee compensation back in line with the private sector and reduce the overall size of the federal civilian work force. Mr. Obama's proposal to freeze federal pay is a step in the right direction, but it falls well short of shrinking government and eliminating the pay premium enjoyed by federal employees.

Second, get the numbers right. Government should start using the same established accounting standards that private businesses are required to use, so we can accurately assess unfunded liabilities.

Third, we need to end defined-benefit retirement plans for government employees. Defined-benefit systems have created a financial albatross for taxpayers. The private sector dropped them years ago in favor of the clarity and predictability of defined-contribution models such as 401(k) plans. This change alone can save taxpayers trillions of dollars.

The moral case for unions—protecting working families from exploitation—does not apply to public employment. Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Endgame capitalism: an interview with Simon During (Nathan Schneider, The Immanent Frame)

NS: Why is capitalism the focal point of your recent book? And what about capitalism is “postsecular”?

SD: Can I begin with the “postsecular”? It’s a rather confusing term. Mainly it points to a ceasefire—or, anyway, a slowdown—in the long battle between secular reason and religion. That’s ultimately what it implies in the recent work of Habermas, for instance. And that’s also what it means in the kind of intellectual history that uncovers the religious prehistory of secular concepts. But I suspect such work can usually be understood as secularism proceeding under the flag of its own decease. I am more interested in two other possibilities that occur when we think about a zone that is neither secular nor non-secular. The first appears when the limits of the (secular) world become apparent in everyday or mundane life, outside of religion. The second appears when we are compelled to radical leaps of faith—again, outside religion.

Both of these have a direct relation to democratic state capitalism. That’s because democracy and capitalism have each become compulsory and fundamental. They ground everything we do, including religious practice—so we can only get outside them through the kind of postsecular leap of faith that I am talking about. That realization is one of the things that is important about Alain Badiou’s thought. Such leaps may also be relevant to situations in which we encounter secularism’s limits—when secularism can’t contain the ethical and epistemological demands we make of it.

NS: Why can’t secularism itself contain leaps of faith? Why do we need to move past it, to the postsecular?

SD: Of course, there are all kinds of secular leaps of faith. But the will to get outside democratic state capitalism requires something else. It’s true that secular reason is useful in adjudicating upon the current system. You can at least attempt to measure its benefits—the joys, capacities, wealth, and opportunities that it does indeed provide us, and the way that it makes so much seem “interesting,” for instance—against the insecurities, inequalities, restrictions, and controls that it also imposes.

NS: Why should we want to get outside secular, democratic state capitalism in the first place?

SD: It falls way short, and for two reasons. The first is simply that democratic state capitalism is now the only fully legitimated social system; for that very reason, it has become a limit. Second, and more importantly, we have no rational and secular means of adjudicating the possibility—often adduced in the lead-up to modernity—that we live in a regime of relative experiential poverty. We can’t compare the qualities of past lifeworlds to present ones; we just don’t know whether they’re better or worse. But we do know that the system we have is not as good—I prefer to say not as “perfect”—as we can imagine a society to be. To align oneself with that idea of perfection, and to acknowledge the poverty of contemporary experience, implies a postsecular leap of faith.

...the sound of their voice can barely rise above the screams of the victims? The End of History is so fundamentally Judeo-Christian that you can understand the desire of the Brights to escape it, but they've caused enough damage for one species' lifetime.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Whittaker Chambers: Review of Richard M. Reinsch II, Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary (ISI, 2010) (Ray Nothstine, Religion & Liberty)

This pessimist view of the survival of the West against Marxism stems from Chambers’ understanding that the West was abandoning its sacred heritage of Christian thought, and within it, the proper understanding of man. A supposedly free but rampant secular and materialistic society still leads to the same ending as Marxism, outside of God, and unable to explain its reason and purpose for life.

One of the chief takeaways from this book is that there must be more to conservatism than free-markets and limited government. For liberty to be prosperous, it must be oriented toward greater truths. Reinsch points out that Chambers understood that the “West must reject Communism in the name of something other than modern liberalism and its foundation in the principles of Enlightenment rationalism.”

Reinsch delves into Chambers’ prediction of the eventual collapse of the West and his belief that there was a lack of moral fortitude to combat the communist surge. The apparent unwillingness of the free world to sacrifice and suffer for freedom troubled Chambers. He also surmised that the intellectual class possessed a waning ability to articulate a meaningful defense of the ideas and value of the free society.

...and we owe a tremendous debt to men like Chambers, Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and W who summoned us back to our best, the most remarkable fact about the Long War is not that we flagged at certain moments but that we sustained for two hundred years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Holiday recipes: Jezebel Jelly, a Retro Christmas gift: Holiday recipes, such as Jezebel Jelly, offer a chance to recapture a taste of the past. It's a quickly made tangy condiment that had a real heyday when I was a kid. (Perre Coleman Magness, December 12, 2010, CS Monitor)

Jezebel Jelly is a quickly made tangy condiment that seemed to have a real heyday when I was a kid. At every Christmas function someone, who had been asked to bring an appetizer, would sail into the kitchen in her party dress and clacky high-heel shoes with her most festive Christmas plate and spreading knife, sometimes all tucked away in a basket with a colorful napkin. Talking a mile a minute undoubtedly, she’d pull out her plate, unwrap a block of cream cheese, plop it down – just the block, as is. Out came the jar of Jezebel Jelly, with its hand-written label and little fabric cap tied with a gold stretchy cord., and it was poured over the cream cheese and served with crackers (frequently Triscuits, if I remember correctly). That was that. Jezebel Jelly was the refuge of the non-cook. It was, I believe, a popular gift, easy for even the most kitchen-phobic to stir up and prettily package, with the appearance of being homemade without the work. Eventually, the Jezebel and cream cheese appetizer was replaced by the even-less-work block of cream cheese smothered in Pickapeppa sauce from the bottle. Call that a bonus recipe.

There are lots of people who seem to want to trace the origins of Jezebel Jelly, or Jezebel Sauce as some call it, and figure out why this spicy spread was named after a biblical woman of ill repute. I don’t know. Frankly, it always speaks to me more of 1938 movie Jezebel, in which Bette Davis plays a fickle Southern belle whose wily ways hoist her on her own petard in the end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


A SENSE OF CLEANLINESS: A Talk with Simone Schnall, Edge)

It seems like however people happen to be feeling at the moment colors their judgments about some even very fundamental decisions of whether it is right or wrong to do something. It's quite surprising that even though we like to think there are good reasons for our decisions, often times there are all these random things that just happen in our lives, and that's how we decide, for example, what is moral, and what is immoral.

As far as morality goes, disgust has received a lot of attention, and there has been a lot of work on it. The flip side of it is cleanliness, or being tidy, proper, clean, pure, which has been considered the absence of disgust, or contamination. But there is actually more to being clean, and having things in order. On some level even cleanliness, or the desire to feel clean and pure has a social origin in the sense that primates show social grooming: Monkeys tend to get really close to each other, they pick insects off each other’s fur, and it's not just useful in terms of keeping themselves clean, but it has an important social function in terms of bonding them together.

The same monkeys that pick bugs and dirt off each other’s skin actually end up getting closer in the process of literally getting closer, and they become buddies, or good friends. So it seems like this behavior of keeping each other clean, or having a desire to be clean has consequences regarding building social relationships, getting close to others, or letting somebody get close to you. There might be something really important about being clean, feeling clean, having things being proper and tidy that goes beyond just the absence of contamination or disgust.

I've started my work on emotions and judgments when I collaborated with Jerry Clore and Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia. We got interested in moral judgment as an example of how emotions and feelings influence judgment and decision processes, and since then I've also done some work on positive moral emotions.

We test, for example, the effect of what we call "moral elevations", which is the sense of feeling uplifted and inspired when seeing somebody else do something really positive for another person. The typical film clip we use is from the Oprah Winfrey Show where somebody comes on the show who has been a mentor to some disadvantaged kids who grow up in some really bad parts of town, and are probably headed for a life in gang culture, but he mentors them, and becomes like a father figure.

We show participants this elevating clip, versus in other conditions we show them a neutral clip. Those who watch the Oprah clip report feeling really inspired, and uplifted, and elevated, and it gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling in the chest. But the important thing is not only this experience, but this feeling, in turn, leads them to help others as well.

So if I have witnessed somebody who did something really wonderful, I, myself also feel like I want to be a good person, and also want to help others. After watching the Oprah clip, we set up the study such that participants think there is still a second part to come in the study, but then it looks like the computer crashes, nothing works, and they're told, "You're free to go even though you were meant to stay for an hour, you can go now" after just 10 or 15 minutes. They're about to pack up their things, and then we say, "Oh, but you know what? You could really help me out by filling out these questionnaires, they are some math problems, and they're really tedious and boring, but I need some people to fill them out, and whatever you want to complete would be really helpful."

It turns out that people sit down again, and they start filling out these questionnaires, and what is really amazing is in the moral elevation condition, people would sit down on average for about 40 minutes and just sit and complete these boring questionnaires because they feel really motivated to help another person. The experimenter clearly needed help with the surveys, and they're really happy to help. That is compared to the control condition, where they also stay a little while, maybe 15 minutes or so, but in the elevation condition, people really went out of their way to help. We have found this now in various contexts, and it's a hopeful finding that these specific moral emotions can propel people to do good things for others.

For example, if we think of how charities try to get us to contribute, they give us good arguments and reasons of how many children are starving in Africa, and the statistics, and all of that, and they try to appeal to reason. But from our finding, it looks like a more powerful way might appeal to emotion, to get people not just to think of, " These poor people who are suffering", but get them to think of how wonderful they might feel themselves when they can help, and how they might inspire others to also become the benefactor of somebody in need.

Recently we also started looking at facial muscle activity in the context of morality, such as muscles involved in smiling or frowning. We used very sensitive electrodes to measure subtle muscle movement while people were considering certain moral transgressions, in other words, how much they smiled, frowned, and importantly, how much they pulled up their nose in disgust.

We find specific patterns of muscle activity, for example, people literally frown upon certain behaviors that harm others, and they wrinkle their nose in disgust for behaviors that violate a sense of purity or cleanliness. But the important thing is that these muscle movements are predictive of people's subsequent judgment: If I frown upon you kicking a dog, the more I frown, the more wrong I will consider this transgression later on.

So if you condition people to behave well they're more likely too? Shocking....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Dems show signs of abandoning Obama elsewhere after frustration with tax deal (Susan Crabtree - 12/09/10, The Hill)

In a striking move, the Appropriations Committee late Wednesday attached a provision to a $1.1 trillion resolution to keep the government funded next year that would prevent Obama from spending any funds to try terrorism suspects in civilian court instead of military commissions.

The language would essentially prevent the closing of the detainee prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

Some House Democrats viewed the move as an act of defiance and a direct demonstration of just how furious the caucus is with Obama’s decision to work with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.

When the American people determine that your party is extreme, act more extreme?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Swedes shocked by 1st terror attack in 3 decades (Malin Rising, Associated Press)

No one died except for the suspected bomber, but two explosions in Sweden's capital tore at the fabric of this tolerant and open nation — a society that hadn't seen a terrorist attack in more than three decades.

Two people were wounded in central Stockholm on Saturday in what appeared to be the first suicide bombing in the history of Sweden, which has been spared the major terrorist strikes seen in several other European countries.

A car exploded in the middle of the seasonal shopping frenzy, shooting flames and causing several smaller blasts as people ran screaming from the scene. The blast that killed the alleged bomber came moments later a few blocks away from the car explosion on a busy pedestrian street.

Sounds inept enough to be al Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be the Taliban: Ride along as an international group of up-for-anything clients gets schooled on tourism's wildest frontier: Afghanistan. (Damon Tabor, 12/10, Outside)

In Mazar-e Sharif, which felt like the frontier town that it was, we quickly located a seedy expat café serving green $4 cans of Tuborg beer, likely trucked in illegally from Uzbekistan. A large TV blared CNN. A worn-looking blonde, a Western man with a shaved head, and a Maori security contractor with an oily perm and tattooed forearms were drinking at another table. They blew plumes of smoke and talked about an aid project. Our group had been reduced by two: Kent had flown back to Thailand from Kabul to run his two hotels. Valerie's camera was stolen in Herat and she'd flown back to Saskatoon without a word to anyone.

Hann hired two taxis the next morning and we drove to Haji Piyada, a stucco mosque that is the oldest in Afghanistan and now sits covered by what looks like an enormous protective carport. The building's caretaker, a bent-legged man with a long scar across his jaw, squatted in the dirt. Two Afghan policemen sat under a rough-looking shack by a stream. A field of marijuana plants grew nearby. We walked quietly through the mosque, and I asked Bithi what she thought of the journey.

"There is rise and fall of terrorists all the time," she said. "It's a kind of adventure to see one of the Taliban."

"What would you say if you met one?" I asked.

"As-Salamu Alaykum," she said, smiling a little wickedly. It's an Islamic greeting that means "Peace be upon you."

One of the policemen approached Bithi and spoke to her in Hindi. He was young-looking and wore a jaunty white scarf with his green uniform.

"He says the Taliban's attitude is to kill no matter who it is," she translated. "They want to have the pride that they have killed someone. They are very near, 10 to 15 kilometers." As we were leaving, she handed the proprietor 100 afghanis, which Hann protested was too much.

The next morning, Hann hired a rickety minibus to take us west to Andkhoy, a town near the border with Turkmenistan. Our driver was an Uzbek named Abdullah, and he drank black tea and smoked cheap cigarettes during the holy month, which made me trust him. Hann had never been to Andkhoy before, but he'd heard they had good carpets. From there we would drive to a village called Daulatabad, then return to Mazar-e Sharif through the Dasht-e Leili desert. This was the last, and potentially worst, leg of the trip. A one-eyed taxi driver had warned Hann that Daulatabad was teeming with Taliban.

On the outskirts of Mazar, a graveyard of T-62 Russian tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers sat by the road. Goats lounged in the shade of a gas pipeline. Off to the right, a road led to Qala-e Jangi, a sprawling 19th-century military fortress and the site of a seven-day prison uprising led by the Taliban in November 2001. Earlier, Peter and I had taken a side trip there, tried unsuccessfully to bribe the guard to let us in, and were then passed off to Jeff and Stan, two cops from Texas who were helping train Afghan police at a nearby military base. "Maaannn," Stan had said, looking concerned when I told him we were tourists.

"Y'all be careful. It's like the fucking Wild West out there," Jeff said, scribbling our names on the back of a business card in case something happened.

At midday, we drove into Daulatabad, a small village with tree-lined streets crowded with donkey carts and kaleidoscopically painted, three-wheeled rickshaws. Abdullah parked on a side street. The plan was to quickly explore the town, then return to the bus. I followed Hann, Sue, Peter, and Cameron into a market of crowded stalls selling tools, shoes, and scraps of cloth. A young boy led a camel caravan through the street. Another boy laughed at my shalwar kameez and called me farangi, or "foreigner." I trailed Hann down an alley and into a courtyard filled with wood. Afghan men, squatting in the dirt, turned and stared.

"I think we better go back," Hann said, after walking quickly through the courtyard. Back at the minibus, a crowd had gathered around the vehicle and Abdullah was discussing our route through the desert with several men. "Too dangerous, not safe, Taliban," one of them said.

Hann had climbed into the passenger seat and turned around to look at us. "Who's up for going through the desert?" he asked. "He says that it's not a problem for him but could be a problem for us."

"I think it's up to the driver," Sue said.

"We go back to Andkhoy then," Peter said.

"I was trying to find rare carpets just to have a look, but nobody seems to know where they are," Hann muttered. He looked unhappy to be retreating again.

Tactically, our vacation had begun to feel similar to a military raid—rush in and rush out—and it was both exhilarating and unsatisfying. You were trying to be a tourist in a place that didn't allow for it. You could strike up a conversation with a shopkeeper, but he might be a Taliban informant. You could wander down some beckoning side street, but you might not be seen again. It was the central paradox of a Hann trip: we were in Afghanistan, but the country still felt just out of reach.

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December 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


Sax man James Moody joined Dizzy Gillespie when bebop was a baby (The Australian, December 13, 2010)

Moody (who was known universally by his surname throughout his life, after his service in the US Air Force) was one of the last survivors of the era when the modern jazz style of bebop was being developed.

Billed as "Dizzy's new winning rave tenor saxophonist" he joined Gillespie at the Spotlite Club in New York in 1946. Gillespie had pioneered the new style of jazz with the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, but Parker had stayed on the West Coast after they had travelled there in late 1945.

So the trumpeter was on the hunt for a saxophonist who could act as a similarly high-level musical partner within the context of his new big band. He had spotted Moody's talents a year earlier, when he sat in with Gillespie's band at an air force base concert.

At first Moody was turned down by the band's arranger Gil Fuller for not playing loudly enough, but Gillespie overruled him and Moody joined the band for its debut in Manhattan.

"Right from the opening night, I took the saxophone solos," Moody recalled. "I came straight out of the air force and joined Diz."

An early example of his ability to fill Parker's sizeable musical shoes was the band's recording of John Lewis's tune Emanon in which Moody took a memorable solo that had all the logic of a formal composition. It is often played nowadays as an integral part of the piece, even though it was originally entirely improvised.

It was to be a long musical partnership, the two men united by their exceptional abilities as jazz improvisers, and by a shared sense of humour and outlook on life. Although Moody left the big band in 1948 to form his own group, he was reunited with Gillespie many times in his small groups in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. When Gillespie died in January 1993 Moody was at his side.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


...but Bob Bradley couldn't find a start for him in the World Cup?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


While the least compelling case for the war was always the security one and the best the moral one, it is the legal case for regime change that was unanswerable:

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear to him and to all, and he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations. He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge, by his deceptions and by his cruelties, Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities, which the council said threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights and that the regime's repression is all-pervasive.

Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and rape.

Wives are tortured in front of their husbands; children in the presence of their parents; and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise.

Last year, the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwaiti, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini and Armeni nationals remain unaccounted for; more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council through Resolution 687 demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq.

Iraq's regime agreed that broke this promise.

In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder.

In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Amir of Kuwait and a former American president. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September 11. And Al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections.

Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with scud warheads, aerial bombs and aircraft spray tanks.

U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also reviewed that Iraq like maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War.

We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program, weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, and accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.

And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of SCUD type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long range missiles that can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council Resolutions.

In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself and to buy arms for his country.

By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens. In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely.

Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations.

The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations, and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspector set foot in Iraq -- four years for the Iraqi regime to plan and to build and to test behind the cloak of secrecy. We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?

The history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein regime is a grave and gathering danger.

To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble, and this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment.

Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence?

Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?

The United States help found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective and respectful and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime.

Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it -- as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkemens and others -- again, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown.

It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq and it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis, a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. They've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal.

The people of Iraq deserve it. The security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest. And open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

We can harbor no illusions, and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians and 40 Iraqi villages.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions.

But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met or action will be unavoidable and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


...but I'm going with one to annoy the Eldest Son:

Is it just me, or do you find it easy to imagine that she was found blood-soaked with her parents bodies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


After expanding coverage, Mass. looks to cut costs (Steve Leblanc, 12/11/10, Associated Press )

Massachusetts already has the highest percentage of insured residents of any state, in large part because of the 2006 law.

"We don't want to break the system we have, but we want to bring the costs down," said Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, who has championed payment overhaul. "It is complicated. If you move one little piece, something pops up somewhere else."

Murray said lawmakers are keenly aware of not getting in between patients and their doctors. She hopes to file a bill designed in part to rewrite the way health care is paid for in Massachusetts early in the new two-year session that begins in January.

Patrick has also said that slowing the cost of health insurance is a top health care priority for his second term.

Monthly premiums for individuals in Massachusetts have increased dramatically in the past decade. From 2001 to 2009, the median monthly premium for individual health plans soared by 76 percent, from $251 to $442.

Health and Human Services Secretary Judyann Bigby said that while premium increases have eased from the earlier part of the decade, they are still climbing too quickly. She said moving away from the fee-for-service model won't be easy, but it's needed to curb costs.

...just have the fee come out of the consumer's pocket (or, rather, savings account).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Sexism? Blame it on the plough.: Surprising insights from the social sciences (Kevin Lewis, December 12, 2010, Boston Globe)

As economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, we are ultimately “the slaves of some defunct economist.” However, according to a new study by modern-day economists, we — especially women — are the slaves of ancient agriculture. In some areas of the world, agriculture depended on the plough, which demanded brute strength, while in other areas, agriculture was more friendly to routine labor. Obviously, men were more suited to the former, and women to the latter. That was then, but what about now? The authors found that historic reliance on the plough for a particular country, region, or ethnic group continues to be associated with fewer women in the workforce, male-dominant attitudes, and a male-biased population ratio. Moreover, in families that recently immigrated to the United States, women are less likely to be in the workforce if their ancestors lived in plough-intensive areas.

Alesina, A. et al., “The Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough,” Harvard University (October 2010)

Which calls to mind two things: first, the backbreaking soil of New England; and, second, the leveling effectys of Christianity, as consider this song we used to sing in the East Orange Gospel Ensemble:

We Are Soldiers

We are Soldiers,
In the army,
We have to fight,
Although we have to cry
We have to hold up the bloodstained banner
We have to hold it up
Until we Die!

My mother was a Soldier
Oh yes!
She had her hand on the Gospel Plow
Oh yes!
But one day she got old,
She couldn’t fight anymore,
She said I’ll stand here, and fight anyhow.

Woe oe oe oe!

We are Soldiers,
In the army,
We have to fight,
Although we have to cry
We have to hold up the bloodstained banner
We have to hold it up
Until we Die!

My Father was a Soldier,
Oh yes!
He had his hands on the Gospel Plow
But one day he got old,
He couldn’t fight anymore,
He said, I’ll stand here and fight anyhow.

O O – O – O

We are Soldiers,
In the army,
We have to fight,
Although we have to cry
We have to hold up the bloodstained banner
We have to hold it up
Until we Die!

I’m so glad that I’m a Soldier
Oh yes!
I’ve got my hand on the Gospel Plow,
Oh yes!
One day I’ll get old,
And can’t fight anymore,
And I’ll stand here and fight anyhow.

Oo- O - O!

We are Soldiers,
In the army,
We have to fight,
Although we have to cry
We have to hold up the bloodstained banner
We have to hold it up
Until we Die!

Think of mother she'll be there

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


The subtleties of corporate English (Johnson, Dec 8th 2010, The Economist)

To your point

Usage: It's terribly important, at least in American business meetings, to be constantly acknowledging the contributions other people have made, so that everybody feels included. But instead of "as you said" or "as Jane mentioned", it's "to your point" or "to Jane's point".

Source: No real mystery here: it's the common phrase "make a point". But I think this is a clue to the real meaning, which is...

Subtext: Since it's possible—oh, so possible—to say a lot at a meeting without making any points at all, saying "to Jane's point" is, in the continuing spirit of positivity and good team relations, a way to bestow even greater recognition upon Jane's contribution. After all, if something is worthless, we say it "has no point", and business documents are all in bullet points. So I will posit that a "point" is now actually a discrete unit of measurement (soon to be adopted under the Système International) for useful contributions. Kilopoints, megapoints, nanopoints et alia all to follow, just as soon as someone has invented the measuring tools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


The US 'viceroy' rules Islamabad (Sameer Arshad, 12/12/10, TNN)

So is any of this any more than idle gossip? Yes, says Pakistani analyst Shereen Mazari. The revelations have "aggravated mistrust between the state and the nation", she said to a Pakistani TV channel, and underlined a terrible truth for Pakistan and the wider world: American ambassadors in Islamabad are no less than "viceroys''.

But Stephen Cohen, authoritative American expert on the South Asia region, says none of this is new. "I discuss this in my book on Pakistan (published in 2004, before Patterson went there), and in fact every US ambassador that I talked to complained that they were being dragged into Pakistani politics by politicians and even the military," he said.

Cohen may have a point. The Wikileaks disclosures may not be strictly new but they are a revelation to the wider world. For instance, the US ambassador's good offices were used last year to resolve the judicial crisis that threatened to destabilise Pakistan's fledgling civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. Thousands of lawyers, supported by the main opposition parties, had marched to Islamabad seeking the return to office of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Then there was the cable that recorded the astonishing leak — to the US embassy — by Pakistan's former national security adviser Mahmud Durrani of intelligence agency ISI's private briefing to parliamentarians.

Experts say Wikileaks may have, for the first time, told many truths Pakistan's all-powerful Army would have wanted to stay hidden.

The great benefit of the leaks is to make the ugly but mundane truths about other nations seem like news.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Venezuela-Iran nuclear link ridiculed in cable (JTA, 12/12/10)

Rumors that Venezuela is helping Iran develop a nuclear bomb were ridiculed in a new cache of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

“A plain-spoken nuclear physicist [said] that those spreading rumors that Venezuela is helping third countries (i.e. Iran) develop atomic bombs are full of (expletive)... . Venezuela is currently unable to provide such assistance particularly as the Chavez administration “does not trust scientists.”

They aren't strategic threats. We should should regime change them just to benefit their own people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Tax Cutters for Truth: Decoding a strange bipartisan deal. (Ezra Klein, 12/11/10, Newsweek)

It’s still Ronald Reagan’s world, at least when it comes to taxes. The Sturm und Drang over tax cuts for the rich obscured the Democrats’ massive capitulation on tax cuts for everyone else. Even the party’s liberals had accepted Obama’s argument that the cuts for incomes under $250,000—which include the bulk of the Bush tax cuts—should be permanently extended. Another way of saying that is, Democrats had agreed the Clinton-era tax rates were too high. If you put it to most Democrats that way, they’d protest vigorously. The economy boomed under Clinton, and the Democrats are proud of the efforts they made to balance the budget. But they’re so terrified of being accused of hiking taxes that they’ve conceded to the Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans.

We need tax reform, now more than ever. The result of this deal is going to be an even weirder tax code than we have now—and the one we have now is pretty weird. We’re extending old tax cuts and tax credits and adding new ones. Some may yet be extended further. Businesses won’t want to see the deductibility of investments expire, workers won’t want to see the payroll-tax cut expire, and the super-rich won’t want to see the tax exemption for estates up to $5 million expire. There are so many constituencies fighting for so many breaks that the only hope we’re going to have when we actually need to reduce the deficit—which isn’t yet, but will be soon—is to start from square one on the tax code.

One of the unspeakable political truths of the deficit reduction mania is that if we're serious about it we need to make the tax code less "progressive." After all, if you pay nothing for government why would you want less of it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


WWJW? Power Band

If you're getting 50 could you send us two?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives (LOUISE STORY, 12/12/10, NY Times)

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

Drawn from giants like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the bankers form a powerful committee that helps oversee trading in derivatives, instruments which, like insurance, are used to hedge risk.

In theory, this group exists to safeguard the integrity of the multitrillion-dollar market. In practice, it also defends the dominance of the big banks.

The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.

...was to force transparency on derivatives, so that buyers could assess the real risk that they carry. The UR and a Democrat dominated Congress couldn't even manage that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Bush v. Gore, 10 years later (George F. Will, December 12, 2010, Washington Post)

Once Gore initiated the intervention of courts, the U.S. Constitution was implicated. On Nov. 7, Gore finished second in Florida's Election Day vote count. A few days later, after the state's mandatory (in close elections) machine recount, he again finished second. Florida law required counties to certify their results in seven days, by Nov. 14.

But three of the four (of Florida's 67) counties - each heavily Democratic - where Gore was contesting the count were not finished deciphering voters' intentions. So Gore's lawyers persuaded the easily persuadable state Supreme Court - with a majority of Democratic appointees - to rewrite the law. It turned the seven-day period into 19 days.

Many liberals underwent instant conversions of convenience: They became champions of states' rights when the U.S. Supreme Court (seven of nine were Republican appointees) unanimously overturned that extension. But the U.S. high court reminded Florida's court to respect the real "states' rights" at issue - the rights of state legislatures: The Constitution gives them plenary power to establish procedures for presidential elections.

Florida's Supreme Court felt emancipated from law. When rewriting the law to extend the deadline for certification of results by the four counties, the court said: "The will of the people, not a hyper-technical reliance upon statutory provisions, should be our guiding principle." But under representative government, the will of the people is expressed in statutes. Adherence to statutes - even adherence stigmatized as "hyper-technical" - is known as the rule of law.

In the end, seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices (and three of the seven Florida justices) agreed on this: The standardless recount ordered by the Florida court - different rules in different counties regarding different kinds of chads and different ways of discerning voter intent - violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Two of the seven U.S. justices favored ordering Florida's court to devise standards that could pass constitutional muster and allowing the recount to continue for six more days. Five justices, believing that the recounting had become irredeemably lawless, ended it.

Once Gore summoned judicial intervention, and Florida's Supreme Court began to revise state election law, it probably was inevitable that possession of the nation's highest political office was going to be determined by a state's highest court or the nation's. The U.S. Supreme Court was duty-bound not to defer to a state court that was patently misinterpreting - disregarding, actually - state law pertaining to a matter assigned by the U.S. Constitution to state legislatures.

...that elections are nonjusticiable. There can be no appropriate role for the judiciary in vote counting to determine membership of the rival branches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


The tragedy of Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship: The state's dysfunction isn't all his fault, but it got worse during his time in office because of his failure to come to grips with the real issues of state government. (Michael Hiltzik, December 10, 2010, LA Times)

The day he took office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commanded popularity enough to persuade California's voters to swallow the harshest fiscal medicine.

The tragedy of his governorship is that he never used it.

The roots of the state's dysfunction were well known in Sacramento in 2003, when Schwarzenegger took office, and still are today: It's too easy to enact spending programs by ballot initiative, too hard to get the required two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a budget and impossible to keep talented legislators around when they're rapidly turfed out by term limits.

The tax structure bequeathed us by 1978's Proposition 13 is lunacy; it places too much emphasis on the personal income tax, which frustrates the wealthy and the entrepreneurial class, and on the sales tax, which hammers the working class.
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The school financing system (also an offspring of Proposition 13) is even more nuts. It hamstrings local administrators by making them beholden to nostrums issued from Sacramento.

Everybody feels shortchanged in this state — rich and poor, employer and employee, student and teacher — and not without reason. This is the crisis Schwarzenegger was elected to solve, and he never laid a finger on it.

Why? Because these fundamental issues were not on Schwarzenegger's radar screen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


The GOP's Veep Favorite (Mark McKinnon, 12/11/10, Daily Beast)

Think about it. If anyone other than the former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gets the Republican nod for the top spot, it’s a no-brainer to pick Senator-elect Marco Rubio of Florida as the VP on the ticket.

Look at all the boxes he would check:

• A Tea Party favorite
• And a young, fresh face
• With a solid conservative record
• From the critical state of Florida
• He has a compelling American story
• And a rationale greater than himself for running, and for governing
• He appeals to the base
• He appeals to younger (and older) voters
• And he attracts Hispanic voters

If Palin chooses to run and is not the presidential nominee, Rubio fixes what will certainly be the “Palin problem” for the GOP. With her unmatched magnetic appeal, which attracts headlines as well as campaign donations, there will be enormous pressure on whomever is nominated for president to pick Palin as a running mate.

...he'd be the least, rather than the most, qualified candidate on either ticket, with no executive experience. If he wants to be president one day he should have run for governor.

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December 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


'The Big Chill' Game Draws Record Crowd to See Michigan Beat Michigan State (Bruce Ciskie, 12/11/10, FanHouse)

Conditions were almost perfect Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., as history was made at Michigan Stadium.

Over 113,000 fans were on hand to see "The Big Chill in The Big House," an outdoor hockey game between rivals Michigan and Michigan State. The fans -- nearly all of them rooting for the home-standing Wolverines -- were treated to a show, as Michigan waxed its neighbors, 5-0.

113,411 was the exact attendance, smashing the record for attendance at a hockey game anywhere in the world. It also was the largest crowd for any NCAA event in any sport.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


In Obama, they see Bush (Joan Vennochi, December 12, 2010 , Boston Globe)

President Obama’s so-called compromise — tax cuts for the rich in exchange for unemployment benefits — does not make him look like Bill Clinton, the great triangulator. To hardcore liberals, he looks like George W. Bush, the not-so-great decider — minus Bush’s Texas swagger and misguided conviction. It’s not a pretty picture. And, for liberals, that picture has been developing since their supposed messiah took office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Liberals' last gasp (JONATHAN ALLEN, 12/10/10, Politico)

At best, House Democrats' rage at the Obama tax bill is a principled last gasp on behalf of liberal ideals. At worst, they're whining, kicking and screaming their way to the margins as Obama turns them into the foil for his newfound centrism.

Either way, Republicans and even some Democrats say, the need to act out reveals that liberals are in a state of denial.

“We are allowing the liberal wing of the Democratic Caucus to hold these critically needed tax cuts hostage,” Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) told POLITICO. “It is long past time to get this deal done and get our economy moving again. Unfortunately, my colleagues are either not listening to what the voters are saying, or they are not interested in doing what is best for the American economy.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Florida Gov.-Elect Rick Scott Considers Dramatically Expanding School Vouchers (Stephanie Condon , 12/10/10, CBS News)

Lawmakers in Florida are considering significant free-market reforms to the education system, according to reports, which could influence education reforms nationwide.

On Thursday, Florida's Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott suggested significantly expanding the state voucher system, the St. Petersburg Times reports, to grant every student an "education savings account." He said he's working with lawmakers to consider a plan to allocate a portion of state's per-student education funding into the savings accounts, letting parents use the money for any school of their choice, public or private.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


The Final Conflict: a review of WHY THE WEST RULES — FOR NOW: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future By Ian Morris (ORVILLE SCHELL, 12/12/10, NY Times Book Review)

Fortunately, Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer. He uses a minimum of academic jargon and is possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster. He shows us how different empires were boosted by periods of “axial thought” to surge up the development ladder, only to crumble upon hitting a “hard ceiling,” usually inflicted by what he calls the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse: climate change, migration, famine, epidemic and state failure.

But failure of one civilization only allowed another to arise somewhere else. The Roman Empire, Song dynasty China, Renaissance Europe and the Britain of the Industrial Revolution came along, got lift under their wings from new technology, social innovation or a creative organizing principle and pushed the whole process of development forward another notch.

According to Morris’s scorecard, since this age-old process began, the world index of social development has risen to 900 points. And, he predicts, in the next 100 years this index will rise an additional 4,000 points. He calls such progress “staggering.”

But with the West’s power and confidence now declining, and China’s authoritarian form of capitalism ripsawing its way toward an ever more dominant position in the world, a reader may be forgiven for becoming somewhat impatient. Is Morris ever going to answer the “burning question”? Who will win the next phase of our East-West horse race, the United States or China?

...then not only must we connect Rome, Britain, and America but China as well, which has found some limited success only to the degree that it has developed Western economics and which has a concurrently booming Christian population. It remains at too low a level to take seriously as a significant power and faces too many internal problems to ever reach great power status, but China's rise is exclusively a function of its Westernization.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


You'll never catch me going on a march (Howard Jacobson, 12/11/10, Independent)

Student protests are problematic to me. I might as well come clean – no secrets in this column, reader – and say that I am temperamentally averse to demonstrations. Mass movements and all that. The minute I see more than 10 people hugger-mugger in like-mindedness, or marching down the street in military formation, my knees knock. The spectacle is too exhilarating. And for those doing the marching the experience clearly reaches back into the turbulent memory of the primal horde.

Wasn't that the lesson of the 20th century? That any more than five human beings believing the same thing and congregating to say so are bound to be on a course that will lead to trouble. We are safe only when we act individually. I'd like to say we are right only when we act individually, but I know I can't get away with that. Sometimes the horde expresses a genuine grievance. It brought down Communism, after all. But then again, it also instituted it.

I marched myself once when the village of Boscastle was embroiled in a fight with that high-handed agency for making life comfortable for the landed gentry, the National Trust. It was I who designed the banners. "Don't trust the Trust!" But when they slapped an injunction on us we crept away ignominiously.

Maybe there weren't enough of us. Had there been more we might have held out longer. That's the way of it with numbers. The heat of the pack fills you with a thrilling sentimental consciousness of right, the sense of brotherhood justifying any act of violence. But violence disfigures the cause for me. The moment demonstrators start throwing billiard balls at police, their argument is invalidated. If these are demonstrations in the name of easy access to the arts of civilisation ... but you know what I am going to say next.

So what else to do? I can't say I know. But it's a mistake to assume one must always do something.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Poll: Obama's losing support; Romney would beat him now (Steven Thomma, 12/11/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

President Barack Obama's approval ratings have sunk to the lowest level of his presidency, so low that he'd lose the White House to Republican Mitt Romney if the election were held today, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

The biggest reason for Obama's fall: a sharp drop in approval among Democrats and liberals, apparently unhappy with his moves toward the center since he led the party to landslide losses in November's midterm elections. At the same time, he's gained nothing among independents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


Two black Democrats bolt party for GOP (Aaron Gould Sheinin, 12/09/10, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Two African-American Democrats on Thursday announced that they were joining the Republican Party.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell and former state executive committee member Andre Walker said the Democratic Party had grown too liberal and they are finding a new home with the Republicans. [...]

“My district is pretty Republican as it is,” Bell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “My wife and I have been thinking about this for six months.”

He said they are both conservative “and the Democratic Party has been our home. The party had conservatives and liberals both in the party. [But] this election showed us the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is very, very strong. If your’e a conservative, it became more difficult to be in the Democratic Party.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Salma Hayek Says She Was Illegal Immigrant (Mimi Nguyen Ly, 12/09/10, Epoch Times)

“I was an illegal immigrant in the United States,” she told V Magazine, according to Fox News Latino. “It was for a small period of time, but I still did it.”

In 1991 at the age of 25, Hayek's visa expired after she moved to Los Angeles to study acting.

Hayek’s publicist told E! News that her illegal immigrant status was quickly “cleaned up” when she went to Mexico and renewed the visa, adding that she is now an American citizen.

All those good legal immigrants who people always contrast to the rule-breaking illegals have had similar periods of technical illegality.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Foreigners flock to Treasuries (Colin Barr, December 9, 2010, Fortune)

If foreigners have had their fill of Treasuries, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

More than 60% of government bond issuance in the third quarter was sucked up by international investors, the Fed said Thursday in its quarterly flow of funds report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


An Obama foreign policy win in South Sudan (Michael Gerson, December 10, 2010, Washington Post)

The Obama administration, elsewhere challenged by Iranian nuclear ambitions and North Korean brinkmanship, is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation.

Even six years ago, this outcome seemed impossible. The mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south were engaged in a two-decade-old civil war that unleashed genocide, produced millions of refugees and took about three times as many lives as the American Civil War. But in 2005, the Bush administration brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which created a government of national unity and promised an independence referendum for the south in 2011.

Disobedient: The leader of nonviolent protests in the West Bank—a potential Palestinian Gandhi—is in an Israeli jail (Michelle Goldberg, Dec 9, 2010, The Tablet)
Last month, the yearlong prison sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a schoolteacher and activist involved in nonviolent civil disobedience in the West Bank, came to an end. But an Israeli military court refused to release him, on the grounds that he would resume his activities if freed.

Abu Rahmah’s crime was organizing illegal demonstrations in a West Bank village where all demonstrations are by definition illegal. Abu Rahmah, 39, had long been involved in peaceful, multiethnic protests in the village of Bil’in, where Israel’s separation wall has cut Palestinians off from hundreds of acres of their land. Though barely covered in the American press, his conviction was protested by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, among others. “Israel’s attempt to crack down on this effective resistance movement by criminalizing peaceful protest is unacceptable and unjust,” said Desmond Tutu, one of Abu Rahmah’s supporters.

American Jews often ask where the Palestinian Gandhi is. What few realize is that if such a man exists, he’s probably sitting in an Israeli military prison.

Eyeless in Cairo (Leon Wieseltier, 12/10/10, New Republic)
Can one be for democracy in some states and against democracy in other states? As a matter of principle, of course not: democracy is universalism as a political order. It is premised on a certain conception of the individual and society, on an understanding of dignity and freedom that would be meaningless if it did not apply to all people. By bringing all people under a single philosophical description, it ignores, without regret, the social and economic and cultural distinctions among them. It equalizes. But policy, even when it is based in philosophy, is not philosophy; it cannot be indifferent to consequences. And the democratization of undemocratic societies is emphatically a policy of destabilization. In the anarchy of the attempt, all kinds of evils may be loosed. Unfree people dream of more than just freedom; they dream also of power, and vengeance, and exclusiveness, and heaven. The end of absolutism liberates them for their own absolutes, which may cause great suffering. Is the standpoint of the democratizer, then, too narrow, and is the universalist too blind? Do the costs of democratization ever outweigh the benefits? In the calculation of these costs and these benefits, in this encounter with the problem known as the “incommensurability of values,” are there instances when we would be right to choose against democracy? I recognize the arrogance in choosing such a destiny for other peoples, but a policy of democratization is also such a choice and no less tainted by such an arrogance. We cannot escape the responsibility of our influence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


UK population ageing slower than most of Europe: Britain is set to escape the worst of Europe’s pensions time bomb as new figures show the UK population is not ageing as fast as other countries. (Tim Ross, 09 Dec 2010, The Telegraph)

In both Germany and Italy, 20% of the population was over the age of 65 last year, while in Japan the figure was even higher, at 22%.

Over-65s represented only 16% of the population in the UK, up slightly from 15 per cent in 1985, when Britain had one of the most aged populations in Europe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


A tiny tale about Ronald Reagan one holiday season long ago (Andrew Malcolm, December 10, 2010 , LA Times)

The story concerns Ronald Reagan, the notoriously cold-hearted conservative from California. One day in the middle of his eight years as governor (1967-75), Reagan received a letter from two sisters -- Bertha and Samueline Sisco. According to their story, they had promised their dying mother they would always care for their brother, Buzzy who was, as they phrased it in those days, retarded.Ronald Reagan family Rocking Chair

The sisters were seeking guidance to some kind of state help in caring for their 43-year-old sibling and the governor's office steered them toward it.

But Gov. Reagan heard a about the family's situation and made some inquiries. He discovered that Buzzy had always wanted a rocking chair to sit in with his teddy bear.

For some inexplicable reason, this touched the ruthless Republican who was clearly already plotting to become the 40th president, bankrupt the Soviet Union and end the Cold War.

Shortly before Christmas that year California Highway Patrolman Dale Role delivered a rocking chair to the Sisco home, along with a note explaining that it came from the governor's personal family furnishings and he wanted Buzzy and his teddy bear to be rocking in time for Christmas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Call the Scots: What telephone calls can reveal about a country’s true geography (The Economist, 12/09/10)

Putting borders, national or regional, in the wrong place can be quite costly. It may distort the natural flow of commerce, services and transport. And wrongly drawn borders underlie many struggles for independence—not least in Britain, which has had a fair share of such conflicts over the centuries.

Historically researchers have used everything from labour-market statistics to data about commuter travel to calculate “optimal” borders. But such information yields only a fuzzy picture. That is why the authors of this study opted for more fine-grained data: landline calls, which have the advantage of pinpointing geographical location (and the drawback of excluding communication on mobile phones). Some 12 billion calls within Great Britain in August 2005 were analysed, by phone number and duration. To protect the callers’ identity, part of the phone numbers was deleted, leaving just enough digits to locate them roughly.

The study’s hypothesis was that the more and the longer people in two locations talk on the telephone, the more the places belong to the same region. To prove it, they divided the country into “pixels” covering nearly 100 square kilometres. They measured how strongly these were connected in terms of “talk time”, and used several algorithms to group the pixels into larger regions.

Unsurprisingly, the regions based on human interaction coincide largely with administrative ones (see map). After all, they have evolved over many years. But two differences stand out. Parts of Wales seem more connected to the West and East Midlands regions than to other bits of Wales. And west of London, where many of Britain’s high-tech firms are based, a new region is developing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


The rich rewards of cutting jobs (Joan Vennochi, December 9, 2010, Boston Globe)

PROFITS ARE up, so it’s time to slash the workforce.

That’s the story at State Street Corp., which recently announced the elimination of 1,400 jobs, including 400 in Massachusetts. Those jobs are gone, even though State Street last reported profits of $427 million, up about 20 percent from a year ago. Operating revenue also rose 8.4 percent .

In an internal e-mail, chief executive Jay Hooley explained the strategy as necessary to “enhance service excellence and innovation’’ and drive “a stronger sense of urgency about getting things done.’’

Those scary words reflect the new normal in corporate America.

Since the US economy entered into recession at the end of 2007, jobs have been shed and wages frozen or cut. But, while wage and salary payments to workers declined by $121 billion or about 2 percent since the last quarter of 2008, pre-tax corporate profits rose sharply — up by $572 billion or 57 percent over the same time period, according to Andrew Sum, a professor of economics and director for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Productivity also increased, but workers got no reward — only unemployment insurance.

“The extraordinary corporate profit share of income growth in the current recovery has no historical counterpart,’’ write Sum and research associate Joseph McLaughlin, in the current edition of Challenge Magazine. As a result, they note, “America’s workers might with justification claim, ‘We wuz robbed.’ ’’

Once you accept that reducing the workforce does not reduce output, just wages, then you can begin to discuss employment reasonably. In America today, we aren't talking about employment as a matter of productive labor but as a means of wealth redistribution.
But, as a matter of economics, isn't it better to run companies efficiently and if we think people ought to be paid to do nothing just have the state pay them?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


GOP gets queasy over earmark ban (JAKE SHERMAN, 12/9/10, Politico)

After agreeing to kill earmarks, some of the most conservative GOP lawmakers are already starting to ask themselves: What have we done?

Indeed, many Republicans are now worried that the bridges in their districts won’t be fixed, the tariff relief to the local chemical company isn’t coming and the water systems might not be built without a little direction from Congress.

So some Republicans are discussing exemptions to the earmark ban, allowing transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water projects. While transportation earmarks are probably the most notorious — think “Bridge to Nowhere” — there is talk about tweaking the very definition of “earmark.”

Poll: Americans Want Action on the Deficit, but Oppose Most Proposals to Cut It (Bruce Drake, 12/10/10, Politics Daily)
Amid all the discussion and debate about the deficit and what to do about it, several hard truths keep emerging: an overwhelming majority of Americans believe it is a major problem and almost none of the most widely mentioned proposals to cut the red ink by reducing spending or raising taxes get majority support from the public.

Those realities stand out starkly in a new Pew Research Center poll, conducted Dec. 1-5, in which 70 percent of Americans say the deficit is a major problem that must be solved now, but disapprove by a big margin of the deficit commission's plan to get the red ink under control.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


James Moody, Genial Jazz Reedman, Dies ( Patrick Jarenwattananon, 12/10/10, NPR)

Jazz saxophonist and flutist James Moody died Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. A virtuoso player known for his effusive warmth on and off stage, Moody enjoyed a career stretching more than 60 years. He was 85.

Moody is known for his decades-long association with bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie, whose band he first joined following a stint in a segregated Air Force Band during World War II. Independent of Gillespie, Moody's 1949 improvisation over "I'm in the Mood for Love" became a classic. A vocal arrangement of that improvisation, titled "Moody's Mood for Love," was covered by dozens of artists afterward, including King Pleasure, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin.

For many years, Moody also led and participated in successful ensembles which built on bebop developments. He achieved mastery on multiple instruments, which came in handy while he worked as a backup musician in Las Vegas nightclubs during the 1970s.

-James Moody: 'Moody's Mood for Love' (A. B. Spellman and Murray Horwitz, October 1, 2001, NPR Basic Jazz Record Library Entry)

-AUDIO: James Moody Recorded August 19-20, 1993 (Smithsonian Jazz Class)
-The Many Moods Of James Moody (Josh Jackson, 11/23/10, NPR: Take Five)
-OBIT: James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85 (PETER KEEPNEWS, 12/10/10, NY Times)

Mr. Moody, who began his career with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shortly after World War II and maintained it well into the 21st century, developed distinctive and equally fluent styles on both tenor and alto saxophone, a relatively rare accomplishment in jazz. He also played soprano saxophone, and in the mid-1950s he became one of the first significant jazz flutists, impressing the critics if not himself.

“I’m not a flute player,” he told one interviewer. “I’m a flute holder.”

The self-effacing humor of that comment was characteristic of Mr. Moody, who took his music more seriously than he took himself. Musicians admired him for his dexterity, his unbridled imagination and his devotion to his craft, as did critics; reviewing a performance in 1980, Gary Giddins of The Village Voice praised Mr. Moody’s “unqualified directness of expression” and said his improvisations at their best were “mini-epics in which impassioned oracles, comic relief, suspense and song vie for chorus time.” But audiences were equally taken by his ability to entertain.

Defying the stereotype of the modern jazz musician as austere and humorless (and following the example of Gillespie, whom he considered his musical mentor and with whom he worked on and off for almost half a century), Mr. Moody told silly jokes, peppered his repertory with unlikely numbers like “Beer Barrel Polka” and the theme from “The Flintstones,” and often sang. His singing voice was unpolished but enthusiastic — and very distinctive, partly because he spoke and sang with a noticeable lisp, a result of having been born partly deaf.

-OBIT: James Moody dies at 85; jazz saxophonist and flutist (Don Heckman, 12/10/10, LA Times)
The recording, made in Stockholm in 1949, became a rare jazz hit as an instrumental. When singer King Pleasure recorded Eddie Jefferson's lyrics for Moody's improvisation in 1954, it became a cross-genre hit, subsequently recorded by singers ranging from Van Morrison, George Benson and Aretha Franklin to Tito Puente and Amy Winehouse. Moody, himself, frequently sang the version with lyrics in his live performances.

The original improvisation was recorded on alto saxophone, an instrument Moody had not been playing at the time.

"Up to this point, I had been playing strictly tenor saxophone," he told Times jazz writer Leonard Feather in 1988. "At one session, I noticed that Lars Gullin, the Swedish saxophonist, had an alto sax lying around. I said, 'Do you mind if I try it out?' "

Moody did not initially expect to record with the alto, however, and the song came to life only as a spontaneous, last-minute addition to the session.

"The producer decided we needed an extra tune," he recalled. "But [he] didn't have any music prepared. I suggested making 'I'm in the Mood for Love,' and we went ahead and did it, in one take, with me playing this beat-up alto saxophone. Well, you know what happened."

-OBIT: A jazz giant passes: James Moody, 1925-2010: The San Diego saxophonist influenced and inspired several generations of fans and fellow musicians, including Quincy Jones, who hails Moody as "a national treasure" (George Varga, December 9, 2010, San Diego Union Tribune)
“ ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ is a national anthem,” said longtime Moody fan and confidante Bill Cosby, who in the 1980s sang a duet of the song with jazz vocal star Nancy Wilson in an episode of “The Cosby Show,” his hit TV series. Cosby also prominently featured the song in his 2004 feature film, “Fat Albert,” which came as a surprise to Mr. and Mrs. Moody when Cosby had them attend the film’s premiere.

In addition to praising Mr. Moody’s artistic excellence and tireless devotion to jazz, Cosby credited the jazz legend for being a personal role model.

“He has taught me integrity, how to express love for your fellow human beings, and how to combine and contain manhood and maturity,” Cosby told the The San Diego Union-Tribune.

-OBIT: Jazz musician James Moody, improviser of 'Moody's Mood for Love,' dies at 85 (Matt Schudel, 12/10/10, Washington Post)
What happened was that Mr. Moody improvised a sinuous, harmonically complex solo in which a quiet urgency animated the tune's romantic tone. By the time he returned to the United States in 1952, his recording had become a modest hit, much to his surprise. To satisfy public demand, Mr. Moody had to relearn his solo by practicing along with his own record.

Singer Eddie Jefferson was so taken with the bebop-flavored melody that he wrote lyrics to fit the contours of Mr. Moody's instrumental improvisation. This innovation in jazz singing and composing came to be known as vocalese.

The reconfigured tune, with its catchy opening line, "There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go," was called "Moody's Mood for Love" and was soon recorded by singer King Pleasure.

With backing vocals by Blossom Dearie, Pleasure's version of the song became a pop hit in 1954 and included a direct reference to Mr. Moody at the end: "James Moody, you can come on in, man, and you can blow now if you want to. We're through."

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December 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Sen. Bernie Sanders takes 8.5-hour stand against Obama's tax-cut package (Felicia Sonmez, 12/10/10, Washington Post)

Sanders began speaking at 10:25 a.m. and wrapped up more than 8 1/2 hours later at 7 p.m. Several senators, including Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) took turns presiding as Sanders spoke to a chamber scattered with a handful of Senate staffers and bored-looking pages, as well as a dozen or so curious onlookers watching from the gallery.

Speaking briefly with reporters after his marathon, Sanders said that he had initially planned to fly back to Vermont tonight but probably would rest in Washington instead.

Asked why he stopped speaking when he did, Sanders replied, "I'm tired."

That's all he could spare from his schedule to save America from the dark night of plutocracy?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Bill Clinton Holds Court in Impromptu White House News Conference (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, 12/10/10, NY Times)

The president stood by Mr. Clinton’s side for several minutes as Mr. Clinton held court in front of the White House logo that often hovered behind him a decade ago.

But after Mr. Clinton began taking questions, the current president excused himself, saying that his wife, Michelle, expected Mr. Obama’s presence at one of the many holiday parties that presidents host during the month of December.

“I’ve been keeping the first lady waiting,” Mr. Obama said, excusing himself.

“I don’t want to make her mad,” Mr. Clinton said. “Please go.”

And with that, Mr. Obama departed, leaving Mr. Clinton to continue his extended conversation with the media. [...]

Mr. Clinton went on for at least 20 minutes, moving at one point beyond the tax debate and offering his opinion on the administration’s new arms control treaty with Russia and the ongoing crisis in Haiti.

Way to convince the base that you aren't going Clinton on them--you morph into him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Taxing decision for Lee (Scott Beaman, 12/10/10, ESPN)

One of the myriad of reasons that Texas may appeal more to Cliff Lee than New York is the tax scenario. [...]

If Lee lived in New York City, he would pay 12.618 percent of his salary to state (8.97 percent) and city (3.648 percent) income taxes (based upon the 2010 tax rates). Presuming that held steady, that would amount to $17.67 million on his total contract.

Thus, a six-year/$123 million contract with the Rangers would be more valuable to Cliff Lee than a six-year/$140 million contract with the Yankees, since there are no state or city taxes in Texas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Peter Hitchens on the Perils of Ideology (Anna Blundy , 9 December 2010, Five Books)

The Night of Wenceslas.

Many years ago I was told by the wife of Jack Jones, who had in her distant youth been a Comintern courier – gold one way and messages the other – that whatever else I did I should go to Prague, where you could encounter the faint echoes of prewar Europe and was also an astonishingly beautiful city. So in 1977, when it was not fashionable to go there and when stag nights were not held there and people didn’t even know where it was on the map, I and my wife set out on a visit there and it exceeded expectations. Then to stumble across this novel by Lionel Davidson, an author who has been very unfairly neglected, it seems to me!

He is one of the great thriller writers of the second half of the 20th century and he’s also very funny, but this book is again a perfect description of what it is like to be in a Communist capital city and it also contains wonderful moments of fear. For example, when the hero discovers that he is, in fact – and I don’t want to spoil this for anyone reading it – carrying something in his luggage which is tremendously dangerous to him and that the authorities are after him. What follows is a mixture of terror and laughter which it would take a great deal of trouble to undo.

The final scenes, which are played out around the British Embassy in the very beautiful part of Prague where it still stands, are also a wonderful piece of work. So, for anyone who’s interested in Prague, for anyone who’s interested in being made to laugh, for anyone who’s interested in a really good espionage thriller, for anyone who wants to have the atmosphere of one of the most atmospheric cities in the world recreated, you couldn’t do better.

It sounds wonderful.

Do read it! Everybody should. There are other books by him too – The Rose of Tibet and A Long Way to Shiloh, which are fantastic books. One set in Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion and the other in pre-1967 Israel, the only really good archaeological thriller I’ve ever read.

But his best book is Kolymsky Heights.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Independents’ Day (Charlie Cook, December 9, 2010, National Journal)

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is furious over President Obama’s deal with congressional Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts, but the move is likely to go over well with independent voters. To liberals, the president’s agreement to continue the cuts for families whose incomes top $250,000 was heresy. To independents, it was compromise—more like candidate Obama’s promise to “change the way Washington works” than the “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality that has halted progress on so many important problems in recent years.

Independents are the voters who gave Democrats their majorities in 2006 and 2008. This year, independents rather aggressively removed House Democrats from their majority. As nonideologues, independent voters aren’t into pursuing causes or righting wrongs so much as they are into seeking results. Endless bickering doesn’t impress them.

...House Democrats don't care what the American people want, only about their own ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


The State of Statelessness : a review of Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination by Benedict Anderson and The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia by James C. Scott (Henry Farrell, Jan/Feb 2011, American Interest)

While anarchism still inspires political action, anarchists do rather little to organize that action into a larger program for change. Like other activists, they have taken advantage of the Internet to organize protests, but the Internet is no substitute for a directed organization. It can create solidarities and facilitate simple forms of collective action, such as raising money or turning up in the same place for a protest. But it cannot easily sustain complex activities that require long-term commitments. Here, in particular, the Internet actually accentuates some of anarchism’s inherent weaknesses.

Unlike its great competitor, Marxism, anarchism was never associated with a coherent program of political change. While there were influential anarchist theorists, such as Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, they tended to be non-systematic thinkers and to have highly romantic theories of politics. In some instances, this romanticism slipped into an indiscriminate enthusiasm for the emancipatory power of violence, a notion famously taken up by Georges Sorel. Most strains of modern anarchism do not emphasize violence, but they still do not provide a coherent strategy to provoke the radical changes that they would like to see. Noam Chomsky represents a broader pattern: While he is extremely specific in his criticisms of the “world system” that the Western industrialized powers have created, he has little to say about how best to replace it, let alone what to replace it with.1

Understanding anarchism today requires a better understanding of its past. Just such an understanding is provided in Benedict Anderson’s Under Three Flags and James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed. Both authors are academic sympathizers of sorts, but neither aims specifically to revive anarchism as a political force (although Anderson is a little more hopeful than Scott about its future possibilities). Rather, they tease out the historical role of anarchism before the onset of late modernity by taking two very different routes. Anderson’s anarchism lies in the 19th-century social milieu that gave birth to Angiolillo’s assassination of the Spanish Prime Minister and helped sustain a variety of nationalist insurrections. It is a crucial moment in the historical development of the modern state, when subversive newspapers, letters and novels helped build and sustain collective indignation at the viciousness of the colonial powers’ behavior abroad and their repressive regimes at home. Scott’s anarchism is more profound, but also far more difficult to recreate: It alights in the space of possibilities that surrounded nascent states before they were fully assured in their power.

Anderson’s political sympathies are complex. He is a former Marxist who lost belief in the explanatory power of Marxian materialism when the Soviet Union and China began to behave toward each other as states rather than as fellow participants in a global struggle for the liberation of the working class. He suffers from what Ernest Gellner once cruelly but aptly described as the “Wrong Address” theory of nationalism, under which History was supposed to confer group consciousness and solidarity upon Class, yet somehow ended up delivering it to Nationality instead. Unlike many of his fellow sufferers, however, Anderson clearly recognizes his ailment. Under Three Flags is perhaps intended as a cure in that it tries to show how nationalist sympathies and anarchists’ concern with class injustice can work together rather than against each other.

They're both driven by hate, you just have to get them to both hate the same foe and they can work "together".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The Defined Contribution Route to Health Care Choice and Competition (Thomas P. Miller, James C. Capretta, December 07, 2010, AEI)

Most Americans are in government-subsidized insurance arrangements that largely insulate them from the cost of insurance and care. Open-ended federal support for health insurance coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) plans is the major reason the federal budget today is in deep deficit, and why the long-term outlook is even more daunting. Medicare's incentives for rising volume, unlimited federal funding for state-run Medicaid plans, and a tax subsidy for employer plans that grows with the expense of the plan all point in the same direction: rapidly rising health care costs.

As part of the American Enterprise Institute project, Beyond "Repeal and Replace": Ideas for Real Health Reform, health policy analysts James C. Capretta and Thomas P. Miller observe that the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does little, if anything, to break with these longstanding policy problems. Indeed, the real point of the new health law is not to change course at all but to ensure the uninsured are also enrolled in expansive and heavily subsidized third-party insurance arrangements.

The coauthors argue that a more sustainable, marketbased, and patient-centered version of health reform must instead convert existing defined benefit promises into "defined contributions" that individuals and their families then can use to enroll in coverage arrangements of their choice. Capretta and Miller recommend that Medicare subsidies should no longer hide the true cost of promised benefits but provide beneficiaries incentives to obtain the most value for them. They find that a move to replace both traditional Medicaid assistance and the tax preference for ESI with defined contribution payments would open up new possibilities for explicit and beneficial coordination between the Medicaid program and the coverage normally offered to working-age Americans.

The coauthors conclude that placing limits on what is provided through defined contribution payments, even with special provisions for additional help to low-income households, will set in motion a dynamic that will yield benefits across the entire health care system for all Americans.

PDF here

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


No Deficit of Courage (JON MEACHAM, 12/08/10, NY Times)

While Mr. Obama’s immediate concern is stimulus and Mr. Bush’s was deficit-reduction, both gave way on issues critical to the true believers within their parties. For Mr. Bush, it was political death. He had never been fully trusted by a Reaganite Republican base. Like Mr. Obama — who is unhappy with his “sanctimonious” left wing — Mr. Bush was no ideologue.

“I’m not going to be held up by campaign rhetoric,” he wrote in his diary early in his term. “If the facts change, I hope I’m smart enough to change, too.” Mr. Bush privately said that he had no intention of being “off in some ideological corner falling on my sword and keeping the country from moving forward.”

He knew that doing what he believed was in the country’s best interest could cost him his job in 1992. “Nobody is particularly happy with me,” he said during the 1990 negotiations. “The budget is a loser.”

But in real time, aware of the consequences, he made the best of the world as he found it. After his election loss to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush wrote to Nicholas Brady, his Treasury secretary, that the budget deal would have helped him if the economy had strongly recovered. “It didn’t,” Mr. Bush added, “and I was the ‘read my lips’ liar — over and over and over again. I heard it — it killed us.” With the base angry and so many others believing the economy was not getting better, Mr. Bush faced a primary challenge from the right by Patrick Buchanan and ultimately could not prevail against the combination of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

If you play out the 1990 analogy, Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush, may be a one-term president.

GHWB failed to grasp that the Peace Dividend was going to be so huge that the budget deal didn't matter economically, only politically.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


From Audacity to Animosity (PEGGY NOONAN, 12/09/10, WSJ)

We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn't much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday's press conference.

President Obama was supposed to be announcing an important compromise, as he put it, on tax policy. Normally a president, having agreed with the opposition on something big, would go through certain expected motions. He would laud the specific virtues of the plan, show graciousness toward the negotiators on the other side—graciousness implies that you won—and refer respectfully to potential critics as people who'll surely come around once they are fully exposed to the deep merits of the plan.

Instead Mr. Obama said, essentially, that he hates the deal he just agreed to, hates the people he made the deal with, and hates even more the people who'll criticize it. His statement was startling in the breadth of its animosity.

...but the UR has so little depth and his presidency is so inextricably tied to an image of himself that any resistance he meets is in fact personal, not just political.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


GOP Gains in Statehouses Increase Its Clout in 2012 Redistricting (Bruce Drake, 12/08/10, Politics Daily

[Tim Storey, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures] said that a court ruling in New York last week in favor of a Republican candidate for the New York State Senate gave the party a majority and represented the 20th legislative chamber picked up by the GOP in the midterm elections. When Oregon and Louisiana are added (in Oregon, Republicans moved into a tie with Democrats in the state House and, in Louisiana, a Democratic House member switched sides), majority control changed in 22 states.

The gains mean that Republicans now control the entire legislature in 25 states, a gain of 11 states over what they had going into election day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM


The Brotherhood's next move: What will be the Brotherhood's tactics now it is no longer represented in parliament (Dina Ezzat, 12/08/10, Al-Ahram)

The Muslim Brotherhood's charities, media channels and religion-related activities will continue to link them with the public.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is not just a political party, it is a movement that has been active and survived rounds of persecution under both the monarchy and republic," says political analyst Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed. It is, he says, a mistake to assume the group will disappear from the public arena because its road to parliamentary representation was blocked.

"To the Muslim Brotherhood, parliament is just one of many political and social venues used to promote their political agenda. It is one aspect of a complex apparatus." [...].

According to both observers and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group will probably now attempt to coordinate with other political forces.

El-Sayed and El-Erian suggest the possible creation of a new opposition front gathering political forces -- including the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular parties -- along with social groups such as the Egyptian Movement for Change.

Working with El-Baradei is an option, said El-Erian, adding that for El-Baradei to secure mass support from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other political bloc he "needs to start working on a coherent project" for reform that goes beyond simply calling on society to act to induce it.

It is very much an open question whether El-Baradei will pursue such a course. Yet with or without El-Baradei, El-Erian and Hassan insist, the Muslim Brotherhood will seek to coordinate positions with other political forces, given that most of the opposition has been excluded from the new parliament in elections that many rights groups say were marred by extensive irregularities.

According to El-Erian, the message of the Muslim Brotherhood to the opposition forces is short, simple and to the point: "We are all in one boat."

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December 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 PM


Senate blocks repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' (Anne Flaherty, 12/09/10, Associated Press)

Republicans blocked a last-ditch effort in the Senate to lift the military's ban on openly gay troops on Thursday, dealing a major blow to gay rights groups and making it unlikely Congress could repeal "don't ask, don't tell" any time soon.

The 57-40 vote fell three short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural hurdles to lift the 17-year-old ban. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican voting to advance the bill, and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


AFL-CIO, Steelworkers Oppose U.S.-South Korea Trade Deal (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, 12/08/10, WSJ)

The AFL-CIO--the nation's biggest labor federation and a pillar of the Democratic Party's political base--and the United Steelworkers both issued statements opposing the deal, following a week of studying the agreement. They were joined by a series of coalitions that traditionally oppose trade pacts.

President Barack Obama has pledged to double U.S. exports by 2015, and said he wants to conclude trade accords with Korea, Colombia, and Panama next year. The Obama administration tried to win labor's support for the revised Korea pact, and negotiated the deal in consultation with the United Auto Workers union. The UAW endorsed the deal, along with the United Food and Commercial Workers, whose members could benefit from expanded meat exports.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Why the Obama Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview (Robert Reich, December 8, 2010, Huffington Post)

Apart from its extraordinary cost and regressive tilt, the tax deal negotiated between the president and the Republicans has another fatal flaw.

It confirms the Republican worldview.

Americans want to know what happened to the economy and how to fix it. At least Republicans have a story -- the same one they've been flogging for thirty years. The bad economy is big government's fault and the solution is to shrink government.

Do you really hear much from the GOP about government causing the recession? Aren't they instead saying that the big government response to it was unhelpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Blatter: FIFA not corrupt, England bad losers (AP 12/08/10)

FIFA's ethics court suspended two of Blatter's executive committee colleagues from taking part in last Thursday's balloting after a British newspaper alleged bribe-taking and vote-rigging.

Blatter then reminded FIFA voters immediately before polling about media "evils" during the World Cup campaign.

Within 24 hours of a humiliating rejection, officials from England's 2018 bid also accused several voters of breaking promises of support they gave to a lobbying team that included Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Blatter said he was surprised by the reaction in England, which he called "the motherland of fair play."

"Now some of them are proving to be bad losers themselves," he said. "I sense in some reactions a little bit of arrogance of the western, Christian kind." that he thinks Western and Christian are pejorative.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


House Democrats Reject Obama Tax Plan (JOHN PARKINSON and RUSSELL GOLDMAN, Dec. 9, 2010 , ABC News)

House Democrats voted Thursday to reject a controversial tax deal brokered between President Obama and the incoming Republican leadership, highlighting the growing rift inside the president's own party.

By voice vote, House Democrats overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday that said the tax package should not come to the floor of the House for consideration.

"When faced with take it or leave it, we'll leave it," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D- Texas, after leaving the heated closed-door meeting of the caucus.

W didn't lose control of his House loons until 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


How To Get Paid To Do Nothing (Susan Adams, 12.08.10, Forbes)

Some years ago I had a colleague I'll call June. It seemed that every time I went to the ladies' room, June was there, applying mascara, combing her long, dark tresses and chatting. She also spent lots of time out on the sidewalk smoking, and in the cafeteria. Exceedingly friendly and warm, she knew everyone and devoted much of her day to catching up on their personal news. What she didn't spend much time on was work. A guy who sat in the cubicle next to hers once told me that he estimated she put in just two hours a day of what could be described as productive labor.

Eric Abrahamson, a professor at Columbia Business School who specializes in leadership and organizational problem solving, calls people like June "Michelangelos of work avoidance." Abrahamson studies workplace fads and time management and has looked closely at the ways some employees manage to get paid to do nothing. He doesn't advocate their practices, but he says that understanding them can help managers address office inequities and make their teams more productive.

Work-avoidance Michelangelos know how to stay idle while suffering no consequences or, in some cases, even getting promoted. June lasted in her job for more than a decade before finally being laid off, and when her termination came it had little to do with her lack of productivity. The office was automating her job. that "managing a team" is doing something.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Look: What your reaction to someone's eye movements says about your politics (Physorg, December 9, 2010)

It goes without saying that conservatives and liberals don't see the world in the same way. Now, research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that is exactly, and quite literally, the case.

In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals' and conservatives' reaction to "gaze cues" – a person's tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person's eye movements, even if it's irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.

Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Lab Politics: Most scientists in this country are Democrats. That's a problem. (Daniel Sarewitz, Dec. 8, 2010, Slate)

[P]artisan politics aside, why should it matter that there are so few Republican scientists? After all, it's the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren't blue or red.

Well, that's not quite right. Consider the case of climate change, of which beliefs are astonishingly polarized according to party affiliation and ideology. A March 2010 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Democrats (and 74 percent of liberals) say the effects of global warming are already occurring, as opposed to 31 percent of Republicans. Does that mean that Democrats are more than twice as likely to accept and understand the scientific truth of the matter? And that Republicans are dominated by scientifically illiterate yahoos and corporate shills willing to sacrifice the planet for short-term economic and political gain?

Or could it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political—and that science is just carried along for the ride? For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth. These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science.

Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation? Now this would be a good case for Mythbusters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


God's equations?: Is the universe a ‘fluctuation, like a bubble in boiling water’, or part of a succession of Big Bangs – and where do competing theories leave a Creator? (John Leslie, 12/08/10, Times Literary Supplement)

Why is there a universe, not a blank? The Grand Design and Cycles of Time suggest very different answers. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow make The Grand Design reader-friendly. Its physics and cosmology are enlivened by myth (“In the Mayan legend the Maker, unhappy because there was no one to praise him, decided to create humans”). You’ll find colourful artwork, jokes, a quick history of science, no mathematics. And the book can seem astonishingly open-minded. Even Archbishop Ussher’s view that things began in 4004 BC appears to get considerable respect. Suppose that Ussher’s modern disciples taught that in 4004 BC God created the universe exactly as if it had existed for billions of years, inclusive of fossils in the rocks: Hawking–Mlodinow’s “model-dependent realism” wouldn’t call their teaching mistaken, or its imagined facts “less real” than those you presumably believe in.

“Philosophy”, the book declares, “is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science.” The authors then make bold philosophical claims. For example they aren’t attracted by the idea, perhaps it has never occurred to them, that even chess-playing computers “make choices” in a sense. So they theorize that “though we feel that we can choose what we do”, we are in fact “governed by the laws of physics and chemistry”, which at once proves we can’t. Presumably, they hope that after weighing the alternatives we will select their theory without actually choosing it.

Again, Hawking and Mlodinow treat quantum theory controversially. What could terminate “quantum superpositions” in which seemingly contradictory situations are combined? For instance a cat – anaesthetized, observing nothing, its fate linked to an atom liable to decay radioactively – with the seemingly incompatible properties of being alive and being dead. Or an electron’s passage through a left slit, as a particle, and simultaneously through a right slit, once again as a particle, and simultaneously also through both slits, as a wave. Only observations could have the power to terminate such paradoxical states, on the book’s world-view: “the unobserved past is indefinite”.

Considered scientifically, the Big Bang could as easily date to 4004 BC as any other year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


The state of Israel’s democracy (YITZHAK KLEIN, 12/07/2010, Jerusalem Post)

The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest Democracy Index reports that 54 percent of Israelis favor requiring citizens to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” as a condition for being allowed to vote. This bad idea should be opposed on principled and pragmatic grounds alike.

Freedom means that society may not coerce the expression of an opinion.

How much more so is this the case if the proposed sanction is to withhold the most fundamental right of citizenship from those whose opinions are deemed politically incorrect? Democracy rests on the freely given consent of the governed. It is no democracy if government, which always represents the opinion and the interests of particular parties, has the power to penalize those who disagree with it. How much more so is this the case when the penalty inflicted is withholding the right to determine the balance of political power in the country? Grant governments the right to impose loyalty oaths as the price of political participation, and they will design those oaths to exclude their political opponents from the ballot.

This is the real motive behind the loyalty oaths currently being proposed, dressed up though they may be in patriotic flummery.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Demand for U.S. Cash Surges (Michael S. Derby, 12/08/10, WSJ)

The drubbing delivered to the dollar on foreign exchange markets over recent months obscures the fact that global demand for U.S. currency, in its elemental form of cash, has been growing at a strong rate.

According to data from Wrightson ICAP, the most recent four-week moving average for currency in circulation grew at a robust 10.3% annualized pace.

There's only one safe harbor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Senate 2012: Republicans might have an opportunity in Michigan (David Freddoso 12/08/10, Washington Examiner)

Public Policy Polling finds support for Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to be very thin at the moment, pinning her approval rating at just 41 percent. Her disapproval is at just 40 percent, but there could be an opportunity here for Republicans to drive that up with a serious challenge.

Stabenow, who defeated Republican Sen. Spence Abraham in 2000, polls in the low 40s and she only narrowly leads several hypothetical Republican opponents, including Reps. Pete Hoekstra and Candice Miller, and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

Even if the presidential nominee isn't Mitt, Pawlenty or Daniels they're going top target Michigan.

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December 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Former Jets safety Keith Fitzhugh chooses family over football (Jenny Vrentas, 12/07/10, The Star-Ledger)

“I know I haven’t won a Super Bowl; it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Fitzhugh said by phone from Georgia yesterday. “But you only get one mom and one dad. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’d rather be there for my mom and dad than go for a Super Bowl chance.”

Fitzhugh has a stable job, with health benefits, as a conductor with Norfolk Southern railroad outside Atlanta. Work involves trips to Chattanooga, Tenn., and back, building trains in the yard or being on call through the night.

It’s important for him to have a steady stream of income -- more often than not elusive in the NFL -- because his father is disabled and cannot work. Keith Fitzhugh, Sr., has had hip replacements and bad knees, and struggles to walk. He has been unable to work since his son left to play football at Mississippi State.

Fitzhugh lives at home and helps support a family that is not big, but very close-knit, particularly since losing his younger sister, Brittany, to the West Nile Virus five years ago. She was bitten by a mosquito when she was 11, and her condition slowly deteriorated as if she had multiple sclerosis: she began losing her vision and hair, developed lesions on the back of her brain and burst blood through her neck.

She passed away at age 14, the day before Fitzhugh played his first spring game at Mississippi State.

“That’s why I’m so strong about being around family now,” Fitzhugh said. “Life is short, and you never know what will happen. When I went through the period of time being unemployed, my family was there for me. I didn’t want to take a risk and lose everything again, especially when I have a great job like I do now.”

Fitzhugh told the Jets he was very thankful for the opportunity they extended. But to him, the risk was too great: he might only be on the roster for a couple of weeks, or even less, and as a result would give up the railroad job that can offer him long-term employment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


Salvation in lights: The gospel, according to Mike Farris (Christina Knauss, 12/02/10, Weekly Surge)

Farm life obviously appeals to the 2010 version of Mike Farris.

Back in the '90s, however, he was living a completely different kind of life, an almost stereotypical rock 'n' roll existence on the road with his band the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. The Wheelies played loose, Southern-tinged hard rock that garnered a string of hits on mainstream rock charts, including "Shakin' the Blues" and "Magnolia." The band's live shows, including late-'90s gigs at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, were raucous and fun, and Farris' showed off consummate skills both as a vocalist and performer.

But the rock 'n' roll lifestyle caught up with Farris, and he battled twin demons of drugs and alcohol that he thought he'd overcome in his early 20s.

He got sober and embraced Christianity after the Wheelies broke up in 2001, and made a radical change not only in lifestyle, but also in his style of music.

Since his 2007 solo album "Salvation in Lights," Farris has embraced old-style gospel, and both his cover songs and originals wouldn't sound out of place on a Sunday morning service at a backwoods country church. He performs with a band that includes horn lines and backup singers, and none of the hard rock sounds from the Wheelies days. His album "Shout! Live" won a Dove Award for best traditional Gospel album of 2009.

Farris also makes music with a conscience. His latest release, the six-song EP, "Night The Cumberland Came Alive," is a benefit for victims of the devastating floods that hit Nashville in May. [...]

" Cumberland" definitely has a distinctive sound. Can you tell me what the recording sessions at Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church were like?

It was recorded in one day. We recorded it in six hours. On the whole album, what you hear is exactly what happened. There were no vocal overdubs, no guitar overdubs. And it is by light years the best sounding record we've done. I was just a ball of energy and kind of real nervous because I was overwhelmed by all the responsibility. Everybody walked in that day and nobody had heard one note of those songs. They had no idea what they were coming in to play, no charts to look at...I would stand on the edge of the pulpit in this big, massive old 19th-century church, play through the song on my acoustic guitar to show them how it was, and then we would roll tape, three to five takes and that was it. I was really kind of in my own world, and other guys who were there that day felt like it was a really good way to record. It took everybody out of their comfort zone because it wasn't a natural environment. They had to be on their toes and really had to pay attention. No one was on cruise control for this record.

The album benefits victims of the Nashville floods. Have you met with any of the families and what impact did that have on you?

We went a few weeks ago and started a series of interviews with people so we can film them, put them on our Web site ( and give a face to this disaster...It's truly life changing to sit and talk to people who have lost everything, homes they've raised their families in. The beautiful thing, and the common thread we find, is that every time we talk to these people we learn how their lives have somehow been enriched because of this disaster. They say they've become better people, or they've been overwhelmed by strangers' generosity, and they talk about how this has changed their lives. To me, only God can help people turn something tragic like this into something positive.

" Cumberland" definitely shows your evolution as a gospel singer. You've probably tired of answering this, but can you talk a little about what led you to do this kind of music as opposed to the rock 'n' roll you performed with the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies?

This kind of music was always there in me, but it wasn't obvious to me that it was what I should be doing. Even when I was with the Wheelies, I really wanted to move on stylistically after the first record, because I didn't feel like I was where I was supposed to be. It was a long process for me even after the Wheelies broke up. It took time to explore and find what my true voice was. When you're trying to make a living and wondering how you're going to pay the bills and get songs on the charts, those things interfere.

Do you remember when you knew you'd found the right sound?

I remember the moment I found my true voice. I was recording a song called "As I Walk" for my first solo record ("Goodnight Sun," 2002), and I was doing the vocal track and it just dawned on me. From that point on, the light was on. I knew exactly how I was supposed to sound...I just had to figure out how to frame it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


States People Are Fleeing (Jenna Goudreau, 12.08.10, Forbes)

At No.1 on our list, New York is expected to wave goodbye to 49,000 more people than it gains this year. The state has seen a steady loss of residents over the past five years, losing an average of 100,000 people per year. Karp explains that, because New York is a large state, it may report greater movement than others, but notes that population size is not the only reason residents are fleeing.

"In order to move, you need to be able to sell your home," says Karp. "The housing market [in New York] has not gone through the meltdown that other states have gone through."

While New York homeowners may have a slightly easier time selling their homes and moving to greener pastures, a competing trend is the number of unemployed renters who can no longer afford the high cost of living in and around New York City. Karp says the expensive lifestyle and high taxes may force the long-term unemployed to move on to more affordable regions.

The Prairie State came in at No. 2. Illinois is expected to lose 27,000 people this year, consistent with its average annual loss over the last five years. The losses are likely linked to the state's economy and tax structure. Job losses in manufacturing and industrial machinery are likely pushing people out of the state, Karp says, adding that state taxes have also been "an issue" for many residents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Let the Palestinians Declare Statehood (Reza Aslan, 12/08/10, Daily Beast)

Now that the United States has given up on its demand that Israel freeze settlement activity in exchange for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians, it is time for the Palestinians to give up peace talks altogether and instead take a page out of Israel’s playbook and unilaterally declare statehood, come what may.

That, it seems, is precisely what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to do. This week, three South American countries took the international community by surprise when they issued separate public statements recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; i.e., the territory occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War. The countries—Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay—comprise three of the four nations in the powerful trade group Mercosur; the fourth member, Paraguay, is expected to make a similar declaration soon, along with two other major South American powers, Bolivia and Ecuador.

They shouldn't be negotiating for what is rightfully theirs in the first place.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Hilarion Alfeyev: St Matthew Passion. No 1 (OrthodoxNet, 12/07/10)

Just as Bach drew church congregations into the drama of Christ’s Passion in his day, so now, Metropolitan Hilarion is offering our post-modern world a corresponding experience with his fresh and original St. Matthew Passion, a profound piece of music that combines Gospel narrative with liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Do the QE opponents have ANY good arguments? (Scott Sumner, 12/06/10, The Money Illusion)

2. History shows that when central banks print lots of money, high inflation results.

Actually no. History shows that when central banks print lots of money at the zero rate bound, one generally doesn’t get much inflation. Japan has been printing lots of money for years, and has also run big budget deficits—thus they’ve been monetizing the debt. And their price level is lower than in 1994. {...]

4. The gold market shows that high inflation is just around the corner.

Actually no, for reasons discussed in this earlier post. Every direct indicator we have of inflation expectations shows very low inflation in the years ahead. CPI futures markets, 5-year TIPS spreads, the consensus economic forecast, they all point to low inflation.

5. OK, in the past printing money didn’t produce high inflation at the zero rate bound, and we don’t have high inflation now, and both forecasters and markets tell us not to expect high inflation in the future. But I just can’t believe we can print that much money without eventually suffering from high inflation. Monetarist theory tells us . . .

Monetarist theory has nothing to do with the current policy environment. Monetarist theory is all about the impact of printing non-interest bearing money–aka “high-powered money.” The reason it’s called high-powered is because it lacks interest, and thus is a sort of “hot potato,” an asset that everyone tries to get rid of, and the in process drives up prices. Milton Friedman and Karl Brunner would be rolling over in their graves if they knew people were claiming monetarist theory meant than the issuance of reserves paying interest at rates higher than earned on T-bills was some sort of “high-powered money.” [...]

So there you are. The conservatives do not have a single good argument against QE2. Every argument is based on bad logic, bad economics, a lack of understanding of history, or a lack of understanding of our political system. There must be some reason why the conservative establishment hardly raised a peep when the Fed would cut rates when inflation was running 3% or 4% when Reagan was president, or when Bush was president, and yet are now up in arms over monetary stimulus when we have 1% inflation and 17 million people out of work. There must be some reason. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Rosenbergs Redux: Why a last-ditch effort to redeem the couples’ name fails so completely. (Ronald Radosh, Steven Usdin, December 6, 2010, New Republic)

In Walter Schneir’s new book, he admits that he and his wife were wrong in Invitation and that Gold was telling the truth. Yet his intent is still to fudge the record in order to exonerate the Rosenbergs. Navasky, too, in his review of the book, has chosen to ignore decades of scholarship documenting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's espionage activities. In contrast to a number of extensively researched, lengthy books on the Rosenbergs, Final Verdict weighs in at 154 pages and has a whopping 21 footnotes. Yet Navasky wants Nation readers to believe that this book proves that David Greenglass acted alone. This, by the way, is a reversal of the Schneirs' earlier insistence in Invitation that Greenglass had never been a spy. Anything to excuse the Rosenbergs.

As proof of Greenglass’s enthusiasm for espionage, Navasky mentions the letters that Greenglass wrote from Los Alamos, which, Navasky says, are “made available for the first time by Schneir.” Evidently, he did not bother to check The Rosenberg File, where he would find that these same letters. (The Schneirs also ignored these letters in Invitation.) As stated in The Rosenberg File: “[T]he Greenglass correspondence directly contradicts Julius Rosenberg’s later assertion under oath that he knew nothing about the atomic-bomb project or his brother-in-law’s role until after the Hiroshima explosion at the earliest—and that he had no firm memory of discussing it until after the war ended.”

Most important of all, Navasky—like Walter Schneir in his new book—ignores the fact that Julius and Ethel recruited Greenglass after learning that he was stationed at the Manhattan Project. So, even if it was Greenglass who did the only real spying, he did so because Julius brought him into his already-existing network of spies. Navasky also ignores the fact that Julius Rosenberg recruited another major atomic spy, the previously unknown Russell McNutt, a revelation that appeared in the 2009 book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. Navasky and the Schneirs may not believe that this proves that Julius was an atomic spy, but the KGB did. A May 26, 1944 letter from the KGB, discussed in Spies, indicated that Rosenberg had been given a bonus for his “initiative in acquiring an agent [McNutt] to cultivate ‘Enormous,’ ” the KGB code name for the Manhattan Project. McNutt's employment provided access to secrets about processes for manufacturing weapons-grade uranium.

Navasky concludes with a plea for the release of more documents about the Rosenberg case. In fact, more documents have been released about the Rosenbergs than about any other espionage operation in history, and each release brings to light facts that make it ever more impossible to deny that Julius Rosenberg was an important Soviet spy. The documents—tens of thousands of pages of FBI files, the decrypted classified cables from Moscow to KGB agents in America in 1995, the KGB notebooks examined in Spies, declassified Czechoslovakian intelligence files, and the Rosenberg grand jury transcripts—are complemented by memoirs from and interviews with members of the Rosenberg espionage ring.

This mass of documentation shows that Julius Rosenberg began his espionage career before the German invasion of the Soviet Union (a time when Hitler and Stalin were allies) and that he continued for years after the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union's only potential opponent was the United States. This evidence also reveals that Julius was a more active atomic spy than the FBI, prosecutors, or his most ardent opponents ever suspected. The risks and sacrifices he took for the USSR surprised even hardened KGB officers. During a two-year period, from 1946 to 1948, when security concerns had caused the KGB to cut off communication, Rosenberg kept his ring together, stockpiled classified information in the hope that the KGB would get back in touch, and provided financial support to his agents.

As for Ethel Rosenberg’s role, the evidence is unequivocal. She recruited her brother as an atomic spy and provided logistical support to Julius's espionage activities. She knew at least two Soviet intelligence officers, and they considered her a loyal and trustworthy compatriot. The most frequently cited exculpatory evidence, a decrypted transcript of a KGB cable stating that Ethel "does not work" could be, and most likely is, a reference to the fact that she did not have a job, rather than confirmation that she did not work for the KGB.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Multiculturalism, R.I.P. (Roger Scruton, December 2010 - January 2011, American Spectator)

Once we distinguish race and culture, the way is open to acknowledge that not all cultures are equally admirable, and that not all cultures can exist comfortably side-by-side. To deny this is to forgo the very possibility of moral judgment, and therefore to deny the fundamental experience of community. It is precisely this that has caused the multiculturalists to hesitate. Rightly enjoying the polytheistic festivals of the Hindus, the Carnivals of Caribbean blacks, and the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, they have led us to believe that cultural difference is always an addition to social life, and never a threat to it. Anyone who discriminates between cultures, therefore, really must have something more dangerous at the back of his mind -- a desire to exclude on grounds of strangeness, which is the first step towards the racist mindset.

But experience has finally prevailed over wishful thinking. It is culture, not nature, that tells a family that their daughter who has fallen in love outside the permitted circle must be killed, that girls must undergo genital mutilation if they are to be respectable, that the infidel must be destroyed when Allah commands it. You can read about those things and think that they belong to the pre-history of our world. But when suddenly they are happening in your midst, you are apt to wake up to the truth about the culture that advocates them. You are apt to say, that is not our culture, and it has no businesshere. That is what Europeans are now saying -- not just a few crazies, but everyone. And the multiculturalists are reluctantly compelled to agree with them.

FOR WHAT IS BEING brought home to us, through painful experiences that we might have avoided had it been permitted before now to say the truth, is that we, like everyone else, depend upon a shared culture for our security, our prosperity and our freedom to be. We don't require everyone to have the same faith, to lead the same kind of family life, or to participate in the same festivals. But we have a shared moral and legal inheritance, a shared language, and a shared public sphere. Our societies are built upon the Judeo-Christian ideal of neighbor-love, according to which strangers and intimates deserve equal concern. They require each of us to respect the freedom and sovereignty of every other, and to acknowledge the threshold of privacy beyond which it is a trespass to go unless invited. Our societies depend upon a culture of law-abidingness and open contracts, and they reinforce these things through the educational traditions that have shaped our common curriculum. It is not an arbitrary cultural imperialism that leads us to value Greek philosophy and literature, the Hebrew Bible, Roman law, and the medieval epics and romances, and to teach these things in our schools. They are ours, in just the way that the legal order and the political institutions are ours: they form part of what made us, and convey the message that it is right to be what we are.

Over time immigrants can come to share these things with us: the experience of America bears ample witness to this. And they the more easily do so when they recognize that, in any meaningful sense of the word, our culture is also a multiculture, incorporating elements absorbed in ancient times from all around the Mediterranean basin and in modern times from the adventures of European traders and explorers across the world. But this kaleidoscopic culture is still one thing, with a set of inviolable principles at its core; and it is the source of social cohesion across Europe and America. Our culture allows for a great range of ways of life; it enables people to privatize their religion and their family customs, while still belonging to the public realm of open dealings and shared allegiance. For it defines that public realm in legal and territorial terms, and not in terms of creed or kinship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The truth about suicide bombers: Are they religious fanatics? Deluded ideologues? New research suggests something more mundane: They just want to commit suicide. (Paul Kix, December 5, 2010, Boston Globe)

The traditional view of suicide bombers is well established, and backed by the scholars who study them. The bombers are, in the post-9/11 age, often young, ideologically driven men and women who hate the laissez-faire norms of the West — or at least the occupations and wars of the United States — because they contradict the fundamentalist interpretations that animate the bombers’ worldview. Their deaths are a statement, then, as much as they are the final act of one’s faith; and as a statement they have been quite effective. They propagate future deaths, as terrorist organizers use a bomber’s martyrdom as propaganda for still more suicide terrorism.

But Williams is among a small cadre of scholars from across the world pushing the rather contentious idea that some suicide bombers may in fact be suicidal. At the forefront is the University of Alabama’s Adam Lankford, who recently published an analysis of suicide terrorism in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. Lankford cites Israeli scholars who interviewed would-be Palestinian suicide bombers. These scholars found that 40 percent of the terrorists showed suicidal tendencies; 13 percent had made previous suicide attempts, unrelated to terrorism. Lankford finds Palestinian and Chechen terrorists who are financially insolvent, recently divorced, or in debilitating health in the months prior to their attacks. A 9/11 hijacker, in his final note to his wife, describing how ashamed he is to have never lived up to her expectations. Terrorist recruiters admitting they look for the “sad guys” for martyrdom.

...we'd be running those "It gets better" ads on al-Jazeera aimed at al Qaeda.

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December 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 PM


PF Flyers Are Back! (Orvis)

If you've been around long enough to remember life before the Beatles, chances are good that you remember PF Flyers. The original lightweight casual sneakers for men provided excellent support and comfort, making it the go-to sneaker on basketball courts and in gymnasiums from coast to coast. This faithful reissue offers the same fit and classic looks as the Flyers you remember.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


This fire is still burning: Racism is spreading (MICHAEL MARMUR, 12/07/2010, Jerusalem Post)

Fifty Orthodox rabbis, most of them recipients of state funding, have just declared a ban on the rental or sale of property to non-Jews. They cite a number of halachic precedents, including the fear of intermarriage which apparently will ensue if such property deals are concluded. They also note that prices will fall if such transactions take place. It’s the Aramaic version of “there goes the neighborhood.”

If we allow these declarations to pass with no comment, there goes Judaism. If the true voice of Judaism is one which provides a mandate for bigotry and a license for racism, then our crisis is of epic proportions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Tax Deal Suggests New Path for Obama (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and JACKIE CALMES, 12/06/10, NY Times)

Congressional Republicans in recent days have blocked efforts by Democrats to extend the jobless aid, saying they would insist on offsetting the $56 billion cost with spending cuts elsewhere. White House officials said they feared a long standoff that would see benefits end for millions of Americans over the holiday season and in the months ahead.

But Mr. Obama made substantial concessions to Republicans. In addition to dropping his opposition to any extension of the current income tax rates on income above $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals, he agreed to a deal on the federal estate tax that infuriated many Democrats. The deal would ultimately set an exemption of $5 million per person and a maximum rate of 35 percent — a higher exemption and far lower rate than many Democrats wanted.

“The House Democrats have not signed off on any deal,” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who has been representing House Democrats in formal negotiations on the tax issue, said Monday night. “We will thoroughly review and discuss the proposed package in the caucus.”

Some senior Democrats said an agreement by Mr. Obama to accede to Republican demands on the estate tax could lead to a revolt among lawmakers. Mr. Obama noted that he, too, still strongly disagreed with the Republican insistence on extending the tax breaks for the highest earners. “Ever since I started running for this office, I’ve said that we should only extend the tax cuts for the middle class,” he said, acknowledging that he had been thwarted in one of the chief goals of his presidency.

Obama Defends Deal, Fumes at "Sanctimonious" Left (Michael Crowley, December 7, 2010, TIME)
Having positioned himself as the protector of the public from Washington political games, Obama lashed out at his liberal critics with striking pique. He recalled criticism that his health care reform plan amounted to a huge disappointment because it lacked the "public option" cherished by liberals. "If that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it," Obama said, with his voice rising and acquiring a sharp edge,

we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are, and how tough we are -- and in the meantime the American people are still saying to themselves, not able to get health insurance because of pre-existing conditions, or not being able to pay their bills because unemployment insurance ran out. That can't be the measure of how we think about our public service. That can't be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat. This is a big diverse country, not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across America. Neither does the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Tough stuff--not just angry but arguably even condescending--and sure to further alienate the "professional left." That said, it's not news that the Obama and his aides feel this way. It is striking, however to see Obama say it with such obvious irritation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


In Spain, Gypsies Find Easier Path to Integration (SUZANNE DALEY and RAPHAEL MINDER, 12/05/10, NY Times)

Here, more than 30 years of government programs to help Gypsies have begun to show signs of success. Virtually all young Gypsy children are in elementary school. Nearly half of their parents own their own homes. And like Ms. Jiménez, many are holding down mainstream jobs, moving away from more traditional Gypsy livelihoods like selling cattle and other goods.

Spain has become so successful, in fact, that it now serves as a model for other European countries, including Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Some experts say Spain’s secret is that it has concentrated on practical issues, such as access to housing and jobs. In contrast, they say, some European institutions have concentrated too much on issues of prejudice and political rights.

“Perhaps as a result, a lot of money has been spent in other parts of Europe to integrate Gypsies but with few results,” said Isidro Rodríguez, director of Fundación Secretariado Gitano, a state-financed organization that administers the Acceder, or “to access,” job program that helped Ms. Jiménez. “The Spanish approach has really been different because it has been first and foremost about improving living standards.”

There are still problems. The school dropout rate for Gypsy children between 12 and 18 is a staggering 80 percent. Nearly 4 percent of the population still live in shacks.

And tales of day-to-day indignities are not hard to come by. At present, for instance, a troupe of Gypsy women is touring the country in a production of “The House of Bernarda Alba” by the poet Federico García Lorca, a performance that has been widely covered by the news media and won largely rave reviews.

But in Madrid, the actresses — who live in a shantytown in Seville and dress in traditional long Gypsy skirts — had trouble getting a taxi. Though accompanied by government officials, they were also refused service in a local bar.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Bernanke 1, inflation hawks 0: Like it or not, history shows Ben Bernanke is right to say inflation isn't knocking at the door. (Colin Barr, December 6, 2010, Fortune)

Economists at Goldman Sachs last week noted that since 1950, inflation has never risen during any two-year period that started with unemployment above 8%.

It is, admittedly, a small sample, with only three periods registering above 8% on the jobless scale since World War II: 1975, 1981-1984 and 2009-10. But in each case inflation fell during the subsequent two years by between 1 and 2 percentage points (see chart, right) -- even during the 1970s, now recalled unfondly as a bubbling cauldron of inflation.

The current cycle fits quite well in the falling-inflation framework. Inflation has fallen basically straight down since the so-called super spike of 2008, which saw the price of oil surge briefly to $147 in the summer before the financial system collapsed in the fall.

It was in response to this trend, as much as anything else, that Fed officials this fall started talking about the need to maintain price stability – in this case, by trying to boost inflation.

Bernanke and other Fed officials have stressed that they will revisit their quantitative easing plans whenever new data arrive, giving rise to talk that the central bank may cut short its QE plans next spring. With the economy showing signs of life and the Bernanke backlash surprising many observers, even some who see a strong case for additional QE have been trimming their expectations for the size of the Fed's purchases.

But let's face it, that's mostly wishful thinking. For all the modest gains in manufacturing output and the heartier-than-expected appetites of consumers -- and for all the understandable fear that there will be an inflationary period years down the road -- there is no sign the jobs bust will abate in the foreseeable future.

The unemployment rate was last below 8% in January 2009, at 7.7%, and economists don't expect it to drop below 8% again till 2013, according to the latest survey of 43 forecasters conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

That explains why the Fed continues to fret over deflation, a spiral of falling wages and prices that makes heavy debt loads more burdensome by raising real interest rates. thoise on the Right rooting for hyperinflation just so they canm say Bernanke was wrong.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Poll: Jimmy Carter takes big hit (JAMES HOHMANN, 12/6/10, Politico)

History has not been particularly kind to the former Democratic president, now linked in the American consciousness with malaise, stagflation and the relative decline of American power. He was defeated for reelection by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Though Gallup’s question was specific to his performance as president, the decline appears to reflect a broader transformation of Carter’s public image from good-natured elder statesman, linked closely with the feel-good Habitat for Humanity home-building projects and international elections monitoring, to a staunch critic of George W. Bush and Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Afghan poll shows falling confidence in U.S. efforts to secure country (Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jon Cohen, 12/07/10, Washington Post)

The new poll - conducted by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ARD television of Germany - found a particularly notable shift in public opinion in Helmand province, where Marines have been conducting intensive counterinsurgency operations. The number of people in Helmand describing their security as "good" jumped from 14 percent in a December 2009 poll to 67 percent now. Nearly two-thirds of Helmand residents now say Afghanistan is on the right track.

In Helmand and in neighboring Kandahar, the percentage of residents reporting threatening nighttime letters from the Taliban has been sliced in half. Public assessments of the U.S. military efforts in the area have also improved over the year, but 79 percent of people in the two provinces say American and allied troops should start their withdrawal next summer or sooner.

The changes in Helmand and Kandahar bolster claims by senior U.S. military officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander, that the application of greater combat power and civilian assistance is starting to make a difference.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


White House open to nuclear as 'clean energy' (PATRICK REIS, 12/7/10 , Politico)

The Obama administration may consider caving to GOP demands to include nuclear and some coal production in a “clean energy standard,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday.

A national "clean" or "renewable" energy standard would require utilities to purchase a percentage of their electricity from nonfossil fuel sources and is seen as one of the administration's few options for a broad energy policy after the death of the cap-and-trade bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Why the Terrorists Can Never Win (Apollo, 12/02/10, federalist Paupers)

The state of Wisconsin has gone an entire deer hunting season without someone getting killed. That’s great. There were over 600,000 hunters.

Allow me to restate that number. Over the last two months, the eighth largest army in the world – more men under arms than Iran; more than France and Germany combined – deployed to the woods of a single American state to help keep the deer menace at bay.

But that pales in comparison to the 750,000 who are in the woods of Pennsylvania this week. Michigan’s 700,000 hunters have now returned home. Toss in a quarter million hunters in West Virginia, and it is literally the case that the hunters of those four states alone would comprise the largest army in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Mounting Debts by States Stoke Fears of Crisis (MICHAEL COOPER and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH, 12/06/10, NY Times)

The State of Illinois is still paying off billions in bills that it got from schools and social service providers last year. Arizona recently stopped paying for certain organ transplants for people in its Medicaid program. States are releasing prisoners early, more to cut expenses than to reward good behavior. And in Newark, the city laid off 13 percent of its police officers last week.

While next year could be even worse, there are bigger, longer-term risks, financial analysts say. Their fear is that even when the economy recovers, the shortfalls will not disappear, because many state and local governments have so much debt — several trillion dollars’ worth, with much of it off the books and largely hidden from view — that it could overwhelm them in the next few years.

“It seems to me that crying wolf is probably a good thing to do at this point,” said Felix Rohatyn, the financier who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.

Some of the same people who warned of the looming subprime crisis two years ago are ringing alarm bells again. Their message: Not just small towns or dying Rust Belt cities, but also large states like Illinois and California are increasingly at risk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Our Follower in Chief?: Why President Obama’s strange detachment from Afghanistan policymaking is a big problem. (Stephen R. Weissman, 12/07/10, In These Times)

[U]p to now, he has appeared significantly detached from internal administration debate over the escalating conflict. In Bob Woodward’s blow-by-blow account of ten presidentially-chaired National Security Council sessions during the fall of 2009, (based on official Meeting Notes and interviews with participants), Obama behaved more like the moderator of a presidential debate than a chief executive with a strategic view of foreign policy.

In lengthy meetings with top advisers, Obama displayed the intelligence and awareness of substantive issues that we have come to expect. He asked all the right questions: Do we need all of the troops requested? What effect will that have on other administration goals? Should our mission be to defeat the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda? How can we do that given the overcentralized Afghan government’s pattern of corrupt governance? What impact would U.S. success have on the stability of Pakistan, and can we persuade that government to terminate safe havens for the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda?

Yet throughout, the president never offered his own opinions about how the important issues might best be resolved. And he almost never brought up any relevant perspectives on these matters gained from his reading of history, past membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or conversations with foreign leaders. When members of his team proposed answers and solutions, he failed to adequately probe the bases for their positions. For example, all the advisers agreed that a successful counterinsurgency was endangered by Afghan government corruption and meager results from military training. Proponents of military escalation offered only vague solutions such as “working” on the Hamid Karzai government (though there were “no guarantees”) or “blending with local culture.” Rather than drilling down into the details and likely consequences of these nostrums, Obama moved on.

Given that the pinnacle of his life was getting to Harvard, like the dad who abandoned him, why would he ever move on from law school debates?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Barack Obama gives way to Republicans over Bush tax cuts (Chris McGreal, 12/06/10,

Barack Obama is bowing to Republican demands to extend a deep tax cut for wealthier Americans, to the fury of some of the president's allies who say he has succumbed to "blackmail".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM

Carrie Rodriguez On Mountain Stage (NPR, 12/06/10)

Accompanied by the Mountain Stage Band and Luke Jacobs on guitar and pedal steel, Rodriguez performs songs from that CD in her second solo appearance on Mountain Stage. “Big Love,” “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing” and “La Punalada Trapera” appear on Love & Circumstance, while “Play House” and “7 Angels” appear on her solo debut, Seven Angels on a Bicycle.

Discovered by songwriting legend Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor, the pair made four duet records together and made several appearances on Mountain Stage. A retrospective collection of the duo’s highlights, The New Bye and Bye, was released in October and includes a few new recordings, as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


China Needs a U.S. Lesson (Alberto Alesina and Luigi Zingales, 12/07/10, Bloomberg)

Tear down this Chinese wall.

In his famous 1987 speech in Berlin, U.S. President Ronald Reagan delivered the exhortation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall.” Contrary to everybody’s expectation, the wall started to come down only two years later.

It is about time to give the same directive to communist China. The Chinese wall is metaphorical, but equally hideous: It limits freedom of expression, assembly and movement. It prevents the Chinese from pursuing their happiness and choices freely. If there weren’t enough moral and humanitarian reasons to make that exhortation, here is an economic one: The lack of freedom in China is the main cause of imbalances in the world. [...]

For every country, the current account is equal to the difference between the income produced and the sum of domestic investment and consumption. When a country consumes and invests less than it produces, it is bound to have a current-account surplus.

In the case of China, a country that grows 9 percent a year and invests 43 percent of its gross domestic product, it is hard to argue that it invests too little. But it is very easy to argue that it saves too much: 54 percent of GDP versus an average of 33 percent among developing countries and 17 percent among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economies. So China’s surplus is due to its excessive saving, not to its undervalued currency.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Ted Turner Calls for Global One-Child Policy (Steven W. Mosher, 12/6/2010, Population Research Institute)

Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, called on world leaders Sunday to address the global warming crisis by drastically reducing the number of people on the planet. Maintaining that the very future of humanity was at stake, Turner urged immediate action: "If we're going to be here [as a species] 5,000 years from now, we're not going to do it with seven billion people," said Turner, who went on to propose the immediate adoption of a global one-child policy.

The media mogul has long been infatuated with Chinese-style "family planning." Appearing on National Public Radio on May 7th of this year, he praised the Chinese government for "wisely institut[ing] . the one-child family policy, . put[ting] in penalties, tax penalties and so forth, for people that have more than one child."

Now the father of five, who has often publicly regretted having so many children, wants to extend China's policy to the rest of us.

...that we aren't going to have 5,000 years of population stasis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Ex-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: Spokespersons of US Right 'In Most Cases Stunningly Ignorant' (Der Spiegel, 12/06/10)

SPIEGEL: As National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, you tried to prepare Americans for a more multipolar world -- one with a stronger China and a weaker US. Americans did not like that idea and Carter was voted out of office after one term.

Brzezinski: That concept is now very much a reality when you look at the rise of countries like China and India.

SPIEGEL: And the American decline. Are Americans aware of that trend or does the fate of Carter await President Barak Obama should he openly address the issue?

Brzezinski: I am very worried that most Americans are close to total ignorance about the world. They are ignorant. That is an unhealthy condition in a country in which foreign policy has to be endorsed by the people if it is to be pursued. And it makes it much more difficult for any president to pursue an intelligent policy that does justice to the complexity of the world.

SPIEGEL: Yet the American right is still convinced of American exceptionalism.

Brzezinski: That is a reaction to the inability of people to understand global complexity or important issues like American energy dependency. Therefore, they search for simplistic sources of comfort and clarity. And the people that they are now selecting to be, so to speak, the spokespersons of their anxieties are, in most cases, stunningly ignorant. he think India and China are. He might want to be careful about calling others ignorant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Operation Mincemeat, BBC Two, review (Andrew Pettie, 06 Dec 2010, The Telegraph)

In 1939, Ian Fleming, an imaginative chap in Naval intelligence, drew up a list of top secret schemes with which to outfox the Nazis. Number 28 was headed: “A suggestion (not a very nice one)”. Fleming’s idea was that “a corpse dressed as an airman with dispatches in his pockets could be dropped on the coast” so that the fake documents in his possession might lead the Germans, ever so sneakily, right up the garden path.

“There is no difficulty in obtaining corpses,” Fleming observed, “but it would have to be a fresh one.” It was the sort of preposterous pipe dream that Fleming’s superiors could easily have dismissed as “something out of a James Bond novel”. Except for the fact that Fleming had yet to write one. So instead they filed his not very nice suggestion away and waited for a suitable opportunity. It came in 1943.

The Allies, now in the ascendant, were itching to invade Italy. Sicily was the obvious place to start, but Hitler knew this as well as Churchill. A diversion was required and so Fleming’s morbid scheme was brought to life as Operation Mincemeat. Last night, BBC Two’s atmospheric documentary supplied a blow-by-blow account of how this macabre hoax, “perhaps the greatest military deception since the Trojan horse”, changed the course of the War.

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December 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM


Bush job approval rating higher than Obama's (JAMES HOHMANN | 12/6/10, Politico)

George W. Bush’s job approval rating as president has spiked to 47 percent, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

That’s 1 point higher than President Barack Obama’s job approval rating in a poll taken the same week.

W would be the ideal candidate in 2012, a theocon with tons of executive experience..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


WikiLeaks' Wall Street Bombshell (Charlie Gasparino, 12/06/10, Daily Beast)

While Bank of America is telling reporters that it has investigated a possible document leak and hasn't found any, one source who claims to have read some of the documents held by WikiLeaks confirms that they do in fact involve Bank of America. Adding to the mystery, however, this source says that they found it difficult to determine just what they mean. Given that Wall Street's straightforward business—buying and selling, borrowing and lending—now requires a math Ph.D. to understand, this shouldn't be too shocking. (The bank itself is so big and convoluted, insiders there admit, that a leak could have easily slipped by corporate security, despite the official denials.)

Still, while it appears virtually impossible for Assange to have the kind of dirt on Bank of America that caused such tumult for the diplomatic world—what kind of revelations, short of murder, would shock the world about Wall Street anymore?—speculation about it is still causing billions of dollars in damage.

Last week, when news of the possible WikiLeak attack first broke, shares of Bank of America fell more than 10 percent. It recovered later in the week, first after I reported on the Fox Business Network that BofA didn't have an "indication" of a WikiLeaks attack, and then after Goldman Sachs made positive comments about the performance of the entire banking sector.

But Wall Street traders understood that one potential "unknown" is very well known. Specifically, BofA's relationship with Countrywide Financial, the troubled "subprime" lender BofA purchased in early 2008. At the time, it looked like such a good deal: The financial crisis had yet to peak, Countrywide remained a major player in the mortgage lending market, and was expected to recover along with the economy.

But the economy, as we're all aware, didn't recover, and many of Countrywide's mortgages, focused on the least creditworthy borrowers, have fallen into default. And here's the problem for Bank of America: Its mortgage origination business, like the rest of that industry, probably witnessed rampant fraud during the bubble years. Banks made loans to borrowers without proper documentation of employment and other pertinent information. Since Countrywide focused on the low end of the market, the so-called subprime market where people who borrowed money have lousy credit histories, it's only logical to assume many of those loans were at least risky, if not made fraudulently.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


The Right's Democracy Hypocrisy (Peter Beinart, 12/06/10, Daily Beast)

This massive disconnect between the views of Arab governments and the views of Arab people is nothing new. What is new is the right’s perspective on it. A few years back, when Wehner worked in the Bush White House, the Arab world’s democratic deficit was a conservative obsession, and one of the justifications for the Iraq war. (As it was for liberal hawks like me). Now, when a few Arab tyrants endorse war with Iran—in flagrant defiance of their people’s will—Wehner declares that they speak for “most of the Arab world.”

The reason, I suspect, is that it is becoming harder and harder to claim, as Bush did in his second inaugural address, that “America’s vital interests”—at least as defined by conservatives—and America’s “deepest beliefs”—democracy—“are now one.” Much of the foreign policy right believes it is in America’s interest to attack Iran in hopes of delaying its nuclear program. But the people of the Arab world vehemently disagree.

....they want Iranians nuked because they're Persian heretics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


How The Left Was Lost (MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER, 12/06/10, ABC News: The Note)

SLOUCHING TOWARD COMPROMISE? That’s certainly how liberals would characterize the increasing likelihood that White House and Congressional leaders will cut a deal on the Bush-era tax cuts that includes a temporary extension of the cuts for both middle-class and wealthy Americans as well as a continuation of benefits for the long-term unemployed. The across-the-board temporary extension would last for at least two years and the jobless benefits, a Republican concession to Democrats, would be at least for one year. But, as our ABC Congressional team reports, this compromise could leave Senate Democrats fuming and it's already enraging progressive activists. ABC’s Jonathan Karl notes that to work out this deal, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has had multiple discussions directly with the president and the vice president. As McConnell said on “Meet The Press,” on Sunday, he's had more conversations with President Obama over the last two weeks than he had over the last two years. Democrats have largely been left out of these talks, and as Karl reported on “Good Morning America" today, all that has Democrats uneasy. Some are privately threatening to vote against this deal when it is finally done. The compromise is likely to be hammered out by mid-week.

Liberals have been upset with the White House plenty over these last two years (we're talking about you, public option). But, the White House decision to compromise on taxes has sparked ire within the progressive community to an extent we haven't seen before. Are we going to look back at this week as the one where the president lost his base?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The price of failure in the Korean War (Bruce Walker, December 6, 2010, Enter Stage Right)

Sixty years ago, Kim Il Sung, the Communist dictator of North Korea, launched an unprovoked attack on South Korea. This aggression was supported by Russia and China (the Soviet Union provided MIG pilots; the Chinese provided masses of "volunteers") and the entire peninsula became a battlefield. The fighting ended in a ceasefire, leaving what we have today, an uneasy armistice of a divided nation. This was not inevitable. We had the power to defeat Korean and Chinese communists and, if push came to shove, to even threaten the fledging fiend of the People's Republic.

US soldiers during the Korean WarAfter the loss of so many American lives in the "Forgotten War," surely our dead soldiers deserved something better than a ceasefire as their memorial. The Korean War could have ended, as MacArthur and others wanted, with a united Korea as part of the free world. This Korea would not have been perfect in the beginning, but like South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, it would have evolved into just the sort of nation we want: a peaceful, democratic, free, prosperous ally. This Korea would not have acquired nuclear weapons or threatened the world with war.

But these benefits would only have been the public blessings of a united and free Korea. The Eyes of God, which see hidden tortures and hears lonely screams, perceives five decades of deliberate starvation, torture, thought control, and imprisoned souls, the bitter fruits of that vast Gulag we call North Korea. Dr Rummel, who has made a study of "Death by Government," places the democide of the Korean people by the Communist regime at 1.6 million plus 1.4 million murdered by Communists during the war…just through 1987. What is goodness if it is not ending the agony of these millions?

A prime good in our victory over Nazism was the liberation of death camps and concentration camps filled with hungry, terrified Jews, Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, Christian clergy, and all other "undesirables."

...except that we only liberated half of Germany and nothing to its East. The loss of WWII set the pattern for the tragedy of Korea.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Needed: An Economics for Grownups: Around 1700, a new way of speaking about commerce gave birth to the modern world. (Matthew Shaffer , 11/22/10, National Review)

Solving the mysteries of the birth of the Industrial Revolution (and, subsequently, the modern world) has been the primary task and test of economic history. And, according to Deirdre McCloskey, all explanations so far have failed. Those failures, in turn, indicate the failings of modern economics. Her magnum opus, an explanation of the birth and flourishing of the bourgeoisie and its subsequent transformation of the modern world, will occupy at least six volumes. This month, Chicago University Press releases the second installment: Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. [...]

NRO: How do you evaluate economics today and economists’ function as modern America’s preeminent public intellectuals?

McCloskey: With alarm. But non-economist intellectuals need to understand some elementary economics: There is no such thing as a free lunch; national income equals national product equals national expenditure; free trade is nice; more money causes inflation; governments are not all-wise; spontaneous order is not chaos.

My alarm comes from the economist’s tendency to reduce humans to Maximum Utility machines. We need a humanomics, of the sort that Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek and Gunnar Myrdal and Kenneth Boulding and Albert Hirschman practiced. Some current practitioners are Nancy Folbre, Arjo Klamer, and Richard Bronk. It’s an economics for grownups.

NRO: What should Americans do to preserve bourgeois society, or is our rhetoric so naturally pro-bourgeois that we don’t need to worry?

McCloskey: We need to worry a little less than the average northern European does. Arguments about bourgeois virtue that strike most Americans as pretty obvious (“The middle class, not the clerisy or the state, is the source of good innovation”; “Making money is all right”; “We can solve environmental problems by invention”) are fighting words in the Netherlands or Sweden. Old Europe distrusts innovation. In the United States the task is to embarrass the anti-capitalist Left with facts, without arousing moralistic, anti-innovation fervor on the Right.

NRO: You spend a lot of time demolishing cherished lefty myths about capitalism. What do you think the Right has gotten wrong on capitalism?

McCloskey: A certain disdain for innovation, or attributing the few good parts of innovation to heroic figures, Nature’s Noblemen. A conservative suspects that innovation will result in disaster, not improvement, unless under the control of Us Aristocrats. Let us not flee to evils we know not of. He is naturally pessimistic. He hates rock music and feminism and everything else that came from the Decade of Innovation, the 1960s. A libertarian, by contrast, is naturally optimistic about change. She sees a spontaneous order in non-hierarchical, unplanned societies. She loved the 1960s as liberating blacks, women, gays, handicapped people, colonialized people, youth.

NRO: You say that dignity and liberty were “the greatest externalities” of our pro-bourgeois rhetoric for ordinary people. Are liberty and bourgeois dignity tethered? Many point to China, Singapore, etc., as examples of places where economic advance has not produced other kinds of liberalism.

McCloskey: They are correct. The problem is the fallacy of Right Now. In 1969 one would have said the same thing about South Korea and Taiwan, or for that matter about Spain and Portugal. Outside the low, dishonest decade of the 1930s, with preparations in the 1920s, it has always gone one way, since the cats of liberty and dignity were let out of the bag in the late 17th century. Do all the statistical analysis you want, but we “liberals” (19th-century European definition) have history on our side.

NRO: Now that the march of classical liberalism has proceeded so far . . .

McCloskey: . . . but has miles to go before we sleep, / And miles to go before we sleep . . .

NRO: . . . and the world accords more dignity to the bourgeoisie than ever before, was our recent rocky passage just a blip in an overwhelmingly positive trend?

McCloskey: I and Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist) and Joel Mokyr (author of The Enlightened Economy) agree, as anyone acquainted with the numbers would. We’ve had 40 of these recessions since 1800, and even a half-dozen as bad as this one. We should have acquired in two centuries a cautious faith in the trend, which is up and up and up since 1800 by about 2,000 percent per person, conservatively measured.

NRO: You say you’re relatively unworried about rapacious public-sector unions. Doesn’t the example of Greece trouble you on this point?

McCloskey: Well, if the police and municipal workers work very hard at it they can bring a society to ruin. But the United States is not heavily unionized. (Sweden, which is heavily unionized, has rational unions, which know that Sweden must trade to live.) And Americans are not willing to leap off a cliff holding hands with the unions, as the Greeks were until this year. In Chicago the city and state just broke the power of the electricians’ union to overcharge exhibitors at our massive McCormick Place for such highly technical tasks as plugging in extension cords. The exhibitors are coming back.

NRO: Before Bourgeois Dignity you wrote The Bourgeois Virtues. Do you think our debt-ridden culture is a manifestation of a decline in the bourgeois virtues, or is that just romantic nonsense?

McCloskey: Conservative romantic nonsense, similar to the cries in the 18th century that commerce would corrupt the Spartan virtues. Dr. Johnson, who was a conservative but no sort of romantic, said in 1778, “Depend upon it, sir, every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get.” And the blessed David Hume had said in 1742, “Nor is a porter less greedy of money, which he spends on bacon and brandy, than a courtier, who purchases champagne and ortolans [little songbirds rated a delicacy]. Riches are valuable at all times, and to all men.” Of course.

There’s a progressive version of the nonsense, the complaining about “consumerism.”

A more up-to-date reply is that so long as various Oriental protectionists (in the 1970s it was the Japanese, not the Chinese) are so foolish as to send Americans TV sets and hammers and so forth in exchange for IOUs and green pieces of paper engraved with American heroes, wonderful. Would you personally turn down such a deal? If your personal checks circulated as currency, and the grocer was willing to give you tons of groceries in exchange for eventually depreciated Matt-dollars, wouldn’t you go for it? I would, and drink champagne.

NRO: Do you think bourgeois virtues can be inculcated by public institutions, including schools?

McCloskey: The merchant academies of England in the 17th and 18th centuries raised up prudent bourgeois boys (they were mostly excluded from Oxford and Cambridge because many of the merchant families were not conforming members of the Church of England). The universities in Scotland had teachers like Adam Smith, and raised up boys (they were very young in Scotland) who admired commerce. Our culture, so corrupt and so little reflecting the classical virtues in the eyes of conservatives like Allan Bloom, admires innovation extravagantly in its rock music and its movies and its ethernet. It’s innovation, not respect for hierarchy or love of military glory, that makes for a successful society. the difference between individualism and the dignity of the individual.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


'World News' Political Insights: Democrats, President Obama Set to Cave on Taxes (RICK KLEIN, Dec.05, 2010, ABC News)

The worst kept secret in Washington right now is that President Obama is set to cave on tax cuts. This marks a reversal of a long-held position, dating to the early months of Obama's presidential candidacy, to allow tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 a year to expire.

He's just doing what the powerful people tell him to do to fit in. It's his life story.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


North Korea? Not our problem (Jack Kelly, 12/05/10, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

North Korea is a big problem. But it shouldn't be ours. When we intervened in Korea in 1950, we did so for two very good reasons. North Korea was then a part of an international Communist conspiracy aimed at world conquest. South Korea was incapable of defending herself.

Things have changed in 60 years. North Korea is the last truly Communist nation left standing. Its ambitions are limited mainly to self preservation. South Korea, which has more than twice the population of North Korea and more than 40 times the gross domestic product, is more than capable of defending herself.

But, notes Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute, "so long as America offers a security guarantee, maintains a tripwire troop presence on the peninsula and promises to do whatever is necessary to protect [them], the South Koreans have little incentive to take over their own defense."

North Korea is now just a regional problem. We gain nothing and risk much by continuing to make it ours, when the reasons for doing so have disappeared into history.

It's a curious historical fact that the Right only supported the Cold War--a departure from its isolationist norm--because the domestic Left bore the taint of Marxism. It was just a matter of partisan politics at home.

Looked at rationally, Mr. Kelly's argument falls apart because the world Communist conspiracy was never a significant threat and if you don't care about the daily lives of the North Koreans there's no reason to have cared about those of the South Koreans.

On the other hand, just as we were correct to intervene on behalf of some Koreans who couldn't defend themselves we owe it to the rest to remove their evil regime.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


When Puccini Rode Tall In the Saddle (CORI ELLISON, 12/03/10, NY Times)

Puccini’s fascination with the American West dated to 1890, when he saw William F. Cody’s touring show in Milan and wrote to his brother, “Buffalo Bill is a group of North Americans with a quantity of Indian redskins and buffaloes that perform splendid shooting tricks and truly represent scenes from the frontier.”

In 1907, during his first trip to New York, Puccini saw “The Girl of the Golden West,” a play by David Belasco, the American playwright, director, producer and designer; Puccini had based an opera on Belasco’s earlier drama “Madame Butterfly.” Puccini’s paralyzing three-year search for a suitable operatic subject was over. Madama Butterfly” had already tapped the natural synergy between Puccini and Belasco, both crowd-pleasing populists who focused more on a sturdy dramatic arc, filled out with realistic detail, than on literary distinction. The setting of “The Girl of the Golden West” fueled Puccini’s ever-deepening absorption with ambience. For him an opera’s setting was not merely background but the defining element of its musical and dramatic nature.

Belasco came by his Western location honestly. His parents, British Jews of Portuguese extraction, were among the original forty-niners who flooded northern California after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. On a visit to a Nevada mining camp the young Belasco heard the unforgettable singing of the minstrel Jake Wallace, on whose lips Puccini would place the plangent ballad that sets and sustains the pervasive air of nostalgia in “La Fanciulla del West.” And Belasco’s father was part of a posse that captured a wounded outlaw whose hiding place in a loft was betrayed by blood dripping into the room below. This slice of life would become one of the most gripping scenes in Puccini’s pioneering spaghetti western.

Belasco’s backyard was as exotic to Puccini as Cio-Cio-San’s Nagasaki or Turandot’s Beijing. In his search for “authentic” musical material, he drew from the kinds of music used in Belasco’s play: polkas, waltzes, ragtime and Latin-American tunes. These he applied with more zeal than precision, just as an American composer might indiscriminately swap a Sicilian tarantella for a Romagnan saltarello.

Puccini also mined American Indian musical material from several early ethnographic collections. These melodies granted him free access to whole-tone scales, with which he had been flirting since his early “Manon Lescaut.” In “Fanciulla” he used their roomy intervals not simply as markers for exoticism but also as aural metaphors for the wide-open spaces of the West.

The ink had barely dried on “Fanciulla” when, in the summer of 1910, Gatti-Casazza called on Puccini to convince him that his new opera should become the Met’s first world premiere. Gatti-Casazza stacked the deck by offering the tenor Enrico Caruso as the male lead and Belasco himself to supervise the production, along with all the creature comforts Puccini could want.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Is Obama Channeling Jimmy Carter? (Liz Peek, December 03, 2010,

Apparently, people can divulge classified information from our government agencies with impunity.

Americans are understandably angry. Not only are the leaks seriously compromising our military and diplomatic missions, they are embarrassing. They show the U.S. to be powerless; we feel humiliated.

Really? What's striking is the degree to which regular Americans feel vindicated by the leaks, which show us to be true to our word and our enemies to be a pack of liars.

There are basically just two groups who are even bothering to feign anger at the leaks, those who believe in the efficacy of diplomacy--which conspicuously excludes the great mass of the American public--and the Right, which is generally derisive of diplomacy itself but is using this as on opportunity to scold a president they hate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The Evolution Of Aloe Blacc (NPR, 10/30/10)

Rapper turned retro-soul crooner Aloe Blacc never planned to make a career out of music. A graduate of the University of Southern California, he's made a living in corporate America as a business consultant. But when he was laid off, Blacc saw it as an opportunity to capitalize on his musical inclinations, and he launched a new career as half of the rap duo Emanon. Around the same time, though, he began to draw inspiration from singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and James Taylor.

"Hip-hop educated me about other forms of music, because it sampled from all different styles," Blacc says. "Salsa, classic rock, soul music, jazz ... all of that was a part of my education in making hip-hop music."

Today, Blacc has strayed far from those roots. Heavily influenced by the gospel call-and-response in chain-gang recordings, his hit "I Need a Dollar" established him as a credible soul singer. The track taps into the social consciousness reflected on his latest album Good Things, which juxtaposes an old soul sound with contemporary sentiments and social commentary.

Aloe Blacc: Good Things (L. Michael Gipson, 12/01/10, Creative Loafing)
Aloe Blacc's Good Things is a lean, mean collection of tales for such a time as this. With its gritty lyricism and cinematic Memphis-soul sound, it has all the makings of a '70s classic with '90s hip-hop cred. "I Need a Dollar," the driving theme for HBO's "How To Make It in America" series and the country-soul "Green Lights" are among many direct hits to the listener's heart. What he lacks in vocal range, Blacc mightily makes up for in a compassionate, matter-of-fact tone perfect for these readings. Still, on unexpected cuts like "Mama Hold My Hand" and "If I," Blacc goes to the wailing floor and delivers searing blues.

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December 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Helen Thomas makes more public anti-Semitic remarks (JTA, December 5, 2010)

“We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that. Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is. ... We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way," Thomas said Dec. 2 during a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich.

In response, Thomas' alma mater Wayne State University, from where she graduated in 1942, announced Dec. 3 that it would no longer give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Dem Braintrust Mulls Bush Breaks (Mark Halperin, December 5, 2010, TIME)

Given that the meeting includes Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi that "braintrust" has to ironic, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


The Rev. Johnny L. ‘Hurricane’ Jones makes a spirited comeback : Thirty-one years after his last LP, Dust-to-Digital releases compilation, Jesus Christ from A to Z (Wyatt Williams, 12/14/10, Creative Loafing)

Called to preach at the young age of 19, Jones preached at country revivals and around LaGrange before settling in as pastor at Second Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta. At the small church on Maple Street in the late '50s, Jones started recording the songs and sermon of each Sunday service on reel-to-reel tape. Jones says that Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in the neighborhood at the time.

"Martin and I used to be young enough that we could sit on the hood of a car, cross our legs and talk. My Lord, if I had known he would grow into such a star, I would've had him making tapes back then."

Jones started his recording career by putting out his own debut, an LP titled Working for God, financed with cash borrowed from his father. His third self-released LP, Jesus Is in Town, caught the ear of Stan Lewis at Jewel Records. The Louisiana-based record label – "the largest Gospel one-stop in the business," according to Billboard magazine around that time – rereleased Jesus Is in Town in 1969 and continued releasing Jones' records throughout the '70s.

Jones earned such a reputation for building up his sermons from slow teaching into a frenzied power that a local radio DJ started calling him "The Hurricane."

"The way that I break my voice, I do it as B.B. and Aretha and Muddy Waters, you know," he says. "I always said that if Muddy Waters had been a preacher, he would have emptied a lot of churches with the way that he controlled that voice."

Though Jones' congregation quickly outgrew the Maple Street location and moved to a church on Westhaven Drive, a fire that broke out during service on Dec. 9, 1973, stopped Second Mount Olive Baptist from growing larger. Jones says that during the peak, Mount Olive was drawing 1,500 people on a regular Sunday, but the fire almost immediately diminished that to a few hundred congregants. "When you have a tragedy, sometimes people have a way of weaning off from you," he says, a hint of bitterness detectable in his tone.

Jewel released Jones' last album in 1978. In the years since, those records have gone out of print, eventually circulating into used bins and thrift stores where they've been picked up by younger listeners unfamiliar with Jones or his church.

Cole Alexander of the Black Lips remembers the time in 2003 when he first heard Jesus Is in Town. "Bradford [Cox] from Deerhunter made me a cassette tape of it. I think he found it in a Marietta thrift store. I used to listen to that tape at the Majestic [Diner]. I was working there as a dishwasher, and I would play it so loud that I could see people out front looking back in, wondering what the hell I was listening to."

Years after he heard the tape, Alexander saw the sign for WYZE, a local AM gospel station, while driving down Boulevard and stopped on a whim. Remembering that the LP cover said that Jones was from Atlanta, he asked if anyone had ever heard of him. "Everybody there was really nice and told me that he comes in every Saturday to do a radio show." Alexander, who continued stopping at the station to meet Jones and hear Jones' reel-to-reel tapes, eventually put him in touch with Lance Ledbetter, founder of the Dust-to-Digital record label.

Some Blustery Gospel, Some Blaring Metal (BEN RATLIFF, 12/05/10, NY Times)
The Rev. Johnny L. Jones

“Most preachers,” the Rev. Johnny L. Jones explained in a recent interview, “get their power going up,” or working to a climax during preaching or singing. “I moan at the end. Most of my power is given by coming down, after I’ve gone up.” Now 74, Mr. Jones — also known as Hurricane — is a Bobby Bland-type singer, with a great gargly voice and a concentrated wariness that doesn’t break, even as he screams. For 53 years of Sunday mornings at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atlanta he has been singing, preaching and recording it all. Some of those recordings came out long ago as LPs on the gospel label Jewel; the rest he’s been playing on the air during his Saturday morning radio programs (currently twice a month and streamable on WYZE-AM) or keeping at home. Dust-to-Digital, the Atlanta-based archival label, has just released a two-disc culling of the tapes as “The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta,” and they display Mr. Jones as an amazing singer, full of inspired power, delay tactics and shrewd reassurances. (His rhythm sections were casually killer too, playing blues, gospel and R&B grooves stripped to the bone.) Some of these tapes are woolly, with errant screams from the congregation, feedback from the church amplifiers and rough edits, but the album — which includes a few excerpts from sermons and radio bits — stays electrifying from start to finish. Two hours isn’t enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


The truth behind that email (Sam de Brito, December 5, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald)

IT'S been quite a month for ''the Love Jedi'' aka Steve Tucker.

He's the Canberra public servant whose life went viral and prompted national headlines after he sent an email to 4000 colleagues searching for a mystery woman named Olivia.

Despite being labelled ''lovelorn'', ''broken-hearted'' and ''a stalker'' in the media, and with a fake Olivia even calling a radio station to humiliatingly declare she didn't remember Mr Tucker, the Department of Immigration trouble-shooter remained silent.

That is until last week, when Mr Tucker, 30, sent a raw and inspiring email to this reporter, which brought tears to many eyes after its author consented to its publication on my blog, All Men Are Liars.

Mr Tucker revealed himself to be suffering from cerebral palsy and that he actually did find Olivia, except she was already seeing someone.

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