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 9:10 AM


Angels Passing: A Christmas story (Allan Massie, 12/25/10, The Scotsman)

"And what about Helmut?"

I had hesitated before putting the question, but she received it with a smile.

"We found him wandering in the woods. He was in a bad way, very nervous. It was something
he had seen. He won't talk about it."

But he did to me, because I was a soldier too, and would understand.

"It was truly horrible," he said, "and so I did the only thing I could do. I ran away. I deserted. I came south because most deserters are stupid and make for home and because this was then the unoccupied zone. I was sick, very sick at heart. Albertine has made me whole again."

We were playing chess and he took my queen and said, "I was never a Nazi. I hate them. In fact I'm a Communist. Like my father. He was a Communist and they put him in a camp and killed him. What about you, Jock?"

"I'm an auld Scots Radical," I said, "and that means I'm agin the government, any government."

"Shake hands, Jock," he said..

"Christmas Eve is the great feast in Provence," Albertine told me, and what a feast it was! We had smoked eel with horse-radish sauce and then the cassoulet. That's a dish of pork and spiced sausage and white beans and other vegetables and the pork is first browned and flamed with marc. It had been cooking in the stove for hours and the smell was a meal in itself. And then we had prunes that had been soaked in brandy and a cheese that Albertine had made herself from the cow's milk. It was her grandmother's recipe, like the cassoulet, she said. Helmut and I drank a litre of the local wine and we all sat back, replete, rubbing our bellies and happy. We had talked throughout the meal, the talk of good fellowship with no mention of the war and its suffering, and had laughed as you should laugh in good company. And then we fell silent, as silent as the night on the hillside, and I looked at my watch and said, "angels passing".

"It's a saying we have," I explained. "When a silence falls at twenty to the hour or twenty past, we say it's because the angels are flying by. I don't know why."

"It's a lovely thought," Albertine said, "and it might be true…"

"Angels?" Helmut said. "Well, I don't know about that."

Nor did I, but I kept quiet and gave myself another glass of wine and a slice of Albertine's cheese.

It was then that we noticed the children had slipped away.

"Pierre likes to look at the stars," Albertine. said. "They often go out at night. There's no cause for anxiety."

Then the door burst open and the children were there with faces alight with joy.

"Come quick," Marie cried, "it's the angels."

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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.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Matt Wilson | Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (JON GARELICK, December 7, 2010, The Phoenix)

From the opening clopping rims and brawny tenor of "Winter Wonderland," you might imagine you've taken a left turn with Sonny Rollins's "Old Cowhand," if it weren't for the loping R&B bass line that soon turns into a straight walk for some fierce and witty Sonny-like blowing. "The Chipmunk Song" is an easy waltz for soprano and three-way chipmunky squawking in the out chorus; Wilson conjoins Ayler's "Angels" with the traditional "Angels We Have Heard on High" for double-time gospel fervor and toy-piano repose; "Christmas Time Is Here" could have come straight out of Kris Kringle Joe Lovano's brawny bag. In "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," the title part goes to a bass clarinet; "Mele Kalikimake" is a clarinet klezmer polka with timpani accents. As for Lennon/Ono, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is an affecting slow march with sleigh bells. Every year, there's a Christmas album that transcends the format. This year, for me, it's this one.

Read more:

Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O: Tiny Desk Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)
The extraordinary jazz drummer Matt Wilson seems to know that camp is part of the holiday's appeal. He recently recorded a new album of Christmas favorites new and old with two other musicians; the band and the record are both thusly called — what else? — Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O. (Dig that bargain-bin cover art, too.) And the Tree-O showed up for its Tiny Desk Concert with both a pink tinsel tree and an animatronic singing Santa hat.

The band's artifice may be a bit hokey, but its musicianship isn't. With only a snare drum and ride cymbal, Wilson kept an impressively varied but deep swinging pocket, along with "wonder boy" Paul Sikivie on bass. Meanwhile, Wilson's longtime associate, reedman Jeff Lederer, stole the show on three different horns. There was gonzo tenor sax expressionism in "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," playful clarinet staccato in "O Come All Ye Faithful" (also featuring "the NPR tabernacle choir" singing along), and a crazed, squawking reading of the most famous part of Handel's Messiah leading into a shrill "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on piccolo.

There's a deep grounding in jazz for this — for taking threadbare or overplayed melodies and transforming them into creative art of the highest order — as well as long-standing precedents of outgoing, personable showmen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


The God With an Infant's Face (George Weigel, December 27, 2007 , EPCC)

Christianity isn't about our search for God. Like its parent, Judaism, Christianity is about God's search for us, and our learning to take the same path through history that God does. The God with a human face began the climactic portion of his salvific journey through history as a baby, calling others out of themselves as only babies can do. Every year, the crèche calls us to ponder the Law of the Gift written on the human heart by the God who is Love.

The radicalism of a God who dies is rather easily understood, but even sensible Christians tend to miss the importance of the fact that God had to become human before He could understand us.

[originally posted: 12/28/07]

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December 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 PM


A Visit from Saint Nicholas (Clement Clarke Moore?)

T'was the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, --not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

There Arose Such a Clatter: Who Really Wrote "The Night before Christmas"? (And Why Does It Matter?) (Stephen Nissenbaum, January 2001, Common-Place)
In a chapter of his just-published book, Author Unknown, Don Foster tries to prove an old claim that had never before been taken seriously: that Clement Clarke Moore did not write the poem commonly known as "The Night before Christmas" but that it was written instead by a man named Henry Livingston Jr. Livingston (1748-1828) never took credit for the poem himself, and there is, as Foster is quick to acknowledge, no actual historical evidence to back up this extraordinary claim. (Moore, on the other hand, did claim authorship of the poem, although not for two decades after its initial--and anonymous--publication in the Troy [N.Y.] Sentinel in 1823.) Meanwhile, the claim for Livingston's authorship was first made in the late 1840s at the earliest (and possibly as late as the 1860s), by one of his daughters, who believed that her father had written the poem back in 1808.

Why revisit it now? In the summer of 1999, Foster reports, one of Livingston's descendants pressed him to take up the case (the family has long been prominent in New York's history). Foster had made a splash in recent years as a "literary detective" who could find in a piece of writing certain unique and telltale clues to its authorship, clues nearly as distinctive as a fingerprint or a sample of DNA. (He has even been called on to bring his skills to courts of law.) Foster also happens to live in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Henry Livingston himself had resided. Several members of the Livingston family eagerly provided the local detective with a plethora of unpublished and published material written by Livingston, including a number of poems written in the same meter as "The Night before Christmas" (known as anapestic tetrameter: two short syllables followed by an accented one, repeated four times per line--"da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM," in Foster's plain rendering). These anapestic poems struck Foster as quite similar to "The Night before Christmas" in both language and spirit, and, upon further investigation, he was also struck by telling bits of word usage and spelling in that poem, all of which pointed to Henry Livingston. On the other hand, Foster found no evidence of such word usage, language, or spirit in anything written by Clement Clarke Moore--except, of course, for "The Night before Christmas" itself. Foster therefore concluded that Livingston and not Moore was the real author. The literary gumshoe had tackled and solved another hard case.

Foster's textual evidence is ingenious, and his essay is as entertaining as a lively lawyer's argument to the jury. If he had limited himself to offering textual evidence about similarities between "The Night before Christmas" and poems known to have been written by Livingston, he might have made a provocative case for reconsidering the authorship of America's most beloved poem--a poem that helped create the modern American Christmas. But Foster does not stop there; he goes on to argue that textual analysis, in tandem with biographical data, proves that Clement Clarke Moore could not have written "The Night before Christmas." In the words of an article on Foster's theory that appeared in the New York Times, "He marshals a battery of circumstantial evidence to conclude that the poem's spirit and style are starkly at odds with the body of Moore's other writings." With that evidence and that conclusion I take strenuous exception.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Poll: 19 of 20 Americans observe Christmas (UPI, 12/24/10)

Nineteen of 20 U.S. residents celebrate Christmas, including 80 percent of non-Christians, a Gallup Poll released Friday indicated.

The percentage of people who celebrate the holiday has stayed almost the same since 1994 but the share who describe it as a "strongly religious" one has increased, the poll showed. A majority of those surveyed said their celebrations include religious activities, with 62 percent going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, 65 percent including religious symbols in their decorations and 78 percent saying they take some time to reflect on Christ's birth.

...the idea of a God who is so anxious to comprehend Creation that He chooses to live and die as a man is so compelling, how can you help but reflect upon it?

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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 9:07 AM


Do Christians Overemphasize Christmas? (JOHN WILSON, 12/23/10, WSJ)

Christmas brings us face-to-face with the mystery of the Incarnation—the preposterous claim that the creator of the universe sent his son (but how could he have a "son"?) to be born of a virgin (what?), both fully man and fully God: "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness," as we read in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

This claim we call the Incarnation—and celebrate at Christmas—can't be separated from "the paschal mystery of death and resurrection." The babe in swaddling clothes comes with a mission to fulfill. And as we sing carols for his birth, we see him taken down from the cross, wrapped in "a clean linen cloth," and laid in the tomb of a friend. That's the cloth that is left behind in the empty tomb on Resurrection morning.

Easter is implicit in Christmas, and Christmas is implicit in Easter. When we celebrate the one, we celebrate the other, looking forward to the restoration of all things.

...He wouldn't have learned anything from it had He not lived and died as a man.

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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 6:00 AM


The Creche By The Side of the Road (Gerard Van der Leun, 12/30/03, American Digest)

It was long past sunset when our yearly Christmas pilgrimage to our families around Sacramento sent us climbing up the Grapevine. My wife
was driving because my eyes don’t adjust quickly to oncoming headlights and because she is, by far, the better driver. My stepson was wedged
within a small mountain of bags and presents in the back seat, his cherubic face illuminated by the gray-blue glow of his Gameboy.

I gazed out the window at the churning wall of trucks and the slate black slopes. Heavy cloud cover made everything more obscure. Only the streams of headlights coming on and the endless red flares of brake lights in front of us broke the darkness. It was the nadir of the year, two days before Christmas, climbing between dark mountains with millions of others, most aiming at some destination filled with the rituals of the season; rituals that seemed, as they often do, mere experiences bereft of any meaning.

It came up fast and passed faster as things often do up on the Grapevine. It was vague at first. A dim smudge of light in the middle of a looming dark hillside. Then it resolved itself as we sped up on it at around 70 miles per hour. We came abreast and I saw it clearly for only a few brief seconds. It was that rarest of all this season’s sights, a roadside nativity scene.

[originally posted: 2003-12-30]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM



This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav'n's high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heav'n, by the Sun's team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.
The Hymn
It was the winter wild,
While the Heav'n-born child,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to him
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war or battle's sound
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The Stars with deep amaze
Stand fixed in steadfast gaze,
Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warned them thence,
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame
The new-enlightened world no more should need:
He saw a greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sate simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they than
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below:
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep;
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet,
As never was by mortal finger strook,
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heav'nly close.
Nature, that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all heav'n and earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-faced Night arrayed;
The helmed Cherubim
And sworded Seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive notes to Heav'n's new-born Heir.
Such music (as 'tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the welt'ring waves their oozy channel keep.
Ring out ye crystal spheres!
Once bless our human ears
(If ye have power to touch our senses so)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time,
And let the bass of Heav'n's deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to th'angelic symphony.
For if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,
And speckled Vanity
Will sicken soon and die,
And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering Day.
Yea, Truth and Justice then
Will down return to men,
Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Throned in celestial sheen,
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
And Heav'n, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
But wisest Fate says no:
This must not yet be so;
The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss,
So both himself and us to glorify:
Yet first to those ychained in sleep,
The wakeful trump of doom must thundcr through the deep,
With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang
While the red fire and smould'ring clouds outbrake:
The aged Earth, aghast
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When at the world's last session,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th'old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And, wrath to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.
The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring, and dale
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flow'r-inwoven tresses torn
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.
Peor and Baalim
Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice-battered god of Palestine;
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'n's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine;
The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
And sullen Moloch, fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of blackest hue:
In vain with cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue.
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste.
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian grove or green,
Trampling the unshower'd grass with lowings loud;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with timbreled anthems dark
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark.
He feels from Juda's land
The dreaded Infant's hand,
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide,
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.
So when the Sun in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th'infernal jail,
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave,
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.
But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest:
Time is our tedious song should here have ending.
Heav'n's youngest-teemed star,
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;
And all about the courtly stable,
Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


The Oxen--A Poem for Christmas 1915 (Thomas Hardy, Times of London, 24 December 1915)

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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 5:31 AM


The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God�s dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. �Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!� (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings.

It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God�s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God�s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Nativity (John Donne)

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves his welbelov'd imprisonment,
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th'Inne no roome?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars, and wisemen will travel to prevent
Th'effect of Herod's jealous general doom;
Seest thou, my Soul, with thy faith's eyes, how he
Which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss him, and with him into Egypt goe,
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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 5:28 AM


Facing the scandal of Christmas, will we turn away? Or believe and obey?: A Scriptural Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Carl E. Olson, December 19, 2010, Ignatius Insight)

[T]he most scandalous, outrageous claim of all is that the God who created all things became flesh and dwelt among us, stooping so low as to be born in a cave some two thousand years ago. “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,” states the Nicene Creed, “by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

No one, other than the occasional Scrooge, is opposed to celebrating family or giving gifts or singing joyful songs. The scandal of Christmas, however, is that the Incarnation is not a vague, sentimental concept, but a stunning, concrete reality. It is an Event that is a Person. And that Person, Jesus Christ, requires a response. If the Lord did give a sign, as the prophet Isaiah states in today’s Old Testament reading, we need to ask, “What is it? What does it mean?”

If the Son of God did descend from King David “according to the flesh,” as St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, we should wonder, “How? Why? Who?” If this son of the virgin is Emmanuel, we must consider, “How will I respond to the God who is with us?”

Joseph Ratzinger, in a reflection on Christmas (The Blessing of Christmas, Ignatius, 2007), went right to the heart of the matter. “We are too proud to see God,” he wrote, “We are like Herod and his theological specialists: on this level, we no longer hear the angels singing. On this level, we may find God either threatening or boring—but nothing more than that! On this level, we no longer want to be ‘his own possessions’—that is, God’s own possession. All we want it to belong to our own selves. And this is why we cannot receive the one who comes into his own property, for that would oblige us to make a radical change and acknowledge that he possesses us.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


The Journey of the Magi (T. S. Eliot)

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


The Other Wise Man (Henry Van Dyke, 1896)

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking and the strange way of his finding the One whom he sought--I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.

The magi who lived the mandatum novum

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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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 5:19 AM


A Christmas Carol (G.K.Chesterton)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


Handel's 'Messiah' from Philadelphia (NPR, December 18, 2007

From the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, WHYY and NPR present Handel's holiday masterpiece performed by the "Fabulous Philadelphians" — one of the world's great orchestras, joined by the nationally-renowned Philadelphia Singers Chorale. Acclaimed British choral master Richard Hickox conducts. Hosted by Fred Child and Melinda Whiting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


JINGLE BELLS by James Pierpont (Mark Steyn, 11/22/10, excerpted from Mark's book A Song For The Season)

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way...

As well they might. Just in time for Thanksgiving, here comes, er, "Jingle Bells" - which was written not for the Yuletide season but, allegedly, for Thanksgiving. In Boston, in the fall of 1857, the city's leading music publisher, Oliver Ditson, introduced the world to a new song called "The One-Horse Open Sleigh". Before "White Christmas" and "Rudolph" came along in the Forties, before "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" in the Thirties, the most popular secular seasonal song in the American catalogue was "Jingle Bells", written before the Civil War but such a potent brand a century later that it was still spawning bizarre mutated progeny with every new musical trend - "Jingle Bell Boogie", "Jingle Bell Mambo" and, of course, "Jingle Bell Rock".

I notice a lot of album sleeves credit the writing of "Jingle Bells" to "Anon." And you can see why they'd think that. It doesn't seem the kind of song you'd need a professional to write, and it's hard to imagine, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein, sitting down to rattle it off:

"Okay, we'll start off with 'Jingle Bells'."


"And then for the second line, how about 'Jingle Bells'?"

"Same words, but different notes maybe?"

"Nah, why knock yourself out? And then for the third line we'll go with..."

"Let me guess. 'Jingle...'?"

"Right, but this time we pull the old switcheroo and go with 'Jingle all the way'."

"Great. By the way, when we say 'Jingle Bells', is that a type of bell? Or is it an injunction - 'Jingle', comma, 'Bells'?"

Yet the song is not the work of "Anon". Unlikely as it sounds, a real live songwriter did sit down one day and write "Jingle Bells". His name was James Lord Pierpont and he wrote and published many other songs in his lifetime, among them "The Colored Coquette" and others lost to posterity, but a few that have survived, such as "Our Battle Flag", a paean not to Old Glory but to the banner of the Confederacy. Every song but "Jingle Bells" was a flop.

But, if you're going to be a one-hit wonder, "Jingle Bells" is the one hit to have.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Washington's Gift (THOMAS FLEMING, December 24, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

[W]ashington drew a speech from his coat pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands. "Mr. President," he began in a low, strained voice. "The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country."

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of "my countrymen" and the "army in general." This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping."

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life." Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was -- is -- the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America's government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

[originally posted: 12/24/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


"The God In The Cave" | From The Everlasting Man (G.K. Chesterton)

Christ was not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world. The first act of the divine drama was enacted, not only on no stage set up above the sightseer, but on a dark and curtained stage sunken out of sight; and that is an idea very difficult to express in most modes of artistic expression. It is the idea of simultaneous happenings on different levels of life. Something like it might have been attempted in the more archaic and decorative medieval art. But the more the artists learned of realism and perspective, the less they could depict at once the angels in the heavens and the shepherds on the hills, and the glory in the darkness that was under the hills. Perhaps it could have been best conveyed by the characteristic expedient of some of the medieval guilds, when they wheeled about the streets a theater with three stages one above the other, with heaven above the earth and hell under the earth. But in the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth.

There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast. It is profoundly true to say that after that moment there could be no slaves. There could be and were people bearing that legal title, until the Church was strong enough to weed them out, but there could be no more of the pagan repose in the mere advantage to the state of keeping it a servile state. Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man's end. All this popular and fraternal element in the story has been rightly attached by tradition to the episode of the Shepherds; the hinds who found themselves talking face to face with the princes of heaven. But there is another aspect of the popular element as represented by the shepherds which has not perhaps been so fully developed; and which is more directly relevant here.

Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had everywhere been the makers of the mythologies. It was they who had felt most directly, with least check or chill from philosophy or the corrupt cults of civilization, the need we have already considered; the images that were adventures of the imagination; the mythology that was a sort of search the tempting and tantalizing hints of something half human in nature; the dumb significance of seasons and special places. They had best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story and the soul of a story is a personality. But rationalism had already begun to rot away these really irrational though imaginative treasures of the peasant; even as systematic slavery had eaten the peasant out of house and home. Upon all such peasantries everywhere there was descending a dusk and twilight of disappointment, in the hour when these few men discovered what they sought. Everywhere else Arcadia was fading from the forest. Pan was dead and the shepherds were scattered like sheep. And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfill all things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd.

And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold abstractions or cosmopolitan generalizations; than all those who were spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths allegorized or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true. Since that hour no mythologies have been made in the world. Mythology is a search.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio,' from Carnegie Hall (NPR, December 21, 2007 from WNYC)

From Carnegie Hall in New York City, NPR and WNYC present selections from one of the most joyful and sumptuous works of Johann Sebastian Bach, recorded live in concert.

The Collegiate Chorale performs three of six sacred cantatas, each depicting a different scene from Christ's birth, and known collectively as the "Weihnachts-Oratorium," or Christmas Oratorio. The group also rounds out the performance with some traditional holiday favorites.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 AM


The Maid-Servant at the Inn (Dorothy Parker)

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening-
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child-
The little one, the darling one!-
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's son.

"It's queer that I should see them so-
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."

[First posted: 2004-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 AM


Blaming Christmas (Lee Harris, 12/24/03, Tech Central Station)

To learn that your parents are Santa Claus is the end of one philosophic journey; but it is also the start of another, if you are prepared to continue it. For the skeptic must now ask himself, If my parents don't believe in Santa Claus, why have they tried so hard to get me to believe in him? Indeed, why have they saved money all year long -- or, as so often nowadays, maxed their credit card to the limit -- in order that I would continue to remain under such a costly illusion? Why do my own parents so empathically insist that I go on giving the tribute that is theirs to someone else instead -- especially when that someone else doesn't happen to exist, and with whom it is not even possible to score transcendental brownies points, as with God? Does this -- does any of this -- make sense? If Christmas is just an elaborate hoax, it would appear to be a hoax perpetuated at the expense of the hoaxer.

When the skeptical child becomes a skeptical adult, he may feel that he has hit upon the correct answer: his parents were themselves saps and suckers, hoodwinked by Madison Avenue into believing they were honor-bound to keep up the pretence that all this expensive merchandise was really manna from heaven, in order to bolster the sales of self-serving manufacturers and
retailers. But, here again, the skeptic lacks the will to push his skepticism to its logical conclusion, because he fails to ask the next question: Okay, suppose my parents were just the unwitting tools of capitalism, suppose that they had been brainwashed into buying more stuff
than any child could possibly need, or often want, why did they feel hide-bound to preserve the illusion of Santa Claus for me? What made them look upon Christmas as if it were a sacred duty?

They were hide-bound because they were honor-bound. They felt that they owed their children a happy Christmas, and felt it as a genuine ethical obligation, akin to the military service that a man may feel that he owes to his nation. That is what a sense of honor is all about. And it is the origin
of this sense that we must address, if we are to explain our parents' passion for perpetuating such a bizarre delusion.

Even if they were deluded by Madison Avenue, their susceptibility did not stem from a defective intellect, but from an overfull heart: they would not have been so vulnerable to cynical manipulation if they had not been so desperate to do their duty by their children that the mere idea that they might be depriving their children one of the good things of life drove them to a frenzy of anguished consumption, but at the same time drove them to something that the timid skeptic can never understand.

In their anxiety to do right by their kids, they achieved the supreme self-sacrifice of the human ego -- the doing of good without any expectation of getting credit for it. To question whether this self-sacrifice was worth it may be a legitimate function of the intellect; but it must not tempt you
to overlook the most significant fact about such self-sacrifice, namely, that it happens at all.

This too is a rebuke to neoconservatism.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 AM


On Christmas: Each of Us Is a Salvation History (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., December 24, 2009, Ignatius Insight)

"There is in every person the desire to be accepted as a person and considered as a sacred reality, for every human history is a sacred history and demands the utmost respect." -- Benedict XVI, Rome, Spanish Steps, December 8, 2009. [...]

"Through the ages, He (God) prepared a way for the Gospel. Finally, God appears. He speaks through His Son. This Son turns out to be "the eternal Word." God from God, Light from Light. He will enlighten men, make known "the innermost things of God." This Word is "Jesus Christ, the word made flesh." He did what the "Father gave him to do." The Evangelist Luke recounts these things. They actually happened.

This Christ completed God's intended revelation. He did this making known what He wanted to make known in all his words and deeds, in the principal events of His life. The dramatic event of His Crucifixion was carried out under the authority of Tiberius Caesar by a Roman Governor by the name Pontius Pilate. But the event seemed to concern the Jews more than the Romans, at least initially. Pilate wanted to "wash his hands" of the whole mess. Many leading Jews just wanted this troublemaker out of the way. Pilate asked the crowd what to do with Him. They shouted "Crucify him."

But no one can crucify a man who does not exist. The message of all these events was "that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life."

Chesterton tells us that this event of Christ's birth is one of comfort and really of making merry, of rejoicing. The two go together. The metaphysics and the brightness are there. But the birth of Christ into this world is a comfort, something ordinary folks can understand. Such ordinary folk have always suspected their lives mean something. No one has told them why. If Christ is born as a Child and if He is the Son of God, does this not tell us something about ourselves, about each son of man and woman (there are, as Chesterton said, no sons of man and man, though there is a Son of Man, born of woman)?

Revelation tells us first that we are not God. We are men, finite beings. Yet, we are not to have strange gods before us. The only God we want before us is the one who is testified to here, the one born of Mary in Bethlehem. She is evidently there because of a decree of Caesar Augustus. Her husband, Joseph, was of the house of David. The angel has said to her, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord be with you." She said, "Be it done unto me." She said this after she inquired "how."

Is there really any other way? Maybe God will figure out that the way He chose from the beginning was not "working." Maybe He will send a Mohammed or a Nietzsche, or a Grand Inquisitor, to explain things differently? No, it did not and will not happen. Robert Hugh Benson spoke of The Lord of the World. This Lord was present at the Fall.

Dei Verbum says: "The Christian dispensation, because it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and no new public revelation is any longer to be looked for before the manifestation in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." I find this rather comforting. It is a reason for making merry. We have already been given all we need to know. The light has shone in the darkness, even if the darkness did not comprehend it.

But I am intrigued by Benedict's phrase "every human being is a salvation history." The pope says "is" a salvation history, not "has" one. That phrase "salvation history" is usually used of the way that God reveals Himself and His purposes in history, the history of the world from Creation to final Judgment. It includes the rise and fall of nations. Yet it is here singular, as if the rise and fall of nations passes through our own souls. Well, of course it does. Plato said this. Solzhenitsyn said this. It is obvious. There is no collective salvation that bypasses what each of us is, destined to eternal life.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 AM


Hammond restaurant inspired memorable Peking duck scene in 'A Christmas Story' (MOLLY WOULFE, December 22, 2010,


One stroke of a cleaver, and Jean Shepherd immortalized Peking duck as "Chinese turkey" in "A Christmas Story."

To recreate the Parkers' Yule meal in the 1983 film, read on. But let's first pay tribute to the Hammond family and restaurant that inspired the memorable Chop Suey Palace scene.

When TBS kicks off its 24-hour film marathon at 7 p.m. Friday, watch the restaurant action closely. The proprietor (actor John Wong) exudes goodwill to his guests, their turkey savaged by the Bumpus hounds.

The late Charles Sang, owner of the Cam-Lan in Hammond, was as solicitous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 AM


THE MARK STEYN CHRISTMAS SHOW (Mark Steyn, 12/09/09, Steyn Online)

For many years, starting back when I was a teenage disc-jockey, I hosted Christmas shows on radio or TV. And, for some reason, back in late summer I started thinking about reviving the tradition. Initially, I planned just to raid the archives and produce a Best-of-Steyn Christmas Compilation. But one thing led to another and we wound up producing two hours of new audio entertainment, including good conversation with guests from at least three countries and live music in at least four languages - plus a couple of highlights from the vaults. We hope you enjoy the results.

I stuck mainly to old friends and neighbors for this first tentative fur-trimmed boot toe back on the Santa sleigh. Rob Long, writer of everything from "Cheers" to Al Gore's e-mails, joins me to talk Christmas comedy. From across the Connecticut River in Vermont, Elisabeth von Trapp fills us in on what happened to her famous family after The Sound Of Music. There are a brace of British lyricists - Don Black, writer of "Born Free", "Ben", "To Sir With Love", and "Diamonds Are Forever"; and Tim Rice, writer of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King and, of course, "One Night In Bangkok". There are a couple of Québecois cuties - Dorothée Berryman*, star of the Oscar-winning film Barbarian Invasions, and Monique Fauteux, from the province's legendary progressive rock band Harmonium. Hugh Martin, composer of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", performs his classic song his way; and Martha Stewart, America's homemaker, mocks my pie dishes. And I couldn't celebrate Christmas without my Sweet Gingerbread Gal Jessica Martin, but, if you've ever wondered what she sounds like de-Steyned, she gets a shot at a couple of solos.

Along the way we consider a range of topics from Ron Paul's artificial Christmas tree and Perry Como's cocaine classic to the dearth of New Hampshire songs and the alleged sexiness of my French. And there's lots of live music from my guests, including performances of "White Christmas", "Silent Night", "My Favorite Things", a bilingual "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" not to mention North America's oldest Christmas carol, and a song that nobody's sung in over a century, plus a couple of great medleys.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 AM


THE MAGI (W. B. Yeats, 1865-1939)

OW as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 AM


A traditional Nativity scene, Catalan-style (Sarah Rainsford BBC News)

Outside Barcelona Town Hall, the Christmas crib takes pride of place on the cobblestones.

Mary, Joseph and the shepherds are all gathered around the baby Jesus in his manger, as loudspeakers emit the occasional animal sound for extra, rustic effect.

But this is Catalonia, and no crib is complete without one additional figure.

He is known in Catalan as the caganer. That translates most politely as 'the defecator' - and there he is, squatting under a tree with his trousers down. [...]

"It's typical of Catalonia. Each house buys one for Christmas," explains Natxo with a smile and a shrug as he shops. "I don't know why (we do it), it's just a tradition."

In fact, the caganer has been a feature of the Catalan nativity scene for at least two centuries.

"There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables," explains Joan Lliteras, a caganer connoisseur.

He says the figurine is a symbol of fertility and good fortune.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 AM


Log: The Directors’ Cuts (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 12/24/08, NY Times)

It seems like cheating, or bad karma, but it’s possible to have a yule log crackling on the television screen anytime, even several days before Christmas — or on Halloween or Presidents’ Day, for that matter.

With titles like “Ambient Fire” and “The Happy Holiday Hearth,” yule log DVDs offer a dizzying array of flaming options, from stately baroque plumes to crispy, woodsy campfires. There is even a soft-core porn Christmas log: on “Yule a Go-Go,” dancers like Ms. Tickle and Bunny Love perform tassled, spangled burlesque-style stripteases to Christmas carols in front of a roaring fire. (Actually, those flames are quite subdued, for perhaps obvious reasons.)

There used to just be one yule log on television. Viewers had to wait for it, and it didn’t come with naughty features or special effects. The WPIX Christmas yule log was first shown in New York in 1966, in black and white, and for several uninterrupted hours, apartment dwellers could stare at flames flickering in a hearth as Christmas songs played in the background. Later, other stations around the country began offering yule logs, but in New York the WPIX log, a kitschy tribute to television as the family hearth — not just metaphorically but literally — became a fiercely cherished local tradition, like the Biltmore clock or egg creams.

Gotta watch the live telecast.

N.B. (12/24/09): If you're lucky enough to have Comcast, they've got the Yule Log live in On Demand. We've been watching all month.\

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 AM


What the Dickens are population controllers up to?: The flint-hearted, prune-faced, carbon-obsessed bean-counters who want fewer people, especially fewer poor people, should reread A Christmas Carol. (Michael Cook, 24 December 2009, MercatorNet)

After 2000 celebrations of how precious a single life is, we still haven’t learned the lesson of A Christmas Carol. Had I thought of it earlier, I would have sent a copy to Sir David Attenborough, the famed documentary director who is an enthusiastic patron of the OPT. The OPT’s fanatical determination to eliminate CO2 by eliminating people is basically the "odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling" Malthusian policy of eliminating poverty by eliminating the poor. Scrooge was a Malthusian, you will remember. Here he is refusing a few pence for the poor:

"‘I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. ‘… I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned [prisons and workhouses] – they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’

"‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’

"‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’"

It sounds familiar doesn’t it? The rich, isolated, beggar-my-neighbour individual. The mean, narrow-minded bean-counting. The fear of the population bomb. The scoffing at the possibility of happiness. "‘If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’"

How do the Spirits of Christmas teach Scrooge that "quality of life" isn’t everything? Basically by showing him visions of family life. It’s the simple, affectionate family life of the impoverished Cratchits and their six children. "They were not a handsome family; they were not well-dressed… but they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time," says Dickens. Of all of them, it is Tiny Tim, the "useless" cripple, with his crutch and iron frame, who strikes the spark of human sympathy into Scrooge’s withered heart.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 AM


THE FOOLISH FIR-TREE Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

A tale that the poet Rückert told
To German children, in days of old;
Disguised in a random, rollicking rhyme
Like a merry mummer of ancient time,
And sent, in its English dress, to please
The little folk of the Christmas trees.

A LITTLE fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean;
And summer and winter the bountiful sheen
Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root,
In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.

But a trouble came into his heart one day,
When he saw that the other trees were gay
In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves
Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves:
He looked at his needles so stiff and small,
And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree's mind,
And he said to himself, "It was not very kind
"To give such an ugly old dress to a tree!
"If the fays of the forest would only ask me,
"I'd tell them how I should like to be dressed,—
"In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!"
So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad;
For every leaf that his boughs could hold
Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud;
He was something above the common crowd;
And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say
To a pedlar who happened to pass that way,
"Just look at me! don't you think I am fine?
"And wouldn't you like such a dress as mine?"
"Oh, yes!" said the man, "and I really guess
I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress."
So he picked the golden leaves with care,
And left the little tree shivering there.

"Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?"
The fir-tree said, "I forgot that thieves
"Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
"If the fairies would give me another try,
"I'd wish for something that cost much less,
"And be satisfied with glass for my dress!"
Then he fell asleep; and, just as before,
The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear,
The tree was a crystal chandelier;
And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light,
That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
"Aha!" said the tree. "This is something great!"
And he held himself up, very proud and straight;
But a rude young wind through the forest dashed,
In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed
The delicate leaves. With a clashing sound
They broke into pieces and fell on the ground,
Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail,
And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.

Then his heart was sad; and he cried, "Alas
"For my beautiful leaves of shining glass!
"Perhaps I have made another mistake
"In choosing a dress so easy to break.
"If the fairies only would hear me again
"I'd ask them for something both pretty and plain:
"It wouldn't cost much to grant my request,—
"In leaves of green lettuce I'd like to be dressed!"
By this time the fairies were laughing, I know;
But they gave him his wish in a second; and so
With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet,
The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
"I knew it!" he cried, "I was sure I could find
"The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
"There's none of the trees has a prettier dress,
"And none as attractive as I am, I guess."
But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk,
By chance overheard the fir-tree's talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;—
"My salad!" he bleated, "I think so too!
"You're the most attractive kind of a tree,
"And I want your leaves for my five-o'clock tea."
So he ate them all without saying grace,
And walked away with a grin on his face;
While the little tree stood in the twilight dim,
With never a leaf on a single limb.

Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak—
He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool,
To think of breaking the forest rule,
And choosing a dress himself to please,
Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn't be helped, it was now too late,
He must make up his mind to a leafless fate!
So he let himself sink in a slumber deep,
But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep,
Till the morning touched him with joyful beam,
And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood,
A pointed fir in the midst of the wood!
His branches were sweet with the balsam smell,
His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,—
The very best kind of a Christmas tree.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 AM


Is There a Santa Claus? (The New York Sun, 1897)


I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-Fifth St.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what) they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 AM


[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 AM


Nordic Quack: Sweden's bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve. (Jeremy Stahl, Dec. 22, 2009, Slate)

[E]very year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, "From All of Us to All of You." Or as it is known in Sverige, Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas."

Kalle Anka, for short, has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time on Sweden's main public-television channel, TV1, on Christmas Eve (when Swedes traditionally celebrate the holiday) since 1959. The show consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s, only a couple of which have anything to do with Christmas. There are "Silly Symphonies" shorts and clips from films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book. The special is pretty much the same every year, except for the live introduction by a host (who plays the role of Walt Disney from the original Walt Disney Presents series) and the annual addition of one new snippet from the latest Disney-produced movie, which TV1's parent network, SVT, is contractually obligated by Disney to air.

Kalle Anka is typically one of the three most popular television events of the year, with between 40 and 50 percent of the country tuning in to watch.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 AM


Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony (Paul Farhi, 12/19/06, Washington Post)

Bowie, who was 30 at the time, and Crosby, then 73, recorded the duet Sept. 11, 1977, for Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" TV special. A month later, Crosby was dead of a heart attack. The special was broadcast on CBS about a month after his death.

The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special's producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song's music and arranged it.

Crosby was in Great Britain on a concert tour, and the theme of the TV special was Christmas in England. Bowie was one of several British guest stars (the model Twiggy and "Oliver!" star Ron Moody also appeared). Booking Bowie made logistical sense, since the special was taped near his home in London, at the Elstree Studios. As perhaps an added inducement, the producers agreed to air the arty video of Bowie's then-current single, "Heroes" (Crosby introduced it).

It's unclear, however, whether Crosby had any idea who Bowie was. Buz Kohan, who wrote the special and worked with Fraser and Grossman on the music, says he was never sure Crosby knew anything about Bowie's work. Fraser has a slightly different memory: "I'm pretty sure he did [know]. Bing was no idiot. If he didn't, his kids sure did."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 AM


Hail Mary: You have more in common with the mother of Jesus than you think. (James Martin, Dec. 24, 2009, Slate)

The human Mary has a lot to teach Christians—actually, everyone: men and women, from the devout believer to the doubtful seeker to the disbelieving atheist.

Just look at her story as recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Even if you doubt that the narrative is told accurately, you have to admit that buried within this supposedly pious and saccharine Bible tale is the vivid image of a strong, resilient, and self-possessed woman.

To begin with, the first time Mary opens her mouth in the New Testament, it is to question God. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" she asks, after the angel tells her that she will give birth (a reasonable enough question). Her response to something surprising in her life—and that's quite an understatement—is to question. To doubt. Here is one moment where her entirely human life intersects our own.

Who hasn't wanted to ask in the face of a life-altering change, "How can this be?" Holy confusion is a natural part of the life of any believer—indeed, any person. Ironically, earlier in Luke's Gospel, Zechariah, the soon-to-be father of John the Baptist, doesn't fare as well with his question. When he doubts that his elderly wife will conceive a son, a manifestly testy angel strikes him dumb. When Mary airs her confusion, the angel politely furnishes her with an explanation—albeit a confusing one. It's a striking example of biblical favoritism for women.

After the angel explains what will happen to her, Mary makes her decision. She says yes. "Let it be done to me according to your will." As the Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson points out in her book Truly Our Sister, the young peasant girl decides on her own, without recourse to the traditional male authorities of her day: "Exercising independent thought and action, she asks questions, takes counsel with her own soul," Johnson writes. "In a self-determining act of personal autonomy, she decides to go for it." This is one reason why Mary is a central figure for many smart Christian women, like the theologian Diana Hayes, who calls Mary's radical "yes" a moment of "outrageous authority."

...Rebecca even laughs at Him.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 AM


Whose Christmas Is It? (MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, 12/18/09, NY Times)

If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you’ll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” — perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: “White Christmas,” introduced in “Holiday Inn,” and “Silver Bells,” written for “The Lemon Drop Kid.”)

You’ll notice that certain famous Jewish songwriters are conspicuously absent from this list. Why? Unlike the Tin Pan Alley songwriters, who churned out songs to order on every conceivable subject for their publishers, writers like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen mainly created songs for musical plays and films, and unless a story line required a holiday song they had no need to write one. When they did try one outside the framework of a show, it rarely had the same spark. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” recorded by Rosemary Clooney in the ’50s, is sadly lethargic. Even Clooney couldn’t recall it when asked to sing it 30 years later. Or so she claimed.

In my holiday shows, I’m always looking for novel expressions of the season, and when I introduce a new song I don’t usually think about the religion of its creator. That said, I’m always pleased to discover a surprising juxtaposition. It doesn’t take Freud to figure out that the sugarplums, holly and mistletoe all tap into a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; that we all wish the clichés were true. As Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists and everything in between, we are all more alike than we are different. That’s something to celebrate.

[originally posted: 12/18/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 AM


A Christmas Trilogy: Berlioz's intimate, inventive 'L'Enfance du Christ' (BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER, 12/26/09, WSJ)

From Handel's "Messiah" to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," most everyone has his favorite seasonal music. Mine is Hector Berlioz's trilogy, "L'Enfance du Christ" (The Infancy of Christ), a surprisingly intimate score from a composer best known for such blockbusters as the "Symphonie Fantastique" and the towering Requiem. "L'Enfance du Christ" is probably the composer's most gentle choral work, characterized by numerous dynamic markings instructing that passages be played piano (soft), pianissimo (very soft), and even pianississimo (extremely soft).

It originated in a surprisingly offhanded gesture. In 1850, while a bored guest at a Parisian party, Berlioz was asked to write in a friend's autograph album. On the spur of the moment he began to jot down a few bars of music. "It seemed to have a rustic style," Berlioz later recalled, "and also to suggest a naïve mystical feeling, so I immediately invented some appropriate words for it. It became a chorus of shepherds in Bethlehem, bidding farewell to the infant Jesus as the Holy Family departs for Egypt."

Scholars have suggested that Berlioz may have previously visited the Louvre, viewing its many paintings of the Flight into Egypt. Whatever his inspiration, he soon followed this musical autograph with a movement called "The Repose of the Holy Family," and then with an overture. In November of that year, needing a choral piece to fill out a concert program, he decided to link the overture and two movements together and present them as the work of a fictitious 17th-century French composer he called Pierre Ducré.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 AM


Life is sacred: that's what Christmas really means (Archbishop Peter Smith, 19/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)

The essential message of Christmas is that in the birth of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the God we cannot see". He didn't come to condemn us, or to manipulate and control us. He didn't come with any worldly ambition to be successful or powerful. He came speaking the language of vulnerable, self-giving love which respects the dignity and worth of every person. It is a proclamation of the Good News that every human life is sacred because it reflects the image and likeness of the living God.

For all the doubts and difficulties many may have with the Church today, there is something deeply compelling about this core belief of Christians, namely that God became man out of unconditional love and compassion for wounded humanity. I think it is the instinctive acceptance of that truth which helps explain the remarkable statistic that more than 70 per cent of the population of this country still regards itself as Christian. So perhaps we are not yet - in fact we may be very far from - the secular utopia that is so often trumpeted.

But Christian faith in God and the sanctity of human life is more than an intellectual assent to the truth expressed in dogma. It must be fully lived and lead to an engagement of the whole person in love, service, prayer and witness. Only then can such witness to the extraordinary life-giving power of Christian love be truly influential in sustaining and transforming the lives of individuals, their families and the communities in which they live.

Unfortunately many have become "light users" of the Christian religion and have only a residual faith. In an age where the media too often dismiss a balanced public witness to the value of Christian faith and moral teaching as old-fashioned and irrelevant, our society is, I believe, becoming more vulnerable than ever to losing its moral bearings.

France will pass without anyone shedding a tear, but England is worth saving.

[originally posted: 2004-12-19]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 AM


How Jewish Family Values Shaped Christianity: The world into which Jesus was born and raised has shaped morals for two millennia. How Jewish mores became Christianity's customs. (Lisa Miller, Dec. 18, 2006, Newsweek)

[W]hatever one's personal beliefs, no student of religion or culture should overlook the significance of the world of the Nativity, for the milieu into which Jesus was born—and in which he was raised—has fundamentally shaped the manners and morals of the ensuing two millennia. The Jewish family values that were prevalent in first-century Judea—the values of Mary and Joseph and of the young Jesus—became the values of Christianity, and of the regions of the world in which Christianity has long been a critical force.

It all began with the habits and culture of Judaism. The emphasis on family, on sexual morality, on caring for one's kith and kin—all were (and are) sacred Jewish traditions, and the transmission of those mores from a relative backwater of the Roman Empire in the first years of the Common Era to our own time is the unlikely result of Mary and Joseph's parenting, the disciples' failed apocalyptic hopes and, ultimately, the early Christians' search for a way to survive once they realized the Second Coming was not as imminent as they first believed.

The story of Jesus—and thus the story of Christianity—begins with a common Jewish family. Mary is an innocent; Joseph is generous and protective, even of a child who is not his own. The baby is a baby, miraculous enough; like all happy births, his is cause for gossip, celebration and gift giving. On close inspection, the details of the Nativity don't add up particularly well: the birth narrative appears in just two of the four Gospels, Matthew and Luke, and they differ a great deal. Matthew starts with a genealogy, Luke with the story of the miraculous pregnancy of Mary's cousin Elizabeth. The Christmas story most people know from church pageants and television specials is a conflation of the two Gospels, putting Matthew's Magi together with the shepherds of Luke.

As the Nativity story makes clear, though, Mary and Joseph's era was one rich in moral standards designed to offer stability in an uncertain world, and they would have transmitted those standards to their son as he grew up. A woman's virginity, for example, was a sacred possession, to be given away or stolen at great cost. According to Deuteronomy, a man who violated a virgin had to pay a fine of 50 silver shekels and marry the woman in question; an unmarried woman who willfully had sex with a man other than her fiancé could be put to death. In ancient Israel, this value was probably a matter of pragmatism more than theology; it assured men who lived in a culture that prized family above all that their children were their own. "Because it was encoded in Biblical texts and the texts became sacred, [virginity] took on a moral dimension," says Carol Meyers, editor of "Women in Scripture" and a professor of religion at Duke. "By the time of Christianity ... any violation was seen as going against God's word."

The values of Jewish families were unique given the circumstances of the time. It is true that Romans of the first century had some regard for family, too (in his book "Jewish Marriage in Antiquity," Brown University professor Michael Satlow points out that Roman law esteemed married men with children above married men without children and unmarried men as part of the social order).

But Jewish devotion to family predates the Romans by thousands of years—think of all those begats—and by the time of Jesus, Jewish family values were noticeably different from those of their neighbors. A Roman father could, for any or no reason, choose to kill his newborn infant either by cutting the umbilical cord too close or by leaving the baby outside, and the Jewish refusal to do so was seen as peculiar. "The Jews see to it that their numbers increase," wrote the historian Tacitus around A.D. 100. "It is a deadly sin to kill a born or unborn child, and they think that eternal life is granted to those who die in battle or execution—hence their eagerness to have children, and their contempt for death." Herod himself executed two of his own sons, leading Augustus Caesar to remark that "I'd rather be Herod's pigs than Herod's sons."

In a culture so devoted to children, married sex was a blessing. "The harmonious coming together of man and woman and their consummation is figuratively a house. And everything which is without a woman is imperfect and homeless," wrote the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-A.D. 40). Within this context, whether Joseph and Mary, a married Jewish couple, did or did not eventually procreate on their own is a subject of endless scholarly and theological debate. When, in the Gospel of Matthew, the author says that Joseph had no union with Mary "until she gave birth to a son," he implies that a union did occur afterward—a decent explanation for the appearance in Mark and Matthew of Jesus' brothers James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, as well as unnamed sisters. "Some good historians believe that [these brothers and sisters] were part of Jesus' entourage," says Rodney Stark, of Baylor University.

And so the growing Jesus would have come of age in a world that cherished procreation, family ties and the history and theology of Israel, including immersion in the Scriptures and the ancient stories of God's deliverance of his people. According to Luke, when Jesus was 12, he traveled with his parents to Jerusalem from Galilee to celebrate Passover. The family feasted there and when they were done, Joseph and Mary turned around and headed home. After a day, they noticed that their son was missing from their entourage and rushed back to Jerusalem to find him. There, the story goes, they discovered Jesus in the temple, talking to the priests and astonishing the assembled crowds with his wisdom.

But his parents were parents, and they were worried. "Son, why have you treated us like this?" his mother asks. "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."

"Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying.

It would not, in all likelihood, be the last time. Their son was growing up in a time of great theological and political turbulence in Judea; in the time of Mary and Joseph, some Jews had begun to believe that the end of the world was coming any day. It would be brought about by a warrior king, a messiah from the house of David, who would destroy the wicked and usher in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Gospels do not say what Joseph and Mary believed about the apocalypse, but John the Baptist believed in one, and when Jesus says, in Luke, "The Kingdom of God is near," an apocalypse is precisely what he means.

In the temple, Jesus is as rude as a 12-year-old can be. But he's also the kind of Jewish son a mother would be proud of: he takes the family values of his childhood and, in his later years, makes a revolutionary leap. Family, he comes to preach, is not in the blood ties and biology his parents' generation so reveres. To him, the end of the world is coming and what matters now is the community of believers, the followers of the Messiah—on earth and in heaven. What matters is the family, as he put it, of man. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes this point again and again. "Let the dead bury the dead," he says in Luke. There's no need for sweet goodbyes. The only thing a believer must do is "follow me" and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 AM


The Littlest Angel (Charles Tazewell)

And the voice of God spoke, saying: Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases me the most. Its contents are of the earth and of men, and my Son is born to be king of both. These are the things my Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretfully, will leave behind him when his task is done. I accept this gift in the name of the child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem.

(Originally posted: 12/25/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


CHRISTMAS DAY [William Drummond (1585-1649)]

Bright portals of the sky,
Emboss'd with sparkling stars,
Doors of eternity,
With diamantine bars,
Your arras rich uphold,
Loose all your bolts and springs,
Ope wide your leaves of gold,
That in your roofs may come the King of Kings.

O well-spring of this All!
Thy Father's image vive;
Word, that from nought did call
What is, doth reason, live;
The soul's eternal food,
Earth's joy, delight of heaven;
All truth, love, beauty, good:
To thee, to thee be praises ever given!

O glory of the heaven!
O sole delight of earth!
To thee all power be given,
God's uncreated birth!
Of mankind lover true,
Indearer of his wrong,
Who doth the world renew,
Still be thou our salvation and our song!

[originally posted: 2003-12-25]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 AM

FROM THE ARCHIVES: BENT (via Judd Heartsill):

Christmas has come (Bill Murchison, December 23, 2003, Townhall)

In truth, the defect implied by the coming of the Lord in human form was more basic: Our human nature was bent, like an overburdened clothing rod. More than smiles and politeness and observance of duty would be necessary to fix it. And, in earthly terms, it really could not be "fixed," not just yet. Faith in the Little Lord Jesus was a sound step in the short run, but it would take his resurrection and return to dispose once and for all of the "bentness" problem.

In the meantime, Christians would be ... people. Of a certain sort, naturally. But, still, people. Not always "nice" to others, not even nice, all the time, to fellow Christians. This was notwithstanding the commandment of the Babe, grown to manhood, that they should "love one another," as he had loved them. They would try. But -- sigh -- bentness often would block the way.

Over the centuries, the physical achievements of Christianity -- the hospitals, schools, universities and missions -- as well as the deeds of mercy, forbearance and sacrifice would surpass all logical expectation. At their very best, the people of the manger -- Christians -- would speak of themselves as the redeemed, bearing a message of redemption "which shall be to all people."

The stumbles along the way, the falls, the catastrophes, would remind them of the human mess over which the angels hovered on that silent night: not in approval or confirmation, rather, in love of the wayward humans into whose midst a savior had come. To whom, that is, Christmas had come.

The miracle of Christmas is, of course, that God would even care about Man enough to try and comprehend us and would be so determined to do so that He would lower Himself to our level and live a mortal life. (How many scientists, after all, care enough about the rats in their lab that they'd be willing to live and die like one?) But the key moment in the life of Christ is when he pleads: "Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do." What God learned--and, yes, it will seem presumptuous to some to say that God had things left to learn, but the tale is inexplicable otherwise--is that Man is incapable of behaving as He wished us to when He Created us, no matter how hard we try. So the taunt of the unbelievers, that faith is useless because Christians continue to act like men instead of like Christ, is obviously inane. Men are men; such is our tragedy. We struggle, in futility, against our natures; that is our triumph. Give up the struggle and all that's left is the tragedy.

Is there absolute objectivity? (Rabbi Hillel Goldberg , 12/19/03, Jewish World Review)

Essentially, the Heisenberg principle states that the momentum and the position of a subatomic particle cannot both be known precisely. For the only way to measure either is to use some kind of illumination, which changes either the velocity or the position. The participant changes reality.

This is not a technical difficulty that some new technology will eliminate. It is in the nature of subatomic reality.

Under Einstein's special theory of relativity, no two observers moving through space at different speeds � and we are all moving through space � see things the same way. For example, observers moving at different speeds will measure the length of a stick differently. They will also measure the time it takes for the stick to pass by differently. Time is relative to the speed and position of the observer. On earth, we are all moving through space at the same speed, so reality seems objective. It is not this way.

All this is another way of pointing out the contingent nature of the human being as he or she strives to become like, to apprehend and to communicate with the one objective reality, G-d.

[originally posted: 2003-12-25]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 AM


Yule log telecast lights fire of New York viewers (AP, December 28, 2002)
A TV broadcast of logs burning in a fireplace to a Christmas carol soundtrack burned up the ratings this year. The uninterrupted two-hour Christmas morning broadcast of the ''Yule Log Christmas Special,'' a holiday tradition for hearthless New Yorkers, returned to the air in 2001 after a 12-year hiatus. Wednesday's showing, from 9 to 11 a.m., boasted 284,012 viewing households, a 26 percent boost in viewership compared with last year, WPIX-Channel 11 said. It smoked the 1 p.m. airing of the 1951 classic film version of Charles Dickens' ''A Christmas Carol,'' starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, by 29,000 households. The rather bizarre Christmas tradition also burned up the airwaves every year from 1966 to 1989.
For a third of a century, the Brothers have been at war over the Yule Log, with the philistine claiming it's a 10 second tape loop repeated over and over and I stubbornly maintaining it was originally a live broadcast. I deeply resent the term "bizarre" in this un-American, borderline-fascistic story. [originally posted: 2002-12-28]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


"God’s sign is that he makes himself small, he becomes a child": "No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness." From Bethlehem erupts the news that changes everything, even the "hearts of stone." The pope's homily for Christmas Eve (Benedict XVI, 12/24/09, Chiesa)

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself.

This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him.

Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


Yule Log, Christmas Tradition on New York TV, Is Going National (Bloomberg, 12/22/05)

This is the year Kevin Tietjen, a New York City native living in Connecticut, plans to introduce his 5-year-old son to a Christmas tradition from his childhood: opening presents in the glow of a crackling fire beamed into homes by television station WPIX.

``You turned this thing on, they had Christmas carols playing in the background,'' remembers Tietjen, 38, a risk consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP in New York. ``And because we didn't have a fireplace, the whole concept of the Yule Log was pretty cool.'' [...]

Last year's four-hour broadcast drew a bigger audience than WNBC's Christmas mass at Washington National Cathedral, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research.

Success has spawned knock-offs. More than half a dozen DVD imitators, such as ``The Happy Holiday Hearth,'' are sold on In Demand Networks, a high-definition cable broadcaster owned by Cox Enterprises Inc., Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc., will air an eight-hour broadcast of a digitally enhanced fireplace on its INHD2 network.

WPIX also has a high-definition version of its log that will air in the New York area on Cablevision System Corp.'s channel 711 and on Comcast's channel 235. Local stations in Dallas and New Orleans will broadcast the original as will Tribune's Superstation WGN, which reaches more than 66 million U.S. homes through cable and satellite services.

Christmas classics (LA Times, December 25, 2005)
BIOLOGISTS USE THE WORD "zeitgeber" to describe a physical stimulus that kicks the biological clock into gear. For example, light streaming through the window in the morning and birdsong are zeitgebers signaling that it's time to wake up.

Scientists haven't devoted a lot of attention to the role of zeitgebers in stimulating holiday cheer, gift buying and goodwill toward men. In some climes, it's probably connected to frosty windowpanes and snowy rooftops. In L.A., it may be the first appearance of Santas in shopping malls, or those giant, flashy decorations they string across Hollywood Boulevard every year. But for people across the nation, a prime signal that the holidays are approaching is the reappearance of classic Christmas movies and TV shows, many of which we've enjoyed since childhood and have seen so many times we can recite the dialogue by heart.

Here are a few of our favorite snippets. May they stimulate peace, comfort, joy and a very Merry Christmas to all.

Nothing can top It's a Wonderful Life and The Yule Log, but a newer and already beloved tradition is Turner's 24 hours of A Christmas Story.

(Originally posted: 12/25/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


Real Scrooge 'was Dutch gravedigger' (Richard Alleyne, 24/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

He is synonymous with the traditional image of the Victorian English Christmas but Ebenezer Scrooge may have his roots much further afield.

According to Sjef de Jong, a Dutch academic, the Charles Dickens character may have been inspired by the real life of Gabriel de Graaf, a 19th century gravedigger who lived in Holland.

De Graaf, a drunken curmudgeon obsessed with money, was said to have disappeared one Christmas Eve, only to emerge years later as a reformed character.

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 AM


Once Again, Having Its 7 Minutes of Flame (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 12/25/05, NY Times)

The flames flicker too fast.

The Christmas morning yule log special on WPIX - a four-hour tape of a log blazing brightly in a fireplace - is not for the fainthearted. The unextinguishable electronic hearth is a beloved New York tradition, but it would be a stretch to call it soothing. Even with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby crooning carols on the audio track, the pulsing flames mesmerize, but less like a snifter of brandy than like a double dose of methamphetamine.

In fact, staring at the yule log for an extended period may induce the kind of seizures that in December 1997 struck hundreds of Japanese children who watched a Pok�mon cartoon with too many flashing lights and Pikachu. This year the yule log will also be shown in high-definition television on WPIX's digital channel, WPIX-DT (channel 12). The HDTV version provides "a very sharp image of flames," said Ted Faraone, a WPIX spokesman. Parental discretion advised.

Memory can be misleading, of course. Apparently, the fire has always burned fast and furiously. Mr. Faraone said the yule log had not been speeded up or tampered with when it was digitally remastered in 2001, the year WPIX brought it back after a 12-year hiatus. He insisted that the tape was the same one that was made in 1970, a loop that runs just under seven minutes.

That's a damn lie! It's shown live every year.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 AM


Christmas and Christianity: Why religion remains a mainstay of American culture. (JAMES Q. WILSON, December 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Let me suggest that there is a link between religious freedom and the size and vigor of most American churches. We are more religious than any European state precisely because in this country there has never been a national church against which to rebel.

Matters are very different in Europe. The English were dismayed by the constant struggle between a nationally supported Catholic church and a nationally supported Anglican one, interrupted by a brief period of Puritanical rule.

The Scandinavians, when they came under the rule of Social Democratic parties, were expected to dismantle their state-supported churches, but instead they chose to make them instruments of their new welfare states governed by state-managed bureaucracies. The Swedes eliminated all religious qualifications for serving on church boards, so that, as Professors Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have pointed out, control of the Swedish state church has passed into the hands of atheists.

Since the French Revolution in the 18th century, the government has worked, with some ups and downs, toward state regulation of churches. An appointment to be a Roman Catholic bishop must be approved by the government, and an organization called the Observatory of Cults oversees "dangerous" religious groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and other evangelical movements. Messrs. Stark and Finke argue that state control, however weak, leads to a reduction in church affiliation. [...]

[I]n general, there has been in Europe very little that resembles the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Here, where the free exercise of religion is guaranteed and there is a ban on laws "respecting an establishment of religion," there has never been a national church. Without one, there is no enemy to defeat, and so there has never been a political reason to either rebel or become secular.

In this empty space of religious freedom aspiring ministers compete for adherents. The more skilled the ministers and the more demanding the benefit of becoming an adherent, the more people join them. As a result, mainline Protestant churches, lacking both evangelical zeal and a deeply meaningful religion, have lost the struggle for members to fundamentalist churches that recruit members and expect a lot of them.

This fact worries many people in the Blue States just as it pleases many in the Red ones. Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. In insisting that we describe our late December holiday as having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, in fighting to keep every nativity scene away from any government property, by arguing that our freedoms will be compromised by any reference to Christianity, they have succeeded only in intensifying religious beliefs among the great majority of our people who are angered by these assaults.

They would be well advised to let matters alone.

They can't though, because they're trying to establish their religion.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


The Climax of History (Matt Connally, Leadership U)

[T]he Biblical view of history is radically unique as compared to all other views, for Christianity alone accounts for the past based solely upon what the records and the eyewitnesses say happened. For example, when a physician named Luke went to write an account for a friend concerning the news of Jesus, he began by stating his sources:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Together with the other three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and John—the early church saw these as four different views of the same events, perhaps very comparable to how a director will use several cameras to shoot the same scene for a movie. Although they have variations in style and differ in what details they present and what they emphasize, they weave together into a singular historical record of astonishing depth and complexity (especially when read in light of the Old Testament). And again, they all claim to be first hand accounts of historical events. As the fisherman John put it:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. (1 John 1:1-3)

By contrast, all other views of the past—at least in regard to what God has done—are dictated by man according to presuppositions and/or special revelations. For example, Mohammed dramatically edited 2000 years of Biblical history based upon what he said an angel told him in a cave. So although Muslims claim to descend from Abraham, going through his first son Ishmael rather than his second son Isaac (as the Jews did), their history did not start with Abraham and then gradually develop over the next two millennia; instead, it sprang up all at once in the 7th century A.D. Similar methods of accounting for the past are found in the proclamations of Mormons, all the Gnostic forms of Christianity, and many cults. Even Hinduism, whose history reaches back several thousand years, does not rest upon eyewitness accounts but rather upon mystical revelations. That is why they can exalt Christ as a great spiritual teacher without believing that he is the one and only God.

A slightly different way of doing history is espoused by Naturalism—the worldview which is based upon evolutionary theory. For the most part Naturalists hold to the presupposition that supernatural events simply do not occur. Therefore, the Biblical account must be wrong and should be edited according to an evolutionary view of society. They speculate on what political motives might lay behind particular writings and beliefs and insist, quite ironically, that true religious belief rests upon presuppositions and blind faith.

But at the end of the day we are still confronted with the testimonies about what happened two thousand years ago. The event was so dramatic that Jerusalem, after centuries of being dominated by several empires (the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans) without budging a single inch, suddenly transformed by leaps and bounds. The Roman Empire soon followed, and today the news continues to change societies.

[originally posted: 12/25/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 AM


Behind the scenes of 'It's a Wonderful Life': The holiday fixture is a film classic, but the production wasn't always angelic. (Stephen Cox, December 23, 2006, LA Times)

It's no mystery why this year the American Film Institute named Capra's postwar classic "It's a Wonderful Life" the most inspiring motion picture ever made.

To most, it's an enriching, sentimental Christmas favorite not to be missed — almost sacrilege when viewed during any other season.

It's all the more remarkable that this homespun movie, which was not initially envisioned as a "holiday" film, has become so entrenched in popular culture, such a beloved tradition for families to share.

Oddly enough, the film was unceremoniously released during Christmas week of 1946. Never mind the yuletide flavor, the wintry snowdrifts in Bedford Falls and the holly wreath George Bailey carries slung around his arm — this Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed romance was originally scheduled to open in January 1947. But RKO Studios knew it had something special and rushed it into theaters a few weeks early to meet the deadline for Academy Award consideration that year.

Capra shot much of the film on a specially constructed quaint-town set located at RKO's ranch in the San Fernando Valley — a site that has long been overtaken by property development. In media interviews at the time, Capra did not portray it as a holiday film. In fact, he said he saw it as a cinematic remedy to combat what he feared was a growing trend toward atheism and to provide hope to the human spirit. In a moment of possible revisionism decades later, Capra said that he also realized that with the holiday season comes an inherent vulnerability in all humans, and that this uplifting tale might just ride on that sentiment.

Without question, however, is the fact that audiences trusted Capra to deliver such patriotisms, all neatly wrapped with a ribbon and bow. Like "Meet John Doe" (1941), about a lie that sparks a political movement. Some critics accused Capra of presenting a "naive" faith in the common man within a syrupy-slick presentation. So skillful in his flair for filmmaking and eliciting emotion, his titles were once called "Capra-corn."

But the Oscar-winning director has had the last laugh.

"It's a Wonderful Life" keeps popping its way back into homes on television, in commercials, on DVD, routinely broadcast twice each season on NBC. (It's being broadcast Sunday night.)

Capra, an Italian-born filmmaker who gave us such early classics as "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," died in 1991, but not before witnessing "It's a Wonderful Life" take on iconic wings of sort when television began airing it regularly in the 1970s.

The movie transcended time and soared well beyond his imagination.

"It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen," Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud ... but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea."

In probably his best-loved role, and a dark one at that, Stewart plays selfless everyman George Bailey through a tumultuous timeline that climaxes in near suicide on Christmas Eve. In answer to his desperate prayer at the bar, George is rescued by an unlikely angel with a smiling marshmallow face — a little fellow named Clarence — who convinces him that life is precious and that each man's life touches another with untold influence.

"I think, as the story unfolds," Stewart explained years ago, "it becomes clear that the movie is about hope, love and friendship."

Perhaps the best programming decision in television history was to buy back the rights to the film and put it on a network one night a year, making it the sort of old-fashioned event broadcast that we all watch at the same time.

[originally posted: December 23, 2006]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 AM


Tracing the Christmas tree's roots
(Religion News Service, December 21, 2004)

The Christmas tree remains a powerful symbol for many of us, a mandala of sorts, evoking emotions that can be traced through thousands of years of humankind and across many faiths.

"Christmas trees probably add more to mark the period of 'peace on Earth, goodwill toward men' than any other product of the soil," says Ann Kirk-Davis, whose family has been raising and selling Christmas trees for generations. "This enduring tree symbol — which is even older than Christianity and not exclusive to any one religion — remains a firmly established part of our holiday customs, engaging not only our senses of sight, touch and smell, but also our sense of tradition."

The Christmas tree has evolved from centuries-old traditions.

Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Chinese and other cultures used evergreens to mark the winter solstice, celebrate the end of the harvest year and symbolize the spirit of renewal. Druids used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.

In the 7th century in Germany, St. Boniface used the triangular shape of the tree to symbolize the Holy Trinity. In the Middle Ages, evergreens were decorated with red apples — the paradise tree — to mark the pagan festival of Adam and Eve.

In Riga, Latvia, in 1510, Martin Luther, inspired by the stars shimmering through the trees as he walked through the woods one wintry night, cut down a small tree, took it home and decorated it with candles for his children.

[originally posted: 2004-12-23]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 AM


America's Messiah (Michael Linton, December 1997, First Things)

While Messiah is a masterpiece, it is but one of many from Handel's pen, masterpieces that have not endured so steadfastly as Messiah. Why?

I think the answer lies in the fact that for the last two hundred years, English-speaking Christianity, and in particular, American Christianity, has found a singularly eloquent vehicle for self-reflection in Messiah. Despite much talk to the contrary, religion remains deeply important to most Americans. But as many writers have noted, that religiosity is not denominational or even confessional in nature. Instead, it is individualistic, a matter of personal belief and individual choice not dictated by bishops, mediated by ritual, or regulated by the state. Furthermore, American Christianity is deeply eschatological, the sense of the impending eschaton being not so much a dread premonition of a coming doom, but rather a purposeful optimism. Americans work for and expect the eventual establishment of the kingdom of God, that "city on a hill."

Messiah speaks to such a Christianity. Although reminiscent of the lectionary texts from Advent through Trinity from the Book of Common Prayer, the oratorio cannot be said to be denominational (although the lack of passages dealing with Mary certainly gives it a distinctly Protestant cast). Its biblical texts are equally accessible to Episcopalians and National Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, and until fairly recently, could be said to be known by heart by almost all. Unlike Bach's cantatas and passions, the oratorio requires neither a liturgical setting nor a particular occasion for it to be grasped. And despite the current custom of abridged Christmas performances (an aberration largely the result of reduced attention spans), the oratorio is not seasonal. If the work points to anything at all, it is neither Christmas nor Easter but rather the Second Coming and the individual's faith in Christ's eventual triumph.

Messiah is a concert work for the concert hall, and very much in the mold of the modern Protestant sermon, which entertains its listener for the purpose of edifying him. Like his contemporary George Whitefield (who was also criticized for using theatrical devices for religious ends), Handel uses the conventions of the theater to compel his listener into a personal encounter with the scriptural texts. Messiah, contrary to most critics' readings, is highly dramatic. But its drama is an interior one, a personal confrontation between the individual listener and the story of salvation that Handel unfolds before him. To a population where that confrontation is the fulcrum of their lives, performances of Messiah become almost autobiographical.

It is because of the religious character of Americans that Messiah is so important here. And because of that religious character, it can be said that Messiah forms the foundation of America's art music culture. Not only do performances of the oratorio undergird the finances of many of the country's performing organizations, the work itself is the entrance of tens of thousands into the realm of classical music. It is not only the one classical piece that almost everyone will recognize (hence Madison Avenue's shameless exploitation of it), but in many cases it is the only major classical piece that most amateur musicians will themselves perform.

[originally posted: 12/23/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Slinky survives decades of ups, downs (Diana Nelson Jones, December 24, 2003, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first Slinkys -- 60 feet of gunmetal gray coiled steel wire -- appeared in plain brown boxes under Christmas trees in 1945. Then it cost $1. It sells today for $1.97 in the chain superstores, about 50 cents less than in smaller toy stores. Slinky still walks down the stairs, as long as it recognizes your staircase design, but a corporate companion now walks alongside it. [...]

In 1943, Richard James was working on a spring design for the Navy that would keep ship instruments from gyrating with the movement of the sea. A spring in his workshop either fell off a table or was somehow jostled and it took a step. Anyone who has ever seen Slinky take a step knows how cute that is. The wildly creative James quickly saw the possibilities.

He marketed Slinky as a toy two years later, and built a robust business. He would take an even bigger step in 1960, a jarring one for his family.

Tom James, who became the manager of special products under Poof, remembers the day his father dropped the bomb: "Pop came down the stairs one morning, and said, 'I'm going to Bolivia to become a missionary. Who's coming with me?' Mom, with six kids, had just had Becky. We had this 31-room home in Bryn Mawr, but he had bankrupted the business. He gave all the money to this mission.

"I had just graduated from high school. I was 18, and I took him to his plane.

"Pop used to say, 'Money means nothing to me,' and he would tear it up. I'd find it and tape it back together."

Richard James died years later in Bolivia. Meanwhile, Betty James had picked up the pieces. She and the children moved to this town of 5,700 in Huntingdon County, where she grew up. Largely under her tutelage, millions of Slinkys have been sold to date, thanks to the baby boom generation's devotion to the toys of its youth for its own offspring.

No pun intended.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


The Incarnation (Frank Sheed, From A Map of Life)

Christ is God-made-man: that is He is truly God and He is truly man. He is God–with the nature of God: He took to Himself and made His own a complete human nature–a real human body and a real human soul. He is, then, one person–God–with two natures–divine and human. Nor is all this mere abstract matter, of no real concern to us. Everything in our life is bound up with the one person and the two natures of Christ. We must grasp this central luminous fact, or everything remains in darkness.

The distinction between person and nature is not some deep and hidden thing to which philosophy only comes after centuries of study. It is, on the contrary, a distinction so obvious that the smallest child who can talk at all makes it automatically. If in the half-light he sees a vague outline that might be anything, he asks "What is that?" If, on the other hand, he can see that it is a human being, but cannot distinguish or does not recognize the features, he asks "Who is that?" The distinction between what and who is the distinction between nature and person. Of every man the two questions–what is he? and who is he?–can be answered. Every man, in other words, is both a nature and a person. Into my every action, nature and person enter. For instance I speak. I, the person, speak. But I am able to speak only because I am a man, because it is of my nature to speak. I discover that there are all sorts of things I can do: and all sorts of things I cannot do. My nature decides. I can think, speak, walk: these actions go with the nature of man, which I have. I cannot fly, for this goes with the nature of a bird, which I have not.

My nature, then, decides what I can do: it may be thought of as settling the sphere of action possible to me. According to my nature, I can act: apart from it, I cannot. But my nature does not do these things–I, the person, do them. It is not my nature that speaks, walks, thinks: it is I, the person.

A man may then be thought of as a person–who acts–and a nature–which decides the field in which he acts. In man there is simply one nature to one person. In Christ there are two natures to one person: and our minds used to the one-nature-to-one-person state of man tend to cry out that there is a contradiction in the idea of two natures to one person.

But once it has been grasped that "person" and "nature" are not identical in meaning: once it has been grasped that the person acts and the nature is that principle in him which decides his sphere of action, then we see that mysterious as Our Lord's person and nature may be, there is no contradiction. God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity,[1] assumed–took to Himself–a human nature: made it His own: not simply as something which He could use as a convenient sphere to act in, but really as His own: just as our nature is our own. In us the relation of person and nature is such that not merely do we say "I have a human nature" (as we might say "I have an umbrella") but person and nature are so fused in one concrete reality that we say "I am a man." So God the Son can say not only "I am God with a human nature to act in" but in the most absolute fullness of meaning He can say "I am man." He does not simply act as man: He is man–as truly man as we.

This one person has two spheres of action: Christ our Lord could act either in His nature as God or in His nature as man. Remember the principle stated a few paragraphs back, that it is not the nature that acts, but the person. Therefore, whether He was acting in His divine nature or in His human nature, it was always the person who acted: and there was only the one person–God.

Then this is the position. Christ is God: therefore whatever Christ did, God did. When Christ acted in His divine nature (as when He raised the dead to life) it was God who did it: when Christ acted in His human nature (as when He was born, suffered and died) it was God who did it: God was born, God suffered, God died. For it is the person who acts: and Christ is God.

[originally posted: 12/28/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 AM


The Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) (Kate Douglas Wiggin)

And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after another, and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take their places; but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas bells that peal glad tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung by childish voices.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner) (James Thurber, 1927-12-24, New Yorker)

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

“Father,” the children said.

There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought.

“Father,” they said, and banged on their beds.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


Washington's Christmas Eve Gift
: They wanted him to be king. He wanted to ensure the republic that so many had died for. (Stanley Weintraub, December 23, 2004, LA Times)

We don't associate George Washington with Christmas Eve, or Christmas itself, yet the most significant Christmas Eve in American history occurred in 1783, when Gen. Washington, then 52, headed home to Mount Vernon after nine years at war � and turned his back on ruling the states like a king. [...]

"Had he lived in days of idolatry," a colonist had written in 1777, "he would have been worshiped like a god." Abigail Adams wrote of Washington's "Majestik fabrick." To one poet he was "Our Hero, Guardian, Father, Friend!" To another he was "First of Men." And, by 1778, a Pennsylvania German almanac had referred to him as "Father of his Country."

A brigadier general wrote to Washington, echoing sentiments in the press, that the colonies should merge as a monarchy, with him as king. Washington responded: "I must view this with abhorrence and reprehend [it] with severity."

Philadelphia artist Benjamin West, painting in London on the commission of the king, told George III that despite Washington's popularity, the general chose to return to his farm in Virginia. The king was astonished. If Washington does that, said His Majesty, he will be the greatest man in the world.

In December 1783, the general made good his word.

[originally posted: 2004-12-23]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


In Hoc Anno Domini (Vermont Royster's annual Christmas message, December 25, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since: [...]

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Just read an exceptionally fine book, The Faith and The Power (James D. Snyder), which reminds us of just how marginal were the Christians of the Apostolic Age and how mighty the Roman Empire. Likewise, the History Channel last night had a show on called, In Search of Christmas, where they delved into the myths and legends of the nativity. It was nicely handled even though the various historians, of necessity, were skeptical about various aspects of the story. But then at the end all of them marveled that, whatever your personal beliefs, it's stunning to consider just how completely this child of dubious origin and lowly station transformed the world.
[originally posted: 2002-12-24]
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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 12:09 AM


The Tenth Art: A new track for the old tradition of model railroading. (William Bryk, NY Press)

A toy train circling beneath the tree is an enduring element of the American Christmas. It first entered the culture a century ago when Joshua Lionel Cowen, founder of Lionel Corporation, invented practical and cheap electric toy locomotives, cars and track–and the marketing for them. Coca-Cola’s classic magazine advertisements showing Santa Claus resting from his labors, sipping Coke and grinning at a Santa Fe diesel locomotive on its three-railed track further established the model train as part of the secular Christmas iconography.

Well into my childhood, most department stores seemed to erect at least a small model- train display during the Christmas season. I remember the wonderfully elaborate layout in the Montgomery Ward store at 150 Broadway in Menands, just across the city line from Albany, NY. The store was nestled in the chain’s regional headquarters, a 1929 Art Deco skyscraper–well, it’s eight stories tall–like those in the glamorous old movies about New York on television. The display had tunnels and signals and flashing lights and whistles and a gleaming Santa Fe streamliner, all silver and scarlet like the ones in the soft-drink ads. Even now, associating Montgomery Ward with Christmas seems appropriate: One of their advertising copywriters, after all, created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

From the late 1950s on, our tastes in recreation changed, television in particular proving a powerful substitute for many activities and hobbies that once amused and occupied us, and holiday-season model-railroad displays largely disappeared.

This is a pity. Model railroading–all miniature modeling, in fact–resembles poetic metaphor.

We needed the jaws-of-life to pry our sons away from the model railroad set under the tree at last night's hospital holiday party.

[originally posted: 2003-12-20]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


9.08 Christmas Albums Yule Love – Or Your Holiday Cheer Back (Kevin Gosa, December 10, 2010, Curator)

The Voice of Christmas – The Complete Decca Christmas Songbook, Bing Crosby, 1935-1956, Decca Records

He truly is the voice of Christmas, and perhaps the most recognizable, stunning, and perfect voice ever recorded. If I had a million years to imagine things, I still couldn’t imagine what it feels like to sing like Bing.

While listening to Bing bellow, it’s interesting to be reminded that people have been opening gifts and sharing time with family to the strains of these exact versions of classic Christmas songs for almost seventy years. It’s one thing for the song itself to belong to antiquity, it’s another for an actual performance of one to endure. Plus, the whole recording has that “old-timey” feel. Probably because it was made in the “old times.”

He Is Christmas, Take 6, 1991, Word Entertainment

Before I made it big as a writer, I was an editorial intern for an industry trade magazine. I was in charge of compiling a list of “desert island discs,” or “moon mission music” as I called it. An artist submitted this recording as one of the five he would take on a one-way trip to the moon. That’s high praise since the magazine was for musicians about chamber music.

Normally I’d tread lightly when recommending an a cappella group to an unknown audience, it’s sort of like sweetbreads, you either love them, or the thought of it sends you hurtling towards the water closet like Santa after a night of drinking warm, spoiled milk.

But, with all the Glee fanaticism these days, maybe now is a good time to dip your toe into the post-doo-wop-gospel-second-wave-jazz-a cappella-vocal-pop scene.

These guys are just like the cast of Glee, except middle-aged, African-American, all-male, probably bad actors and dancers, but can sing circles around the faux-teens any day.

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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 12:05 AM


‘The Bishop’s Wife’: VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 12/24/06, NY Times)

We watched “The Bishop’s Wife” at our house the other night. Some years at Christmas we hang a wreath from the kitchen door, and some years we decorate a tree. But we always find an evening to watch “The Bishop’s Wife.” The camera hovers in the night over a lamp-lit city and descends onto its snow-fallen streets, which are thick with Christmas. Then comes Cary Grant, playing an angel named Dudley, the rather oblique answer to David Niven’s — the bishop’s — prayers. I suppose it is only natural for an angel in 1947, the year “The Bishop’s Wife” was released, to be supremely well tailored and to say, as a token of his celestial nature, that he never “uses” a hat. [...]

[“T]he Bishop’s Wife” is not about redemption. It is about understanding your choices or, perhaps, knowing the true implications of your desires. It alludes to the past but does not depend on recovering it. It looks around this grim world and sees that what it needs is not a cathedral but charity.

This is a modest movie, but it has its exaltations. One is a choir practice at an inner city church directed, angelically, by Dudley, a rehearsal that is as much a symphony in late-1940s plaids, worn by the choirboys, as it is a heralding of salvation. And I am always struck, every year, by the quiet way this movie addresses the atheism of an old history professor, played by the great character actor Monty Woolley. In the end, of course, he is led to church, but he enters quizzically, standing on the steps of St. Timothy’s in the falling snow and looking round as if to wonder what impulse could have brought him there.

Tough to beat David Niven and Cary Grant. The latter's performance -- as an angel envying a mortal -- is particularly wily.

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


A Sky Full of Children (Madeleine L'Engle, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.)

I walk out onto the deck of my cottage, looking up at the great river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky. A sliver of a moon hangs in the southwest, with the evening star gently in the curve.

Evening. Evening of this day. Evening of my own life.

I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of estimates have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity - waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures - the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God's time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than the blink of an eye to God. But in God's good time the universe came into being, opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to swirling galaxies. In God's good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good.

A sky full of God's children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God's image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God's children by adoption and grace.

Children of God, made in God's image. How? Genesis gives no explanations, but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God's explanation is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God's limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Posted by David Cohen at 12:00 AM


'Twas late Christmas eve, and in far distant houses
the only sound heard was the clicking of mouses.
With faces awash in the monitors' glow,
the blog readers wondered when Orrin would blow.

Our spouses were restless, alone in their beds,
mild oaths and deprecations danced in their heads.
But addicts won't sign off, we just hit refresh,
awaiting a screed 'gainst a suit on a cr�che.

When out of the ether there came such a clatter,
a dirge that the law was reduced to a tatter.
I opened a Window to post my own bent,
forgot to hit "preview" and misspelled "coment".

The Brothers Judd proved that the ACLU
would surrender the vote 'fore judicial review.
But what to my wondering eyes should appear --
not agreement nor praise, but dissension and fear.

Such a snappy retort, so quick on the parry,
I knew in a moment it must be from Harry,
(though being six hours behind is a cheat),
and soon he and Orrin sought the other to beat:

"Now Darwin!" "Not Darwin;
Prayer and conviction!"
"On, Stalin!" "On, Curia!"
"The Big Spook is fiction!"
The path was well-worn, but
they were having a ball.
each vying to triumph and
dash away all!

The furball expanded, we got from Detroit
some arguments practiced, impassioned, adroit.
These arguments, though, were as wrong as could be,
based on the notion that dad was a monkey.

Some positions fell as the arguments flew,
while others stayed firm, held by logical glue.
We all piled in, joining in on the fight,
though toys needed assembly and wives were uptight.

We heard, from Great Britain and the great Northern waste
(Queen Elizabeth's subjects who hang 'round the place)
a classical argument, based on Burke's wisdom,
for antidisestablishmentarianism.

It got ever later, Christmas soon would be here,
finding commenters groggy and empty of cheer.
I knew in my heart I should stop the commotion,
though I might as well try to hold back the ocean.

The posts kept on coming and the comments came, too.
from Florida, Cambridge and from Kalamazoo.
For my own part I knew the next day would bring
a matinee showing of The Lord Of The Rings

So I got to bed late, knowing I can sleep in,
no church in the morning, nor terrible din.
But gladly I wish you, 'ere I tuck in so tight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Birth of Jesus: From Mary to the manger, how the Gospels mix faith and history to tell the Christmas story and make the case for Christ (Jon Meacham, 12/13/04, Newsweek)

Like the Victorians, we live in an age of great belief and great doubt, and sometimes it seems as though we must choose between two extremes, the evangelical and the secular. "I don't want to be too simplistic, but our faith is somewhat childlike," says the Rev. H. B. London, a vice president of James Dobson's conservative Focus on the Family organization in Colorado Springs. "Though other people may question the historical validity of the virgin birth, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we don't." London's view has vast public support. A NEWSWEEK Poll found that 84 percent of American adults consider themselves Christians, and 82 percent see Jesus as God or the son of God. Seventy-nine percent say they believe in the virgin birth, and 67 percent think the Christmas story�from the angels' appearance to the Star of Bethlehem�is historically accurate. [...]

A man with no human father, a king who died a criminal's death, a God who assures us of everlasting life in a world to come while the world he made is consumed by war and strife: Christianity is a religion of perplexing contradictions. To live an examined faith believers have to acknowledge those complexities and engage them, however frustrating it may be. "We are in a world of mystery, with one bright Light before us, sufficient for our proceeding forward through all difficulties," wrote John Henry Newman, the great Victorian cleric whose intellectual journey led him from the Anglican priesthood to the Roman Curia. "Take away this Light and we are utterly wretched�we know not where we are, how we are sustained, what will become of us, and of all that is dear to us, what we are to believe, and why we are in being." The Christmas star is just one such light; there are others. Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our creeds, many of us are in search of the kind of faith that will lead us through the darkness, toward home. In Luke, the angelic host hails the Lord and then says: "on earth peace, good will toward men"�a promise whose fulfillment is worth our prayers not only in this season, but always.

Reading Edward Larson's very fine book on the Scopes Trial, one comes to the great showdown between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow and it is striking, in the original, to see just how obsessed Darrow was by the contradictions of the Bible in contrast to the equanimity of Bryan. If Bryan's beliefs are, by definition, less rational, it is Darrow who comes across as a fanatic:
Judge--Do you want Mr. Bryan sworn?


Bryan--I can make affirmation; I can say "So help me God, I will tell the truth."

Darrow--No, I take it you will tell the truth, Mr. Bryan. You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you, Mr. Bryan?

Bryan--Yes, sir, I have tried to.

Darrow--Then you have made a general study of it?

Bryan--Yes, I have; I have studied the Bible for about 50 years, or sometime more than that, but, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was but a boy.

Darrow--You claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?

Bryan--I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there: some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.

Darrow--But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale--or that the whale swallowed Jonah--excuse me please--how do you literally interpret that?

Bryan--When I read that a "big fish" swallowed Jonah--it does not say whale. That is my recollection of it. A big fish, and I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man and make both what He pleases.

Darrow--Now, you say, the big fish swallowed Jonah, and he there remained how long--three days--and then he spewed him upon the land. You believe that the big fish was made to swallow Jonah?

Bryan--I am not prepared to say that; the Bible merely says it was done.

Darrow--You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish, or made for that purpose?

Bryan--You may guess; you evolutionists guess...

Darrow--You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made especially to swallow a man or not?

Bryan--The Bible doesn't say, so I am not prepared to say.

Darrow--But do you believe He made them--that He made such a fish and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?

Bryan--Yes, sir. Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another.

Darrow--Just as hard?

Bryan--It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.

Darrow--Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?

Bryan--If the Bible said so; the Bible doesn't make as extreme statements as evolutionists do.

Darrow--The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it.

Bryan--I do.

Darrow--Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?

Bryan--No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.

Darrow--Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?

Bryan--I don't know what they thought.

Darrow--You don't know?

Bryan--I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.

Darrow--Have you an opinion as to whether or not the men who wrote that thought--

Thomas Stewart (a prosecution lawyer)--I want to object, your honor. It has gone beyond the pale of any issue that could possibly be injected into this lawsuit, except by imagination. I do not think the defendant has a right to conduct the examination any further and I ask your honor to exclude it.

Bryan--It seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the defense to the facts. If they are not allowed to get away from the facts, what have they to deal with?

Judge--Mr. Bryan is willing to be examined. Go ahead.

Darrow--Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?

Bryan--Well, I should say so.

Darrow--Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?


Darrow--You have not?

Bryan--No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.

Darrow--I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?


Darrow--Don't you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?

Bryan--You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.

Darrow--Don't you believe it?

Bryan--I would want to hear expert testimony on that.

Darrow--You have never investigated that subject?

Bryan--I don't think I have ever had the question asked.

Darrow--Or ever thought of it?

Bryan--I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance.

Darrow--You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?

Bryan--Yes, sir.

Darrow--When was that flood?

Bryan--I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.

Darrow--About 4004 B.C.?

Bryan--That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. [A witness had testified on Bishop Ussher's theory that the Earth was formed in 4004 B.C.] I would not say it is accurate.

Darrow--That estimate is printed in the Bible?

Bryan--Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given.

Darrow--But what do you think that the Bible itself says? Don't you know how it was arrived at?

Bryan--I never made a calculation.

Darrow--A calculation from what?

Bryan--I could not say.

Darrow--From the generations of man?

Bryan--I would not want to say that.

Darrow--What do you think?

Bryan--I do not think about things I don't think about.

Darrow--Do you think about things you do think about?

Bryan--Well, sometimes. (Laughter.)

Policeman--Let us have order....

Thomas Stewart {prosecution attorney}--Your honor, he is perfectly able to take care of this, but we are attaining no evidence. This is not competent evidence.

Bryan--These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.

Judge--All right. (Applause.)

Darrow--Great applause from the bleachers.

Bryan--From those whom you call "yokels."

Darrow--I have never called them yokels.

Bryan--That is the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.

Darrow--You mean who are applauding you? (Applause.)

Bryan--Those are the people whom you insult.

Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.

Judge--I will not stand for that.

Darrow--For what he is doing?

Judge--I am talking to both of you.

Darrow--Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?


Darrow--Have you ever tried to find out?

Bryan--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been interested in it. (Laughter.)

Darrow--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?

Bryan--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.

Darrow--Where have you lived all your life?

Bryan--Not near you. (Laughter and applause.)

Darrow--Nor near anybody of learning?

Bryan--Oh, don't assume you know it all.

Darrow--Do you know there are thousands of books in our libraries on all those subjects I have been asking you about?

Bryan--I couldn't say, but I will take your word for it....

Darrow--Have you any idea how old the earth is?


Darrow--The book you have introduced in evidence tells you, doesn't it?

Bryan--I don't think it does, Mr. Darrow.

Darrow--Let's see whether it does; is this the one?

Bryan--That is the one, I think.

Darrow--It says B.C. 4004?

Bryan--That is Bishop Ussher's calculation.

Darrow--That is printed in the Bible you introduced?

Bryan--Yes, sir.

Darrow--Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?

Bryan--Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.

Darrow--How much?

Bryan--I couldn't say.

Darrow--Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?

Bryan--I don't think it is older or not.

Darrow--Do you think the earth was made in six days?

Bryan--Not six days of 24 hours.

Darrow--Doesn't it say so?

Bryan--No, sir.

Judge--Are you about through, Mr. Darrow?

Darrow--I want to ask a few more questions about the creation.

Judge--I know. We are going to adjourn when Mr. Bryan comes off the stand for the day. Be very brief, Mr. Darrow. Of course, I believe I will make myself clearer. Of course, it is incompetent testimony before the jury. The only reason I am allowing this to go in at all is that they may have it in the appellate court as showing what the affidavit would be.

Bryan--The reason I am answering is not for the benefit of the superior court. It is to keep these gentlemen from saying I was afraid to meet them and let them question me, and I want the Christian world to know that any atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, can question me anytime as to my belief in God, and I will answer him.

Darrow--I want to take an exception to this conduct of this witness. He may be very popular down here in the hills--

Bryan--Your honor, they have not asked a question legally and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose, as the question about Jonah was asked, for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the world of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.

Malone (another defense counsel)--Your honor on this very subject, I would like to say that I would have asked Mr. Bryan, and I consider myself as good a Christian as he is, every question that Mr. Darrow has asked him for the purpose of bringing out whether or not there is to be taken in this court a literal interpretation of the Bible, or whether, obviously, as these questions indicate, if a general and literal construction cannot be put upon the parts of the Bible which have been covered by Mr. Darrow's questions. I hope for the last time no further attempt will be made by counsel on the other side of the case, or Mr. Bryan, to say the defense is concerned at all with Mr. Darrow's particular religious views or lack of religious views. We are here as lawyers with the same right to our views. I have the same right to mine as a Christian as Mr. Bryan has to his, and we do not intend to have this case charged by Mr. Darrow's agnosticism or Mr. Bryan's brand of Christianity. (A great applause.)

Darrow --Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?


Darrow--Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam's rib? Bryan--I do.

Darrow--Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?

Bryan--No, sir. I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.

Darrow--You have never found out?

Bryan--I have never tried to find out.

Darrow--You have never tried to find out?


Darrow--The Bible says he got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?

Bryan--I cannot say.

Darrow--You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration?

Bryan--Never bothered me.

Darrow--There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife.

Bryan--That is what the Bible says.

Darrow--Where she came from you do not know. All right. Does the statement, "The morning and the evening were the first day," and "The morning and the evening were the second day," mean anything to you?

Bryan--I do not think it necessarily means a 24-hour day.

Darrow--You do not?


Darrow--What do you consider it to be?

Bryan--I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter--let me have the book. [Reaches for a Bible.] The fourth verse of the second chapter says: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," the word day there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, "the evening and the morning," as meaning necessarily a 24-hour day, "in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth."

Darrow--Then, when the Bible said, for instance, "and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?

Bryan--I do not think it necessarily does.

Darrow--Do you think it does or does not?

Bryan--I know a great many think so.

Darrow--What do you think?

Bryan--I do not think it does.

Darrow--You think those were not literal days?

Bryan--I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.

Darrow--What do you think about it?

Bryan--That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.

Darrow--You do not think that?

Bryan--No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6 million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.

Darrow--Do you think those were literal days?

Bryan--My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.

Darrow--I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?

Bryan--I believe that.

Darrow--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?

Bryan--No, sir.

Darrow--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?

Bryan--No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter.)

Darrow--Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in heaven after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?

Bryan--Read it.

Darrow--All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.

Bryan--Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.

Darrow--I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.

Judge--Court is adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.

[originally posted: 2004-12-12]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


I'm Dreaming of a Victorian Christmas: An ageless story reminds us of the values the Victorians can still teach us. (Chris Armstrong, 12/23/2002, Christianity Today)
The Christmases of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women still shine forth a bright, good hopefulness in the midst of trying times—a hopefulness made solid in the bond of family and the desire to live well in God's sight. What allows Alcott's story to escape the saccharine orbit of many sentimentalist tales and speak to us in deep ways?

Yes, the author's sure narrative touch and vivid characterization. But also this, I think: Alcott knows intimately and presents lovingly truths that were the Victorian era's special treasure.

The foremost of these is the truth we still recall every Christmas season: Every family, whatever its trials and stresses, is a God-given blessing to be treasured and celebrated. Each of us is meant to grow and flourish within a family, becoming all God means us to be. Without family, the way is—not impossible, but harder and colder.

We wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. [originally posted: 2002-12-24]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Time of No Room (Thomas Merton)

Why then was the inn crowded? Because of the census, the eschatological massing of the "whole world" in centers of registration, to be numbered, to be identified with the structure of imperial power. The purpose of the census: to discover those who were to be taxed. To find out those who were eligible for service in the armies of the empire.

The Bible had not been friendly to a census in the days when God was ruler of Israel (2 Samuel 24). The numbering of the people of God by an alien emperor and their full consent to it was itself an eschatological sign, preparing those who could understand it to meet judgment with repentance. After all, in the Apocalyptic literature of the Bible, this "summoning together" or convocation of the powers of the earth to do battle is the great sign of "the end."

It was therefore impossible that the Word should lose himself by being born into shapeless and passive mass. He had indeed emptied himself, taken the form of God's servant, man. But he did not empty himself to the point of becoming mass man, faceless man. It was therefore right that there should be no room for him in a crowd that had been called together as an eschatological sign. His being born outside that crowd is even more of a sign. That there is no room for him is a sign of the end.

Nor are the tidings of great joy announced in the crowded inn. In the massed crowd there are always new tidings of joy and disaster. Where each new announcement is the greatest of announcements, where every day's disaster is beyond compare, every day's danger demands the ultimate sacrifice, all news and all judgment is reduced to zero. News becomes merely a new noise in the mind, briefly replacing the noise that went before it and yielding to the noise that comes after it, so that eventually everything blends into the same monotonous and meaningless rumor. News? There is so much news that there is no room left for the true tidings, the "Good News," the Great Joy.

Hence the Great Joy is announced, after all, in silence, loneliness and darkness, to shepherds "living in the fields" or "living in the countryside" and apparently unmoved by the rumors or massed crowds. These are the remnant of the desert-dwellers, the nomads, the true Israel.

Even though "the whole world" is ordered to be inscribed, they do not seem to be affected. Doubtless they have registered, as Joseph and Mary will register, but they remain outside the agitation, and untouched by the vast movement, the massing of hundreds and thousands of people everywhere in the towns and cities.

They are therefore quite otherwise signed. They are designated, surrounded by a great light, they receive the message of the Great Joy, and they believe it with joy. They see the Shekinah over them, recognize themselves for what they are. They are the remnant, the people of no account, who are therefore chosen - the anawim. And they obey the light. Nor was anything else asked of them.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Give me seasonal schmaltz: Christmas captures the defining characteristic of Americans - their lack of cynicism and scepticism (Gerard Baker, 12.23/04, Times of London))

[A]bove all, the annual fuss about taking Christ out of Christmas misses the central point about the holiday season in America. This time of year captures, perhaps better than any other, the defining characteristic of Americans in the modern world � their lack of cynicism and scepticism, their enduring hope and faith in themselves, their country and even the world around them.

In Britain and most of Europe, Christmas has become that special occasion for wallowing in cynicism. We love to complain about the shopping, the train delays and the weather. Popular culture disdains the spirit of the season, and plays up instead the secularist, sceptical, mocking, lost innocence tone of British life.

With a few ghastly exceptions from Sir Cliff, popular music in Britain at this time of year is blunt and unsentimental, even when charitable. But Americans indulge their sentimentality, pander to their idealism, reaffirm their belief in the spiritual contingency of human nature and their popular culture reflects that.

Nothing is too schmaltzy or saccharine. Even Hollywood for a brief moment casts aside its usual predilections and expresses a wide-eyed child-like thrill at the coming of Christmas. Radio stations become an endless loop of Christmas songs � not the typical �So Here it is Merry Christmas� British classic � but shameless repeats of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Harry Belafonte.

It�s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra�s hymn to sentimentalism, will doubtless get a look in somewhere in the British TV schedules, but in America it will own its usual spot, slap in the middle of NBC�s prime time on Christmas night and I guarantee that there will not be a dry eye in the country when once again George Bailey hears the bell ringing for Clarence, the angel who gets his wings.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


America's Messiah (Michael Linton, December 1997, First Things)

But why, from Bangor to San Diego, do average Americans who would otherwise not listen to a note of classical music year after year make performances of this oratorio sell-outs? Why do they go? And what is the effect of Messiah's popularity upon our musical culture?

Certainly the primary reason for the oratorio's appeal lies in the quality of Handel's music itself. Messiah must rank as one of the greatest musical achievements of the eighteenth century. For all its misuse (I particularly remember Mobil using it to hail their motor oil), the "Hallelujah Chorus" remains a masterpiece of musical structure, the magnificence of the music not being the result of bombast, but rather the logical outcome of Handel's manipulation of antiphonal effects, stunning unisons, divided familiar-style and contrapuntal writing, and superimposed textures. The final chorus ("Worthy is the Lamb") contains choral writing the imagination of which would not be rivaled until Wagner composed Lohengrin four generations later, and the aria "Behold and See" is a model of economy and pathos. In its fifteen measures Handel seems to set the anguish of the whole world.

But it's not just the music. Great though Messiah may be, it can be argued that Handel's best work lies elsewhere. With some justification, cognoscenti are quick to prefer his Italian operas to his English oratorios. During Handel's lifetime, Judas Maccabaeus was more popular than Messiah, and the Reverend Charles Jennens, who provided Handel with Messiah's word book, liked the music in Samson much better. Late in life, the composer himself is reported to have said that his oratorio Theodora contained better writing. While Messiah is a masterpiece, it is but one of many from Handel's pen, masterpieces that have not endured so steadfastly as Messiah. Why?

I think the answer lies in the fact that for the last two hundred years, English-speaking Christianity, and in particular, American Christianity, has found a singularly eloquent vehicle for self-reflection in Messiah. Despite much talk to the contrary, religion remains deeply important to most Americans. But as many writers have noted, that religiosity is not denominational or even confessional in nature. Instead, it is individualistic, a matter of personal belief and individual choice not dictated by bishops, mediated by ritual, or regulated by the state. Furthermore, American Christianity is deeply eschatological, the sense of the impending eschaton being not so much a dread premonition of a coming doom, but rather a purposeful optimism. Americans work for and expect the eventual establishment of the kingdom of God, that "city on a hill."

Messiah speaks to such a Christianity. Although reminiscent of the lectionary texts from Advent through Trinity from the Book of Common Prayer, the oratorio cannot be said to be denominational (although the lack of passages dealing with Mary certainly gives it a distinctly Protestant cast). Its biblical texts are equally accessible to Episcopalians and National Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, and until fairly recently, could be said to be known by heart by almost all. Unlike Bach's cantatas and passions, the oratorio requires neither a liturgical setting nor a particular occasion for it to be grasped. And despite the current custom of abridged Christmas performances (an aberration largely the result of reduced attention spans), the oratorio is not seasonal. If the work points to anything at all, it is neither Christmas nor Easter but rather the Second Coming and the individual's faith in Christ's eventual triumph.

Messiah is a concert work for the concert hall, and very much in the mold of the modern Protestant sermon, which entertains its listener for the purpose of edifying him. Like his contemporary George Whitefield (who was also criticized for using theatrical devices for religious ends), Handel uses the conventions of the theater to compel his listener into a personal encounter with the scriptural texts. Messiah, contrary to most critics' readings, is highly dramatic. But its drama is an interior one, a personal confrontation between the individual listener and the story of salvation that Handel unfolds before him. To a population where that confrontation is the fulcrum of their lives, performances of Messiah become almost autobiographical.

It is because of the religious character of Americans that Messiah is so important here. And because of that religious character, it can be said that Messiah forms the foundation of America's art music culture. Not only do performances of the oratorio undergird the finances of many of the country's performing organizations, the work itself is the entrance of tens of thousands into the realm of classical music. It is not only the one classical piece that almost everyone will recognize (hence Madison Avenue's shameless exploitation of it), but in many cases it is the only major classical piece that most amateur musicians will themselves perform. My own case is not unusual. Messiah was the first piece of classical music I heard live, the first one I performed as an amateur singer, and the first one I conducted as a professional musician.

The cultural significance of Handel and his Messiah for American music cannot be overstated.

Was there ever a country better suited to understanding the awesomeness of the promise that "Every Valley Shall be Exalted"?

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Washington Irving's English Christmas: An American essayist penned one of the best descriptions of the 19th-century British Christmas traditions, and in so doing helped restore many of these then-dying customs on both sides of the Atlantic. (James Munson, 12/25/04, British Heritage)

In 1822 Washington Irving left England. His writing and his diplomatic career took him to France, Germany, and Spain. Finally, in 1832 he returned to America where he settled at Tarrytown in New York State, the scene of his The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But of all his many other stories and essays, those concerning Christmas and the celebrations associated with it retain an immediacy that none of the others possess. Why do these sketches of Christmas long past still speak so directly to us? Washington Irving himself gave the answer: "There is a tone of sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment."

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Malthus And Scrooge (Jerry Bowyer, 12.25.08, Forbes)

"Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.'' "Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'' "If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

That phrase--surplus population--is what first tipped me off to Dickens' philosophical agenda. He's taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. Malthus, himself, had joined the surplus generation only nine years before. But his ideas have proved more durable.

Malthus taught the world to fear new people. An amateur economist, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. Populations grow, he said, geometrically, but wealth only grows arithmetically. In other words, new people create more new people, but new food doesn't create new food.

Malthus' influence, unfortunately, grew geometrically and not arithmetically. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction.

Hitler's hard eugenics and Sanger's (founder of Planned Parenthood) softer one, both owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus. So do the zero-growth, sustainable-growth, right-to-die, duty-to-die, life boat bio-ethicists who dominate so much of our intellectual discussion. Malthus turned out to be, ironically, right in some sense. His prediction of mass death has taken place; not because he was right, but because he was believed.

Dickens, I think, saw it first. Ebenezer Scrooge was clearly a Malthusian.

[originally posted: 12/25/08]

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OK, Virginia, There's No Santa Claus. But There Is God (TONY WOODLIEF, 12/25/08, Wall Street Journal)

As a parent, I believe (with the older apologists) that it's essential to preserve a small, inviolate space in the heart of a child, a space where he is free to believe impossibilities. The fantasy writer George MacDonald -- author of "The Light Princess" and "The Golden Key" -- whom Lewis esteemed as one of his greatest inspirations, suggested that it is only by gazing through magic-tinted eyes that one can see God: "With his divine alchemy," MacDonald wrote, "he turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries." The obfuscating spirit of the "commonplace," meanwhile, is "ever covering the deep and clouding the high."

This sheds light on a seeming paradox in St. Paul's letter to Roman Christians: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. . . ." How does one see "invisible attributes"? Only people raised on fairy tales can make sense of that. It belongs in a terrain where magic glasses can illumine what was heretofore hidden, where rabbit holes open into wonderlands. No wonder some atheists like Mr. Dawkins want to kill Harry Potter.

I know Caleb and his brothers will figure out the Santa secret eventually, but I'm with Chesterton in resisting the elevation of science and reason to the exclusion of magic, of mystery, of faith. That's why I'm not giving up on Santa without a fight. Not everything we believe, I explain to Caleb, can be proved (or disproved) by science. We believe in impossible things, and in unseen things, beginning with our own souls and working outward. It's a delicate thing, preparing him to let go of Santa without simultaneously embracing the notion that only what can be detected by the five senses is real.

This all sounds like madness, I know, to people like Mr. Dawkins. But Chesterton held that believing in impossible things is actually the sanest position. "Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not," he hastened to add, "in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." The alternatives to embracing man's mystical condition, he argued, are either to go the way of the materialist, who understands everything according to scientific principles, yet for whom "everything does not seem worth understanding," or the madman, who in trying to "get the heavens into his head" shatters his rational (but woefully finite) mind.

Interestingly, the curse leveled by Lewis's White Witch on Narnia -- an endless season of winter absent Christmas -- evokes both: an unholy snow smothering wondrous creation in false uniformity, and at the same time a kind of madness well understood in snowbound regions. It's not surprising that one of the first signs of the Witch's coming demise is that Father Christmas appears: "'I've come at last,'" says Santa. "'She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last.'"

Oxford University Press recently announced that it will be dropping words like "dwarf," "elf" and "devil" from its children's dictionary to make room for words like "blog," "Euro," and "biodegradable" -- a blow not just to language but to the imagination. I'm sticking with Santa, however, knowing that my children will gradually exchange the fairy tales of youth for a faith -- I hope -- in mysteries that even diehard Christians seem increasingly embarrassed to admit as such. In our house, at least, there's no shame in believing the impossible.

[originally posted: 12/26/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Miracle on Red Square (Andrew E. Busch, December 2002, Ashbrook Center)
Amid The World's Favorite Christmas Carols are some old standards. A powerful chorus sings "The First Noel," "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," and "Joy to the World," including Isaac Watts' moving stanza "He rules the world with truth and grace/ And makes the nations prove/ The glories of His righteousness/ And wonders of His love." I listen in amazement.

Another choir begins with "Silent Night" and moves on. "God rest ye merry gentlemen," exclaims the baritone soloist with ever so slight an accent, "let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day." The chorus launches a beautiful, haunting, minor harmony. I get a lump in my throat.

The baritone continues. "'Fear not then' said the Angel, 'Let nothing you affright; This day is born a Saviour Of a pure virgin bright; To free all those that trust in Him from Satan's power and might.'" My eyes moisten.

"O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; o tidings of comfort and joy." I close my eyes. I fear not.

The performers? The latter, the Moscow Boys Choir, the former, the Red Army Chorus. That is to say, the chorus of the army whose purpose for three-quarters of a century was to spread communism, who threatened the free nations of the earth on nearly every continent, whose dearest wish was to put an end to Christmas for all people everywhere. The chorus of an army that for seven decades served a regime that destroyed thousands of churches, murdered tens of thousands of priests, sent millions of believers to the camps. The chorus of an army that, to speak much within compass, was the very representation in military form of "Satan's power and might."

At the end of the road, that power and might crumbled into nothingness. Christmas lived. The Party died; the church survived. Like cathedrals deliberately built over the ruins of pagan temples, the Red Army Chorus sings Christmas carols, and Marx, Lenin, and Stalin rotate in their tombs. God rest ye merry gentlemen.

Makes one downright Whiggish... [originally posted: 2002-12-15]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

The clerk, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

'Scrooge and Marley's, I believe,' said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. 'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Scrooge, or Mr Marley?'

'Mr Marley has been dead these seven years,' Scrooge replied. 'He died seven years ago, this very night.'

'We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,' said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was, for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word liberality, Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

'At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, 'it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.'

'Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.

'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

'And the Union workhouses.' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?'

'They are. Still,' returned the gentleman,' I wish I could say they were not.'

'The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said Scrooge.

'Both very busy, sir.'

'Oh. I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge. 'I'm very glad to hear it.'

'Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,' returned the gentleman, 'a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?'

'Nothing!' Scrooge replied.

'You wish to be anonymous?'

'I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. 'Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.'

'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'

'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'

Don't wanna reduce those survival pressures and mongrelize the species...

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


It's Not About the Manger (Chuck Colson, December 25, 2007, Townhall)

What image does the mention of Christmas typically conjure up? For most of us, it is a babe lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph, angels, and assorted animals look on.

Heartwarming picture, but Christmas is about far more than a Child’s birth—even the Savior’s birth. It is about the Incarnation: God Himself, Creator of heaven and earth, invading planet earth, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

It is a staggering thought. Think of it: The Word—that is, Logos in the Greek, which meant all the knowledge that could be known—the plan of creation—that is, ultimate reality—becomes mere man? And that He was not born of an earthly king and queen, but of a virgin of a backwater village named Nazareth? Certainly God delights in confounding worldly wisdom—and human expectations.

Of course, what makes the story so remarkable is that God discovers there is more to be known and is confounded by the experience of being a mere man--My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?--thus reconciling us to Him: Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Christmas Eve (Lillian Cox)
The soft light from a stable door Lies on the midnight lands; The wise men's star burns evermore, Over all the desert sands. Unto all peoples of the earth A little Child brought light; And never in the darkest place Can it be utter night. No flickering torch, no wavering fire, But Light the Life of men; Whatever clouds may veil the sky, Never is night again.
(Originally posted: 12/24/05)

December 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


It also has a medical tradition.: Mistletoe, a shrub both parasitic and romantic (Kathy Van Mullekom, 12/25/09, NEWPORT NEWS, VA., DAILY PRESS)

The plant's thick, green leathery leaves are evergreen and wedge- to egg-shaped and one to two inches long. Tiny yellow flowers bloom on the smooth, jointed stems in late fall, followed by round, white berries - only the female plant produces the fruits.

Mistletoe, botanically called Phoradendron serotinum (leucarpum) takes water and nutrients from the plant it grows on, but it also produces some chlorophyll and draws energy from the sun, says Hamilton.

Having no roots of their own, they produce structures called "sinkers" and "haustoria" that penetrate the host's tissue.

Found in almost every county in Virginia, American mistletoe thrives in trees from New Jersey to southern Ohio, southern Indiana and southern Missouri and south to Florida and Texas. Usually favoring a few species in any given area, it seems to especially like hickories and oaks.

During this time of year, mistletoe takes on a romantic role, hanging around the house and giving couples a place to kiss. The custom is said to have originated in Scandinavia where it was considered a place of peace - enemies and couples would make up under it.

[originally posted: 12/25/09]

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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