January 31, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


China red-faced after footage of new fighter 'was from Top Gun' (The Telegraph, 1/31/11)

Perhaps it was "a need, a need for speed", as Maverick and Goose once put it, but China's military have been embarrassed by accusations that instead of filming genuine footage of their latest fighter plane, they used a scene from the film Top Gun.

The footage showcasing the J-10 fighter, which showed an air-to-air missile destroying another jet, was aired last week during the main evening broadcast of the state-sponsored channel China Central Television.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Liverpool line up late Carroll swap (AFP, 31 January 2011)

Liverpool look set to spark a record-breaking end to the January transfer window as they try to land Newcastle striker Andy Carroll as a replacement for Chelsea target Fernando Torres.

The Reds have had a bid of around £35 million accepted for Carroll which would smash the British transfer record if the 22-year-old England international can agree personal terms. Carroll's pending switch to Anfield has been prompted by Chelsea's determination to sign Torres for around £50million - which would set a new British record just hours after Carroll's deal.

Turning a formerly great player who seems to slender to stay healthy into a physically dominant young star, and pocketing a sizable profit on the deal, isn't a bad first move for the Yanks.

Transfer frenzy goes straight to No1 in compendium of splurges (Paul Hayward, 1/31/11, guardian.co.uk)

Anfield's raid on Tyneside is a spectacular riposte to the loss of Torres to Roman Abramovich's Chelsea, where crises tended to end with a P45 for the manager before the oligarch rediscovered his bite in the transfer market.

Liverpool's move for Carroll should be seen in the context of their earlier purchase of Suárez. For a few dollars more than they will receive for El Niño, Dalglish and the Fenway Sports Group have bought themselves a double and complimentary strike force. In the space of a week a faltering team has been fundamentally rebuilt at the cost of expelling an employee who wanted to leave way back in the summer.

The Kop will awake to a whole new age: 31 January 2011 is bound for their transfer hall of fame. Suárez, Diego Forlán's Uruguayan accomplice, and Carroll, a 22-year-old from Gateshead, are unlikely to strike up a swift verbal rapport, but a Uefa coaching badge is not required to see how they might function together, with Carroll frightening the lunch out of opposing centre-halves and Suárez applying more subtle virtues around the edges.

Selling Torres and buying Carroll is Kenny's biggest gamble - but also a move straight out of FSG playbook (David Maddock, 1/31/11, Daily Mirror)
When they arrived at Liverpool, John Henry and chairman Tom Werner stressed they were prepared to bankroll major investment in playing talent, IF it adhered to their strict model for development.

The Fenway Sports Group plan for Liverpool is simple. They want young, hugely talented players with real potential to develop further, and to secure such talent, they are happy to take a calculated gamble. [...]

Their decisiveness in identifying such exciting, raw talent as the clear direction the club must take was at least admirable, if still unproven. And within Anfield, there was quiet satisfaction last night.

There is a genuine belief in some quarters within the club that Torres is no longer the striker he was. At 27 next month, he has already reached his peak, and injuries have taken a massive toll on his pace and ­confidence.

He has looked a shadow of his former self this season, even for Spain, and the fear has lingered that two serious injuries have had a debilitating effect.

To get almost £50m for the player under such circumstances seems like a minor triumph, and to effectively use that money to bring in Carroll, 22, and Suarez 24, doesn’t seem too bad a swap.

As Kenny Dalglish was at pains to point out yesterday, Liverpool are bringing in massive youthful promise to replace someone who was ­undoubtedly world class, but whose best days could be behind him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


The Economic Roots Of the Revolt: Few countries have been less integrated into the global economy than Egypt. (ZACHARY KARABELL, 1/31/11, WSJ)

The mass movement engulfing Egypt exposes a fact that has been hiding in plain sight: In a decade during which China has brought more people out of poverty at a faster rate than ever in human history, in a period of time where economic reform has been sweeping the world from Brazil to Indonesia, Egypt has missed out.

A decade ago, IBM ran a series of commercials featuring its global reach. One included a fisherman sailing on the Nile, tapping into a wireless network. It was an enticing image—and almost completely fictional. Few countries have been less integrated into the global economy.

The country ranks 137 in the world in per-capita income (just behind Tonga and ahead of Kirbati), with a population in the top 20. And while GDP growth for the past few years has been respectable, averaging 4%-5% save for 2009 (when all countries suffered), even that is at best middle of the pack in a period where the more competitive dynamic nations have been surging ahead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Carbon Tax Miracle Cure: The 'bang for the buck' from a phased-in CO2 levy would be infinite at first—lots of jobs at zero cost to the federal budget. (ALAN S. BLINDER, 1/31/11, WSJ)

Under this policy approach, decision-making is left in private hands and the jobs created will be in the private sector. Furthermore, the policy would not cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, it would eventually reduce the federal budget deficit significantly. Plus, there are a few nice side effects, like reducing our trade deficit, making our economy more efficient, ameliorating global warming, and showing the world that American capitalism has not lost its edge.

What is this miraculous policy? It's called a carbon tax—really, a carbon dioxide tax—but one that starts at zero and ramps up gradually over time.

The timing is critical. With the recovery just starting—we hope—to gather steam, this is a terrible time to hit it with some big new tax. Hence, while the CO2 tax should be enacted now, it should be set at zero for 2011 and 2012. After that, it would ramp up gradually. Adapting some calculations from a recent paper by Prof. William Nordhaus of Yale, the tax might start at something like $8 per ton of CO2 in 2013 (that's roughly eight cents per gallon of gasoline), reach $25 a ton by 2015 (still just 26 cents per gallon), $40 by 2020, and keep on rising. I'd like to see it top out at more than $200 a ton in, say, 2040—which is higher than in Mr. Nordhaus's example.

But the time pattern is more important than the exact dates and numbers. What's critical is that we lock in higher future costs of carbon today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Burning Bush (Lee Smith, Jan 31, 2011, Tablet)

Administrations are overtaken by events all the time. And so President Barack Obama may be forgiven for his strange press conference on Egypt last week, in which he didn’t seem to know whether to praise Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Washington’s longtime ally, or side with the masses whom the U.S. president has been courting since his 2009 Cairo speech. And yet the fact remains that the Obama Administration has no strategy to deal with events still unfolding in Egypt, nor even a worldview on which to base one. His predecessor, for all his flaws, did have a strategy. What we’ve been watching on the streets of Egypt this past week is the fourth test of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda.

The Bush White House believed that the problem with the Arabic-speaking Middle East was in the nature of repressive Arab regimes: In this view, Sept. 11 was the product of a political culture that had been strangled by its rulers, allowing their people no form of political expression except extremism. Deposing these regimes would unleash the native political energies of Arab peoples, went the argument, who would turn their attention away from anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments to the thoughtful participatory governance of their own societies. Accordingly, promoting democracy in the region was not only good for the Arabs, but also in America’s national interest. The first test for this Freedom Agenda was Iraq, followed by Lebanon and then the Palestinian Authority. Egypt is the fourth test—and the most consequential yet, for Cairo is the linchpin of Washington’s Middle East strategy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


New study affirms natural climate change (Dennis T. Avery January 31, 2011, Enter Stage Right)

It's nice when people validate your work. Fred Singer and I—co-authors of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years—are currently basking in the glow of a new paper that affirms the earth's long, moderate, natural climate cycle. The study is by Dr. U.R. Rao, former chair of India's Space Research Organization. He says solar variations and cosmic rays account for 40 percent of the world's recent global warming.

Dr. Rao says the data between 1960 and 2005 show lots fewer cosmic rays hitting the earth, due to a periodic expansion of the sun's magnetic field. The bigger solar magnetic field blocked many of the cosmic rays that would otherwise have hit earth. Fewer cosmic rays hitting the earth meant fewer water droplets shattering in our atmosphere, and thus fewer of the low, wet clouds that deflect solar heat back into space. So the earth warmed.

Fred and I tried to tell the world in 2007 that the moderate 1500-year Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle was the cause of the warming since 1850, based on historic and paleoclimatic evidence. The cosmic ray linkage was put forth in 2008 by Henrik Svensmark of Denmark. The UN's panel on climate change dismissed that whole approach, claiming the variations in the sun's irradiance were far too small to account for the rapid warming from 1976–98.

The flaw in the UN reasoning is clear, however. The alarmists claim the global warming since 1976 has been too rapid to be caused by natural forces, and therefore must be man-made. However, the earth's Industrial Revolution went global after 1945—releasing the first big flush of CO2 emissions. That burst of greenhouse gases should have sharply boosted the earth's temperatures. Instead, the earth's temperature declined from 1940–75.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Slow-Growth U.S. Now Ripe for Consumption Tax (Kevin Hassett, 1/24/11, Bloomberg)

In 1651, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes became the patron saint of tax geeks when he called for government to switch to a consumption tax -- one based on the money people spend, not what they earn. Such a tax, he argued in his book, “Leviathan,” was morally preferable:

“For what reason is there that he which laboureth much and, sparing the fruits of his labour, consumeth little should be more charged than he that living idly, getteth little and spendeth all he gets; seeing the one hath no more protection from the Commonwealth than the other?”

Like Hobbes, those who today decry the irrationality of the tax code and advocate fundamental reform are ignored by elected officials. Rather than a simple-to-understand code, politicians prefer the current mess, a tangle of exceptions that makes it easy to pass out favors without being noticed.

Just figuring out what you owe is so complicated that few Americans dare do their own taxes. Talk about busywork: In her annual report, the Internal Revenue Service’s national taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson, estimated that American taxpayers and their hired preparers spend 6.1 billion hours annually complying with the law. That’s equivalent to the hours of 3 million full- time workers.

What might we accomplish by dedicating the work of these hypothetical 3 million people to something more productive?

Persistently slow growth has become the kind of problem that calls out for a big idea, one that can produce steady improvement, not just a short-term jolt. Moving toward a consumption tax would encourage investment in capital, potentially increasing future growth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Politics by the Numbers: Good Omens for the GOP in 2012 (Michael Barone, 1/31/11, Real Clear Politics)

Since the mid-1990s, when partisan percentages in presidential and House elections converged, the popular vote for the House has been a pretty good gauge of partisan balance.

Of the 10 Republican senators up for re-election, only two represent states where Democrats won the House vote -- Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts. They're both well ahead in local polls.

For the 23 Democrats up for re-election, the picture is different. Eight represent states where the House vote was 53 percent to 65 percent Democratic and where Barack Obama got more than 60 percent in 2008. Count them all as safe.

But 12 represent states where Republicans got a majority of the House vote in 2010. These include big states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia, and states like Montana and Nebraska, where Republican House candidates topped 60 percent. Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin round out the list.

In another three states -- New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota -- Republicans won between 46 percent and 48 percent of the House popular vote. These were solid Obama states in 2008. They don't look like solid Democratic states now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Rebellion in the Land of the Pharaohs: A man who places himself at the helm for three decades inevitably becomes the target of all the realm's discontents. (FOUAD AJAMI, 1/29/11, WSJ)

Revolts of this kind are always a gamble on the unknown. At bottom, they are an attempt at self-purification, a society wishes to be done with the stain of submission to a dictator's transgressions. Amid the tumult, what is so clear today is the hatred felt for the ruler and his immediate family. Reigns like Mr. Mubarak's devour the green and the dry, as a favored Arab expression has it. The sycophants come to the fore and steal what they can. Those with heart and character and pride are hauled off to prison, or banished to the outer margins of public life.

Mr. Mubarak has been merciless with his critics. For this isolated, aging man of the barracks, dissent is always treason. There remains, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. It was in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood was born in the late 1920s. The Brotherhood has been the alibi and the bogeyman with which Hosni Mubarak frightened the middle class at home and the donors abroad in Washington and Europe, who prop his regime out of fear that Egypt would come apart and the zealots would triumph.

In one of the novels by the late Egyptian novelist and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, a pharaoh is told by his lovely mistress Rabudis of rumors of pending rebellion, of popular disaffection. "And they say the priests are a powerful group with control over the hearts and the minds of the people." But he smiles and answers. "But I am the stronger." "What of the anger of the people my lord," she asks? "It will calm down when they see me on my chariot." We shall see if and how this modern-day pharaoh copes with a people determined to be rid of him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Marriage helps physical, mental health (CBC News, 1/27/11)

It is probably worth it to make the effort to say "I do," as experts in Great Britain suggest in a review that, on average, married people live longer and men enjoy better physical health, while women enjoy better mental health.

The review, which looked at 148 studies and was published in the British Medical Journal Thursday, concludes that the reason men enjoy better health when married is their partner's positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women, the researchers say, may be because women place great value on the importance of the relationship itself.

The most widely accepted explanation for marriage being a good thing is that being in a committed relationship means better social support is available. It starts with the spouse and expands to a network of supportive relationships from there, the study suggested.

It's not that complicated:
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman,

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Marriage helps physical, mental health (CBC News, 1/27/11)
It is probably worth it to make the effort to say "I do," as experts in Great Britain suggest in a review that, on average, married people live longer and men enjoy better physical health, while women enjoy better mental health.

The review, which looked at 148 studies and was published in the British Medical Journal Thursday, concludes that the reason men enjoy better health when married is their partner's positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women, the researchers say, may be because women place great value on the importance of the relationship itself.

The most widely accepted explanation for marriage being a good thing is that being in a committed relationship means better social support is available. It starts with the spouse and expands to a network of supportive relationships from there, the study suggested.
It's not that complicated:

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman,

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Change Is Good: The stability we have embraced and encouraged in the Arab world isn't really stability—it's repression (Anne Applebaum, Jan. 30, 2011, Slate)

In 1991, back when Ukraine was about to declare its independence from the Soviet Union, President George H.W. Bush made a declaration (this was the infamous "chicken Kiev" speech) in praise of the Soviet Union. For several years, he and his advisers ran around Eastern Europe and the Balkans doing duct-tape diplomacy, trying to piece a fracturing world back together again.

Politicians like stability. Bankers like stability. But the "stability" we have so long embraced in the Arab world wasn't really stability. It was repression. The benign dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated—the Zine al-Abidine Ben Alis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the various kings and princes—have stayed in power by preventing economic development, clamping down on free speech, keeping tight control of education, and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society. Every year, more books are translated into Greek—a language spoken by 11 million people—than into Arabic, a language spoken by more than 220 million. Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women's groups and academic societies have been watched, harassed, or banned altogether.

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


James McCommons' year-long train ride: a review of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service--A Year Spent Riding across America by James McCommons (Kurt Cobb , Energy Bulletin)

[M]cCommons' book is not about the past, but about the future of passenger rail, right? In fact, it is about both. He seamlessly weaves the history of passenger rail in with his artful travelogues as he describes the scenery he sees, the people he meets, and the problems and joys he encounters during a year of train travel that covers nearly every major Amtrak route. These travelogues are an absolute pleasure to read. And, they provide an excellent window on the current state of passenger rail in America today. Frequently, McCommons takes train trips to meet people who are actively shaping passenger rail in the United States. That's the part of the book about the future.

In reading this book it helps to have fond memories of train travel for this predisposes you to look carefully for clues about what might be done to improve and expand service. It helps even more if you have occasion to ride Amtrak today as I do to reach Chicago or visit friends in Minnesota via the Empire Builder. But herein lies part of the problem. McCommons tells us that an astoundingly low proportion of Americans have ever been on an intercity train, less than 2 percent! Only 3 percent use light rail or commuter lines. It's hard to build sympathy for a mode of travel that most Americans have never experienced and may know only from movies or television.

Still, it is indicative of the hold trains have on the popular imagination that many routes have Wikipedia entries. How many airline routes have that! It is this appeal which provides some hope. After all, many of the Amtrak routes which remain today exist only because people in the localities served by those routes fought hard to keep them. Some of the stories are detailed in the book. And, when the Bush administration tried to destroy Amtrak by zeroing out its budget, Congress simply passed Amtrak funding by veto-proof majorities. People want passenger rail.

Now, comes the sticky part. An economist acquaintance of mine has tried to drill into me that we as a society should tax the things we don't want, and let the market sort out what should take their place. If we do that, then the government doesn't need to pick winners by subsidizing anything. In fact, he insists, if the U. S. government would stop subsidizing highway travel, that is, if people were forced to pay the true cost of driving on highways, they would soon flock to rail and that rail would be privately financed because it would be profitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


The Midwest needs immigrants (Conor Williams, January 29, 2011, Washington Post)

The Midwest needs more immigrants - not fewer.

Ask John C. Austin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and president of the Michigan State Board of Education. "The economically most vibrant big Midwest communities - specifically Chicago and the Twin Cities in Minnesota - are in part that way because of dynamic immigration inflows."

There are data to back his claims. The Midwestern cities that are surviving - and thriving - in the 21st-century economy are those with high percentages of immigrants. Between 18 percent and 22 percent of the residents of the Chicago metro area are foreign-born. Pawlenty aside, leaders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area have been reaching out to attract immigrants for years (8.7 percent foreign-born). Meanwhile, cities without robust immigrant communities struggle. Only 4 to 5 percent of Cleveland residents are immigrants. Author Richard C. Longworth quotes Ronn Richard, president of the Cleveland Foundation, as lamenting, "We even have a hard time attracting illegal immigrants." No wonder that Cleveland is opening an immigrant welcome center. (It's not just because Lebron James shattered Clevelanders' faith in exclusive reliance on locally grown talent.)

Meanwhile, Detroit (8.3 percent of its residents foreign-born) isn't waiting around to see whether it needs more immigrants. The recent "Global Detroit Study" concluded that "southeast Michigan's foreign-born residents provide enormous contributions to the region's economic growth and will play a key role in our economic future." The area's immigrants produce "130 percent more of regional economic output than [their] overall share of the regional population." Immigrants are a key resource in the region.

Some Republicans, like new Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, are recognizing how critical immigrants are to the nation's economy. In his "State of the State" address, Snyder said, "Immigration made us a great state and a great country; it's time we embrace this concept as a way to speed our reinvention."

...is that as native fertility declines we're all going to bribe immigrants to choose us. Spain, for example, has already begun.

January 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Milton Babbitt, a Composer Who Gloried in Complexity, Dies at 94 (ALLAN KOZINN, 1/30/11, NY Times)

[A]lthough colleagues who worked in atonal music objected when their music was described as cerebral or academic, Mr. Babbitt embraced both terms and came to be regarded as the standard-bearer of the ultrarational extreme in American composition.

That reputation was based in part on an article published by High Fidelity magazine in February 1958 under the title “Who Cares if You Listen?” The headline was often cited as evidence of contemporary composers’ disregard for the public’s sensibilities, and Mr. Babbitt objected that it had been added by an editor, without his permission. But whatever his objections, the article did argue that contemporary composition was a business for specialists, on both the composing and listening end of the transaction, and that the general public’s objections were irrelevant.

“Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity?” Mr. Babbitt wrote. “The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields.”

The problem is not that he and his peers were contemptuous of the audience but that they held Art itself in contempt. Rather than trying to express universal ideas about Creation they withdrew into themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


American Liberals and the Streets of Cairo (Leon Wieseltier, January 29, 2011, New Repoublic)

What is not unclear, however, is that the Obama administration, and American liberals more generally, have been caught intellectually unprepared for this crisis. The administration’s predicament, it must be said, is strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak. Our officials have been improvising, not altogether brilliantly. Joe Biden fatuously declared that “I would not refer to [Mubarak] as a dictator.” Robert Gibbs said that “this is not about taking sides.” Hillary Clinton, who used to speak warmly of Mubarak as “family,” has called for “restraint” and “reform” and “dialogue,” and warned that a crackdown could affect American aid to Egypt—as if anything but a crackdown is to be expected from Mubarak. And Barack Obama is also trying to finesse things, urging Mubarak to transform “a moment of volatility” into “a moment of promise”—the eloquence is irritating: there are times when the power of language is not the power that is needed—and proclaiming that “the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people.”

Continue? There is nothing wrong with crisis management in a crisis, but the problem that the Obama administration now confronts is precisely that it has not been a cornerstone of American policy toward Egypt to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people. It has preferred cronyism with the regime occasionally punctuated by some stirring remarks. What we are witnessing, in the confusion and the dread of the administration, are the consequences of its demotion of democratization as one of the central purposes of American foreign policy, particularly toward the Muslim world. There were two reasons for the new liberal diffidence about human rights. The first was the Bush doctrine, the second was the Obama doctrine. The wholesale repudiation of Bush’s foreign policy included the rejection of anything resembling his “freedom agenda,” which looked mainly like an excuse for war. But whatever one’s views of the Iraq war, it really does not seem too much to ask of American liberals that they think a little less crudely about democratization—not only about its moral significance but also about its strategic significance. One of the early lessons of the rebellion against Mubarak is that American support for democratic dissidents is indeed a strategic matter, and that the absence of such American support can lead to a strategic disaster. Such are the wages of realism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Could Syria be the next domino to fall? (Hugh Macleod, January 30, 2011, Global Post)

In one of Old Damascus’ new cafes the text messages buzzed between mobile phones in quick succession, drawing woops of joy and thumbs up from the astonished Syrians.

Suzan Mubarak, wife of the reviled Egyptian president, had flown into exile with her son, so the rumours went, driven out of the country by days of unprecedented protest against the 30-year rule of her husband, President Hosni Mubarak.

The news from Cairo has brought with it a flutter of excitement to this country, founded on principles so similar to Egypt that the two nations were once joined as one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


US move of tagging Indian students unacceptable: Krishna (India Times, Jan 30, 2011)

India on Sunday slammed the US authorities for tagging some Indian students duped by a 'sham' university in California.

External affairs minister S M Krishna strongly condemned the reported forcible wearing of radio collars around the ankles of Indian students in the Tri-Valley University in US and demanded severe action against those responsible for the "inhuman act".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Over 99 percent in Southern Sudan vote for secession (AP, January 30, 2011)

Southern Sudan's referendum commission said Sunday that more than 99 percent of voters in the south opted to secede from the country's north in a vote held earlier this month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Muslim Brotherhood throws support behind ElBaradei (JPOST.COM STAFF AND ASSOCIATED PRESS, 01/30/2011)

The Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday threw its support behind Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei to hold proposed negotiations with the government in order to form a unity government.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Muslim Brotherhood official Essam el-Eryan said that "political groups support ElBaradei to negotiation with the regime."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Iran asks Egypt to meet public demands (PressTV, Jan 29, 2011)

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has called on political leaders in Egypt to follow the “rightful demands” of their people.

“Iran expects Egyptian officials to listen to the voice of their Muslim people, respond to their rightful demands and refrain from exerting violence by security forces and police against an Islamic wave of awareness that has spread through the country in form of a popular movement,” Mehmanparast said Saturday.

He further pointed out that Tehran attaches great importance to the fulfillment of public demands in Egypt and added, “Iran regards demonstrations by the Muslim people of this country as a justice-seeking movement in line with their national-religious demands.”

Why should only the Shi'a of Iran, Iraq and South Lebanon govern themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The right-wing agenda of the exorcism movie: "The Rite" is the latest film in a genre with a surprisingly conservative message about power and faith (Alex Mar, 1/28/11, Salon)

The exorcism movie is the most all-American of "spiritual" films, reducing complex religious beliefs to something more palatable: a take-charge action adventure with clear, targeted results. Much like the Roman Catholic Church, this brand of Hollywood horror frames evil as a diagnosable disease to be cured through extreme treatment, and its spiritual discussion rarely goes beyond the black-and-white "Is there a devil, or isn't there?" It's a clear, explicit test of faith in which there's finally no room for doubt -- unlike in everyday experience of spirituality. The genre has a familiar cast of characters, conflicts and a specific message about the nature of evil. Is also a genre with a remarkably conservative slant -- a tradition that dates back across the last 70 years. [...]

But Lucas argues: "Choosing not to believe in the devil won't protect you from him.

The inverse is true in the exorcism film: Perversely enough, to believe in the devil is the key to salvation. When the senior priest himself becomes possessed (the only interesting move in "The Rite"), Michael calls out to him, "I believe in the devil, and so I believe in God!" This recalls the words of Marcus, and of Emily Rose as well, who writes in a letter to her priest shortly before her death, "People say that God is dead. But how can they think that if I show them the devil?" Hollywood is best equipped to deal with spirituality through its darker side -- that's the marketable stuff of horror. It's also the stuff of conservative America: All we need is for the hero to embrace his faith, and we have won. Although evil cannot ever be eradicated from the world, without it, Good cannot exist. And neither can the church.

As the stuff of liberal America is the belief that evil does not exist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong (Sharon Begley, January 24, 2011, Newsweek)

[W]hat if wrong answers aren’t the exception but the rule? More and more scholars who scrutinize health research are now making that claim. It isn’t just an individual study here and there that’s flawed, they charge. Instead, the very framework of medical investigation may be off-kilter, leading time and again to findings that are at best unproved and at worst dangerously wrong. The result is a system that leads patients and physicians astray—spurring often costly regimens that won’t help and may even harm you.

It’s a disturbing view, with huge im-plications for doctors, policymakers, and health-conscious consumers. And one of its foremost advocates, Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, has just ascended to a new, prominent platform after years of crusading against the baseless health and medical claims. As the new chief of Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, Ioannidis is cementing his role as one of medicine’s top mythbusters. “People are being hurt and even dying” because of false medical claims, he says: not quackery, but errors in medical research.

This is Ioannidis’s moment. As medical costs hamper the economy and impede deficit-reduction efforts, policymakers and businesses are desperate to cut them without sacrificing sick people. One no-brainer solution is to use and pay for only treatments that work. But if Ioannidis is right, most biomedical studies are wrong.

In just the last two months, two pillars of preventive medicine fell. A major study concluded there’s no good evidence that statins (drugs like Lipitor and Crestor) help people with no history of heart disease. The study, by the Cochrane Collaboration, a global consortium of biomedical experts, was based on an evaluation of 14 individual trials with 34,272 patients. Cost of statins: more than $20 billion per year, of which half may be unnecessary. (Pfizer, which makes Lipitor, responds in part that “managing cardiovascular disease risk factors is complicated”). In November a panel of the Institute of Medicine concluded that having a blood test for vitamin D is pointless: almost everyone has enough D for bone health (20 nanograms per milliliter) without taking supplements or calcium pills. Cost of vitamin D: $425 million per year.

They hear Schroedinger, but they listen not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Sabermetrician In Exile (Jeff Passan, 1/25/11, Yahoo!: The Post Game)

In the middle of the night, when his mind was racing again, Voros McCracken decided to share his discovery with the world. Before the celebrity and the job and the diagnosis and the drugs and the wristwatch, he had the idea. Had he realized it would forever change the way people look at baseball, perhaps McCracken would've chosen a better time to post it than when most people were asleep and a better place than an obscure online newsgroup.

For three months toward the end of 1999, McCracken spent his nights huddled up to a computer, married to spreadsheets and formulas, determined to prove to himself he wasn't crazy. He'd spend days bleary-eyed because the data he crunched into the wee hours was going to be his savior. Nobody would believe him otherwise. McCracken was working on a premise so radical that even he sometimes laughed at it.

Pitchers have very little control over what happens on balls hit into the field of play.

Baseball theory was fairly well-honed from more than 100 years of observation and analysis, and a college dropout paralegal wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on it. Never mind that a pitcher can dictate every plate appearance. He chooses what to throw, where it goes, the speed, the break. McCracken was saying that when bat met ball and sent it toward dirt or grass, the advantage almost entirely disappeared. It defied logic.

McCracken checked and re-checked the numbers until they winnowed away the thought that there had to be a mistake. His hypothesis was correct. Pitchers control three things: strikeouts, walks and home runs -- defense-independent pitching statistics, he called them, shortened to DIPS, which isn't exactly the sort of acronym on which careers are made. Everything else -- including hits allowed -- involves a pitcher's eight teammates and thus is prone to wild fluctuations. Some years, more balls fall for hits. In others, they don't. In 1999, Pedro Martinez gave up the third-highest batting average on balls in play. The next year, he allowed the lowest.

The difficulty for baseball Luddites to accept the concepts of randomness and chance and luck hasn't impeded the sport's transformation over the past decade. Before "Moneyball" glorified the numbers-loving Oakland Athletics and lionized their general manager, Billy Beane -- to be played by Brad Pitt in the movie version of the book, at your multiplex this September -- stat geeks did most of their nerding privately. While the revolution "Moneyball" predicted has been more like an evolution to a mix between statistics and scouting, all 30 teams have at least one employee who does quantitative analysis. Boston, Tampa Bay and others employ armies of the mathematically inclined in hopes of landing a proprietary claim on an idea like DIPS.

A decade after Baseball Prospectus let McCracken spread the gospel in a story that popularized DIPS across the sport, it remains among the most seminal theories developed by sabermetrics, the nickname given to quantitative baseball study. It's almost certainly the most revolutionary. Nothing before or since has so upended an entire line of thought and forced teams to assess a wide breadth of players in a different fashion.

Of course, one great idea guarantees nothing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


In future, cars might decide if driver is drunk (Bob Salsberg, Associated Press)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited QinetiQ North America, a Waltham, Mass.-based research and development facility, for the first public demonstration of systems that could measure whether a motorist has a blood alcohol content at or above the legal limit of .08 and — if so — prevent the vehicle from starting.

The technology is being designed as unobtrusive, unlike current alcohol ignition interlock systems often mandated by judges for convicted drunken drivers. Those require operators to blow into a breath-testing device before the car can operate.

The Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety, as the new approach is called, would use sensors that would measure blood alcohol content in one of two possible ways: either by analyzing a driver's breath or through the skin, using sophisticated touch-based sensors placed strategically on steering wheels and door locks, for example.

Both methods eliminate the need for drivers to take any extra steps, and those who are sober would not be delayed in getting on the road, researchers said.

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January 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM

BBQ: The Brubeck Brothers On JazzSet (Mark Schramm, January 27, 2011, NPR)

When Chris and Dan Brubeck were growing up, their dad's group — the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond — rehearsed in the family living room. The rhythm section of Eugene Wright and Joe Morello could play experimental time signatures and also swing you into bad health, and they made a big impression on the budding musicians. The boys eventually played with their dad in the Two Generations of Brubeck band. Chris went on to play bass for many years in Papa Dave's quartet, and has made a name for himself as a composer of both jazz and classical works. Dan displayed his mastery of rhythms with his electric quartet, The Dolphins. From his drums, Dan is a fearless pilot of BBQ.

Both guitarist Mike DeMicco — originally one of The Dolphins -– and pianist Chuck Lamb compose for the group. Guest Peter "Madcat" Ruth, from neighboring Ann Arbor, adds a wonderful touch of bluesy harmonica.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Men More Likely to Stick with Girlfriends Who Sleep with Other Women than Other Men, Research Shows (University of Texas, Jan. 27, 2011)

Men are more than twice as likely to continue dating a girlfriend who has cheated on them with another woman than one who has cheated with another man, according to new research from a University of Texas at Austin psychologist.

Women show the opposite pattern. They are more likely to continue dating a man who has had a heterosexual affair than one who has had a homosexual affair. [...]

Men may also view a partner's homosexual affair as an opportunity to mate with more than one woman simultaneously, satisfying men's greater desire for more partners, the authors say.

They really needed a study to tell them that?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The religious crisis of American liberalism (Theo Hobson, 26 January 2011, Open Democracy)

Barack Obama’s vision of hope had religious echoes. He boldly presented himself as the heir of the civil-rights movement, which, thanks to Martin Luther King and others, was an expression of liberal Christianity as well as progressive politics. King himself was inspired by the “social gospel” movement that influenced Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The American liberal-left in the 20th century had clear links to religion. This overlap goes back to the abolitionist movement: Frederick Douglass was a forerunner of King. Lincoln was more reticent on religion, but powerfully suggested that divine justice was the fuel of the democratic project.

Obama knowingly drew on this tradition, with his impassioned talk of hope. This went much further than the “hope” rhetoric of other politicians; it often referred to the biblical concept of faith - implicitly, of course. He repeatedly characterised his candidacy as “unlikely”, and “improbable”: as if his career was a reason-defying miracle, as if he were not a normal politician but the amazed witness to God’s action, like Abraham or Joseph. It is little exaggeration to say that this prophetic theme gave him the edge over Hillary Clinton, a more experienced politician with very similar policies, and won him the Democratic candidacy, and then the presidency.

He understood that that the liberal vision is most powerful when in touch with its religious roots. Democrats had been routinely wary of pressing these buttons, which can misfire in various ways. Indeed the strategy almost misfired for Obama, thanks to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

What enabled him to play the “prophetic” card with such success was the racial element: he could offer himself as a sign of the overcoming of racial division, and therefore a living icon of the liberal Christian vision.

This prophetic rhetoric is admirably rooted in American history, and Obama was a master performer of it. So why did his support melt away?

The problem is that this prophetic tradition, for all its attractiveness, lacks clear roots in contemporary culture. For the cultural overlap of liberalism and religion has been weakening for decades. In a sense the appeal of prophetic hope-rhetoric is nostalgic: it reminds Americans of a previous era of idealism.

In this previous era there was a strong culture of liberal Christianity for politicians such as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson to draw on. The old “mainline” Protestant churches, full of respect for the liberal state, were still very strong. Liberal Protestantism was America’s semi-official creed. This allowed Wilson to rein in the free market, and Roosevelt to implement the New Deal. Accusations that such policies were socialist did not stick, for their architects were clearly pillars of the nation’s Protestant establishment (establishment, that is, in the unofficial sense).

Liberal Protestant intellectuals had great cultural respect, into the 1960s. Thinkers such as Reinhold Niebuhr made it seem obvious that America was simultaneously liberal and Christian. The civil-rights movement seemed a new chapter in this story of the expansion of the liberal Christian vision. It still seemed that America was held together by a mild form of “civil religion” (a phrase coined by the sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967). And this civil religion emphasised the common good, and a liberal form of faith.

But in fact things were changing. The culture wars were underway. The fundamentalist strain of American religion revived. And anti-liberalism became central to the Republican Party, first with Nixon’s demonising of liberal elitists, then with Reaganomics.

And, perhaps most importantly, the old liberal Protestant consensus was crumbling. From the mid-1960s, the mainline churches began losing members fast: some opted for Evangelicalism, but most drifted away from religion. The most vocal Christians were now those who looked on liberal reforms with suspicion. Moreover, progressive causes had a new “secular” aura, especially with the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Roe vs Wade case in 1973.

The old assumption, that America was simultaneously liberal and Christian, was in tatters.

...in George W. Bush, they hated him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The crescent and the company: A scholar asks some profound questions about why the Middle East fell behind the West (Schumpeter, Jan 27th 2011, The Economist)

In “The Long Divergence” Mr Kuran advances a more plausible reason. The Middle East fell behind the West because it failed to produce commercial institutions—most notably joint-stock companies—that were capable of mobilising large quantities of productive resources and enduring over time.

Europeans inherited the idea of the corporation from Roman law. Using it as a base, they also experimented with ever more complicated partnerships. By 1470 the house of the Medicis had a permanent staff of 57 spread across eight European cities. The Islamic world failed to produce similar innovations. Under the prevailing “law of partnerships”, businesses could be dissolved at the whim of a single partner. The combination of generous inheritance laws and the practice of polygamy meant that wealth was dispersed among numerous claimants.

None of this mattered when business was simple. But the West’s advantage grew as it became more complicated. Whereas business institutions in the Islamic world remained atomised, the West developed ever more resilient corporations—limited liability became widely available in the mid-19th century—as well as a penumbra of technologies such as double-entry book-keeping and stockmarkets.

How much does this matter for modern business? From the late 19th century onwards Middle Eastern politicians borrowed Western institutions in order to boost economic growth. In the 1920s Ataturk introduced a thoroughly secular legal system in Turkey. Today the Islamic world boasts muscular companies and hectic stockmarkets (the market capitalisation of the region’s three biggest countries, Turkey, Egypt and Iran, doubled between 2003 and 2008). Dubai is laying out a red carpet for the world’s companies. Turkey is growing much faster than Greece.

Yet the “long divergence” continues to shape the region’s business climate. Most obviously, the Middle East has a lot of catching up to do. Income per head is still only 28% of the European and American average. More than half the region’s firms say limited access to electricity, telecoms and transport is a problem for business. The figure in Europe is less than a quarter.

There are more subtle echoes. Business across the region remains intertwined with the state while the wider commercial society is weak. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor suggests that rates of entrepreneurship are particularly low in the Middle East and north Africa. Transparency International’s corruption-perceptions index suggests that corruption is rife: in 2010, on a scale from one (the worst) to ten, Western Europe’s five most populous countries received an average score of 6.5, whereas the three most populous countries in the Middle East averaged 3.2 (Turkey scored 4.4, Egypt 3.1 and Iran 2.2).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Charles Portis, the man who wrote True Grit: How an enigmatic and reclusive ex-marine created Rooster Cogburn and inspired the 10-time Oscar contender. (Martin Chilton, 1/28/11, The Telegraph)

After three years in Little Rock, Portis moved on to the Herald-Tribune, working for three years in New York before his spell in London.

Based near the Savoy Hotel, he combined reporting with his duties as bureau chief. He was amused rather than annoyed by the constant clicks of the telephones that indicated British intelligence were tapping his calls. He also dealt with Downing Street, as he remembered: “The Prime Minister was Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He gave us – a handful of American correspondents – one or two off-the-record interviews and spoke of Lyndon Johnson as, 'your, uh, rather racy president’, referring, I suppose, to Johnson’s barnyard humour.”

He quickly became disillusioned with the whole business of “management comedies”. As he says: “I wanted to try my hand at fiction, so I gave notice and went home to America.”

That was in November 1964. Four years later, he had published True Grit to widespread acclaim. Roald Dahl – who rarely reviewed books – wrote in praise for the American first edition dust jacket: “True Grit is the best novel to come my way for a very long time. I was going to say it was the best novel to come my way since…Then I stopped. Since what? What book has given me greater pleasure in the last five years? Or in the last 20? I do not know. I expect some have, but I cannot recall them right now. Marvellous it is. He hasn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. What a writer!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Putting Lang Lang in Context: The Background of His White House Performance (Heng He, 1/28/11, Epoch Times)

There is a direct line between Lang Lang’s use of music to inspire feelings in the Chinese about a “powerful China and a united Chinese people” and the policy on culture enforced by Mao Tse Tung.

Yan’an is a place in the mountains of northwest China where Mao’s army hid as the nationalists fought the Japanese Imperial Army. It was the site of the Yan’an rectification movement and may be said to be the birthplace of the modern CCP culture. At Yan’an, Mao ruthlessly enforced adherence to CCP ideology, including the doctrine that all forms of culture must serve the interests of the CCP.

Wang Shiwei was a writer who questioned Mao's cultural and artistic policy and was executed on Mao's direct orders in 1947—two years before the CCP took over China. After the anti-rightist campaign in 1957, nobody was able to step out of Party's control in this field. Almost every single song or piece of music written during that period has political meaning.

That political meaning may not be obvious, particularly to those coming to communist China from the outside, and harmless or even beautiful words may have hidden meanings. Patriotism, for instance, has a different meaning in today’s China than it has in other nations and cultures. Patriotism is not love of the nation or the people. It is first of all love for the state—in this case the Chinese communist regime. But this is not all. The culture established by the CCP teaches that the love for the state must be expressed in the form of hatred towards its enemies.

One of the CCP's role models is the People’s Liberation Army truck driver Lei Feng. In a famous poem, he described his loyalty to the Party: “(we should) treat our comrades as warmly as the spring, and treat the enemies as ruthlessly as a harsh winter.”

Whether intentionally or not, lyrics in “My Motherland” echo the sentiment of this poem: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes/What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” is the CCP’s enemy, the United States. But the lyrics of “My Motherland” as whole have a totally different meaning among Chinese than Westerners would understand from reading their translation.

The most popular songs among the Chinese outside China are, “Ode to the Motherland” and “My Motherland.” Both were written during the harshest time of Mao’s rule and neither of them has anything to do with the Chinese nation—with China’s tradition and culture.

Outside China, Chinese students sang these songs to attack those protesting the Olympic Torch relay. The pro-CCP patriot, in the name of loving the country China, can always find someone to hate, which shows their loyalty to the regime.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Lothar Kreyssig and Life (Charles Colson, 1/28/11, Catholic Exchange)

You have probably never heard of Lothar Kreyssig—I hadn’t until recently. Yet, after hearing his story, I realized Kreyssig was a hero for our times: a man whom, at almost unbelievable risk, stood up for the sanctity of human life.

In October, 1939, the Third Reich created what came to be known as the “Action T4” program. In furtherance of what the Nazis called “racial hygiene,” Reich bureaucrats, working with doctors, were authorized to identify and kill those deemed to be “unworthy of life,” that is, institutionalized patients with “severe disabilities.”

Of course, expressions like “unworthy” and even “severe” are subjective. In reality, they were a license for mass murder. Hitler called for at least 70,000 people to be killed under this program, so doctors and officials set about meeting the Fuhrer’s quotas.

Fearing domestic and international reaction, the Nazis tried to hide what was going on: they lied to patients’ families and, fore-shadowing Auschwitz, they disguised the gas chambers as showers.

When I think of what happened to those people, especially the children—some like my autistic grandson, Max—it breaks my heart—horrifies me.

The Nazis also took pains to provide a patina of legality to the murders: Hitler personally ordered German judges not to prosecute doctors for killing their patients. And that’s where Kreyssig comes in: He was a highly regarded judge in his native Saxony.

...Applied Biology

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January 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Egypt protests: America's secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising (Tim Ross, Matthew Moore and Steven Swinford, 28 Jan 2011, The Telegraph)

The American Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a US-sponsored summit for activists in New York, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police.

On his return to Cairo in December 2008, the activist told US diplomats that an alliance of opposition groups had drawn up a plan to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak and install a democratic government in 2011.

The disclosures, contained in previously secret US diplomatic dispatches released by the WikiLeaks website, show American officials pressed the Egyptian government to release other dissidents who had been detained by the police.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Click here to watch a live stream of developments in Egypt

Posted by Stephen Judd at 11:39 AM



Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Joe Biden says Egypt's Mubarak no dictator, he shouldn't step down... (Dan Murphy, January 27, 2011, CS Monitor)

... and wonders what the Egyptian protesters want. [...]

Mr. Biden's comments are unlikely to be well-received by regime opponents, as they fit a narrative of steadfast US support for a government they want to bring down.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


The Right's 2012 Vacancy: With Pence out, Huckabee wavering and Palin problematic, conservatives are looking for a heartthrob. Howard Kurtz on the 2012 vacuum that could help Obama. (Howard Kurtz, 1/28/11, Daily Beast)

[W]ith a number of potential aspirants—Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels—coming from the party’s so-called managerial wing, there is hunger for an anybody-but-Palin candidate on the true-believer right.

Huckabee is best positioned to fill that vacuum. He leads the latest Washington Post/ABC poll--with 21 percent to Palin’s 19 percent and Romney’s 17 percent--among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. That’s a margin-of-error lead, but he and Palin run most strongly among whites without college degrees and people with family incomes below $50,000. Not bad for a formerly overweight ex-Baptist preacher who started the 2008 with little money and less name recognition.

Huckabee stunned the punditocracy by winning Iowa and went on to capture seven other primaries and caucuses. The problem this time is he doesn’t want to give up his substantial income for another losing bid, which is why he’s putting things off until late summer.

“This is a very personal decision,” says Chip Saltsman, Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager. “I do think he’s got a great organization in the early states, and money people around the country have encouraged him and want to help. We don’t have to build an organization from scratch like last time. He’s got a following out there that will wait on him to make his decision.”

As Huckabee told me a year ago, “I’m not going to jump into a pool with no water… I like having a life. There's a certain level of enjoyment in the independence I have. Someone puts a microphone in my face and demands I answer a question, I can say, ‘Put it where the sun don't shine.’”

Those close to him say he fears his brand will be damaged if he runs and falters in the primaries (as opposed to winning the nomination and losing to Obama). In effect, they say, a draft-Huckabee movement will have to emerge by the spring to persuade him that he would have substantial support within the party, and not just its evangelical wing.

Some are already interpreting his decision to host a cruise to Alaska in June, and Saltsman’s hiring by a freshman House member, as signs that he won’t run. On the other hand, Huckabee’s upcoming book tour—can anyone run for president anymore without cranking out a hardcover?—includes nearly a dozen stops in Iowa and South Carolina.

But even if Huck gets in, the yearning is likely to continue. In 2008, some Republican elders were so dissatisfied with the field that they ginned up a movement for Fred Thompson—whose low-energy campaign sunk like a stone. The GOP is not very hospitable to insurgents of the Howard Dean or Gary Hart variety, and efforts to anoint one in a party that bows to seniority generally fizzle. That’s why John McCain and Bob Dole were nominated, despite widespread doubts about their prospects.

If Jeb Bush doesn't run there is no natural next-in-line, so the nominee will be a conservative Evangelical governor without an accent. the Congressmen who are considering vanity campaigns are non-starters. Huck and Palin won't give up their cash flow. Mitt Romney isn't considered Christian by much of the base. Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie are busy governing. It's T-Paw time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Report Details Wall Street Crisis (CARRICK MOLLENKAMP, AARON LUCCHETTI and SERENA NG , 1/28/11, WSJ)

"As a scholar of the Great Depression, I honestly believe that September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression," Mr. Bernanke said, according to the commission's report.

Of the 13 most important U.S. financial institutions, "12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two," the report quoted Mr. Bernanke as saying.

Mr. Bernanke declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

The list of potential failures included Goldman Sachs Group Inc., people familiar with the report said. The only major financial institution not at risk at the time was J.P. Morgan Chase.

Spokesmen for J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs declined to comment on the report.

After regulators let Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapse in September 2008, one of the most vulnerable banks was Morgan Stanley, the report notes.

Hedge funds pulled $86 billion in assets from the investment bank in the week following the Sept. 15 Lehman bankruptcy filing, stemming from concerns about Morgan Stanley's viability, according to a Morgan Stanley email at the time to the New York Federal Reserve titled "Liquidity Landscape."

"Many of our sophisticated clients started to liquefy," Morgan Stanley Treasurer David Wong told the commission in October. A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman declined to comment.

The report also provided clarity about the number of hedge funds gambling homeowners couldn't pay their mortgages.

In an interview with the commission, former Deutsche Bank AG trader Greg Lippmann—who played a key role in facilitating short bets—told the commission that in 2006 and 2007 he handled trades for at least 50 hedge funds and "maybe as many as 100" betting that mortgage-backed securities would fall.

An FCIC survey of some hedge funds found they had a total of $45 billion of short bets, which easily outweighed roughly $25 billion of bullish positions they had on mortgages.

The panel also scrutinized the conflicts of interest—involving Wall Street banks, hedge funds and investors—created by the pools of mortgage debt known as collateralized debt obligations.

The crisis panel cited a $1.5 billion CDO called "Norma," underwritten by Merrill Lynch & Co. in 2007. The assets backing the CDOs were to be selected and overseen by a third-party "collateral" manager called NIR Capital Management.

As Norma's value crumbled, some investors and others complained that Magnetar Capital—a hedge fund that had placed bearish and bullish bets on the Norma CDO—played an active role in helping to select Norma's assets.

Imagine if W got as much credit for avoiding a Great Depression as Hoover gets blame for causing one? Imagine if the Right understood what TARP did?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Guarded Eye on Arab Revolt? (David Ignatius, 1/28/11, Washington Post)

"I think it's overdue," says Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who runs the Alwaleed 24-hour news channel, speaking about the street protests in Egypt. "There were reasons for people to get angry 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and now it is here." Indeed, he says, "the Arab world has been seeking renaissance for the last hundred years," but has stalled the last several generations, caught between fear of authoritarian regimes and anger at their corruption.

It's an easy revolution to like, and U.S. officials have wisely endorsed the protesters' goals of openness and reform. But in truth, there's little America could do to bolster the octogenarian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, even if it wanted to. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may endorse reform, as she did Wednesday, but this is a post-American revolution, encouraged in part by a recognition of the limits of U.S. power.

The unrest follows a series of American failures in the region.

Demanding democracy in the Arab world and liberating the Afghans, Liberians, Shi'a of Iraq, South Sudanese, etc., leads directly to democratic revolutions by Africa's Sunni Arabs and we're to consider it a series of failures? Hate to see what success would have looked like for Mr. Ignatius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Scientists close to new definition of the kilogram (Caroline Copley, 1/24/11, Reuters)

Scientists say they are close to achieving a 200-year-old goal of creating a universal system of measurements based on stable quantities, as they progress towards changing how the kilogram is defined.

The anti-human mind at work.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Don't Fear Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: The secretive Islamic opposition group has long renounced violence and may be the most reasonable option. Bruce Riedel on why Obama shouldn't panic—and should let Egyptians decide their fate. (Bruce Riedel, 1/28/11, Daily Beast)

The Egyptian Brotherhood renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists. Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, started their political lives affiliated with the Brotherhood but both have denounced it for decades as too soft and a cat’s paw of Mubarak and America.

Egypt’s new opposition leader, former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, has formed a loose alliance with the Brotherhood because he knows it is the only opposition group that can mobilize masses of Egyptians, especially the poor. He says he can work with it to change Egypt. Many scholars of political Islam also judge the Brotherhood is the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today. Skeptics fear ElBaradei will be swept along by more radical forces.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Police alone can't keep rulers in power.: Egypt's battle is on (Alaa Al Aswany, 1/27/11, guardian.co.uk)

I am in awe of the young protesters I addressed: Egyptians united by injustice and an anger that won't be tamed

It was an unforgettable day for me. I joined the demonstrators in Cairo, along with the hundreds of thousands across Egypt who went on to the streets on Tuesday demanding freedom and bravely facing off the fearsome violence of the police. The regime has a million and a half soldiers in its security apparatus, upon which its spends millions in order to train them for one task: to keep the Egyptian people down.

I found myself in the midst of thousands of young Egyptians, whose only point of similarity was their dazzling bravery and their determination to do one thing – change the regime. Most of them are university students who find themselves with no hope for the future. They are unable to find work, and hence unable to marry. And they are motivated by an untameable anger and a profound sense of injustice.

I will always be in awe of these revolutionaries. Everything they have said shows a sharp political awareness and a death-defying desire for freedom. They asked me to say a few words. Even though I've spoken hundreds of times in public, this time it was different: I was speaking to 30,000 demonstrators who were in no mood to hear of compromise and who kept interrupting with shouts of "Down with Hosni Mubarak", and "The people say, out with the regime".

I said I was proud of what they had achieved, and that they had brought about the end of the period of repression, adding that even if we get beaten up or arrested we have proved we are not afraid and are stronger than they are. They have the fiercest tools of repression in the world at their disposal, but we have something stronger: our courage and our belief in freedom. The crowd responded by shouting en masse: "We'll finish what we've begun!"

Egyptian government on last legs, says ElBaradei: Exclusive: Mohamed ElBaradei says he is sending a message 'to the Guardian and to the world' ( Jack Shenker in Cairo and Haroon Siddique, 1/28/11, guardian.co.uk)
The Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned President Hosni Mubarak today that his regime is on its last legs, as tens of thousands of people prepared to take to the streets for a fourth day of anti-government protests.

The Nobel peace prize winner's comments to the Guardian represented his strongest intervention against the country's authoritarian government since he announced his intention to return to Egypt to join the protests. "I'm sending a message to the Guardian and to the world that Egypt is being isolated by a regime on its last legs," he said.

His words marked an escalation of the language he used on arrival in Cairo last night, when he merely urged the Mubarak government to "listen to the people" and not to use violence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


An Unserious Speech Misses the Mark: The audience found it tiresome. Here's why it was irksome as well. (PEGGY NOONAN, 1/28/11, WSJ)

The State of the Union speech was not centrist, as it should have been, but merely mushy, and barely relevant. It wasted a perfectly good analogy—America is in a Sputnik moment—by following it with narrow, redundant and essentially meaningless initiatives. Rhetorically the speech lay there like a lox, as if the document itself knew it was dishonest, felt embarrassed, and wanted to curl up quietly in a corner of the podium and hide. But the president insisted on reading it.

...when you consider that the USSR used the know-how of others, the Germans, to produce an unwarranted hysteria in America about our decline relative to a system that was achieving nothing as it headed towards inevitable collapse while we went from strength to strength.

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January 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Saudi-Syrian deal still likely, analysts say: The nomination of Mikati as PM-designate means agreement over tribunal on horizon (Michael Bluhm, 1/27/11, Daily Star)

The nomination of Najib Mikati as prime minister-designate signals that a Saudi-Syrian deal remains near to blunt the crisis over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a number of analysts said Wednesday.

A politician and businessman as shrewd as Mikati would not have allowed the March 8 political alliance to name him unless he had received assurances from high-ranking Saudis that the kingdom was still willing to reach an agreement on the tribunal, said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

“Talking is still the preferred way forward,” Salem said. “Najib wouldn’t have [accepted the post] without some sense from Saudi Arabia that, ‘We can talk.’ … He’s banking on the fact that, in the region, all of those parties seemed to have felt that there was a negotiated way out of this. Regional players feel that finding a negotiated settlement is preferable. Regional players know that they don’t want a Sunni-Shiite war in Lebanon.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


Is Yemen like Tunisia?: Student demonstrators push in Yemen for a revolution Tunisia-style as pressure builds upon President Ali Saleh, 32 years into his rule (Nasser Arrabyee, 1/27/11, Al-Ahram Weekly)

Student protests erupted in the Yemeni capital Sanaa over the last two weeks in support of what has been called the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" and to demand the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The coalition of the main opposition parties, locally known as Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), were leading the protests after they reached a deadlock with Saleh's ruling People's General Congress (PGC) on political and electoral reforms.

When the Tunisian-inspired protests intensified last week, the ruling PGC said in a new initiative it was ready to meet the demands of the opposition JMP for political and electoral reforms. The PGC wanted the JMP to participate in April's parliamentary elections, which the latter refused without genuine reform achieved.

The most controversial reform is limiting presidential terms to two of five-year duration, instead of open and without limits as the PGC previously proposed. The opposition demands that a proportional representation system, rather than the current single constituency system, be used in elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM

Duffy On World Cafe (NPR: World Cafe, 1/27/11)

Her second release, Endlessly, comes with a management change and rhythms from The Roots. Released last November, the album features more of Duffy's raw take on soul music, as well as some strong influences from songwriting partner Albert Hammond Sr., who's penned songs for Starship, Tina Turner, Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson.

Hear Duffy perform cuts from her latest release, as well as "Mercy" from Rockferry, on World Cafe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Egypt's Day of Anger (Khairi Abaza, 1/27/11, National Interest)

The Egyptian regime is in a most precarious position, and it now faces a lose-lose proposition. If the police continue the excessive use of force and quash the protests, the people’s hatred of the regime and its forces will only increase. If the army attempts to put down the protests, that hatred will be directed toward the armed forces. Since the bloodless military coup of 1952, the army has been the backbone of the regime and the guardian of its political order. As an institution, it does not get involved in the daily functioning of the state, yet its influence is felt at all levels, beginning with the office of president. Since 1953, all four Egyptian presidents have come from and been backed by the military, which has consistently guarded the autocratic order.

At nearly sixty years old, the military-backed regime has mastered the art of survival. Through skillful maneuvering, it has reinvented itself several times through cosmetic changes. In the late 1970s, the regime shifted shape and ideology from that of a single-party socialist government to a nominally multiparty system with a mixed economy. From no freedom of speech, Cairo introduced a system with a margin of freedom of speech. These “democratic” reforms were not meant to start a genuine democratic process, but rather to allow dissenters to vent their anger.

But today’s protests are breaking the social contract between the regime and the people. Even if the regime succeeds in crushing the protests, things will not remain the same. The regime will have to offer some changes, as it has in the past, but none of its previous cosmetic changes came about as a result of such widespread protests. Any token changes will only spur political frustrations, and prepare the country for another uprising.

Will Cairo follow Tehran’s path in violently crushing the Green Movement protests of June 2009? Will it cling to power until the country falls into chaos? Or will it engage the opposition and work with it to help create a new social contract? Representative democracy will not come about in Egypt overnight, but if it is inevitable, the regime must work with the people to define the rules of the game, and lay the groundwork for a peaceful political transition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Republicans viewed more favorably for first time since 2005, poll finds (Michael Muskal, 1/27/11, Los Angeles Times)

Republicans are viewed more favorably than unfavorably for the first time since 2005, while Democrats have improved their standing but are still below their time-tested levels, the USA Today/Gallup poll reported on Thursday.

The findings describe a much more level playing field as Republicans and Democrats head into the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


State of the Union shows Obama is now pro-business. He should be pro-growth. (Donald J. Boudreaux / January 26, 2011, CS Monitor)

Much is being made of president Obama’s new-found friendliness toward business, punctuated by his call “to make America the best place on Earth to do business” in last night’s State of the Union address. While moderates seem pleased, liberals dislike it, and conservatives suspect that the president isn’t sincere. [...]

Contrary to popular presumption, being friendly to business is not the same as being pro-economic growth or pro-free-market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Mubarak Should Go — But Not Yet (National Review, 1/27/11)

We don’t know where the protests of the last few days will lead. They may fizzle, or Egyptian security forces — not known for their squeamishness — may succeed in stomping them out. We also shouldn’t fool ourselves about our ability to influence events on the ground. To the extent we can, though, we should support Mubarak so long as he agrees to open Egypt’s political system; it is best that change come gradually through the democratic process rather than all at once in the streets.

Because, really, the Muslims just aren't ready to govern themselves...

Popular sovereignty in the Middle East: The real story of the Tunisian revolution is the restoration of collective dignity (Dina Jadallah, 1/27/11, Al-Ahram Weekly)

The reality is that most Middle Eastern governments exist in a state of symbiosis with the Western hegemonic powers. This symbiotic congruence of hegemonic interests practices parasitic forms of extraction, oppression and subjugation for the benefit of external beneficiaries. Some of these beneficiaries may be of the local variety. Nevertheless, their parasitism and externality reside in their roles, not in their "nationality". This is similar to the Philippines model of American imperialism that was practiced through a circumscribed ruling cabal. (Notice that the Philippines is the only country in East Asia that has not experienced the Asian economic "miracle" -- even if we contest how a "miracle" ought to be socio- economically defined).

The Philippines model was exported and is practised in many parts of the world today, especially the Middle East. Tunisia had its Trabelsi and Bin Ali clans and their cohorts. Yet, there are still today replica Trabelsis and Bin- Alis all over.

The opposite of this state of parasitic symbiosis, also known as (fake) sovereignty, in the Middle East is al-karama. Fundamentally, it is in each individual. But it needs the collective to reach its full potential. Herein lies its power: it has the ability to connect the practice of sovereignty at the level of the people with its actualisation at the level of the state.

Al-karama is a word that is rich in meaning. It has far-reaching semantic, intellectual, socio-cultural and political dimensions. Simply put, it means dignity. Its Arabic root is karam, which means magnanimity and generosity. The two concepts are related at many levels. A person's dignity is naturally multi-faceted. It implies that one has basic needs such as life, food, health, intellectual, associational, political, and expressive freedoms, the capacity to have meaningful and fulfilling work, and so forth.

This is not to say that a person who lacks these things does not have dignity, because that is clearly (and fortunately) not the case. Many maintain their dignity despite living under conditions of political and economic deprivation and oppression. Nevertheless, such systemic subtractions of individual dignity necessarily mean a violation and a degradation of a quality that humans possess.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


A Pound of Prevention Is Worth a Closer Look (ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D., 1/25/11, NY Times)

Make no mistake about it: modern medicine is a religion. For all the complicated science, the bottom line is that either you believe in the science or you don’t. If you are an average citizen and have your doubts, then you can just go about your business. But suppose you are a doctor and have your doubts. Then what?

Then, if you are smart and courageous enough, you may go the route taken by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and his colleagues at the Dartmouth School of Medicine over the last decade or so, as they persistently, politely tack their theses to the church door. Their writings (some for this newspaper) add up to a substantial protest against portions of the received wisdom that keeps the modern medico-industrial complex humming along.

Are they lunatics, heretics or prophets? I’d say the last, but never mind what I think; all health care consumers can and should decide this one for themselves, and the group’s new book is a fine place to begin, as they cast a critical eye on our national obsession with preventive medicine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Who Gives Up $12 Million? A Conflicted Baseball Player (TYLER KEPNER, 1/26/11, NY Times)

[Gil] Meche, a 32-year-old right-handed pitcher, had a contract that called for a $12 million salary in 2011. Yet he will not report to Surprise, Ariz., with the rest of the Kansas City Royals for spring training next month. He will not have surgery to repair his chronically aching right shoulder. He will not pitch in relief, where the workload is lighter.

Meche retired last week, which means he will not be paid at all.

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week, by phone from Lafayette, La. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

Meche’s decision plays against type — the modern athlete out for every last dollar. There have been, over the years, athletes who took less money to play for one team over another, Cliff Lee the latest. And yes, Ryne Sandberg retired from the Chicago Cubs in 1994, forgoing nearly $16 million.

But there are very few parallels to what Meche did.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Obama’s Miserable Failure in State of the Union (Matthew Rothschild, January 26, 2011, The Progressive)

I hated Obama’s State of the Union address. [...]

He said that “each of us deserves the chance to shape our destiny,” but he didn’t once talk about poverty, which is on the rise and which greatly limits the chances of millions of Americans to reach their destiny.

He did set a goal for clean energy, but he included nuclear power in that definition.

Like Bill Clinton and recent Republican presidents, he pushed free trade agreements.

He vowed “to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years.”

He “ordered a review of government regulations.”

He said he’d veto earmarks.

He came out in favor of limiting medical malpractice awards.

And he proposed to “freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.”

All of those are Republican ideas, and he wrapped a lot of them in Republican rhetoric.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


The strong case for global optimism: We've come to accept that the world is doomed. But a closer look at our long-term prospects paints a much rosier picture. (Michael Elliott, 1/25/11, Fortune)

It's in the long term, however, that the case for being cheerful becomes most interesting. We've gotten used to the idea that war, famine, deadly climate change, or -- I don't know -- annihilation by asteroid is our inevitable fate. But in The Rational Optimist, one of the most important books of 2010, the science writer Matt Ridley (who, I should say, is an old friend and former colleague of mine) dismissed the doomsayers out of hand.

He took the insight of 19th-century economist David Ricardo that trade boosts economic specialization and efficiency and applied it to the behavior of our species. Ridley argued that the process of social exchange -- or "ideas having sex with each other" -- has demonstrably led to continued improvement in the human condition. Moreover, since in a networked world it is easier than ever to exchange ideas, this improvement will continue. It isn't "necessity that is the mother of invention," Ridley told me. "Prosperity is; connectedness is; linkages are." Economic evolution, he argues, "will raise the living standards of the 21st century to unimagined heights."

One of the unfortunate ironies is that most peoples won't get to enjoy the prosperous future because Darwinism turned out to be wrong and they flourishing.

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January 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Denver School Praised In President's Speech (Deb Stanley, 1/26/11, 7NEWS)

When President Barack Obama spotlighted a successful school in his State of the Union speech, he picked Bruce Randolph School in Denver.

"Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver," the president said. "Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado. Last May, 97 percent of seniors received their diploma."

Bruce Randolph was a middle school when it opened in 2002. In 2007, Denver Public Schools gave Bruce Randolph School permission to operate autonomously. It was the first school in the state to be granted autonomy from district and union rules.

Each teacher then had to reapply for his or her job. A published report said only six teachers remained.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


‘Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting’ (Yasmine Rashidi, 1/26/11, NY Review of Books)

By the time we arrived, Tahrir Square was filling up again with protesters, about 15,000 of them. Young men in their twenties with football-themed hoodies and Puma sneakers were everywhere. Young women too—some of them veiled, many of them not. Fathers with young children on their shoulders and by their sides filled the square’s grassy center. I spotted Al-Ghad party leader Ayman Nour, and the outspoken newspaper editor Ibrahim Eissa who was fired last year for being too critical of the regime. Hala El Koussy, the well-known artist, was there too, and I noticed Amr Shalakany, a law professor at the American University in Cairo, carrying an Egyptian flag. Someone pointed to the novelist Alaa El Aswaany, in the distance. I could just about make him out through the crowds, wearing a burgundy scarf. Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood were also in attendance, spotted by a journalist friend who had interviewed them in recent weeks. They were there as independents, since the group’s leaders had decided it would not participate in the protests.

The streets were strewn with rocks and other debris from earlier scuffles with police. I was told that protesters and riot police had clashed, and that the police had already fired tear gas. We waited, expecting it to happen again. The chanting grew louder, and the crowd grew too. By 4:30pm, I heard someone say that the last of the marching protesters had arrived in the square. News reports estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 people had gathered there. I debated this with journalists and friends: no one agreed on a figure.

Around the square, security forces began to move in. A bearded man in faded jeans and a faux suede jacket raised a speaker and called on the crowd to chant louder. A young man, about 19, climbed a pole and raised the Egyptian flag. A young girl in a pink sweater hoisted a banner, asking Mubarak to step down. She must have been about nine. She was smiling and seemed to think that this was a celebration. As the sun began to set, activists insisted that people remain here all night, or until Mubarak yields. They chanted for courage. “No one will die”.

For hours, this went on, chants interrupted by the firing of sporadic rounds of tear gas. Phone networks were cut and the light had dimmed. Reports were trickling in that there had been no mention of the protests on state TV, and that even Al-Jazeera coverage was sparse. No one seemed to be leaving. Small crowds tried to, but people cheered them back, telling them not to fear, to be one, to unite. Most of them stayed. By late in the evening rumors started to circulate that the Minister of the Interior had given orders for live ammunition to be used after 10 PM. In an uproar, the crowd shouted that they were still not scared, that nothing would move them except defeat of their ruler. They moved closer towards the police barricades, shouting into the air that the force of the citizens was stronger than any ammunition the police might use.

I had been close to the front of the crowd, facing the riot police. When I heard talk of live ammunition, I retreated back into the center of the square. I wondered if it might be time to leave, but others around weren’t flinching.

We waited.

Close to 1 AM, we sensed something was about to happen. The number of riot police had increased, we noticed more shielded trucks in outlying side-streets, and the security barricade the police had erected seemed to be inching closer, closing in on the square. Suddenly, there were groups of thugs—strongmen in cotton shirts despite the cold—both moving among the protesters and in the surrounding streets. The riot police pulled down their masks.

The attack was ruthless. The police fired round after round of tear gas and began to strike protesters indiscriminately with their batons; the thugs, who were beating down on protesters—in some cases with metal chains and knives—seemed to have orders to kill. With the air thick with sulpher, people fell to the ground, many toppled by the sheer force of the security forces moving in. Water canons smashed through the crowds.

Hours later, many of us were back home, checking our Twitter and Facebook feeds for news and wondering what would happen next. Would there be a curfew, would the president release a statement, would the state concede anything? What would tomorrow’s papers say? People joked that the ruling family had just landed at Heathrow, a hundred bags in tow. Ayman Nour tweeted that his son had been detained. Activists slammed Hilary Clinton’s remarks describing Egypt’s government as “stable and looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” A picture of an empty tear gas canister circulated, the zoom focusing in on ‘Made in USA’. Organizers circulated a message that the protests would continue, tomorrow, the next day, and Friday after midday prayers.

“Don’t forget,” tweeted one activist, “that in Tunisia it took a month. #Egypt is bigger, it will take more. #jan25, keep it alive.”

At the time of this writing, protests have begun again. I can hear the echo of sirens in the city, and I’ve been receiving tweets about what’s happening downtown, about arrests and “abductions.” Our friend Mohamed has not yet been released from the custody of state security. In all, 860 protesters were arrested throughout the country, and three people were killed. A journalist friend who is out covering the events posts on her Facebook page: “Cairo is under siege today. By the government’s thugs and security apparatus. Protests, kidnappings, beatings, arrests, tear gas. What the hell!”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


The Search for a Safer Helmet: Novel helmets designed to protect players from concussions are coming to market, but experts still need more data to fully understand the injury. (Brittany Sauser, 1/26/11, Technology Review)

Riddell, the official equipment manufacturer of the NFL, has released a new type of helmet designed to help reduce concussions. The Riddell 360 reduces the force of impact to the front of a player's head, where 70 percent of hits occur, says Thad Ide, Riddell's senior vice president of research and development.

Riddell has gathered statistics on head injuries using its own HIT technology, a system that employs sensor-equipped helmets to measure the location, magnitude, and direction of hits experienced during a game or practice. To date, the system has gathered data on over 1.5 million head impacts. The NFL recently announced that it will use the HIT technology to measure head impacts during the 2011 season. The league is working to advance the system and build new sensors that can be placed not just around the top of the helmet, but also behind a player's ear and in a mouthpiece for more accurate readings.

Riddell redesigned key aspects of the helmet to better protect its front section. Faceguards are normally made of carbon steel and attached to the upper front of the helmet; so when a player gets hit in the face, energy is transferred to the front of the head. In contrast, the facemask on the Riddell 360 is made of a hybrid of carbon steel and a lightweight, flexible material. It's attached to the side of the helmet with hinge clips, which means the faceguard flexes on impact, absorbing more of the energy before returning to its original shape.

Riddell researchers also created a "face frame structure," a continuous padding arrangement made from materials that help reduce the amount of force transmitted to the player's head from a hit to the front of the helmet. The padding inside the helmet has a hexagonal design that forms well to the player's head, says Ide. And the helmet has an inflatable liner in the side and back for a custom fit. This prevents a player's head from moving around inside the helmet, and keeps the helmet from popping off.

On January 10, the Riddell 360 was worn for the first time during a real game, when University of Oregon football star LaMichael James wore the helmet during the college national championship game against Auburn University. Ide says the helmet, priced at over $400, will ship to all Division 1 college teams this spring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Boehner-backed bill to boost D.C. school vouchers introduced (Deborah Simmons, 1/26/11, Washington Times)

New GOP House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday formally endorsed a new bill to revive and enlarge the District of Columbia’s school voucher program, increase the amount of individual scholarships, mandate a rigorous evaluation of the program and incorporate several changes requested by Democrats.

Mr. Boehner, appearing with Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman to outline the new bill, has been a strong proponent of the voucher program that was allowed to wither away under the previous, Democratic-dominate Congress. The new bill incorporates several Democratic proposals, including a requirement that teachers in private schools receiving vouchers who teach core subject material have a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM

Charlie Louvin, Country Singer, Dies at 83 (BILL FRISKICS-WARREN, 1/27/11, NY Times)

Despite their conservative cultural and musical leanings — their initial ’50s hits were recorded without drums, which were then commonplace in country music — the Louvins’ greatest acclaim came with the advent of rock ’n’ roll, when rebellious sentiments and loud backbeats were in ascendance. Their biggest single, “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” was a No. 1 country hit for two weeks in 1956. They also reached the country Top 10 with songs like “When I Stop Dreaming” and “Cash on the Barrelhead” during this period and were headliners in a touring revue that included Elvis Presley.

The Louvins’ popularity waned as the ’60s unfolded, and in 1963 declining record sales and Ira’s drinking led the brothers to dissolve their partnership and pursue solo careers. Charlie Louvin placed 16 singles in the country Top 40 over the next decade, including “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” a Top 10 hit in 1964. He went on to make a pair of albums with the singer Melba Montgomery in the ’70s and a record with the bluegrass duo Jim and Jesse in 1982.

Mr. Louvin was by then known primarily as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, a reputation that persisted into this century, when another wave of rock bands, including the Raconteurs and Cake, embraced his music. In 2007 he released the first of several albums for the New York label Tompkins Square and appeared at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn. “Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers,” a tribute record for which Mr. Louvin’s niece Kathy Louvin served as an executive producer, won the Grammy Award for best country album in 2004.

Charlie Elzer Loudermilk was born on July 7, 1927, in Section, Ala. One of seven children, he grew up working on the family farm in nearby Henagar, a small community in the northeastern part of the state. John D. Loudermilk, the writer of hits like “Abilene” and “Tobacco Road,” was his first cousin.

Reared on the harmonies they learned in church, Charlie and Ira Loudermilk first sang together professionally as the Radio Twins in 1942. They changed their name to the Louvin Brothers, believing that Louvin was easier than Loudermilk to say and spell, in 1947. They also began making records that year, releasing singles on several labels before finding success with Capitol in 1952, following Charlie Louvin’s return from the Korean War. More than just singles artists, the Louvins also recorded a series of gospel-themed concept albums, including “Satan Is Real,” its outré cover photo depicting the two men before an outsize effigy of the Devil.

Country hall of famer Charlie Louvin dies at 83 (KRISTIN M. HALL, 1/26/11, The Associated Press)
The unique sound of Charlie and his brother, Ira, was highly influential in the history of both country and rock and they were inducted into the hall in 2001.

Among their hits were "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby," which was No. 1 in 1965, "When I Stop Dreaming," "Hoping That You're Hoping," and "You're Running Wild."

The brothers decided to disband their duo in 1963. Ira died in a Missouri car accident two years later. Charlie later recalled that differences in personality and Ira's drinking created friction between them, but said they probably would have reunited if Ira had lived.

Charlie Louvin recorded regularly after his brother died, most recently releasing "The Battle Rages On," a collection of war songs, last winter. His biggest solo hits were "See the Big Man Cry" in 1965 and "I Don't Love You Anymore" in 1964.

The Louvins influenced harmony acts from the Everly Brothers onward. Emmylou Harris had a hit with their "If I Could Only Win Your Love" in 1975. The Notting Hillbillies recorded the Louvins' "Weapon of Prayer" in 1990.

Interest in his music resurged as Louvin reached his 80s. In 2007, his first studio album in years, "Charlie Louvin," boasting appearances from artists like George Jones and Elvis Costello, was nominated for a Grammy as best traditional folk album.

A year later, his "Steps To Heaven" was nominated as best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album. It was one of two albums he put out in 2008; the other was "Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs."

-ARCHIVES: Charlie Louvin (NPR)
-AUDIO: Country Music's Charlie Louvin Rises Again (Fresh Air from WHYY, November 27, 1996)
-AUDIO: Charlie Louvin: Country Meets Gospel, Again<>/a> (David Dye,12/24/07, World Cafe)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Egypt's Revolution by Internet: Inspired by Tunisia, Egyptians began their protests online and then added hard tactics on the ground in their effort to bring down a crushingly effective police state. Mike Giglio on why President Hosni Mubarak should be worried. (Mike Giglio, 1/26/11, Daily Beast)

Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, the Monday protests began a little more than a week ago, with a campaign on a popular Facebook page. Even as online pledges to participate approached 90,000, however, a large-scale demonstration in the Tunisia mold seemed unlikely. The Jasmine revolution was spontaneous, sparked by a college-educated fruit vendor’s self-immolation, not an organized activist push. And Egypt is a crushingly effective police state, with a long history of imprisoning dissidents and no-holds-barred crowd control. Attempts to organize large-scale protests in Egypt tend to fall flat.

Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood , the two opposition players most likely to draw people to the street, had offered only moral support. The Brotherhood in particular had been viewed as the only group in Egypt capable of bringing big numbers to the streets. “The pattern in the past is that there’s a lot of Internet activism, but there’s not always a big turnout on the streets,” says Jason Brownlee, a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center who specializes in U.S.-Egypt relations.

Yet protest organizers combined an Internet savvy with hard tactics on the ground. They got online supporters to coordinate with friends and family by text and word-of-mouth as well as join with traditional activists to put up flyers and reach out to people on the street. In an interview last week, “ElShaheeed,” the anonymous administrator of the main Facebook page behind the protest, told NEWSWEEK that organizing something significant would take more than just activism on the Web. “It’s not just posting,” he said. “To get people to the streets you need to rally. Rally very hard.”

We've come a long way since fax machines brought Gorby down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Tim Pawlenty’s intro to New Hampshire (KENDRA MARR, 1/26/11, Politico)

Behind it all was Pawlenty’s hope that he can gain an early foothold in a state that expects nothing short of intimacy from presidential candidates, currying favor while many of his potential rivals keep one foot on the sideline. While the formality of an official announcement is likely still to come, Pawlenty himself acknowledged the importance of playing early in the Granite State, where likely rival Mitt Romney finished second to John McCain in 2008 and is banking on a stronger showing this time. Romney won a straw poll of state Republican insiders last weekend.

“Coming from the Midwest and a not so-big-of-a-state, I’m not so well known,” he conceded to Republicans in Concord.

But the guy who reporters still ask if he’s “too nice” to run for president seems to relish the underdog role. Recalling the first day of his gubernatorial campaign, he told of going to coach his daughter’s soccer game that night. There, he said, a player eagerly asked: “Are you running for governor? Are you running for governor?”

“I’ve only been at this a day and my message has already permeated the brains of 7-year-old school children,” Pawlenty remembered thinking with elation. Alas, the little girl’s excitement was rooted in the hope that Pawlenty could get her an autograph from former wrestler and outgoing Gov. Jesse Ventura.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


IPhones, iPads to Gain NFC Payment Features: Apple plans to introduce "Near-Field Communication" services in its next iteration of the iPad 2 and the iPhone for AT&T, enabling the mobile devices to be used in making purchases (Olga Kharif, 1/25/11, Bloomberg)

Apple Inc. plans to introduce services that would let customers use its iPhone and iPad computer to make purchases, said Richard Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

The services are based on "Near-Field Communication," a technology that can beam and receive information at a distance of up to 4 inches, due to be embedded in the next iteration of the iPhone for AT&T Inc. and the iPad 2, Doherty said.

The Wife just got a new Toyota and the key is, likewise, just an electronic device. When you get close to the car it unlocks and when you're sitting in it you can push the button to start it. We have similar "keys" to enter our warehouse at work. The only long term question is whether we'll have one "key" to rule them all or whether it doesn't make more sense to have the device imbedded in our persons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


To help overcome insomnia, get out of bed, study shows (Reuters, January 25, 2011)

For insomniacs to get better sleep, spending less time in bed may be key — one part of short-term behavioural therapy that could help older adults beat insomnia, according to a study.

Daniel Buysse, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, led a research team that found that a few short visits and phone calls with a nurse as part of a brief behavioural treatment helped overcome chronic insomnia among older adults.

Insomnia affects one in every five US citizens, rising to one in three among the elderly, and has been linked to a range of physical problems from accidents to hypertension. Not surprisingly, it is also detrimental to mental health.

The keystone of the behavioural therapy involved, as reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was simple yet counter-intuitive.

“When you are sleeping poorly, the most important thing you can do is spend less time in bed,” Buysse said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Comparative Advantage and American Jobs: U.S. workers win when industries are free to invest where they are the most productive. (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER , 1/26/11, WSJ)

A competitive America does not mean competitive success for every American industry. Many voices argue that manufacturing is somehow special, and it is indeed important. But so, too, are many knowledge-intensive industries such as education and software. In 2010, America ran a trade surplus in services of nearly $150 billion.

The key insight of the principle of comparative advantage, which drives much of globalization and its economic benefits, is that hard-working Americans are not going to excel at everything. That's okay, just as it's okay that Phil Mickelson is better off on the golf course and not painting his own house.

Comparative advantage allows each country to concentrate its energies on the particular goods and services that it is relatively productive at compared to the rest of the world. The countries then export those abroad, and in exchange import other goods and services produced relatively more efficiently abroad.

Imports do not represent failure. They raise standards of living. Do American workers have a comparative advantage in emerging clean technologies like plug-in hybrids or solar energy? No one knows just yet. But for America to be a truly competitive country, questions like these are best left to the market.

• A globally competitive America must invest abroad as well as export there. Exports certainly matter, but U.S. companies in many lines of business (such as retail and banking) must establish on-the-ground foreign affiliates to access foreign customers. Many technology- and capital-intensive U.S. manufacturers need to invest abroad too, because their intricate goods—aircraft engines, elevators, earth movers—typically require extensive after-sales maintenance and support, which are provided by foreign affiliates.

Research has demonstrated that U.S. companies' investment abroad tends to support their hiring and exports back home.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


A Grownup Speech to Please Folks at Home, Not Pundits (Howard Kurtz, 1/26/11, Newsweek)

The pundits weren’t crazy about the president’s speech: Too flat, they said, not enough applause lines, didn’t live up to the inspiration of Tucson. [...]

What was most striking—and reinforced by the mixed seating in the House chamber—was a bipartisan air that went beyond the occasional nod to John Boehner. Even when the president deftly defended his health care law—spotlighting a brain cancer patient, James Howard, sitting in the audience—he offered a GOP olive branch of reducing paperwork. “Let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward,” he said.

In fact, there were whole chunks of the speech that could have been recited by Republican presidents. Obama came out for medical malpractice reform, a GOP hobbyhorse roughly forever (although the devil is in the details). He called for a five-year freeze on domestic spending (not as deep as Republican cuts, but still). He talked about streamlining bureaucracy (“a government that lives within its means”) and modifying regulations “that put an unnecessary burden on businesses.” In fact, he offered little red meat for the left. The MSNBC panel, minus Keith Olbermann, was strikingly subdued.

...because he sounds like W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Dicker With Your Doc? Not So Fast…: While it’s not a bad idea to pay attention to the various costs of your medical care, the president of the Center for Advancing Health argues that haggling over costs is not a long-term solution to spiraling expenses. (Jessie Gruman, 1/25/11, Miller McCune)

The fact that health care is not a real “market” for patients is old news, although perhaps not to those journalists who blithely recommend that we set off to haggle our way to cheaper care. And it is irrelevant news to the vast majority of the public for whom discussing cost with their doctor is anathema. Many people would not consider doing so, first, because they may not know that the prices of drugs and tests vary so much by provider/source; second, because they may feel uncomfortable mentioning money concerns; and third, because the public has long held the view that more expensive care is better care and in seeking to pay less, one may be tacitly agreeing to accept less effective care.

Objectively, none of these factors should influence a person’s ability to ask straightforwardly: “I wonder if there is a way you could help me reduce the price of my care?” But our relationship with our providers is rarely objective. We come to them when we are sick and vulnerable. We put our lives in their hands. We trust them to do the best for us. And we value deeply their efforts. Haggle about the price of this commitment? Many of us will not, even if the alternatives are bankruptcy or going without care.

You don't haggle over the cost of very many consumer goods, you just make decisions about how to spend your money and that drives prices down. Since health care isn't even your own money you don't ever have to makle a choice, which drives prices up.

January 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Hezbollah outmaneuvers everyone else (Mohamad Bazzi, 1/25/11, GlobalPost)

[H]ezbollah outmaneuvered Hariri and undermined his parliamentary majority, partly through the militia’s “show of force” last week. Hezbollah’s message was clear to most Lebanese: the tribunal has international support and the authority to issue indictments, but the real power lies on the streets of Lebanon — and Hezbollah dominates that arena with its overwhelming military superiority. The group was also sending a signal to Hariri, that support from the United States and other Western powers will not translate into a new reality on the streets.

In May 2008, Hezbollah proved its military might when it dispatched hundreds of heavily armed fighters into the largely Sunni areas of West Beirut. They quickly routed Sunni militiamen, seized their political offices and shut down media outlets owned by Hariri. At the time, Lebanon was in the midst of another long political stalemate, and Hezbollah acted in response to a government decision outlawing the militia’s underground fiber-optic communication network.

In recent weeks, Hezbollah has used the implicit threat of force and renewed sectarian conflict to persuade some Lebanese leaders that only it can offer stability. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a mercurial politician who had been allied with Hariri since 2005, announced last week that his parliamentary bloc would support Hezbollah’s candidate for prime minister. Jumblatt’s decision doomed Hariri.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s candidate — Najib Mikati, a Sunni billionaire who served as premier for three months in 2005 — secured a majority among lawmakers. Mikati won 68 votes, compared to 60 votes for Hariri. Mikati will now be tasked with forming a government, which could take weeks or even months. His selection set off protests across Lebanon by Hariri supporters, who called for a “day of rage.”

Each Lebanese faction accuses the other of serving external masters. Indeed, Lebanon is part of an ongoing proxy war in the region — pitting Iran and Syria (which support Hezbollah and its allies) against the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab regimes (which back Hariri and his coalition of Sunni and Christian parties).

But while external players have a hand in the latest political paralysis, they do not deserve all the blame. The Lebanese need to find a larger political settlement of their own. Otherwise, the Sunni-Shiite rift in Lebanon could explode, especially since it has been fueled by years of sectarian bloodletting in Iraq.

Put it out of its misery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Repeat Competition: Why Obama's State of the Union speech will sound a lot like Bush's and Reagan's. (Annie Lowrey, Jan. 25, 2011, Slate)

What is "competitiveness," anyway, at least in the way Obama will talk about it? And how well is America doing in the global stakes?

To answer the first question, look back to 1983 and yet another major initiative on competitiveness. Twenty-eight years ago, the country perceived a growing economic threat from a highly productive, highly industrialized country in the East—not China, but Japan. In response, President Reagan created the President's Commission on Industrial Competitiveness.

The group produced a report a few months later and penned a useful definition of competition—as between nations rather than firms or individuals. A country's "competitiveness is the degree to which it can, under free and fair market conditions, produce goods and services that meet the test of international markets while simultaneously expanding the real incomes of its citizens," the report says. It also notes that "competitiveness at the national level is based on superior productivity performance." Then it identifies ways to help the country on the international stage while aiding workers at home: boosting the technology sector, freeing up capital for new businesses and products, improving the quality of human resources through education, and bolstering international trade.

Those have remained the central tenets of national-level competitiveness projects for decades. The rhetoric might imply that the United States is engaged in a zero-sum fight with other nations, a fight it needs to win. But realistically, everyone benefits from having better technologies and products—if a Chinese scientist cures cancer, the world benefits. And the real competition happens at the firm level anyway.

To that end, in his 2006 speech, Bush emphasized the need to keep the tax burden on businesses low, immigration policies sensible, research-and-development credits high, and education a strong priority. He mentioned the need to boost exports. He mentioned green energy as a major sector for growth, as well as an environmental and security priority in and of itself.

Obama reportedly plans to focus on much of the same. Rather than an initiative (Bush) or a commission (Reagan), this time the president is convening a council...

Daddy? What was Japan?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Mohamed ElBaradei on Democracy in Egypt: 'There Is No Turning Back Now' (Der Spiegel, 1/25/11)

SPIEGEL: Mr. ElBaradei, the opposition in Egypt has called for a nationwide "Day of Anger" on Tuesday. Do you support the protests?

ElBaradei: Yes, I do. I stand behind any peaceful demand for change. My call for reforms has gone unheard with the regime, which leaves taking to the streets as the only option. These are young, impatient people who are now demonstrating their resolve, and I very much hope that the protests will not get out of hand.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the protests will truly lead to change?

ElBaradei: They mark the beginning of an historic process. The Egyptians have recognized that they must take their fate into their own hands. For the first time in the country's recent history, they are really prepared to take to the streets. The culture of fear that the regime cultivated has been broken. There is no turning back now. Activists anticipate the biggest demonstrations in decades. These protests are a snowball that could turn into an avalanche.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Based on a True Story …: The Way Back is Hollywood's first film about the Soviet Gulag. (Anne Applebaum, Jan. 24, 2011, Slate)

For The Way Back is a unique and groundbreaking film: It represents Hollywood's first attempt, ever, to portray the Soviet Gulag in meticulously researched detail. I know this to be true because I was a historical consultant to Weir. He asked me for advice because I wrote a book about the Gulag, but he did plenty of research on his own, as his questions reflected. Once, he called to ask whether the guards leading the prisoners off the train would have been wearing the same uniforms as the guards receiving them at the camp. (Answer: no.)

The Way Back is based on a book called The Long Walk, by Slawomir Rawicz, a Gulag survivor who "borrowed" his escape story: Three Poles crossed the Himalayas from Siberia into India in the 1940s; the Polish consulate recorded their arrival; one of them told his story to Rawicz. But the film is true in every way that matters. Many of the camp scenes are taken directly from Soviet archives and memoirs. The starving men scrambling for garbage, the tattooed criminals playing cards for the clothes of other prisoners, the narrow barracks, the logging camp, the vicious Siberian storms. Among the very plausible characters are an American who went to work on the Moscow subway and fell victim to the Great Terror of 1937, a Polish officer arrested after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, and a Latvian priest whose church was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.

These scenes and people are realistic. But they are definitely not familiar. I've found at least one review that situates the story during "Hitler's reign over Poland," failing to note that Stalin reigned over Poland then, too. I've also read complaints about the lack of sexual tension between the escaped convicts and the teenage girl they pick up along the way ("the real-life threat of rape never appears"). But in "real life," these rough-looking men were from nice central European homes, as the presence of the girl reminds them. Rape would have been out of character.

I haven't found any reviews, so far, that hail this as Hollywood's first Gulag movie, perhaps because hardly anyone noticed that there weren't any before. Weir told me that many in Hollywood were surprised by the story: They'd never heard of Soviet concentration camps, only German ones.

...it could have helped win the war in a more timely fashion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Oh well, people die: A horrifying report from Philadelphia’s district attorney ought to be abortion’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Michael Cook | Monday, 24 January 2011, MercatorNet)

First sit down. If you are sitting down, take a deep breath. Because all this did not happen in a slum in Phnom Penh, or Sao Paulo, or Kinshasa. It happened in the United States, in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation. It happened only 100 miles from the guardian of the nation’s freedoms, the New York Times.

This is about a charnel house which doubled as an abortion clinic for 30 years while regulators looked the other way.

This is about politicians in one of America’s largest states who didn’t want to rock the boat. This is about a cowardly bureaucracy in a city renowned for world-class doctors and hospitals. This is about doctors who refused to report one of their own.

This is about the betrayal of poor, scared women, mostly young, mostly black or immigrant. At least two of them are dead. Many had their wombs and bowels perforated. Many were infected with venereal disease with unsterilized instruments.

This is about hundreds of infanticides in which live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy were delivered – and then murdered by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. One of them was so developed that the doctor joked, before snipping, “he could walk me to the bus stop”. It is about thousands of abortions.

"My comprehension of the English language doesn't and cannot adequately describe the barbaric nature of Dr Gosnell and the ghoulish manner in which he 'trained' the unlicensed, uneducated individuals who worked there," said the Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams.

...."Roe v. Wade." Once we've established that the child is just meat the killing isn't murder, so who cares how you dispose of them?.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM

EVEN DESPITE 9-11....:

What Would Clinton Do?: Some former speechwriters advise Obama to emulate his Democratic predecessor tonight. (Matthew Shaffer, 1/25/11, National Review)

‘The State of the Union address is a ghastly event,” Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, tells me. “The only people who get a little bit out of it are political journalists,” a parasitic class of persons who “only this Tuesday get to show up and talk on camera on prime time,” as they comment on the president’s words and the audience’s facial expressions. It’s an open secret, Robinson says, that everybody else hates it.

The SOTU as we have come to know it — half pep rally, half national psychodrama, an hour-plus of standing ovations punctuated by pieties, economics-by-anecdote, and the Lenny Skutnik du jour – is actually comparatively new, with little basis in the law. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says that the president “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend” sundry measures. Until Woodrow Wilson devoted his presidency to expanding the powers of the executive, the SOTU was delivered as a plain and short letter to Congress. But, lamentably, returning to an originalist SOTU, as Robinson would like, is infinitely unlikely.

...W should have followed through and started just submitting a written state of the union to Congress.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


The new lightbulbs, confusing but enlightening (Sandy Bauers, 1/25/11, Philadelphia Inquirer )

Driving the change is a provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act that Congress passed in 2007, during the George W. Bush administration.

It set energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, which will begin to phase in come Jan. 1, 2012.

A wide misconception is that the law "bans" incandescents and "mandates" CFLs.

It's more of a required tune-up, supporters say. The act requires new bulbs to put out the same light with 30 percent less energy.

But in reality, incandescents as we know them will not meet the standard.

Recently, some influential critics have surfaced. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) and a dozen other Republicans introduced legislation they're calling the BULB Act, for Better Use of Light Bulbs. It would repeal the bulb portion of the 2007 act.

"It is about personal freedom," Barton said. "These are the kinds of regulations that make American people roll their eyes."

The energy efficiency community is aghast. Isn't conservation part of being a conservative?

With about four billion screw-based sockets to fill in the United States, it matters what we put in them. Lighting accounts for about 15 percent of the energy use of a typical household.

Efficiency advocates say the new standards ultimately will save consumers more than $10 billion annually - $143 per household - and avert the need for 30 new power plants.

They point out the act isn't telling people what kinds of bulbs to put in their homes. It's more like increasing the gas mileage of cars.

Moreover, the market is already responding.

More like increasing gas taxes, which will likewise drive innovation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Lost in translation? Spanish senators allowed to debate in five languages (Giles Tremlett, 1/19/11, guardian.co.uk)

The upper chamber of Spain's parliament has caused controversy by allowing senators to debate in five of the country's languages, with interpreters employed to turn their words into a tongue they all speak perfectly: Castilian Spanish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Where Football Takes a Back Seat, Even in Winter (NOAH ROSENBERG, 1/24/11, NY Times)

On Sunday night the big game was on nearly all the wall-mounted televisions at one Manhattan restaurant, and the eyes of many beer-drinking patrons never left them.

Athletes in green were running across the screens, but not a single chant of “J-E-T-S” could be heard.

That is because the restaurant, El Nuevo Caridad in Washington Heights, lies in the heart of Dominican baseball country, and the big game was to decide which team would advance to the Caribbean World Series.

The green jerseys bore the logo of the Estrellas, the underdog in the Dominican Winter Baseball League championship series. But the Toros won the game, 4-2, taking the best-of-nine series in five games.

El Nuevo Caridad, on St. Nicholas Avenue at the corner of West 191st Street, is a haven for Latin baseball aficionados, players and fans alike. Photographs of Latino stars, like Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, line the walls.

“Three-quarters of the people in here are here to watch baseball,” the restaurant’s manager, Cesar Rondón, said, gesturing across a cozy room where about 15 customers — half of the patrons on Sunday night — kept a close watch on the Dominican baseball classic.

January 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM

Calexico On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 1/24/11)

Started by singer-guitarist Joey Burns and drummer/multi-instrumentalist John Convertino, the Arizona-based band Calexico has evolved throughout its 15-year career. In the group's second appearance on Mountain Stage since 2003, Calexico played a set of songs from its latest album, Carried to Dust. The band's robust, dynamic sound — driven by two trumpets, pedal steel, bass and piano — incorporates many ethnic influences.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Obama won't endorse raising retirement age or reducing Social Security benefits (Lori Montgomery, 1/24/11, Washington Post)

President Obama has decided not to endorse his deficit commission's recommendation to raise the retirement age, and otherwise reduce Social Security benefits, in Tuesday's State of the Union address, cheering liberals and drawing a stark line between the White House and key Republicans in Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


The West Wing, Season II: Almost overnight, Barack Obama overhauled his White House and rewrote much of the script. Now all he needs is a happy ending. (John Heilemann, Jan 23, 2011, New York)

Few perceptions were more widely shared or loudly voiced around Washington than that the Obamans were huffing their own fumes. “You know the cliché about our strengths being our weaknesses? It’s true for them as well,” says a top political strategist in a previous White House. “I think they felt like if they had listened to conventional wisdom in 2007, they never would have run. When they hear criticism, they say, ‘Been there, done that, we’re gonna stay the course.’ There’s almost a Zen-like quality about how they’ve been in their own universe and their own bubble.”

The more pointed variant of this critique was directed specifically at Obama. Unlike 42—who loved to stay up late, jabbing at the speed dial, spending countless hours gabbing with local pols and businesspeople around the country to gauge the political wind and weather—44 not only eschewed reaching out to governors, mayors, or CEOs, but he rarely consulted outside the tiny charmed circle surrounding him in the White House. “What you had was really three or four people running the entire government,” says the former White House strategist. “I thought they put a pretty good Cabinet together, but most of those guys might as well be in the witness-protection program.”

A funny line, no doubt, but an overstatement, surely? Well, maybe not. “I happen to know most of the Cabinet pretty well, and I get together with them individually for lunch,” says one of the most respected Democratic bigwigs in Washington. “I’ve had half a dozen Cabinet members say that in the first two years, they never had one call—not one call—from the president.”

The second basket that Rouse identified had to do with a trap the White House had fallen into of being too tactical and reactive. To some extent, this was the result of the fusillade of crises and imperatives—the stimulus, TARP, the auto bailout—that hit the administration in rat-a-tat succession right from the get-go. But it was also a feature of Emanuel’s métier. “Rahm always wanted to win the day, win the week, at the expense of a longer-term focus,” says a senior White House official. “So we’d set up a plan to drive the economic message for a week, and then something would happen, so we would switch and do something different. The legislative calendar was all over the place. Everything had a certain madhouse quality about it.”

In the third of Rouse’s baskets was the failure to use Obama’s gifts as a communicator to full effect. He was overexposed. He was in the weeds. The thread got lost. “With these big legislative fights, he was almost like a prime minister or negotiator-in-chief,” says the same official. “The price for that was, we lost the vision, the inspiration.”

Though Obama grasped this last critique, he dismissed the charges of aloofness and insularity. When business complained that he was hostile, he cited all the times he had invited CEOs to the White House. When donors moaned about the fact that at the first year’s Christmas parties, he had done away with the tradition of taking pictures with the guests, Obama scoffed, “Big deal, they’ve all got pictures of me before.”

January 20, 2009, just moments before his presidency began.
(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)

Emanuel’s ad-hocracy, meanwhile, didn’t faze Obama. The president’s friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett sometimes pointed out that not only had he never managed an operation, he’d never really had a nine-to-five job in his life. Obama didn’t know what he didn’t know, yet his self-confidence was so stratospheric that once, in the context of thinking about Emanuel’s replacement, he remarked in all seriousness, “You know, I’d make a good chief of staff.”

Those overhearing the comment somehow managed to suppress their laughter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


'You lie' congressman to sit with Dems at State of the Union (Jordan Fabian - 01/24/11, The Hill)

The Republican congressman who shouted "you lie" at President Obama will sit with a Democrat at Tuesday's address.

Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) announced on his Twitter account Monday he will sit with California Rep. Susan Davis (D) and Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D) when Obama delivers the State of the Union address to Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Palestine papers: Now we know. Israel had a peace partner: The classified documents show Palestinians willing to go to extreme lengths and Israel holding a firm line on any peace deal (Jonathan Freedland, 1/24/11, guardian.co.uk)

Who will be most damaged by this extraordinary glimpse into the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Perhaps the first casualty will be Palestinian national pride, their collective sense of dignity in adversity badly wounded by the papers revealed today. [...]

[T]hese texts will do enormous damage to the standing of the Palestinian Authority and to the Fatah party that leads it. Erekat himself may never recover his credibility.

But something even more profound is at stake: these documents could discredit among Palestinians the very notion of negotiation with Israel and the two-state solution that underpins it.

And yet there might also be an unexpected boost here for the Palestinian cause. Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their "red lines", conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable – none more so than on Jerusalem.

In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians' favour.

The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

The Palestinian papers: Pleading for a fig leaf (Guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 January 2011)
It is hard to tell who appears worst: the Palestinian leaders, who are weak, craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments; the Israelis, who are polite in word but contemptuous in deed; or the Americans, whose neutrality consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong. Together they conspire to build a puppet state in Palestine, at best authoritarian, at worst a surrogate for an occupying force.

The Israelis have at long last gone so far that they make the PLO look reasonable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Democratic Movements (Steve Coll, January 31, 2011, The New Yorker)

“President of the Country,” a searing Arabic rap song, served as a soundtrack for the revolution. The week before Bouazizi’s death, Hamada Ben Amor, who is twenty-two and goes by the name El Général, used a handheld camera to tape himself singing the song, a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. “Mr. President,” he exclaimed, “your people are dead!” Al Jazeera and various social media picked up the video. The secret police arrested Ben Amor, inflaming his followers, and hastening Ben Ali’s exit.

Since then, diverse protesters have immolated themselves in Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania. Muammar Qaddafi, in Libya, lamented the role of WikiLeaks, which, he said, “publishes information written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos.” But the impact of the disclosures is impossible to measure, and unlikely to have been decisive. Tunisians hardly required the U.S. Embassy to inform them that their government was corrupt.

In any event, the Tunisian case is striking less for its origins than for its outcome. It presents a rare triumph of people power in the Arab world. (Lebanon’s anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution, of 2005, is the only comparable example in recent years, and it was incomplete because it could not overcome Hezbollah’s influence in politics.) Of importance now is how Tunisia’s revolution is interpreted and implemented, within the country and outside it. Ben Ali’s fall may prove to be an isolated event—each unhappy country is unhappy in its own way. Still, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all contain political and demographic ingredients at least as perilous as those that combusted in Tunisia: youthful populations, high unemployment, grotesque inequality, abusive police, reviled leaders, and authoritarian systems that stifle free expression. There is ample reason for the leaders of those countries to worry.

The ascendant Tunisian opposition may fail. Corruption in the country is systemic, and the revolutionaries lack unifying political principles. The exiled founder of the relatively moderate Islamist party, Al-Nahda, seeks to return, raising anxieties in some quarters. There are, however, encouraging models in the Muslim world that could aid and inspire the country’s forthcoming political experiments: Turkey and Indonesia, for example, are gradually forging stability through peaceful, pluralistic politics that include nonviolent religious parties.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Does Football Have a Future?: The N.F.L. and the concussion crisis. (Ben McGrath, January 31, 2011, The New Yorker)

We’ve been here before, historians remind us, and we have the pictures to prove it: late-nineteenth-century newspaper and magazine illustrations with captions like “The Modern Gladiators” and “Out of the Game.” The latter of those, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1891, describes a hauntingly familiar scene, with a player kneeling by his downed—and unconscious—comrade, and waving for help, as a medic comes running, water bucket in hand. It accompanied an essay by the Yale coach Walter Camp, the so-called Father of American Football, whose preference for order over chaos led to the primary differentiating element between the new sport and its parent, English rugby: a line of scrimmage, with discrete plays, or downs, instead of scrums.

Camp viewed football as an upper-class training ground, not as a middle-class spectator sport. But the prevalence of skull fractures soon prompted unflattering comparisons with boxing and bullfighting. Another image, which ran in the New York World, depicted a skeleton wearing a banner labelled “Death,” and was titled “The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game.” Campaigns in Chicago and Georgia to outlaw the sport were covered breathlessly in the New York dailies. That was in 1897, “the peak of sensationalized football violence,” as Michael Oriard, a former offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs who is now an associate dean at Oregon State University, explains in “Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle.”

The crisis surrounding football’s brutality at the turn of the twentieth century was so great that it eventually inspired Presidential intervention. Greg Aiello, the N.F.L.’s present-day spokesman, told me, “You should research Teddy Roosevelt’s involvement in changing the game in 1905.” Roosevelt, whose son was then a freshman football player at Harvard, summoned college coaches to the White House to discuss reforming the sport before public opinion turned too far against it. Eighteen people had died on the field that year. The idea, or hope, was to preserve the game’s essential character-building physicality (“I’ve got no sympathy whatever with the overwrought sentimentality that would keep a young man in cotton-wool,” Roosevelt wrote) without filling up the morgue. The next year, the forward pass was legalized, thereby transforming football from a militarized or corporatized rugby to something more like “contact ballet,” as Oriard calls it.

Aiello’s point was that the game goes on; you reform it as needed. Dave Pear, a retired Tampa Bay Buccaneer, brought up the same example with the opposite lesson in mind. “Look at the historicity of football and Heisman,” he said, referring to John Heisman, who was among the leading advocates of the forward pass in 1906. “Football almost ended in the early nineteen-hundreds.” Pear’s view is that the game always has been “hazardous to your health, like smoking cigarettes,” and that trying to remove violence from football, as the N.F.L. now seems bent on doing, is like trying to remove the trees from a forest. “Now it’s not an instant death,” he said. “Now it’s a slow death.” You could say that Dave Pear holds a grudge: he has a minuscule pension, is uninsurable, and estimates that he has spent six hundred thousand dollars on surgeries and other medical issues (fused disks, artificial hip, vertigo) related to his football career. “I’m not trying to end football,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t like football.” But: “I wish I had never played.”

Introducing the forward pass may have saved the sport from marginalization, or even banishment, but it did not resolve the inherent tension in our secular religion. With increased professionalization, in the middle decades of the last century, came specialization within the sport, and the demise of players who covered both offense and defense. And with specialization came increased speed and intensity, owing, in part, to reduced fatigue among the players, as well as skill sets and body types suited to particular facets of the game. “Savagery on Sunday” was the headline on a Life story in 1955. Walter Cronkite produced a half-hour special, “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” about a New York Giants linebacker who had declared, “We try to hurt everybody.”

The increased attention—football was on its way to surpassing baseball as the nation’s favorite spectator sport—brought more reforms, many of them related to equipment: chinstraps, the rubber bar, full-on face masks. “Even as the discussion of the game’s violence was at its shrillest, the sport was becoming safer,” Michael MacCambridge writes in “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.” But, even as the game was becoming safer, through better equipment and further tweaking of the rules (calling a play dead as soon as a knee touched down, say, to limit bone-crunching pileups), it was evolving in such a way that it also became more dangerous, as players, comfortably protected by their face masks, learned to tackle with their heads instead of with their arms and shoulders. When Michael Oriard played for the Chiefs, in the early nineteen-seventies, he weighed two hundred and forty pounds; his counterpart on today’s Chiefs roster weighs about three hundred and ten, and is probably no slower. Players didn’t obsessively lift weights in Oriard’s day.

From all these developments, we got smash-mouth football and, later, the spectacularly combustive open-field collisions that seem to leave players in a state of epileptic seizure nearly every weekend now. “We had a lot of discussions right after I became commissioner about this subject,” Paul Tagliabue, who served as the N.F.L.’s chief executive from 1989 until 2006, told me recently. “And one by-product of that was the question of whether defensive players were acquiring a sense of invulnerability, and playing the game with a level of abandon and recklessness that was not warranted. We created a committee with Mel Blount and Willie Lanier and some others. They raised the idea that it was no longer tackle football. It was becoming collision football. The players looked like bionic men. Whatever was the violence of Sam Huff, I don’t think he felt invulnerable, like a bionic man.”

Throughout most of the Super Bowl era, football was understood to be an orthopedic, an arthroscopic, and, eventually, an arthritic risk. This was especially obvious as the first generation of Super Bowl heroes retired and began showing up at reunions and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies walking like “Maryland crabs,” as a players’-union representative once put it. But a couple of incidents early in Tagliabue’s tenure left him with a sense of foreboding. “In 1991, my second season, Mike Utley went down,” he said, alluding to the paralysis of a Detroit Lions offensive lineman. “A year later, Dennis Byrd went down. Once you see two injuries like Mike Utley’s and Dennis Byrd’s, you begin to see that there are long-term consequences to injuries on the football field.” He meant long-term consequences of a sort that you can’t joke about, while patting your fake knee or hip and complaining that you can no longer navigate stairs or play with your grandkids. Byrd, who was a defensive lineman for the Jets, gradually taught himself to walk again, after being given a prognosis of partial paralysis, and delivered a rousing pep talk to the Jets before their upset victory over the Patriots in the conference semifinals, earlier this month. Utley’s moral is a grimmer one. As he was being carried off the field on a stretcher, he didn’t yet know that he was paralyzed from the chest down. He stuck his thumb up, and the fans applauded.

What was missing from this picture was the effect of all that impact on the brain. You got your “bell rung,” they used to say. You’re “just a little dinged up.” This was not merely macho sideline-speak; it was, as recently as a decade and a half ago, the language of the N.F.L.’s leading doctors. Elliot Pellman, who served until 2007 as the Jets team physician, once told a reporter that veteran players are able to “unscramble their brains a little faster” than rookies are, “maybe because they’re not afraid after being dinged.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., is the name for a condition that is believed to result from major collisions—or from the accumulation of subconcussions that are nowhere near as noticeable, including those incurred in practice. It was first diagnosed, in 2002, in the brain of the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who died of a heart attack after living out of his truck for a time. It was next diagnosed in one of Webster’s old teammates on the Steelers’ offensive line, Terry Long, who killed himself by drinking antifreeze. Long overlapped, at the end of his career, with Justin Strzelczyk, who was also found to have C.T.E. after he crashed, fatally, into a tanker truck, while driving the wrong way down the New York Thruway.

Credit for the public’s increased awareness of these issues must go to the Times, and to its reporter Alan Schwarz, whom Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Steelers’ neurosurgeon and a longtime medical adviser to the league, calls “the Socratic gadfly in this whole mix.” Schwarz was a career baseball writer, with a heavy interest in statistics, when, in December of 2006, he got a call from a friend of a friend named Chris Nowinski, a Harvard football player turned pro wrestler turned concussion activist. Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles safety, had just committed suicide, and Nowinski was in possession of his mottled brain. The earliest cases of C.T.E. had been medical news, not national news. Nowinski’s journalist contacts, as he recalls, were in “pro-wrestling media, not legitimate media.” He needed help.

Schwarz, acting more as a middleman than as a journalist pitching a hot story, set up a meeting between Nowinski and the Times’ sports editor, Tom Jolly, for whom Schwarz had been writing Sunday columns about statistical analysis on a freelance basis. Rather than assign the story to one of his staffers, Jolly suggested that Schwarz write it. The result, “Expert Ties Ex-Player’s Suicide to Brain Damage from Football,” wound up on the front page, on January 18, 2007. It described Waters’s forty-four-year-old brain tissue as resembling that of an eighty-five-year-old man with Alzheimer’s, and cited the work and opinions of several doctors whose research into the cumulative effect of head trauma was distinctly at odds with that of the N.F.L.’s own Mild and Traumatic Brain Injury committee (M.T.B.I.), which had been created by Tagliabue. “Don’t send them back out on these fields,” Waters’s niece told Schwarz, referring to young would-be football players.

Ted Johnson, a recently retired New England Patriots linebacker, read the Waters piece and called Schwarz. He was thirty-four- years old and had been locking himself in his apartment with the blinds drawn for days at a time. He believed that his problems had started in 2002, when, he said, his coach, the sainted Bill Belichick, ignored a trainer’s recommendation that Johnson practice without contact while recovering from a concussion. Schwarz accompanied Johnson to a meeting with his neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu, who said, “Ted already shows the mild cognitive impairment that is characteristic of early Alzheimer’s disease.” Two weeks after the Waters piece, Schwarz landed another freelance submission on A1: “Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career in N.F.L.”

Schwarz’s phone kept ringing. Several of the callers were the mothers and wives of football’s damaged men. They represented a readership far less likely to have come across, say, the annual men’s-magazine features about mangled knees, wayward fingers, and back braces, which had hardened almost into a sportswriting trope. In March, Schwarz published another front-pager: “Wives United by Husbands’ Post-N.F.L. Trauma.” Glenn Kramon, an assistant managing editor at the Times who oversees long-term, Pulitzer-worthy projects, read this piece and decided to intervene. Schwarz was given a full-time position, with no responsibilities other than to broaden his new beat’s focus beyond the N.F.L. to the more than four million amateur athletes who play organized football. Although Schwarz was assigned to the sports desk, the Times framed the story as a matter of public health, akin to tobacco, asbestos, and automobile safety. Schwarz covered high schools, helmets, workmen’s comp, coaching, and so on, earning the nickname Alan Brockovich among friends. “You can imagine how many lawyers I hear from,” he once told me.

Schwarz’s expansive focus, as he reiterated it, one piece at a time, threatened to affect the so-called pipeline, the future sons of football, whose non-sports-fan mothers were reading his accounts. The reaction of the football establishment, both at the league office and at stadiums around the country, was not warm. “I remember hearing voices within the game, at the club level: ‘We don’t need this muckraking reporter doing this,’ ” Michael MacCambridge told me.

“Their initial reaction was ‘This guy’s out to get football,’ ” Gregg Easterbrook, the author of ESPN’s popular “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” column, said. “I felt a little of that myself.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


States with the Smartest Kids (The Daily Beast, 1/24/11)

The biggest standardized test is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which scores every kid in the country based on their exam proficiency in reading and math. With 50 different school systems, NAEP testing is the only comprehensive, if imperfect, gauge for comparing how America’s children are educated.

So The Daily Beast decided to use this enormous amount of consistent data to try to figure out which states are collectively doing the best job educating their kids.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Reforming the Reform (ROSS DOUTHAT, 1/23/11, NY Times)

What Republicans need is a different kind of incremental approach, one that uses the strongest conservative critiques of the health care bill as a framework for a reform of the reform. If Obama is defeated in 2012, this framework could easily be adapted into a full scale repeal-and-replace effort. But in the event that he’s re-elected, it would offer a Republican Congress a blueprint for improving the law without doing away with it entirely.

Here are three such conservative critiques: first, that Obamacare entrenches the very model of health care financingthat drove costs sky-high to begin with — a model in which every insurance plan has to be comprehensive, every significant payment is made by a third party, and consumers have no idea what their treatments actually cost.

Second, the new subsidies for the uninsured are so expansive that they may encourage employers to stop offering insurance altogether, offloading their employees into the new health care exchanges and swiftly overwhelming the federal budget.

Third, the mandate to buy health insurance infringes on American liberties: never before has Washington required that private citizens purchase a particular product from a particular set of private companies.

To address the first problem, Republicans should work to deregulate the new health care exchanges, so that high-deductible, catastrophic coverage can be purchased as easily as comprehensive plans. To address the second, they should propose capping the subsidies for the uninsured, so that they don’t dramatically exceed the value of the existing tax subsidy for employer-provided insurance.

...is that because you're saving the money during the decades that you're healthy you'll be able to afford those dying years yourself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


What if Obama is just a hack (Bruce Walker, January 24, 2011, Enter Stage Right)

Bill Clinton, lost re-election in 1980, so he donned the clothes of a moderate and proud Southerner. His conduct towards women was worse than the Kennedy clan, yet he put the Violence Against Women Act into law. He was a demagogue against the rich, yet Bill and Hillary pursued wealth with wanton greed. Clinton was a political hack, lusting for power and the money so easy to those who will lie and cheat.

Might Obama be just another political hack, who has conned not only Middle America but also the few who really believe in Marx? He agreed to continue the Bush Tax Cuts (which, for now and ever, should be called the Obama Tax Cuts.) Why? Creating business confidence will help re-elect him in 2012. Obama outraged his anti-American supporters by keeping potential terrorists in Gitmo. His speech in Tucson pointedly discarded venom against conservatives, which solidifies his image as a nice moderate and boosts his popularity.

Analyses of Obama's life amid Marxist America-haters may tell us nothing, really, about the man. Given his background, the clearest path to power was to play the racial socialist. Pseudo-Marxists in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China spoke the babble of Marxism because its silly words and phrases were a code of recognition devoid of other meaning. Obama portrayed radicalism because it was the easiest, fascist, and surest way to power.

Conservatives find this attitude hard to grasp because, unlike our enemies, we hold honest beliefs. Most of us believe in the Blessed Creator of Christians and Jews. When that belief is true, then it trumps all other beliefs, including socialism. We believe in markets – all sorts of markets, and not just economic markets. We believe in the liberty. We do not hold these beliefs because it prospers us. (Many conservatives pay a high price for their beliefs.) The men who signed the Declaration of Independence acted profoundly against their own interests. Our beliefs are based upon ideas of right and wrong in life (or, as our enemies say, we are "judgmental.")

But when we presume that our enemies or anyone with power believes in Marxism, then we might as well believe in unicorns and leprechauns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


The democrats vs. the non-democrats (ALON LIEL, 01/23/2011, Jerusalem Post)

The hawks-doves battle is practically over at this stage. Barak’s union with the Likud is just the final proof. A new ideological battle has begun and it no longer has anything to do with peace. This time it’s between democratic and non-democratic forces.

It is the battle against the possibility of one state with two types of citizens – the Jews with full rights, and the Palestinians with partial rights. On this issue, politicians cannot coexist anymore in the same political nest.

The split in Labor is only the beginning; Likud and Kadima are next. Politicians will now have to position themselves not as hawks or doves, but as democrats versus non-democrats.

We will soon see this happening all over the political map. Unfortunately, I do not foresee the democrats gaining the upper hand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Inside the Minds of Paranoiacs: 'Loughner Acted, from His Perspective, in a Moral Fashion' (Der Spiegel, 1/21/11)

Most saw the Jan. 8 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Arizona as a product of insanity. But assassination researcher Manfred Schneider told SPIEGEL that the presumed gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, did not act irrationally. Rather, his crime resulted from "hyper-rationality."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Schneider, on Jan. 8 in Arizona, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head at close range and killed six people. While the world searches for explanations, you write, in your recent book "Das Attentat" ("The Assassination"), that an assassin like Loughner is not crazy but the product of hyper-rationality. What does this mean?

Schneider: Every assassin is a perceptive observer and interpreter of signs and events. For him, nothing happens by accident. He scrutinizes the world in search of hostile intentions, and he imagines conspiracies everywhere. To us, the outcome seems insane. Yet logic and rationality are key components in the paranoid suppositions arrived at by the assassin. Paranoia is not irrationality but hyper-rationality. Loughner is a very typical example. [...]

SPIEGEL: Is paranoia always destructive?

Schneider: Not necessarily. Just think of Sherlock Holmes. He is better than anyone else at decoding random signs, and he is capable of using them to solidify the most bizarre suspicions. A snippet of paper here, a little pile of cigarette ashes there. He was a great paranoiac, but he was strictly interested in doing good.

There's a great moment in the new Sherlock Holmes series where someone calls him a psychopath and he responds: "“High-functioning sociopath, do your research!"

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January 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


Secret papers reveal slow death of Middle East peace process (Seumas Milne and Ian Black, 1/23/11, guardian.co.uk)

The documents – many of which will be published by the Guardian over the coming days – also reveal:

• The scale of confidential concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, including on the highly sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

• How Israeli leaders privately asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.

• The intimate level of covert co-operation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority.

• The central role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to crush Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

• How Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008-9 war in Gaza.

As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.

Most controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City – the neuralgic issue that helped sink the Camp David talks in 2000 after Yasser Arafat refused to concede sovereignty around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.

The offers were made in 2008-9, in the wake of President George Bush's Annapolis conference, and were privately hailed by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history" in order to resolve the world's most intractable conflict. Israeli leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate.

Palestine has nothing to gain from negotiations, only the PLO does. Declare statehood and move on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


The forger’s story (John Gapper, January 21 2011, Financial Times Magazine)

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For nearly three decades, Landis has visited ­museums across the US in various guises and tried to donate paintings he has forged. As well as Father Scott, he has posed as “Steven Gardiner” among other aliases. He never asks for money, although museums have often hosted meals for him and made small gifts. His only stipulation is that he is donating in his parents’ names – often his actual father, ­Lieutenant Commander Arthur Landis Jr, a former US Navy officer.

Landis has been prolific and amazingly persistent. A few weeks before he came to Lafayette, “Father Scott” arrived at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, with a ­forgery of Head of a Sioux by Alfred Jacob Miller that he said he was giving in memory of his mother, “Helen Mitchell Scott”. Landis has so far offered copies of that work to five other museums. Yet in all this time, although curators speculate about his motives, no one has found out why he is doing it.

Matthew Leininger, chief registrar of the ­Cincinnati Museum of Art, has spent more than two years tracking Landis’s progress. He estimates that Landis has tried to fool at least 40 museums – and probably many more – in 19 states in cities from Boston and Chicago to Savannah and ­Oklahoma City. Some forgeries have been spotted, yet he has persuaded museums not only to add works to ­collections, but even to hang them in galleries.

Leininger has warned other museums, circulating photographs of Landis taken when he visited the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, and alerted the US tax authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “If you count up the time and resources people have spent on him, it runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “I just want him to stop, but if we can get him on something criminal, that would be even better.”

The difficulty is that, however annoying and disruptive Landis’s activities may be for museums, he does not seem to have broken the law. “The criminal statute [of fraud] says there must be a loss and that’s the problem. There hasn’t been a loss to any victim,” says Robert Wittman, an investigator who used to run the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

This marks out Landis from well-known art ­forgers such as Han van Meegeren, the prewar Dutch painter who specialised in Vermeers and John Myatt, the British artist who was jailed for forging Picassos and Renoirs to be sold by a partner. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist, was recently charged with fraud for allegedly selling forgeries through auction houses including Christie’s with the help of his wife and her sister.

Landis often forges a watercolour by Louis Valtat, a portrait by Marie Laurencin and a drawing by Milton Avery, but he has a wide range. He persuaded the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection of the ­University of Southern Mississippi to take forged Disney drawings of Goofy and Donald Duck, and went to the Bostonian Society in Massachusetts with a forgery of a letter by John Hancock, a signatory to the 1776 Declaration of ­Independence.

Even some of his targets admire Landis’s ­abilities. “I think the fact that someone can produce all of these different styles is pretty phenomenal,” says Gray. Others say that his genius is not as a painter but as a con man. “If you examine them with a ­critical eye, it’s over,” says Jill Chancey, curator of the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi, “The forgeries aren’t masterful but the con is ­persuasive. The con is good.”

...it's art.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


A Carefully Honed Image as a Master of the Ukulele (NATE CHINEN, 1/23/11, NY Times)

Mr. Shimabukuro, who hails from Hawaii — where his chosen instrument is neither a conversation piece nor a punch line — comes by his fame with buoyant musicianship and brisk proficiency. The innovation in his style stems from an embrace of restrictions: the ukulele has only four strings and a limited range. He compensates with an adaptable combination of rhythmic strumming, classical-style finger-picking and fretboard tapping.

For a while, he also experimented with pedal distortion, the better to emulate a shredding guitarist. That’s over now, mercifully. But he still sometimes works with electric bass, drums and keyboards, which aren’t the right canvas for him. His new album, “Peace Love Ukulele,” released on the Hitchhike label this month, often feels slicker than it should, with a smooth-jazz production style that flattens the dimensions of his sound.

Far better to hear him as he appeared at Brooklyn Bowl, alone and more or less acoustic. (He was amplified through the house sound system, which gave him a tinny sheen but otherwise worked fine.) Accustomed to this format, Mr. Shimabukuro has developed a casually convivial stage presence, so that even his more heroic fits of musical exhibitionism come tempered with humility. (Did I mention he’s big in Japan?)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Reality check (Simon Hoggartt, 1/21/11, The Spectator)

Horizon (BBC2, Monday) asked, ‘What is reality?’ and didn’t really have an answer. Well, it seems nobody does, though plenty of physicists, mathematicians and astronomers are working on it. As the voiceover told us, ‘Once you have entered their reality, your reality may never look the same.’ You can say that again. It appears that quantum particles can literally be in two places at the same time. But we are made up of quantum particles, and we are never in two places at the same time, even if that would occasionally be useful. So maybe there are more of us, all made up of the same particles but doing different things in different places. Possibly infinite numbers of us. [...]

Even the anecdotes taxed the brain. Apparently, Einstein asked Niels Bohr, ‘Can you say that the moon is not there if nobody is looking at it?’ Bohr replied, ‘Can you prove the opposite?’

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


The Immortalization Commission by John Gray: review: The Immortalization Commission by John Gray investigates the attempts of early 20th-century spiritualists and scientists to draw the sting of death (Michael Burleigh, 23 Jan 2011, The Telegraph)

The book’s quality deteriorates though, as it becomes a tract for our times. Gray is rightly dismissive of what he calls 'techno-immortalism’. This includes cryonic suspension. When would be the right moment to be deep frozen? At the first appearances of grey hairs, age spots, or wrinkles? The prospect of having some electronic remnant of one’s mind uploaded into the virtual reality of an immortal supercomputer also makes one shudder. Part of Gray’s problem is a penchant for such apodictic utterances as 'communism and belief in the free market have become museum pieces’. Having turned on every political creed he has alighted upon, Gray is nowadays sceptical of Green attempts to save the planet. He ends up sounding like Hamlet: 'The most rigorous investigation reveals a world riddled with chaos in which human will is finally powerless. All things may be possible, but not for us.’ Many of us got that point somewhere in childhood or adolescence as awareness of death made itself known in our spines.

Gray’s deep pessimism prompts a final subversive thought. If human existence is so pointless, when measured on a cosmic scale, why does Gray bother to write so many books or expect his fellow humans to read them, since literature and thought are akin to the hubris of ants and gnats? Why not just stroke the cat?

...John Gray to be

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Food scientists strive to create nutritious additives (Mike Hughlett, 1/23/11, Star Tribune)

Terri VanderPol was tinkering in the lab again. Earlier this month, the Cargill senior beverage scientist was figuring out ways to improve the taste of a pomegranate-acai berry juice drink containing Barliv, a concoction Cargill developed that marks a sort of eureka moment in food technology.

It's an additive derived from barley, one of only a handful of grains rich in the kind of fiber that helps heart health. But barley isn't easily transformed into a concentrate that can go into food or beverages without mucking up taste and texture.

Minnetonka, Minn.-based Cargill's food scientists figured out a way to do it. And they are using the same kind of thinking to develop a range of "functional" or healthful additives that manufacturers could mix into everything from fruit juice to snack bars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


The Queen of Rockabilly Returns: Wanda Jackson, a '50s music pioneer, gets a boost from rocker Jack White; covering Amy Winehouse (JOHN JURGENSEN, 1/21/11, WSJ)

More than 50 years ago, Ms. Jackson became a rock-'n'-roll pioneer with that throaty growl, an incongruously sweet singing voice and daring outfits that got her into trouble at the Grand Ole Opry. Despite a sound that helped define her genre, with blistering records including "Let's Have a Party" and "Mean Mean Man," Ms. Jackson is little known among casual rock fans.

Over the decades, however, waves of latter-day garage rockers have discovered her, prizing her raw edge and her role in rock's origin story. As a teen country singer from Oklahoma, she dated a young Elvis Presley and, with his urging, adopted his revved-up sound. This cachet has kept her working the road about 150 days a year, especially in Europe.

Now, one of her admirers has orchestrated a project that is pumping fresh blood into Ms. Jackson's living-legend act. Jack White, the leader of the White Stripes and at age 35 one of the most influential rock artists of his generation, produced Ms. Jackson's latest album, which will be released next Tuesday. The 11 songs on "The Party Ain't Over" showcase the range of styles she has worked in, from country blues ("Busted," written by Harlan Howard) to gospel ("Dust on the Bible," co-written by Johnny and Walter Bailes). The album features Mr. White on guitar and his handpicked band.

Ms. Jackson says she had cold feet about the project at first. She blanched at some of the songs Mr. White sent for her consideration, including "You Know That I'm No Good" by the British retro-soul bad girl Amy Winehouse. "I can't do this kind of material," Ms. Jackson recalled saying. Wearing a zebra-print shirt and glittering earrings, she gestured to her manager—and husband of 50 years—Wendell Goodman, sitting next to her in her publicist's office in New York last fall. "He drug me kicking and screaming into the studio."

Rockabilly Queen Prolongs Her Party (MELENA RYZIK, 1/21/11, NY Times)
Since she was discovered at 15 in Oklahoma City, Ms. Jackson’s career has been etched by men: Hank Thompson, the country star who got her signed after hearing her on local radio; Elvis, who encouraged her to wield her singular voice — a graveled purr — in rock instead of country; Wendell Goodman, her husband of 50 years, her tour manager and constant companion; and now Mr. White. But through it all she has become a shimmying emblem of female independence in a male-dominated industry, testing boundaries with her forward style and lyrics about mean men and hard-headed women (and those are the love songs). As she allowed, winkingly, at the Knitting Factory show, “No wonder I have a bad-girl reputation.”

Terry Stewart, the president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said, “She’s still working sort of a wildcat sound, and she had it as a young lady, which was pretty much unheard of at the time.” Vouched for by the likes of Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen, Ms. Jackson was inducted in 2009 as an early influencer, and she will be a spokeswoman for the museum’s “Women in Rock” exhibition, opening in May. And she continues to tour, as many as 120 dates a year in the United States and abroad. (Mr. White will join her for a few concerts this year; she plays the Bowery Ballroom in New York on Feb. 24.) “They all point to her as the source of the Nile on this stuff,” Mr. Stewart said of early rock fans.”

For Ms. Jackson the album with Mr. White is the latest surprise in a career full of them. “You can’t hardly name anything that I haven’t experienced somewhere along the way,” she said in a recent interview in a quiet Midtown hotel. Her husband sat nearby, typing on a computer, pausing to offer a cough drop. Ms. Jackson wore gray slacks, a gray cardigan, and a gray sequined top — she favors sparkly — and her blue eyes were sharp. “I always liked fishnets,” she said, complimenting a reporter’s. Her taste can be grandma-sweet too; she called Mr. White “so cute.”

“He’s not one of these sloppy dressers,” she explained. “I said, I’d like to just take you home, Jack, and set you up on the mantel on my fireplace and just get to see you when I walk by.”

She knew his name mostly from a 2004 record he produced for Ms. Lynn, “Van Lear Rose,” which was well received and earned two Grammys. But she was not a fan of the White Stripes. “I told Jack too, I love him, but that type of music, I just don’t relate to it,” Ms. Jackson said. “It kind of goes over my head.”

Initially Ms. Jackson and her husband hoped to make a Sinatra-and-friends-style duet record. “I think those kind of albums should be made illegal, they are such a bad idea,” Mr. White wrote in an e-mail. Instead he preferred to get Ms. Jackson in the studio at his home in Nashville, recording an album of her own.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Questions for WILL.I.AM: Super Bowl Reshuffle (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, January 20, 2011, NY Times Magazine)

You’re known for your political advocacy and helped propel President Obama into the White House with your “Yes We Can” music video. The general consensus seems to be that the Obama hope movement has failed to deliver.

I don’t want to hope anymore. I don’t thinkwe should hope anymore. We hoped enough. Now we have to do. We all have to do now.

Do you feel disappointed in President Obama?

I don’t feel disappointed. I feel like, Argggh! Speak louder! I feel like, Do something!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Chinese Pianist Plays Propaganda Tune at White House: US humiliated in eyes of Chinese by song used to inspire anti-Americanism (Matthew Robertson, 1/22/11, Epoch Times)

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The film depicts a group of “People’s Volunteer Army” soldiers who are first hemmed in at Shanganling (or Triangle Hill) and then, when reinforcements arrive, take up their rifles and counterattack the U.S. military “jackals.”

The movie and the tune are widely known among Chinese, and the song has been a leading piece of anti-American propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Thousands demand ouster of Yemen's president (Ahmed Al-haj, 1/23/11, Associated Press)

Drawing inspiration from the revolt in Tunisia, thousands of Yemenis fed up with their president's 32-year rule demanded his ouster Saturday in a noisy demonstration that appeared to be the first large-scale public challenge to the strongman.

Clashes also broke out Saturday in Algeria, as opposition activists there tried to copy the tactics of their Tunisian neighbors, who forced their longtime leader to flee the country more than a week ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


'US warns Lebanon against Hizbullah-led government' (JPOST.COM, 01/23/2011)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Football and philosophy (FIFA.com, 21 January 2011)

French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading figure in mid-20th century art and politics, also turned his formidable thought processes to the sport, exploring the depths and complexities of the game in the minutest detail before coming to the pithy but undeniable conclusion: "In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the other team."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM

Mike Farris On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 1/21/11)

Mike Farris, formerly of the rock group Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, first broke into the music scene when that band's self-titled debut enjoyed some radio success in 1994. The group's popularity fueled a life of excess that exacerbated Farris' inner struggles as a Christian. His conflicted lifestyle continued until 2004 when, standing at the graveside of a loved one, Farris decided that it was time to make a career-defining record. [...]

Farris is accompanied here in live performance by Ann and Regina McCrary, daughters of Fairfield Four founding member Rev. Sam McCrary, and the Mountain Stage band.

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January 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Health Blog Q&A: H. Gilbert Welch, Author of ‘Overdiagnosed’ (Katherine Hobson, 1/22/11, WSJ)

What is overdiagnosis?

Overdiagnosis occurs when physicians make a diagnosis in an individual who would never go on to develop symptoms or die from the condition. It happens when we try to make diagnoses too early, in people who don’t have symptoms. I’m not saying we should never do that, but members of the general public have gotten the message that early diagnosis is always in your best interest, that it’s always good to look harder and find more. But the reality now is that we can find abnormalities in just about everyone and that can start a whole train of harmful events. So we all need to adopt a more balanced approach. Overdiagnosis doesn’t necessarily lead to overtreatment, but it often does.

How do you define health?

Health is much more than not being able to find something wrong. It’s how people feel, it’s a state of mind. And it’s hard to feel good when things are constantly being found wrong with you. But we are moving towards a [notion of] health that means the absence of any abnormalities. That’s not a good definition.

...then reaxct because you aren't one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


The Perils of Palin (Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, 1/22/11, Townhall)

After Tucson, Ariz., shootings, Sarah Palin's unfavorable rating in the CNN poll rose from 49 percent before the midterm elections to 56 percent now. It was not the left-wing charges that Sarah Palin had somehow incited the Tucson shooter by her aggressive political rhetoric that did her damage. Polls show that voters discounted these statements and even Rep. Giffords' husband has made clear that there was no political motive involved. It was Palin's response to these attacks that got her in trouble. Her highly publicized accusation that the criticism was a "blood libel" turned voters off. As sincere admirers of hers, we hope she learns a lesson from this exchange.

The lesson is simply this: She should not become a battering ram hammering at liberal critics -- getting down into the mud with them -- answering every attack, no matter how low, personal or undeserved it is. She is a potential presidential candidate for the Republican Party. As such, she needs to keep her own head unbloodied and intact.

Rather, it is because she is an entertainer rather than a politician that she can afford to be a battering ram.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Are corporations people? (LA Times, 1/22/11)

In a case that could erect new barriers to public access to government information, the Supreme Court this week was asked to hold that corporations have a right to "personal privacy." Fortunately, justices from across the ideological spectrum appeared skeptical that such a counterintuitive concept could be found either in the law or in a dictionary.

...about law or language? Having pretended that corporations are persons how can they not have personal rights?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


The young parents who run Britain (Bagehot, 1/21/11, The Economist)

Part of the explanation is the youth of Britain’s rulers: Mr Cameron was the youngest prime minister to take office in nearly two centuries; the main party leaders are in their early 40s. The professional middle classes as a whole are having children later. The child-bearing trend began in 2000, when Tony Blair sired the first baby born to a serving prime minister in more than 150 years. But he also had teenage children, so had been dunked in the stormier waters of adolescence. A turning point came with Gordon Brown’s coronation as Labour leader in 2007. Though in his 50s, Mr Brown had two very young sons (his first child died shortly after her birth in 2001). Suddenly all three party leaders were new parents. What is more, the younger men in Mr Brown’s cabinet were keen to be active fathers, adds a figure close to Mr Brown and Mr Miliband. It was “a massive cultural change compared to ten years before”.

A centrist Conservative MP makes a matching observation about the youthful circle around Mr Cameron. The Tory party of ten years ago was slow to grasp the importance of social policies. For today’s leadership, children are the “ultimate nudge”, he says, a reference to the Cameron camp’s zeal for “nudging” people into changing behaviour. At its simplest, parenthood exposes even the affluent middle classes to public services, from hospitals to day-care centres or libraries. Despite (mostly) shielding their children from press attention, all three current party leaders claim inside knowledge of the National Health Service and the strains of balancing work and family life.

Launching a vast reform of the NHS on January 17th, Mr Cameron—as often before—cited his biography as proof of his good faith, praising the doctors who cared for his severely disabled eldest son (who died aged six in 2009), the maternity nurses who recently helped deliver his baby daughter and the teachers “currently inspiring” his two other children at primary school. On the same day, Mr Clegg vowed to help fathers be more “hands-on” with their children, whether by taking more parental leave or seeking flexible working hours. On January 15th Mr Miliband apologised for the previous Labour government’s embrace of labour laws that had squeezed “time with our families”.

With close advisers, the Labour leader has pondered the politics of parenthood: does it make people more conservative, by which he means competitive and sharp-elbowed? Or perhaps (Mr Miliband hopes) parenthood induces empathy and trust, as even flinty individualists find themselves grateful to nannies, doctors or the BBC, with its wholesome children’s programmes.

...is make them unEuropean.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Do we have to wait 30 years for human rights in China? (Fred Hiatt, January 21, 2011, Washington Post)

When President Obama on Wednesday expressed the hope that "30 years from now, we will have seen further evolution" in China's respect for human rights, I thought about Geng He, who had come to visit me the day before.

Geng He, 43, is a soft-spoken woman who doesn't know whether her husband, Gao Zhisheng, is dead or alive. She knows that over the past five years, he has been repeatedly tortured by Chinese security agents. She knows that he was last seen nine months ago, when some of those agents spirited him away. She's pretty sure that he has not been charged with a crime, but the government will not say where he is.

Gao is not a dissident. He is something China's government apparently finds even more threatening: a lawyer who has sought, while adhering scrupulously to Chinese law, to represent dissidents, members of religious minorities and other victims of Communist Party repression.

"For him, being a lawyer is more than just a profession," Geng told me. "He's tried to educate the public about justice, about the law, and about what's right or wrong. Now, there seems to be no room for someone like that to survive in China."

Geng had hoped that Obama would speak out about her husband's case, both because such attention might help him and because Obama's words could have a big impact more broadly in China. As she wrote in a Post op-ed last year:

"I worry about the next generation of Chinese lawyers. Will disappearances like my husband's deter them from becoming rights defenders? I imagine so. But if the United States were to speak out on my husband's behalf, perhaps this would change."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Alfred Russel Wallace: The proponent of intelligent design in Darwin's day (Michael A. Flannery, 02.05.09, Forbes)

Yet Darwin and Wallace had very different views of how their respective evolutionary mechanisms worked. In the end, those differences would lead to two inherently oppositional theories--Darwin's driven by wholly random processes, and Wallace's imbued with design and purpose. Wallace eventually broke with Darwin in 1869 over the ability of natural selection to explain the human intellect. For him, nature was infused with teleological meaning.

After Darwin's death in 1882, Wallace continued to develop his ideas and eventually constructed what is best called intelligent evolution. This is not simply theistic evolution, a gratuitous, divine add-on to Darwin's naturalistic processes, but an intelligently designed evolution that is limited by evolution's principle of utility--namely, that no animal or structural part of an animal will develop unless an advantage is afforded to that species, nor will either advance beyond that which is necessary for survival.

Why, asked Wallace, if the principle of utility inherent in natural selection is absolute, did humans develop brains far beyond that necessary for mere survival? No biblical creationist, Wallace spent the remainder of his life answering that question and gave his fullest answer in the aptly titled World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose, published in 1910.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


West Is Best?:Why Civilizations Rise and Fall: a review of Why the West Rules--For Now by Ian Morris (Timur Kuran, January/February 2011, Foreign Policy)

The regions that failed to keep up with Europe could not match the West's economic infrastructure. Most important, they failed to develop institutions for pooling labor and capital on a large scale and to develop sustainable organizations capable of reallocating resources efficiently. In the Middle East, religion, and culture more broadly, mattered, but not for the cosmological reasons that Needham might have thought. Rather than Islam's supposed conservatism, lack of curiosity about the natural world, or unwillingness to learn from foreigners, it was Islam's inheritance and marriage rules that created the stumbling block. These rules fragmented capital, blocking the establishment of large and durable private enterprises. Meanwhile, in South Asia, Hinduism hindered large-scale, impersonal cooperation by encouraging families to hold capital within family enterprises.

Some believe that China, India, and the Middle East would have eventually industrialized on their own if the West had not done so first and colonized them. Morris is skeptical: "Even though Eastern and Western development scores were neck-and-neck until 1800, there are few signs that the East, if left alone, was moving toward industrialization fast enough to have begun its own takeoff during the nineteenth century." That is true. Yet having ignored economic institutions, Morris is not able to justify his claim, exposing the inadequacy of his index as a measure of development. If by 1800, Europe had already developed all the key components of the modern economy and China had not, the two regions could not have been equal in any meaningful sense. The problem here lies in Morris' use of city size as a proxy for organizational capacity. Lagos is now about as large as New York, but the organizational capabilities of Nigeria and the United States obviously differ. Nigeria is not yet ready to put a man on the moon, for example. A more refined measure of organizational capacity -- one that accounted for the organizational options available to private commercial enterprises -- would have shown Europe to be in the lead centuries earlier.

As it happened, modern economic institutions failed to emerge organically in the East. After colonization, Eastern leaders tried to overcome this deficiency by adopting Western institutions so as to achieve, in short order, the transformation that Europe went through over an entire millennium. Still today, the reforms remain incomplete. For modern economic organizations to work well, a country needs to have developed a host of complementary institutions, such as fair courts, norms of impersonal exchange, and trust in organizations. These are hard to transplant. In most parts of the East, they are still developing and spreading slowly.

China's growth is entirely a function of succumbing to our way of doing things. It has nothing of its own to offer except for cheap labor. When that's gone, they cease to matter.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


What does President Obama really believe?: No matter how you feel about Obama, his lack of clear philosophical values is not only a political problem for Democrats but a moral problem for America. So far he's the piecemeal president. (Jacob Bronsther / January 21, 2011, CS Monitor)

Quick quiz: In one sentence, describe FDR's political philosophy. Good, now summarize Reaganism. Pretty easy, right?

OK, do the same for President Obama. Still thinking? Don't worry, Mr. Obama is, too. And that's bad news for all of us. Because no matter how you feel about Obama, his lack of clear philosophical values is not only a political problem for Democrats but a moral problem for America.

...because he's the least complex of the trio. He believes only in his own advancement.

January 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Report: First two years of college show small gains (Mary Beth Marklein, 1/18/11, USA TODAY)

Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.

Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students' critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


What not to do after you fall into a fountain: Cathy Cruz Marrero's tumble in a mall became a viral hit -- but her reaction has turned her into a villain (Mary Elizabeth Williams, 1/22/11, Salon)

Her name is Cathy Cruz Marrero, but you probably know her better as the Fountain Lady. Last week, as she walked past the Piercing Pagodas and Radio Shacks of Pennsylvania's Berkshire Mall, engrossed in the act of texting, she plowed face first into a fountain. And because this is 2011 and every minor public mishap is not just recorded but broadcast, it didn't take long for the security camera footage -- replete with the delighted giggles of mall security and their enjoyment of the spill from two different angles -- to make its way to YouTube. [...]

Did Marrero need to be texting her friend from church about her birthday that fateful Wyomissing day? Of course not. Should she have been on the ball enough to realize that she was about to eat a faceful of cast-off pennies and wishes? You bet. But if you have never once glanced at your mobile device while engaged in other activity whatsoever, congratulations. You're in a small, exceptionally rare population, like people who pay to see Nicolas Cage movies. And while it's easy to point and laugh at Marrero -- hey, falling down is a reliable laugh getter -- it's worthwhile to ask whether the employees of a shopping mall should be spending their time deriding their patrons and disseminating their spills.

And you wonder that they're humorless?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Are We In Bill Clinton’s Third Term? (Jason Mattera, 01/21/2011, Human Events)

Jacob Lew was tapped by Barack Obama last July to lead the Office of Management & Budget. Most recently, William Daley accepted a request to serve as President Obama's chief of staff.

Both Lew and Daley also had prominent positions within the Clinton administration, which has Newt Gingrich quipping that we’re now experiencing the third term of Bill Clinton's White House.

The point is not just that the UR is similar to Bill Clinton but that Newt was similar to W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Tony Blair's promise to George Bush: count on us on Iraq war (Richard Norton-Taylor, 1/21/11, guardian.co.uk)

Tony Blair today admitted to brushing aside warnings that invading Iraq would be unlawful and made clear his overriding priority, even at the expense of opposition and secrecy at home, was to maintain a close relationship with the US president. [...]

Asked about letters he wrote to Bush, which the inquiry has seen but is prevented by Whitehall from disclosing, Blair said: "What I was saying to President Bush was very clear and simple: 'You can count on us. We are going to be with you in tackling this but here are the difficulties.' As you see, the rest of the note is actually about all the issues and difficulties."

The difficulties were spelt out in a memo, declassified today, sent by Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, shortly before he met George Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. "I do not have a proper worked-out strategy on how we would do it," Blair told Powell. After referring to the need for a "game plan", he added: "I will need a meeting on this with military folk."

Blair added: "The persuasion job on this seems very tough. My own side are worried. Public opinion is fragile ... Yet from a centre-left perspective, the case should be obvious. Saddam's regime is a brutal, oppressive military dictatorship."

He went on: "A political philosophy that does care about other nations – eg Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and is proud to change regimes on the merits, should be gung-ho on Saddam. So why isn't it? Because people believe we are only doing it to support the US, and they are only doing it to settle an old score. And the immediate WMD problems don't seem obviously worse than three years ago. So we have to reorder our story and message".

...came when W told him not to worry about it if the parliament didn't vote for wa because we'd gladly do it ourselves and not blame him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


SKorea storms Somali pirates to rescue ship crew (AP, 1/21/11)

South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea on Friday, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight assailants in a rare and bold raid on Somali pirates, South Korea said.

The military operation in waters between Oman and Africa, which also captured five pirates and left one crew member wounded, came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter and held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Myanmar.

Blackwater founder trains Somalis (Katharine Houreld, 1/20/11, Associated Press)

Erik Prince, whose former company Blackwater Worldwide became synonymous with the use of private U.S. security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has quietly taken on a new role in helping to train troops in lawless Somalia.

Prince is involved in a multimillion-dollar program financed by several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, to mobilize some 2,000 Somali recruits to fight pirates who are terrorizing the African coast, according to a person familiar with the project and an intelligence report seen by The Associated Press.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Jesus was a refugee, pope says on world migration day (John Thavis, 1/18/11, Catholic News Service)

Jesus was a refugee -- a fact that should be remembered as societies deal with modern issues of emigration and immigration, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Migration today sometimes is voluntary and at other times, unfortunately, is forced by wars or persecution, often in dramatic conditions," the pope said Jan. 16. From its very beginnings, the church has taken an interest in these situations, he said.

"The parents of Jesus had to flee their own land and take refuge in Egypt, in order to save the life of their child: the Messiah, the son of God, was a refugee," he said.

Throughout the centuries, he said, Christian populations have at times suffered the necessity to leave their homelands, impoverishing the countries where they and their ancestors had lived.

On the other hand, the pope said, the voluntary migration of Christians through the ages has increased the church's missionary dynamism and ensured that the witness of faith reaches new frontiers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Potential kingmaker in Lebanon supports Hezbollah (AP, 1/21/11)

A potential kingmaker in Lebanese politics threw his support Friday behind Hezbollah, a major boost to the Shiite militant group that brought down the country's Western-backed government last week.

Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect, refused to say exactly how many lawmakers are with him, but his support is key for any candidate trying to form a government.

A vile man who always sides with whoever is going to win.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Anchor Away! Anderson Cooper on How He Landed in ‘How to Succeed’ on Broadway (DAVE ITZKOFF, 1/20/11, NY Times)

Mr. Cooper said he had recently completed a recording session with some assistance from Mr. Radcliffe, who made his own Broadway debut in 2008.

“He mentioned something to me about when he was in ‘Equus,’” Mr. Cooper said. “I didn’t know if I should pretend like I saw him when he was in it.”

Fearing he might be quizzed about it, Mr. Cooper was honest about not having seen that production – although he did see the play as an adolescent during its original 1970s run, among the other adult-oriented content he was prematurely introduced to at his mother’s behest.

“She also took me to ‘Luna,’” Mr. Cooper said, referring to the 1979 Bernardo Bertolucci movie starring Jill Clayburgh as a woman who has an incestuous relationship with her teenage son.

“My mom’s judgment, I’m not sure if it was the best,” Mr. Cooper continued. “In fact, we were rejected from one theater, they refused to sell tickets to me. But my mom was not deterred. She just took me to some other theater.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The myth of ‘post-American globalization’: It would be a huge mistake to blow China’s rise from Communism out of proportion (Terence Corcoran January 18, 2011, National Post)

If you follow the cosmic realignment of global group-think on the state of the world, you will know that it is now firmly established that the ideological planets have realigned. Market-dominated democratic liberalism, long represented by America, is in decline, while Chinese illiberal authoritarianism is on the rise. Free markets and private enterprise, property rights and individual liberty are said to have lost their appeal and are being trumped by state enterprise, regulatory corporatism and heavy doses of social repression. [...]

When it comes to such cosmic global group-think, nobody gets to the punch bowl faster than the Financial Times. The paper’s famous 2009 collective effort — titled “The Future of Capitalism” and inspired by encyclicals from lead columnist Martin Wolfe — announced the death of capitalism with apparent glee. “Another ideological god has failed,” declared Mr. Wolfe in March of 2009.

On Tuesday, the FT unleashed the next theme in its global re-alignment assessment. In a new series titled “CHINA SHAPES THE WORLD,” writers of varying stripes portray China’s growing role in world affairs as a direct threat to and even a repudiation of the United States, market economics and the West in general. [...]

That anything might be post-American has long delighted the Financial Times. But there’s an unsupportable breathlessness to these and other reports on the rise of China as a model at the expense of the United States. There’s also much exaggeration, misconception, deception and misrepresentation. China is undeniably gaining by economic measures, and it is certainly making political and military moves that seem deliberately antagonistic. But it would be a huge mistake to blow China’s rise from the Communist swamp out of proportion to its actual achievements.

An even bigger mistake would be to assume that the fundamentals of American economic achievement — dependence on an open economy and liberal polices — should or will be abandoned as if China offered some desirable alternative.

Suppose, against all evidence, that China's economic growth in recent decades was a function of control by a corrupt single political party and its military wing--rather than of loosening said control enough for business to assemble American-designed trinkets on the cheap. Now try to imagine the process whereby polities would choose to surrender their liberties to these central institutions in order to lower living standards to Chinese levels. Dubious, eh?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The Lib Dems’ troubles are a result not only of coalition and foolish promises, but of a resurgence of the old left-right division (Nick Cohen, 1/15/11, The Spectator)

If Clegg falls, the watchful Huhne is well-placed to succeed him and, if it were merely a question of changing personnel, one could see the Lib Dems pulling through. The clash between Asquith and Lloyd George did not destroy the old Liberal party, after all. The tide of history rather than the rivalry of leaders washed away that great Victorian edifice, and brought the new division between left and right. I know that to suggest that same tide is threatening to swamp today’s Liberals is to invite ridicule. For what does it mean to be left- or right-wing in the 21st century? Is a working-class Labour voter suspicious of immigrants more left-wing than a metrosexual Tory from Notting Hill? As I write half the think tanks and political academics in Britain are producing papers which state that Labour and the Conservatives secured only 65 per cent of the vote between them in 2010 (against 97 per cent in 1951) as proof that the binary division of 20th-century politics is gone for good.

For all their erudition, they fail to see that the two-party system is beginning to reassert itself. The great recession of 2008 is transforming politics in Britain, squeezing the middle ground on which the Liberals stand. Now you believe either that George Osborne’s deflationary policy to reduce the deficit is a disaster falling on those least able to bear it or that it is a necessary response to a national emergency. You believe that the recession was caused either by the folly of the bankers or the extravagance of Gordon Brown. In short, you are either left-wing or right-wing. You must choose, for you cannot be both.

Liberals have spent their whole careers arguing that left and right are illusory concepts, and have been rewarded with the support of millions of voters who agreed. Naturally, they recoil at talk of the old divisions opening up again; for in its implications they sense their own demise. They point to the success of their civil liberties agenda in office, but in their hearts they understand that advances in freedom, worthy though they may be, count for little when set against the great economic arguments of the age. They know they chose the right-wing path when they signed up to Osborne’s budget, although the closest they come to admitting it is when they tell me ‘if the economy goes wrong we’re sunk’, or ‘we couldn’t survive a double dip recession’.

The party’s base, as it turned out, was more ideological than its leaders imagined. Swathes of supporters have realised that they were a part of the centre-left after all, and defected. Labour has had an extraordinary and undeserved stroke of good fortune. It is intellectually exhausted, all but bankrupt, and was until recently led by the most unpopular prime minister in living memory, but the behaviour of Liberal politicians and the despair of Liberal supporters has pushed it into an eight-point lead in this week’s polls. Ed Miliband’s much derided strategy of keeping a low profile does not seem so risible now that protest voters are flocking to the only available opposition.

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s campaign co-ordinator in the 2010 election, told me he saw nothing strange about the Liberals’ death throes. ‘Their voters feel disoriented ideologically by the familiar right-wing agenda the government is pursuing, and genuinely angry about the betrayal of the promise of a new politics done differently.’ Yet Alexander emphasises that however gratifying it is for Labour to receive their support, ‘the demise of the Liberal Democrats will probably be influential but not decisive to the next general election’. If you glance at the seats the Liberals hold, you will see why. Yeovil, Lewes, Kingston and Surbiton, Mid Dorset and North Poole, St Austell and Newquay, Somerton and Frome… these are not constituencies Labour has a prayer of ever winning. The only realistic challenger is the Conservative party. If it stays strong, if the coalition teaches right-leaning liberals that their fears about a nasty Tory government were misplaced and brings them into the Conservative camp, then David Cameron will be the true beneficiary.

I said earlier that the strange death of Liberal England inaugurated an era when the British were either Labour or Conservative. That was true as far it went, but missed the big point — that the Tories took the greater part of the spoils. Labour had only one great reforming administration in 1945 and did not win two consecutive full terms until after Tony Blair took charge in 1997. The 20th century was a conservative century. Labour must win arguments that expand its appeal beyond the disillusioned centre-left voters who once agreed with Nick — or the 21st century will be the same.

The next Labour government will once again be to the right of the Tory party at that moment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


The Grounds of Courage: a review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
By Eric Metaxas (Alan Wolfe, January 13, 2011, New Republic)

What gives an individual the courage to act as Bonhoeffer did? In his case there were many reasons for his valor, including his love of Western culture, his devotion to his family, and his strong sense of loyalty. But clearly included among the causes of this man’s bravery must be Bonhoeffer’s complete and absolute devotion to God. For him, as Metaxas writes, “the evilness of the Nazis could not be defeated via old-fashioned ‘ethics,’ ‘rules,’ and ‘principles.’” Bonhoeffer’s soul lived in a realm not only beyond utilitarian indifference but also beyond Kantian imperatives. The problem of evil was not one that human beings could solve. Even “religion,” with its commandments and its ethical duties, was in his view insufficient. It is not virtue we need to confront evil, nor is it some inner light: “all things appear as in a distorted mirror,” Bonhoeffer wrote in his Ethics, “if they are not seen and recognized in God.” This was true also of evil. Evil takes place in this world, but it can be grasped only when “we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not only our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane.” The best we can do in the most difficult of times is not to view ourselves as free agents possessed with choices, but as subjects of a God whom we trust without reservation.

With faith as deep and obedient as this, Bonhoeffer did not fear death. “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom,” he reflected toward the end of his life. Paradoxically, such a deeply spiritual preoccupation with the next world conferred upon him a this-worldly advantage: it helps, if you are engaged in serious and dangerous political deeds, to contemplate what might be in store for you, and to accept its likelihood. We can never know who, when tested, will prove strong, and who will not. But anyone familiar with the theological reflections that preoccupied Bonhoeffer throughout his life would not be surprised by his bravery. “Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering; dying, we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord,” he wrote.

As admirable as Bonhoeffer’s actions were, there nonetheless remains something disturbing—we should be candid about this—in his willingness to jettison so many centuries of moral and ethical reflection on the good life and how it should be led. “Principles are only tools in the hands of God,” he wrote. “They will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.” But it is precisely because we recognize the fragility of ethical principles that we work to preserve and protect them when they are under attack. If all men were Bonhoeffers, ethics might be dispensable. But they are not, and so we need Kant and his successors. This is especially the case when we seek to counter the fragility of societies containing individuals who differ radically about the God in which they believe—if they believe in any at all. It is impossible not to be awed by the courage that Bonhoeffer’s faith in Jesus gave him, but that does not mean that we must all have faith in Jesus.

It has become popular in certain religious circles to point to Hitler’s hatred of Christianity, and in so doing to interpret the Holocaust as what inevitably takes place when people become too secular and turn away from Jesus. In this account, liberalism, indeed the entire Enlightenment out of which it grew, lacks the depth of commitment and the sense of the tragic necessary to come to terms with radical evil in its most brutal form. A way of thinking about politics that insists on the need for the state to remain neutral between competing conceptions of the good life, we are told, cannot find the resources to denounce a conception of life that is evil in its nature. The rules that apply for what Rawls calls a wellordered society have little or no relevance to a society in which everything that enables people to live cooperatively with others is turned upside down: even people making rational decisions behind a veil of ignorance could find themselves choosing Auschwitz.

Those who hold to this view believe that if there is any lesson to be learned from the life and times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and, to take another example, from the Catholic opposition to communism in the 1980s, in the Vatican and in Poland and elsewhere—it is that a confrontation with evil demands that beliefs be anchored in the laws of nature or the laws of God. Only when convictions are absolutely secure, this line of reasoning concludes, can we know what to do, and have the courage to do it. But nothing in liberal secularism is secure—and this is by design. For this reason, liberalism—and secularism—have no solution to the problem of evil. Confronted by monsters, a liberal instinctively wishes to reason with them.

Throughout his book, but especially toward the end, Metaxas turns this erudite and at times abstruse theologian into a living and tragic human being. I would be less than honest if I did not admit that bringing this man—and his intransigence on all the important questions of our time—so vividly to life raises awkward questions for the liberalism in which I put my own faith. How, precisely, would a Rawlsian have acted in those dark times? Must we not move beyond this-worldly conceptions of politics as a struggle for power to other-worldly concerns with repentance and days of judgment, if we are to grasp how the Nazis were able to combine their own rational plans to kill millions with satanically inspired ideas about a Thousand Year Reich, and also how some people were able to resist those plans? Is it possible to face death with courage without knowing that a better life awaits? Can one be loyal to one’s collaborators in the resistance without being loyal to some higher power? Can faith help overcome torture? Lurking behind all such questions is the major one: if the problem of evil is not one that humans can solve, have we no choice but to rely on God for help? Does Bonhoeffer’s greatness prove his rightness?

Yet when I put this book down, I realized that its author, no doubt inadvertently, had helped me to answer these questions. Bonhoeffer may have been convinced that God was telling him what to do, but I am not convinced. Ironically, Metaxas’s passion, the intensity of his engagement with his subject, wound up persuading me of the importance of the very autonomy that Bonhoeffer believed that we do not possess. Even if God told Bonhoeffer what to do, it was Bonhoeffer who chose God in the first place. It was not a humble servant of the Lord who involved himself in the resistance, but a singular human being who, for whatever reason, was able to know what to do when faced with the problem of evil.

It is important to note in this context that there is no simple relationship between faith and courage. The German Christians who collaborated with Hitler may have abused religion, but they considered themselves religious. At the same time, many—if not most—of the resisters to Hitler were not Christian believers and did not take orders from God. They included Prussian generals, and left-wingers (including even a few communists), and the student movement known as the White Rose. Their bravery had nothing to do with religion. One should come away from the Bonhoeffer story impressed by religion, but not in awe of it. The human picture is more complicated.

It does not, of course, matter whether German Christians tried to convince themselves that collaborating with Nazism was okay, because it was in fact unChristian. On the other hand, there was nothing intrinsically unPrussian, unLeft, nor unsecular about collaboration. Only the Christian was morally obligated to oppose Hitler. for the others it is not that their courage had nothing to do with religion but that it had nothing to do with anything.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Bill to bar students from voting in college towns called 'obviously unconstitutional' (JOHN DISTASO, 1/20/11, Union Leader)

A veteran Democratic attorney says Republican-sponsored legislation that would bar students from voting in their college towns is an unconstitutional effort to pick and choose who should be allowed to vote in New Hampshire.

Paul Twomey of Chichester, who frequently represents the Democratic Party on key contested issues, on Thursday called on the Republican leadership to denounce the bill and the Republican House majority to kill it. [...]

Twomey said the bill is an "obviously unconstitutional" under the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to vote to all those 18 years of age and older.

He noted the constitution says the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age."

Twomey said that after the amendment was ratified in the early 1970s, many federal court cases came up addressing whether a government entity could limit a student's right to vote.

He said the leading case originated in New Hampshire. In "Newburger v. Peterson," he said, an appellate panel ruled in 1972 "that you can't require that there be an intent to stay in a state, either permanently or indefinitely."

Twomey noted that many Americans are constantly relocating, and, "Nobody can say with any real certainty how long they intend to stay in a particular location."

"You cannot have a separate test for a student that is different than any other person," Twomey said.

Twomey said in the 1972 case, the court rejected the notion that students should return to their home towns or receive absentee ballots from their home towns in order to vote.

"People have the right to vote in the community in which they wish to engage in their civic life," Twomey said.

"Political leaders don't have the right to choose their voters. Voters have the right to choose their political leaders."

"If a person who is physically present wishes to engaged in the civic life in the place where they live, they have the right to do that.

"That's what the right to vote is," Twomey said, "and Bill O'Brien and the Republican Party do not have the right to say that this class of people has to vote somewhere else."

Of course they should be allowed to vote here if they consider themselves members of the community. They should also register their cars here and their parents should not be able to take deductioins for them as if they were dependents, since they've moved out of the house.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


Here’s an Easy One (NY Times, 1/15/11)

[H]ere is one big-ticket saving that all members of Congress should get behind: cutting the billions of dollars in farm subsidies that distort food prices, encourage overfarming and inflate the price of land.

The government spends $10 billion to $30 billion a year subsidizing mainly large-scale farmers. That includes: $5 billion in direct payments that are delivered regardless of what or even whether farmers plant; up to $7 billion in “marketing loans” that effectively set a floor on crop prices; up to $4 billion to protect farmers in bad years; about $4 billion in subsidies to buy crop insurance — which lead to higher premiums; and more.

In 2008 the government committed to buy up cheap imported sugar, which could depress the price of home grown, and sell it to ethanol producers, even at a loss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 AM


Appreciating music of contrasts: a review of WHY JAZZ?: A CONCISE GUIDE
By Kevin Whitehead (William F. Gavin, 1/18/11, The Washington Times)

It is the great virtue of "Why Jazz?" that Kevin Whitehead, jazz critic of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," is not an absolutist. It used to be said that anyone who immediately appreciated new and different musical approaches in jazz "had ears." Mr. Whitehead has ears, and a catholicity of taste to accurately describe, although not necessarily subscribe to, different kinds of jazz. He possesses the critical tools to differentiate between the authentic and the bogus, and he has a clear writing style that enables him (for the most part) to write about complicated music in an understandable way, although I think some readers may be a bit baffled, as I was, by the complexities of post-1980 innovations.

His definition of jazz - "a music of rhythmic contrasts, featuring personalized performance techniques that usually involve improvisation ... its aesthetic reveals a strong African American character, no matter who is playing it or where" - is useful as far as it goes, besides being admirably succinct. In 172 pages, Mr. Whitehead manages to offer informed, concise and jargon-free insights into every kind of jazz and every important innovator, and does so in a reader-friendly style that should appeal to jazz fans and those who simply want to learn a bit more about the music.

His approach is to ask questions (more than 100 of them by my rough count) such as "Was the swing era only about big bands?" or "Why do jazz musicians quote from other songs in a tune or solo?" or "How did Miles Davis react to the avant-garde?"- and then give brief and informative answers. This format frees him from being confined to a strictly chronological or thematic approach, which can be deadly dull, and offers the reader a chance to skip ahead or go back without missing the thread of the author's argument.

But what exactly is Mr. Whitehead's argument? He states it on the first page in answer to the question: "Why listen to jazz?" His answer is: "It's fun to listen to. Everything else follows from that." Bravo, Mr. Whitehead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 AM


The Bill O'Reilly Fallacy (Reuel Marc Gerecht, October 16, 2010, New Republic)

This is hardly the place for a disquisition on Sharia, or how it’s evolved over the centuries. Suffice to say, even some Muslim theologians have seen the strain of despotism in Islamic history as being connected to the static and authoritarian nature of Islamic legal practice. Still, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with Shiite and Sunni clerics who were teaching Sharia and opining about daily life, and such schooling didn’t strike me then, and still doesn’t, as a good laboratory for terrorists, which is why, I suspect, so few terrorists have had any proper clerical training. A rigorous Islamic education may make you a killjoy, but it doesn’t make you a terrorist. If the empirical record tells us anything, it’s that a skimpy Islamic education combined with a mediocre—even a decent—Western education seems much more likely to produce an explosive mix.

When Westerners, however well-intentioned, start suggesting that Muslim law supplies the foundation for Islamic terrorism, it immediately conveys to Muslims, even secularized Muslims, that Westerners think all Muslims are disordered, that the only route to salvation runs through a renunciation of their faith (that is, they ought to become the mirror-image of Westerners who go to church every so often. Whatever vestigial pride Muslims may have in their religious law (most Muslims aren’t particularly fastidious or knowledgeable about the Sharia, but nevertheless have an understandable historic affection for it), gets crudely pummeled by such commentators.

The blanket demonization of the Holy Law can lead one to view Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite thinker in the world, and one who tried desperately and selflessly to keep his country from descending into internecine savagery, as a bigot and a terrorist engine. The same would be true for the late Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, the spiritual father of Iran’s Green Movement and the nemesis of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ruler, himself a very mediocre student of the Sharia.

True, the Holy Law applied can be ugly, not least for women. Westerners, especially Europeans, are quite right to be outraged by the importation of Sharia practices to their shores. And Westerners should cast a very dim eye on any financial institution that sets up Sharia-compliant offices that could, if left unchecked, discreetly normalize anti-Semitic practices in big global institutions. Westerners can only hope that progressive Muslim jurists, who briefly sprouted in the nineteenth century, once more gain force among the faithful. But we should not make the great philosophical and historical mistake of seeing even the staunchly conservative clerical elite of the Muslim world as the handmaidens of Islamic terrorism. If, indeed, Islamic terrorism comes to an end, it will probably be because these men have united to say finally and clearly that a devout Muslim’s distaste for Western values and “cultural imperialism” does not, after all, justify murder.

The intellectual peregrinations of Saudi Wahhabism, the mother-ship of Sunni Islamic terrorism, may be frightful, but, even in Saudi Arabia, the best bet for ending this plague may likely be found among the ranks of its reactionary clergy. What Westerners should dream of is not the elimination of the influence of the Sharia in Muslim lands, but the triumph of a more competitive mindset among those who adhere to the Law. If Saudi Arabia, at home and abroad, would just welcome Hanafis, the most open-minded of Sunni Islam’s law schools, it would be an enormous triumph over Wahhabi intolerance and the hatred that spews forth from that oil-rich land.

Free-lancing, perfectly modern rebels like Osama bin Laden, who believe they alone have the right to interpret God’s message, will no doubt storm forth now and then, but they would have a much harder time if the Sunni clergy were arrayed openly and loudly against them. When, for instance, Iran and Lebanon’s Shiites fell in love with holy war and martyrdom, prominent Shiite clerics went the other way. Among the Shiite faithful, suicide bombing had a short run. [...]

Misunderstanding Islam’s internal problems and miscasting the Sharia and its clerical custodians as our primary enemies aren’t, however, the biggest problems with some American conservative commentary. Many conservatives—and liberals—utterly fail to appreciate the extraordinary continuing power of Western, especially American, culture among Muslims. Declinism may be all the rage among trend-chasers in the West, but the apocalyptic tactics of Osama bin Laden and his followers offer, among other things, evidence that we, the West, have been winning the war for the hearts of everyday Muslims. Among Muslims fixed to their computers and televisions, we still embody both hope and hell on earth. As Khomeini put it so well, we remain the satanic whisperer, who seduces men—and especially women—from the righteous path.

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January 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


From: Enter Stage Right
Date: Sun, Jan 16, 2011 at 2:10 PM
Subject: Have you shared a smile today?
To: orrin@brothersjudd.com

Dear Reader of ESR,

First, my apologies for sending you an email unrelated to the web site itself but we're launching a new campaign and I wanted you to be among the first to know about it.

I've decided to help children around the world and I need your help. Please join me and help change lives, one smile at a time! Together, we can make a difference!!!

I chose Operation Smile because of the work they do giving children around the world their first chance to smile, something you and I take for granted. Operation Smile has the knowledge, the experience, and the drive to help children all over the world, they just need our help to reach more children in need.

If you're willing to help, please go to ESR's personal OneSmile page and make a donation. Just $240 is enough to provide one child with facial surgery to repair cleft lip or cleft palate. It is my goal to help provide 12 children with surgery in 2011.

Thanks again and together, we WILL change lives.


Steven Martinovich
Editor, Enter Stage Right

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


The Del McCoury Band On Mountain Stage (NPR, 1/18/11)

While the subject matter is tense, there's always room for a bit of lightheartedness in McCoury's world, as evidenced by the humorous "40 Acres and a Fool." McCoury also performs "Are You Teasing Me" in his set for Mountain Stage. The song was originally recorded by country and rockabilly singer Carl Smith, who fathered another of this week's Mountain Stage guests: Carlene Carter.

Afterwards, The Del McCoury Band's harmonies glow during the murder ballad "Who Showed Who," and the set closes with the group's longtime signature, a cover of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


The Decemberists: 'The King Is Dead,' Live From Portland (NPR: All Songs Considered, )

The Decemberists' members have a treat for their hometown of Portland on Wednesday. One day before setting out on a nationwide tour, Colin Meloy and his band will perform their new album, The King Is Dead, in front of a live studio audience at Oregon Public Broadcasting — the first time the entire band has played these 10 new songs in a live setting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


The peril of early presidential primary polls (Jennifer Rubin, 1/20/11, Washington Post)

Huckabee has a multi-million dollar media operation that he would have to give up. We have seen no sign -- no staff hiring, no sit-downs with reporters -- to suggest that he is running. To the contrary, his closest advisor just took a job on the Hill.

Similarly, Sarah Palin's chances of running were diminishing even before the Arizona shooting. She, even more than Huckabee, would have an enormous amount to lose. Her mega-empire would have to be put in deep freeze. More to the point, her star is fading as a presidential contender. Think about it: She has 100 percent name identification, she's the darling of the Tea Party and she only gets 19 percent of the vote among people who lean Republican in this early poll?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Charlie Musselwhite On World Cafe (David Dye, 1/19/11, World Cafe)

Over the course of his 43 years in music, Musselwhite has released 30 albums and was introduced into the Blues Hall of Fame last year. Released last August, his album The Well draws from rockabilly, gospel, country and city blues.

Hear Musselwhite perform songs from his latest record and talk with World Cafe host David Dye about the album, getting sober and his mother's murder.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Raids Capture More Than 100 Suspected Mobsters in Largest FBI Mafia Bust (Fox News, January 20, 2011)

The FBI arrested more than 100 suspected Mafia members in a series of early-morning raids Thursday in what Attorney General Eric Holder called a major effort to "once and for all" crack the Northeast's major crime families. [...]

Holder said that the defendants include high-ranking members of the Gambino and Colombo crime families and the reputed former boss of organized crime in New England. All five of New York's five major crime families were targeted, authorities said, and one of the defendants is a former New York City police officer.

The alleged crimes include "numerous violent and illegal acts," and some of the defendants were involved in "truly senseless murders," Holder said. He added that one of the alleged crimes involved a double shooting in a bar after a dispute over a spilled drink. Other charges include alleged corruption among dockworkers who were forced to kick back a portion of their holiday bonuses to the crime families.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


How Can Republicans Hate the Individual Mandate?: The individual health care mandate is a conservative concept that conservatives now say they despise. What gives? (Eliot Spitzer, Jan. 10, 2011,Slate)

Conservatives claim to be outraged that any government—federal or state—could require them to participate in the health-insurance marketplace.

Yet in a series of conversations I have had with senior Republicans—both on and off my CNN show—those individuals have conceded that the idea makes sense, and is conservative to boot.

Let's start with a couple of facts nobody disputes. Federal law requires hospitals to give emergency care to all people—regardless of insurance coverage. The annual bill for care delivered by hospitals to uninsured individuals is more than $40 billion. Those costs are reimbursed to hospitals through multiple reimbursement programs—state and federal—all designed to cover what is called "charity care." All the funds for these reimbursements come from you and me—in the form of either higher taxes or insurance premiums. Our dollars are funneled to the hospitals to cover the cost of covering the uninsured. Those who get the care yet have no insurance and pay no bills are freeloaders whose costs have been shifted to everybody else. These freeloaders are the very sorts of people Republicans usually love to deride—for they eat from the trough of public benefits yet contribute nothing.

These uninsured individuals have made an economically rational decision—but a selfish one. Why pay insurance premiums when they can rely on hospitals to provide emergency care anyway? Moreover, they may gamble that the value of the health care they consume will be less than the cost of the premiums they will pay. Shifting the cost of their care to others seems just fine to them. Those of us who pay premiums and taxes are covering the cost of these freeloaders. Not fair, we cry!

The remedy is conceptually easy: Everybody should buy some form of insurance or pay a tax whose proceeds are used to cover the appropriate health costs. That amount can be—and is, in the health care reform law—calibrated to one's income.

Nobody with whom I have spoken has any alternative idea that makes sense. A few conservatives offer a canard: the fallacy that people can "opt out" of the health care marketplace. We all participate, from the moment of birth, and we all incur and generate costs. From required life-saving inoculations to the high costs of end-of-life care, we all consume. The only question is whether we all pay.

...it's also about imposing the costs, so that the consumers of health care act like other sorts of consumers and shop around. So make the mandate HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Hu Jintao meets the free press (Dana Milbank, January 19, 2011, Washington Post)

But the next questioner, Bloomberg's Hans Nichols, gave Hu a lesson in press freedoms. "First off, my colleague asked you a question about human rights which you did not answer," the lanky newsman advised the Chinese strongman. "I was wondering if we could get an answer to that question."

In Beijing, that impertinence would get a reporter jailed. But Hu wasn't in Beijing. During the translation of Nichols's question, Hu held a palm up and smiled, as if he couldn't see what all the fuss was about. "Because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights," he explained - falsely, as it turns out.

It was a good moment for the American press. Feller and Nichols put the Chinese leader on the spot in a way that Obama, constrained by protocol, could not have done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Mexican actor pledges to build largest pro-life women's clinic in US (CNA, 1/19/11)

Mexican producer and actor Eduardo Verastegui has announced that his organization, Mantle of Guadalupe, is planning to build the largest pro-life women's clinic in the United States.

Verastegui's announcement came during the first-ever gala held by Mantle of Guadalupe and Catholic Charities of Los Angeles. [...]

During the gala, Verastegui, who is the founder of Mantle of Guadalupe, reiterated his commitment to defend life and announced that the organization’s new goal is the construction of “the largest women’s clinic in the United States.”

“I will not use my talents except to elevate my Christian, pro-life and Hispanic values,” Verastegui promised the guests.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Rise of Chinese Cheneys (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 1/19/11, NY Times)

My take is that China is going through a period resembling the Bush era in the United States: hawks and hard-liners have gained ground in domestic politics...

Even by the standards of the Times editorial page, the comparison of the aughts in America to the PRC is inane. Consider that the two major initiatives of W that were thwarted would have returned control of public retirement to individuals and would have institutionalized open immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


India's Smart Power in the US: As India's involvement in the growth of the US deepens, the search for the soul of India gains momentum (T P Sreenivasan, 1/20/11, Rediff)

India is very much a part of the recovery of the US. The gifts that President Obama brought back from India do not tell the whole story.

New York is a happening place whether it is frozen cold or steaming hot. A peep into the control room of a CNN live show, featuring the media star Anderson Cooper, is enough to know the zest that goes into television production here. In the electronic maze of the control room are multiple men and women glued to television and computer screens, performing specialised functions which a single individual may be required to do in an Indian studio.

Cooper has about 40 people working for him in his production team -- this is for a single, nightly one-hour show. But his stardom does not keep Cooper from being as charming in personal conversations as he is on camera. He recalled his visits to India and said that India was an exciting place to cover. It was nice to see the walls and screens of the CNN office feature its Indian stars, Fareed Zakaria and Dr Sanjay Gupta.

Stars aren't just on television in America; the best chefs are celebrities, too. Manhattan's proud Indian fusion restaurant, Tabla, with its legendary Goan chef, Floyd Cardoz, closed its doors at the end of 2010. Its innovative Indian cuisine had held New Yorkers spellbound for ten years. But the owners of the restaurant found it harder after the recession to fill its massive dining rooms night after night. But I am sure Cardoz will not be wasted in the city that loves its Indian haute cuisine.

An equally resplendent, expensive Indian restaurant, Junoon, has opened its doors just around the corner from where Tabla thrived. Vikas Khanna, a young chef from Amritsar, who began cooking at the age of eleven, has become the talk of the town.

The owner of Junoon, Rajesh Bhardwaj, originally from the Taj group, whose Cafe Spice chain is popular with New Yorkers, seemed confident that the US economy was on its way to full recovery and invested in a first-class gourmet place for Indian food. And just last week, Chef Hemant Mathur, part of the widely-acclaimed Devi with Suvir Saran, has opened another high-end Indian eatery, Tulsi. [...]

As India's involvement in the growth of the US deepens, the search for the soul of India gains momentum. India's smart power gets projected in the US in very many ways. The effort of Indian public diplomacy in the US should be to accentuate the positive elements.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


False Accounting: Hillary Clinton told Arab leaders to clean house last week, encouraging an age of accountability. But until the Arab world has democratic institutions and an engaged populace, her words may be meaningless. (Lee Smith, Jan 19, 2011, Tablet)

If it weren’t for the historic events in Tunisia—where for the first time in Arab history a people rose up to send their ruler packing—people in Rabat, Morocco, where I’m traveling for the next week, and throughout the region would still be talking about Clinton’s speech. What made it surprisingly welcome is that, up until last Thursday, the Obama Administration had been putting as much distance as possible between itself and President George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda.” It wasn’t clear whether President Barack Obama believes that democracy promotion is likely to destabilize the repressive and volatile political systems of the Arab world—and that the survival of those regimes would be in America’s best interest—or if he was just following an anything-but-Bush handbook. [...]

In Doha, Clinton argued that “[i]t is important to demonstrate that there is rule of law, good governance, and respect for contracts to create an investment climate that attracts businesses and keeps them there.” The problem here is that this isn’t necessarily true—a fact borne out by Ben Ali’s Tunisia. The regime was corrupt to the core—Ben Ali’s wife’s family had a hand in virtually every business venture in the country—but the country’s pro-business climate and liberalized economy won praises from all corners, including the IMF. Good governance then had nothing to do with building Tunisia’s economy or creating the country’s middle class, for it was all crafted by the heavy hand of a dictator.

“If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum”—namely, “extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey off desperation and poverty,” Clinton warned her audience in Doha. Alas, this isn’t true either. Visitors to the police state that Ben Ali ruled admired the country’s relatively open atmosphere—open, except for political dissent—but its secularism, educational system, and the relative freedom of women, had very little to do with a positive vision. Rather, it was all engendered by the single-minded obsession of a tyrant who perceived, perhaps rightly, that the country’s Islamist movement constituted his most serious and best-organized opposition. It is the fact that Ben Ali thoroughly repressed the Islamists and eradicated any evidence of their potent symbols and discourse that gave Tunisia’s its left-bank flair.

What is more depressing is that while we believe poverty, hopelessness, and despair may pave the way for extremist elements and terrorist groups, we know that democracy has empowered them where repression sidelines them. Even avid Bush partisans cannot ignore the fact that the gospel of democratization propagated by Bush and his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, during the president’s second term helped bring Hamas to power in Gaza and strengthened Hezbollah’s hand in Lebanon.

Ignore? The emerging independence of the Palestinians and the Shi'a is the point of the exercise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


South Sudan secures mandate to secede (Agence France-Presse, 1/20/11)

South Sudan won the majority it needs to become the world's newest state with just 60 percent of results declared from a landmark vote, as some areas returned 99 percent landslides for independence, preliminary figures collated by AFP showed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Gov. Christie's Strange Relationship with Radical Islam (Steven Emerson, 1/19/11, Jewish World Review)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's nomination of Sohail Mohammed to be a state judge shows the governor's tin ear for radical Islam. Not only did he appoint a longtime mouthpiece for radical Islamists to be a judge, but Christie has also turned a blind eye to the activities of one of Mohammed's clients — radical imam Mohammed Qatanani, head of one of New Jersey's largest mosques.

Qatanani has a history of Hamas support and was related by marriage to a leading Hamas operative in the West Bank. This fall, Qatanani will return to a New Jersey immigration court, where the Department of Homeland Security is fighting to have him deported. In his initial application for a green card filed in 1999, government lawyers say Qatanani failed to disclose a conviction in an Israeli military court for being a Hamas member and providing support to the terrorist group.

Oddly, Christie — a Republican who was then the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey — sided with Qatanani against DHS, allowing a top lieutenant, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna, to testify as a character witness at Qatanani's first immigration trial, and publicly embracing the imam at a Ramadan breakfast at his mosque. Christie later appointed McKenna as New Jersey's head of homeland security..

Hardly a newsflash but, Governor Christie would be an acceptable nominee for the Christian base of the party, but unacceptable to the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM

IT'S NOT AS IF THEY'RE HUMANS (via Bryan Francoeur)

DA: Pa. had 'utter disregard' for abortion-seekers (AP, 1/19/11)

A doctor accused of running a filthy "abortion mill" for decades in an impoverished Philadelphia neighborhood delivered babies alive, killed them with scissors and allowed a woman who had survived 20 years in a refugee camp to be overmedicated and die at his clinic, prosecutors said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Where Did the Korean Greengrocers Go?: The entrepreneurs who nourished New York have moved up and out. (Laura Vanderkam, Winter 2011, City Journal)

More fundamentally, there’s the Korean narrative in America. As Americans debate immigration policy yet again, Korean-Americans have shown exactly how immigration should work, vaulting several rungs up the U.S. economic ladder in one generation. Duke professor Jacob Vigdor’s 2008 report for the Manhattan Institute, “Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States,” found Koreans economically indistinguishable from native-born Americans. The children of Korean immigrants aren’t manning cash registers late at night; they’re in lines of work that pay more and that their parents see as higher-status.

Ron Kim’s parents never even asked him to work at their stores. “It was only when I volunteered my time,” he says. His job was to focus on academics and athletics, and he landed enough scholarships to attend Hamilton College and play football there. He now works for the executive branch of New York’s state government. This “education-is-everything ethic,” as Patricia Lee puts it, pervades Korean immigrant culture. Lee arrived from South Korea in 1976, and when she was growing up, “I didn’t spend any time in the kitchen,” she says. Her family “didn’t want me to do anything except schoolwork. My job was to be a good student. That’s sort of how Korean kids were raised, with parents saying they’ll do anything for you to be successful at school. In Korea, it’s like a virtue to be up all night studying. Whatever you need, your parents will support you.”

Outsiders marvel at stories of Korean “cram schools” in the U.S., where young children spend afternoons and weekends studying. But there is a big payoff. While Korean-Americans are a small percentage of New York City’s population, they regularly make up more than 10 percent of the enrollment at Stuyvesant, one of the city’s elite high schools. The high expectations continue through college. “Koreans want to be able to tell friends and folks back home that ‘my children went to Ivy League schools,’ ” says Oak Atkinson, who came to New York City in the late 1970s. She attended Colgate; her sister went to Cornell. When her father returned to Korea to visit friends, there was no question which college’s sweatshirt he would wear there.

Parents push the professions—law, engineering, medicine—hard. “Becoming a doctor is very important” to Koreans, Pyong Gap Min notes, just as in other Asian-American communities. Asians make up 4 percent of the American population but about 20 percent of graduating medical students. The parental preference for secure professional employment is reflected in Koreans’ falling self-employment rates. Min’s analysis of the New York and New Jersey census data for 2000 revealed that while 27.7 percent of Korean immigrants were self-employed in 1999, just 5.1 percent of the next generation was—less than half the rate for the region’s American-born whites (10.9 percent).

Plenty of Korean-Americans still own businesses, but they, too, demonstrate upward mobility. More recent immigrants tend to run nail salons: like grocery stores, they require little capital to start, but they cater to a more upscale clientele than the groceries do and aren’t expected to stay open around the clock. After Seo Jun and Sunhee Kim left the grocery business, they joined some relatives to open several nail salons and spas.

Other Korean greengrocers have become chains themselves. A Korean businessman who owns 14 grocery stores donated $200,000 anonymously to fund Min’s Research Center for Korean Community at Queens College. The national H Mart chain began as Han Ah Reum in Queens in 1982 and now has 34 locations around the country, including a small store in Manhattan’s Koreatown, packed with Asian staples like soup stock, dried anchovies, and sweet rice cakes.

Another option for the greengrocers is aiming at a higher-end demographic than their forerunners did. Charlie Khim and his brothers now own several Khim’s Millennium Markets in Brooklyn, offering organic and natural foods. A visit to the flagship store on Driggs Avenue reveals aisles wide enough for a shopping cart. But “I’ve never seen anyone in there with a cart, stocking up for the week,” reports Amanda Bauman, a Brooklyn resident who visits Khim’s frequently for lunch at the vast salad bar: the prices are too high. The clientele is mostly “hipsters and new parents,” Bauman says, who might spring for Green Sprouts’ BPA-free toddler cups ($8.99), a bottle of lavender body wash ($12.99), or a carton of Rice Dream drink. Still, Khim works seven days a week, sometimes for 15 hours at a stretch. “I don’t want my son or daughter working like this,” he says. He wouldn’t mind if they ran businesses (“They can do whatever they want”), but he doesn’t want them running his business.

One summer day, business owner Angela Jia Kim’s baby daughter is hanging out in her store, just as Ron Kim used to linger in East of Eden Market. But far from napping in the corner while her mom tends the till, little Sienna Lucy has come to organic skin-care store Om Aroma for some pampering—namely, a baby massage class, which Angela is participating in with several other moms and their tots. During busy times, Kim, a former concert pianist, does pitch in at the store (featured product: a $129 three-step skin-care regimen involving white truffle and caviar extract). But she has hired enough workers that she doesn’t have to be there 15 hours a day. “They make me look lazy,” she says of Korean-American entrepreneurs before her, but “they were doing it to survive. I’m doing it to build a brand. It’s a very different mentality.” Hers is a more confident, well-financed approach to entrepreneurship—one born of feeling economically and culturally secure in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Jeb Bush and Latino Outreach (Ruben Navarrette, 1/19/11, RCP)

Bush recently told Univision's Jorge Ramos -- in impeccable Spanish -- that while it's easy to focus on GOP opposition to immigration reform, "we should also recognize that Democrats don't want to resolve this either." Bush accused President Obama of wanting "to create a wedge to win votes." Asked by Ramos if he thought immigration reform isn't a priority for Obama and Democrats, Bush fired back: "It's a political priority."

But Bush was equally blunt in criticizing his own party. When Ramos asked if he thought Republicans had come down too hard on immigrants and Latinos, Bush admitted: "Some Republicans have not behaved well in that aspect."

There are fences to be mended. And that's one of the goals of the Hispanic Leadership Network, an organization that wants to connect the nation's burgeoning Hispanic community and the "center-right movement." It staged its inaugural conference in Miami, and I was invited to participate on a media panel.

Bush co-chaired the conference along with former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Another organizer of the event was former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, CEO of the American Action Network, the conservative Washington-based political action group that founded the HLN.

Having spent most of his life around the Hispanic community -- including having been married to Mexican-born Columba Garnica Gallo de Bush for more than 35 years -- Bush believes that most Hispanics are center-right. And so, he told Ramos, Republicans "need to have a conversation" with Latinos because of their shared values.

Bush told the gathering that, because of the growth of the Latino population nationwide, it would be "incredibly stupid" for the Republican Party to ignore these votes.

Frankly, Governor, "ignoring" would be a step up in GOP-Hispanic relations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Jews and Muslims co-exist peacefully on the streets of Brooklyn: Religious and civic leaders work hard to maintain mutual respect and equal rights in this New York borough (Sylvain Cypel, 1/18/11, Guardian Weekly)

The man at the till is wearing phylacteries (amulets) under his shirt. Abundant payot – the sidelocks worn by Orthodox Jews from eastern Europe – spill out from under his black kippa. Some of the waiters are also Jewish, but others are Latinos. But the cooks are all Orthodox Jews. The food, a mixture of central European and Middle Eastern dishes, is strictly kosher. What is more surprising is the clientele: Jews rub shoulders with Muslims who choose to eat here because the food is good value and kosher, and thus close to halal standards set by Islam.

The Famous Pita restaurant, on Coney Island Avenue, is in one of the few neighbourhoods in New York's Brooklyn borough where Jews and Muslims live side by side. On several blocks the co-existence of the two communities is even more apparent, with a succession of synagogues, mosques and social centres. Usually, however, the two communities live apart, with ultra-Orthodox Jews sticking to their own neighbourhoods, and Muslims, who are relative newcomers, more dispersed. In keeping with tradition, they tend to gather in specific districts. [...]

Marty Markowitz, the borough president since 2002, has taken the same line as his predecessor Howard Golden. Both are Jewish and have allocated substantial funds to fostering Jewish-Muslim dialogue and Muslim empowerment. "Dialogue between Jews and Muslims is often non-existent because of Israel," Markowitz admits. "What's more, the two communities live side by side here, with their respective traditions but without mixing. But you can make a lot of progress by upholding principles such as mutual respect and equal rights.

"I see more and more Muslims taking part in social life. The future is looking good." He highlights one surprising point, particularly for a non-practising Jew: "Mutual respect is easier to achieve between believers than with the others." He reckons that among those who believe in a single deity, "no one will be shocked by a woman wearing a burka or a man in a Schtreimel hat and a frock coat".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


A Pro-Choice Feminist's Worst Nightmare: Meet the lawyer who's crusading to advance women's rights—by restricting access to abortion. (Sarah Blustain, January/February 2011, Mother Jones)

HAROLD CASSIDY IS trying to break my heart. We're sitting in his law office, minutes from the antiques haven of Red Bank, New Jersey, and a stone's throw from the Navesink River. The room, furnished with a gleaming wooden table, green-and-brass banker's lamps, and legal volumes lining the walls, could be the set for any movie about a small-town lawyer who lives by his passion for justice. Cassidy himself is a master of the dramatic narrative—his work has made him a collector of heartrending tales that, despite what must be countless retellings, he shares again with fresh intensity.

This one is about a girl he calls Donna Santa Marie (PDF), who discovered she was pregnant just before her 16th birthday. She and her boyfriend, both children of immigrants, were excited and wanted to get married. His parents gave their blessing; hers demanded that she have an abortion. Donna refused.

"Donna," he says, drawing out each word for emphasis, "was very strong—exceptionally strong for a woman her age." For two weeks, her parents let her go to school but otherwise would not let her out of her room. "And every day they wore on her; she had to have the abortion, she had to have the abortion. She just continued to refuse. They then made her a promise: They said, 'If you get the abortion you can get married; in fact, we'll hold a big church wedding.' She still refused."

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Finally, Donna's parents told her they would prosecute her boyfriend for statutory rape if she didn't comply. So she went with them to the abortion clinic. When a clinic questionnaire asked, "What do you consider an abortion?" she wrote, "Murdering my baby." To the question "Is anyone forcing you to have an abortion?" she wrote: "Yes, my parents." Based on her answers, the doctor refused to do the procedure.

The parents were extremely angry, Cassidy explains, speeding up slightly; the next day, Donna's father punched her in the abdomen, and a few days later he took her to another clinic. "Now, can you imagine," he says, quiet outrage rising in his voice, "a 16-year-old girl putting up with this..." I'm expecting him to say "abuse," but he continues, "...this great right, supposedly, this great right to choose?" Now he's dripping with disgust. "And she goes into the waiting room and she's waiting for her forms to fill out and they didn't give her any, and they bring her back to a room and she's sitting there waiting to talk to the doctor, and someone came in and anesthetized her." Cassidy pauses.

"And they pulled the baby out."

FOR ALMOST two decades, Harold Cassidy has quietly advanced the pro-life cause by giving legal shape to the stories of women who terminated their pregnancies and came to regret it. He has sued abortion providers for, among other things, not warning these women that they would experience the profound grief he's convinced afflicts many who have ended a pregnancy. And while these ideas have become part of the vanguard of pro-life thinking—protect the woman, not just the unborn—few have heard of the man who helped bring them to prominence.

January 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


EurekAlert withdraws climate change paper (CTV.ca, Jan. 19, 2011)

A study warning that the planet would warm by 2.4C by 2020, creating deadly consequences for the global food supply, is being debunked as false and impossible.

The study came from a little-known, non-profit group based in Argentina, called the Universal Ecological Fund. An embargoed copy of the study appeared on Eurekalert!, a news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that's followed by many journalists.

The study was picked up by a number of international news organizations Tuesday. But it appears the study's claims were erroneous.

The AAAS says that after receiving complaints that the study's conclusions were impossible, it has removed all references to the study from its website.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Evolution of Feathers: The long curious extravagant evolution of feathers (Carl Zimmer, February 2011, National Geographic)

If feathers did not evolve first for flight, what other advantage could they have provided the creatures that had them? Some paleontologists have argued that feathers could have started out as insulation. Theropods have been found with their forelimbs spread over nests, and they may have been using feathers to shelter their young.

Another hypothesis has gained strength in recent years: that feathers first evolved to be seen. Feathers on birds today come in a huge range of colors and patterns, with iridescent sheens and brilliant streaks and splashes. In some cases their beauty serves to attract the opposite sex. A peacock unfolds his iridescent train, for instance, to attract a peahen. 
The possibility that theropods evolved feathers for some kind of display got a big boost in 2009, when scientists began to take a closer look at their structure. They discovered microscopic sacs inside the feathers, called melanosomes, that correspond precisely in shape to structures associated with specific colors in the feathers of living birds. The melanosomes are so well preserved that scientists can actually reconstruct the color of dinosaur feathers. Sinosauropteryx's tail, for example, appears to have had reddish and white stripes. Perhaps the males of the species flashed their handsome tails when courting females. Or perhaps both sexes used their stripes the way zebras use theirs—to recognize their own kind or confuse predators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Venerable Lefties at Harper's Divided by Union (Gabriel Sherman, 1/18/11, New York)

On July 29, 2010, Metcalf, Rosenstein, and about a dozen Harper’s employees gathered outside MacArthur’s office. They opened the door, and Rosenstein informed MacArthur that the staff was forming a union. MacArthur seemed startled to see the group crowded into the doorway. “He was extremely upset,” Rosenstein told me.

MacArthur recently told me in an e-mail: "I was taken by surprise and I thought it was rude that they didn't schedule a meeting to discuss it."

In a follow-up phone call, MacArthur told Rosenstein that he viewed the union as a “power play” by the staff. “He was very hostile,” Rosenstein told me. “He said people had lied and misled him me about the reason they wanted to form a union, and that the staff was angry about Roger Hodge being fired. This was about Ben Metcalf becoming editor and they were against Ellen.”

MacArthur contested the entire staff's right to unionize, arguing that editors and assistant editors who make up about half of the editorial team were management and thus did not qualify. Staffers couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony: The staunch defender of unions, who in a 2009 Harper's piece called the UAW “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” was now on the other side of the table as the "worst kind of factory owner," as one staffer put it to me.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Say What? Democrat Compares Republicans to Nazis (Jonathan Karl, 1/19/11, ABC News)

In an extraordinary outburst on the House floor, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) invoked the Holocaust to attack Republicans on health care and compared rhetoric on the issue to the work of infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Patrick proposal would reshape public pensions (Michael Levenson, January 19, 2011, Boston Globe)

Nearly all future state and municipal employees would work five years longer, contribute more to their pensions, and have their benefits slashed if they retire early under a bill Governor Deval Patrick and legislative leaders unveiled yesterday.

Eighteen months after state leaders eliminated loopholes in the pension system, the new proposal would go beyond merely curbing abuses. It would, Patrick said, fundamentally change retirement benefits for thousands of future teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers, in an attempt to save $5 billion over the next 30 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Hillary Clinton Echoes the Bush Doctrine: The secretary is right about the Mideast's troubled autocrats. Too bad her boss decided to cast his lot with them. (FOUAD AJAMI , 1/19/11, WSJ)

Mr. Obama had come into office with a belief that he knew and understood the Islamic world. He was proud that Islam was a strand in his identity. He was sure that the policy of his predecessor had antagonized Islam. President George W. Bush's "diplomacy of freedom" was not given the grace of a decent burial. "Ideology is so yesterday," Secretary Clinton proudly proclaimed in early 2009. Realpolitik was to be the order of the day.

The Bush diplomacy had declared an open ideological assault against the Iranian theocracy. Mr. Obama would offer that regime an olive branch and a promise of engagement. Syria had been pushed out of Lebanon and viewed as a renegade regime that had done its best to frustrate the American war in Iraq. The Obama diplomacy would offer the rulers in Damascus diplomatic rehabilitation.

Thus the word went forth to the despots in the region that the American campaign on behalf of liberty that Mr. Bush had launched in 2003 had been called off. A new Iraqi democracy, midwifed by American power, was fighting for its life. The Obama administration would keep Iraq at arm's length.

This break of faith with democracy was put on cruel display in the summer of 2009, when the Iranians rose in revolt against their rulers. True, American diplomacy was not likely to alter the raw balance of power between the regime and its democratic oppositionists. But the timidity of American power, and the refusal of the Obama administration to embrace the cause of the opposition, must be reckoned one of American foreign policy's great moral embarrassments. [...]

For a fleeting moment in Qatar, George W. Bush seemed to make a furtive return to the diplomatic arena. He was there, reincarnated in the person of Hillary Clinton, bearing that quintessential American message that our country cannot be indifferent to the internal arrangements of foreign lands. The Arab world presents a great strategic and moral challenge. These are states with a broken compact between rulers and ruled. The rulers produce the very terror and rage they propose to hold back. The oppositionists, meanwhile, are a great, troubling unknown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Goodbye, Stalin! (Rex Reed, January 18, 2011, NY Observer)

Painstakingly shot, frame by frame, and with accurate writing and impeccable performances, and guided by the great Australian director Peter Weir's impressive trademark attention to detail, The Way Back saves January from the dumpster and triumphs as the first great film of 2011.

This is the inspiring true story of seven desperate prisoners who escaped from a Soviet gulag in Siberia in 1940, during Stalin's infamous "reign of terror," and set out on a punishing journey across 4,500 miles of treacherous terrain through five hostile countries. With few supplies, no medicine and only a pocketful of food, they seemed doomed from the start, but this remarkable film (based on eyewitness accounts and the acclaimed Slavomir Rawicz memoir The Long Walk) is a hymn to their endurance and a chronicle of their journey; it makes you want to cheer. The power of the film is the undeterred passion for freedom shared by this raggedy band of multinationals with nothing else in common. Preferring suicide to slavery and faced with almost certain defeat, they endured hardships and learned how to survive through solidarity, and it is this that forms the nucleus of a film whose indomitable spirit is contagious.

The book is great.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Utah Pension Model: The state adopts 401(k)s for new state employees. (WSJ, 1/19/11)

Utah's constitution bars pension changes for current workers—short of an imminent financial crisis in the fund—so the legislature created a defined contribution plan for all new hires starting this year. The state contributes 10% of each worker's salary (12% for public safety workers and firefighters), a generous amount by private company standards. If they wish, new workers can choose a defined benefit plan, but the state contribution to such a plan is no longer open-ended but is legally capped at 10%.

The reform has benefits for taxpayers and public employees. Workers own their retirement account and can carry it to another job. They also benefit because politicians can no longer steal from the pension plan to pay for other government spending. As for taxpayers, the reform will eventually slash state pension liabilities in half and they no longer bear the risk of having to pay higher taxes if the stock market declines.

January 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


Palestinians hoist flag in Washington for first time (AFP, 1/18/11)

Maen Rashid Areikat, the envoy to the headquarters of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States (PLO), raised the flag at a ceremony watched by journalists and others, the mission said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Fitz and the Tantrums blow up the soul party: With a rebel yell (JONATHAN DONALDSON, January 18, 2011, Boston Phoenix)

It was only five years ago that the LA-bred songwriter was living out a two-month holiday in chilly Allston — right down the street from the Brighton Music Hall where he and his Tantrums will make their Boston debut tonight. Fitzpatrick was working on a movie that never came to fruition. Immersed in the arts scene since high school and working as a studio engineer in LA for most of his adult life (Ladytron's 2002 Light and Magic was one of his projects), he seems to have timed the chance to do his own thing perfectly. Just as hipper audiences have come to admit in recent years that adult-contemporary acts like Hall & Oates and Phil Collins also produced great music in the '80s, Fitz and the Tantrums have captured enough of the waning '90s mod revival and the still-hip Dap Kings' soul vérité to make mainstream soul music that people want to hear now. Ten years ago, their 2010 debut, Pickin' Up the Pieces, would have been called "wedding-band music."

When you think about it, the idea that entire genres of music go in and out of style is innately silly. Sometimes it just takes fresh inspiration to keep the music going around. One night, Fitzpatrick got his hands on a $50 Conn organ from the 1960s that took up about a quarter of his living room. "It was so vibey and had so much personality. I literally sat down and wrote 'Breakin' the Chains of Love' in five minutes."

With his engineer's ear, he heard horns in his head, a driving sound, and no guitars. Most of all, he knew he needed powerful female vocals. In putting a band together almost overnight, he was able to cash in on years of musical connections and good will — particularly in picking up Scaggs, a session vocalist and the lead singer of the soul outfit Rebirth. "There's a natural dimension to what we do," he explains. "We play off our masculine/feminine dynamic. Sometimes you don't know if we're going to fist-fight or if we're going to make out."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


First Listen: Wanda Jackson, 'The Party Ain't Over' (Sarah Ventre, 1/16/11, NPR: First Listen)

Wanda Jackson is a rare and special icon of rock 'n' roll: Known as the Queen of Rockabilly, she's been a pioneer in carving out a place for women in rock.

The Party Ain't Over, Jackson's first studio album in eight years, features 12 cover songs produced by Jack White. It also showcases a generous smattering of guest artists, including Jackson Smith (Patti Smith's son), Karen Elson (White's wife) and Jack Lawrence (of The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes), among others. Most songs feature between eight and twelve musicians, and the result is a dense but impeccably crafted blanket of sound.

Even with the star-studded assistance, The Party Ain't Over still focuses on Jackson's distinct voice and style, which radiate femininity while maintaining a confident, rough, gritty edge. At 73, she still exudes a youthful sound and spirit, and decorates her unique voice with an effortlessly deep and gravelly swoop at the most unexpected times.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Time to Tap the Bounty of U.S. Natural Gas (CHRISTOPHER SWANN, 1/18/11, NY Times)

Just last month, the Energy Department more than doubled estimates of recoverable shale reserves to 827 trillion cubic feet, the energy equivalent of roughly 140 billion barrels of oil. That’s slightly greater than the proven oil reserves of Iran, the world’s third largest repository of crude.

As gas reserves have ballooned, so has the potential to help solve decades-old policy conundrums, starting with an addiction to foreign oil. Last year, the tab for the 12 million barrels of oil the nation imports daily came to around $260 billion, accounting for roughly half the total trade deficit.

Gas can be used directly in vehicles and to generate electricity. So it offers great hope of kicking the habit. By shifting America’s gasoline-guzzling heavy vehicle fleet and buses to natural gas the United States could cancel orders for up to three million barrels of oil a day. This could shave $100 billion off the annual trade deficit at current oil prices.

It would also represent a giant step toward energy independence, reducing reliance on unstable foreign powers. Three million barrels a day is equivalent to more than half of imports from OPEC; Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Libya combined sell around two million barrels daily to America. Even greater import savings could accrue if such a move gives way to the next generation of domestically manufactured electric cars.

Finally, gas offers one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Obama Launches Rule Review, Pledging to Spur Jobs, Growth (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, 1/18/11, WSJ)

President Barack Obama plans a government-wide review of federal regulations, aiming to eliminate rules that stymie economic growth.

In an article published in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Obama said he intends to issue an executive order initiating a review to "make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation," focusing on rules that "stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." He also suggested future regulations must do their job "while promoting economic growth."

The move is the latest effort by the White House to repair relations with corporate America, hoping to spur investment by the nation's largest multinationals and reduce unemployment.

A regulatory regime aimed at ingratiating your administration with big business can't also regulate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Poll: Americans Blame Partisan Commentators, Tea Party for Their Rhetoric (Bruce Drake, 1/17/11, Politics Daily)

[B]y a 51 percent to 41 percent margin, with 8 percent expressing no opinion, they say that conservative commentators have crossed the line in attacking opponents and they believe that the same is true of liberal commentators by an almost equal margin, 51 percent to 40 percent with 9 percent undecided.

Forty-nine percent say the tea party movement and its supporters have crossed the line compared to 39 percent who find their rhetoric acceptable, with 12 percent undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?: An exclusive and unbiased investigation into the highly paid operative of a foreign-born tycoon, a man who reengineered political and media culture and fomented a revolt that threatens the very stability of our country (Tom Junod, 1/18/11, Esquire)

There's a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism by the name of Dick Wald. Yeah, yeah, we know — Roger Ailes doesn't give a CNN ratings share about what some professor at Columbia journalism school has to say. Indeed, whenever he's asked what qualifies him to be the head of a major television-news network, he gives the same answer: "I dug ditches for a living, there are no parties that I want to go to, and I didn't go to Columbia journalism school." But Professor Wald is no mere don, no mere pointy-headed practitioner of the liberal arts. He used to be the president of NBC News. He likes Roger Ailes. And if you ask him the secret of Mr. Ailes's success, he'll say it's pretty simple: "Roger, in many ways, is just more competent. He just does it better. The anchors are better. The crispness of the reporting is better. The anchors don't interrupt, the shows move along, and the point of view is clear. It's just a good product. Roger found an area in which he could reach each audience member individually. That's the big difference between Fox and CNN."

Then he adds this, about the difficulty of taking on Roger Ailes: "You can't beat Roger fighting on territory he's left behind."

Pretty astute for a professor. Indeed, it might be the most astute thing Esquire's ever heard on the subject of Mr. Ailes, because it explains why he drives his opponents absolutely nuts. The pundits, the professors, the professional journalists, the left-wingers, the tree huggers, the liberal blogosphere, President Obama — they all keep trying to catch him on violations of rules that they follow and he doesn't. "Frankly, Roger doesn't give a [***]t," says an associate. "He just doesn't have the governor that other media executives have. He does things they would never do, says things they would never say."

And recently Roger Ailes gave us a demonstration of precisely what the associate — and Professor Wald — might mean.

It was Veteran's Day, and he was watching TV in his office on the second floor of the News Corp. building in New York City. He does a lot of that. Yes, that's right: Roger Ailes likes to watch. He watches TV, he studies TV, mostly with the sound off, so that he can observe one of the rules he does follow — if someone's doing something to make you turn the sound on, then they're doing something interesting. On a wall in his office, there are screens broadcasting Fox News and Fox Business Network, as well as CNN, HLN, MSNBC, and CNBC. He watches them all, from the corner of his eye, and if you give him three seconds, he'll give you the world ... a world of criticism for each one, including his own. That's because he knows how to follow his own eye — show Roger Ailes a television screen, he'll tell you what works, what doesn't, and how to make it better. "I tell my people that if they want to be artists of television, the screen is their canvas, but they have to repaint it every three seconds." Then he said: "Look at all those screens. Where does your eye go?"

You really want to know the truth, Mr. Ailes?

We don't know about you, but Esquire's eye goes to the screen featuring your creamy redhead, Jenna Lee.

Sure, that's a Fox screen, and so you win again. But — if you don't mind our saying so — it didn't exactly require an advanced degree in TV geniusology to see the potential of Ms. Jenna Lee.

Wait — it did? "Well, she didn't look anything like she looks now when she came here. She'd just completed Columbia journalism school, and she wanted to be a writer. But I met with her and sent her down to hair and makeup to clean her up a little. When she came back, I took a look at her and said, 'What would you think of going on air?' I had to work with her a little to bring her pitch down, and now she's going to be a big star. And she wanted to be a writer."

So that's how it's done — that's how Fox has become the Schwab's drugstore for right-wing mean girls. But if you listen to Mr. Ailes, it's not simply a matter of beauty; it's a matter of authenticity. "Look at the girl over there on HLN. African-American. Attractive, though she needs a haircut. And she doesn't know how to dress — her dress is too busy, look what it's doing to the screen. And they use her too much. But she has an interesting look. Look at the difference between her and the anchor. She's just being herself. She's not trying to do anything. She's just trying to tell him a story. That's interesting. He's trying to be an anchor. He's trying to project authority. It's always more interesting watching people be who they are than it is watching people try to be who they are not.

"Now look at Megyn."

By "Megyn," he means, of course, Fox fox Megyn Kelly, the meanest of the mean girls, the heaving, sumptuous blond with the wide-set eyes, the briskly triangular chin, and the porno sneer she directs at ill-fated liberal guests. Roger Ailes loves Megyn Kelly (in a fatherly way, of course): "She's a host. For one thing, she's fearless — she'd crawl down a smokestack for a story. But look at the way she moves. She'd move like that if she was arguing at the dinner table. Very natural. O'Reilly's the same way. He's an Irishman who likes to argue. He'd do it anywhere. We just found a way for him to do it on TV."

Now, if you talk to some other network people, they'll tell you that Roger's not exactly the first person to figure out that people would rather look at pretty girls reading the news than plain ones. "Roger's just willing to go further than anyone else," one industry insider says. "He takes the obvious further than anyone else. Everybody else goes halfway, and they wind up looking foolish." Roger, however, has a different take. He is able to hire authentic talent — that is, talent who have the ability to appear authentic in front of a camera — because he himself is authentic. "I'm not trying to be anyone," he says. "You know why other executives always hire phonies? Because they're phonies. They hire phonies because they like phonies. They're comfortable with them." It's the same reason they all hire left-wingers — "because they are left-wingers.

"Look," he said, "it's Veteran's Day, and we're the only ones doing anything about it. So maybe people like us because we like veterans. Those other networks probably had to have a meeting about it. They probably worried that if they were pro-veteran, people would think they were pro-war." See, that's the difference: Fox is pro-veteran and the other networks are ... well, they're not even pro-choice. "They say they're pro-choice. They're proabortion! Some of the talent who come to Fox come here because the other networks require them to be proabortion."

Then he told a story of triumph, about wearing a flag pin to an event at New York's Museum of Television & Radio after 9/11 and being accosted by none other than Morley Safer and "that asshole Dick Wald" for giving up his journalistic objectivity. They really got on him, asking how he could possibly be fair and balanced sporting a flag pin, until finally he'd had enough: " 'Look,' I said, 'I might be a little squishy about killing babies. But I'm pro-choice about flag pins!' "

O-kay ... and so Esquire called Dick Wald afterward for comment. "I remember it a little differently," he said. "We weren't asking whether Roger had a right to wear a flag pin. I would never do that. What we were talking about, if I remember correctly, was whether anchors should wear flag pins. I seem to remember something about Roger asking his anchors to wear flag pins... ."

And then we heard it. Do you? Listen closely. Yes ... that's the terrible sound of someone trying to beat Roger Ailes on territory Roger has long ago left behind.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


After the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia (Jennifer Rubin , 1/16/11, Washington Post)

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush's vision seems very prescient. Shouldn't we all be in favor the freedom agenda? Criticized at the time as too Pollyannaish and too ambitious, Bush's second inaugural address is worth reading again in full. This section is particularly apt:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty--though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Reversing 'Citizens United' (Katrina vanden Heuvel, January 18, 2011, Washington Post)

There are multiple steps that can be taken, both short-term and long-term, to roll back the corrosive impact not just of Citizens United but of preceding campaign finance cases and statutes that already had flooded the electoral landscape with special interest spending. At the more modest end of the spectrum is the option of reviving the Disclose Act or introducing similar legislation that would require corporations to show how they spend money on elections and provide disincentives to spending it. This would be a good step, but it is mere triage; if not accompanied by a broader push for a bolder set of reforms, its success would do little to curb the corporate takeover of American elections.

One potential policy change that could accompany greater disclosure would be the introduction of a public financing system, which would empower small donors. Legislation has already been introduced in Congress - the Fair Elections Now Act, which has more 160 supporters in the House. A similar system has been adopted in Arizona, and, in 2007, New York City adopted an intriguing mechanism of public finance in which the city matches small donations at a 6-1 ratio, boosting grass-roots fundraising.

The result? According to the New York Times, the changes "drastically curtailed the role of businesses, political committees and lobbyists in campaigns" and, importantly, "caused a major drop in donations from those doing business with the city." Such a system, implemented on the national level, could greatly increase the influence of average citizens. In the post-Citizens United era, there are already efforts afoot to weaken such systems. In Arizona, for example, the Chamber of Commerce is working aggressively to overturn the state's clean-money legislation. A push for national public financing, then, must be accompanied by a strong defense of those systems already in place.

The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and sees it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party.

No, it wouldn't have. Democrats could have just rewritten corporate law to bar expenditures on political campaigns while they controlled the Hill. They didn't because they thought the money would keep flowing to them. Sadly, the GOP is no more likely to do the right thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


Kent Conrad to Retire; GOP Eyes Seat (Brian Montopoli, 1/18/11, CBS News)

North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad announced today that he will not seek reelection in 2012, opening up a prime pickup opportunity for the Republican Party as it tries to take control of the Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Seymour Hersh unleashed (Blake Hounshell, January 18, 2011, Foreign Policy)

In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy. [...]

He also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative "crusaders" in the former vice president's office and now in the special operations community.

"What I'm really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over," he said of his forthcoming book. "It's not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it -- how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced."

Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. "In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What's this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they're all worried about some looting? ... Don't they get it? We're gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody's gonna give a damn.'"

"That's the attitude," he continued. "We're gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That's an attitude that pervades, I'm here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command."

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, "are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Obama Lauded on Response to Tucson; More See Chance of Political Conciliation (GARY LANGER, Jan. 17, 2011, ABC News)

Seventy-eight percent in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll approve of the way Obama has responded to the shootings, which he addressed in a speech in Tucson last week; that includes 71 percent of Republicans and conservatives alike. Far fewer, 30 percent overall, approve of the response by his political rival, Sarah Palin.

Moreover, there has been a shift -- small but significant -- in a sense that Obama and the Republicans in Congress may find a way to work together on important issues in the year ahead. Fifty-five percent are optimistic that this may happen, up from 48 percent in an ABC News-Yahoo News poll earlier this month, before the attack occurred.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Cheney: Obama Has Become “Sympathetic” to Bush Counterterror Policies (Markl Halperin, January 17, 2011, TIME: The Page)

I think he's learned that he's not going to be able to close Guantanamo. That it's-- if you didn't have it you'd have to create one like that. You've got to have some place to put terrorists who are combatants who are bound and determined to try to kill Americans.

I think he's-- in terms of a lot of the terrorism policies-- the early talk, for example, about prosecuting people in the CIA who've been carrying out our policies-- all of that's fallen by the wayside. I think he's learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate. So I think he's learned from experience.

Read more: http://thepage.time.com/2011/01/17/cheney-obama-has-become-sympathetic-to-bush-counterterror-policies/#ixzz1BLa0xanl

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Is Citi about to leave the dog house? (Colin Barr, January 17, 2011, Fortune)

[R]eturning to the black may not be the biggest shift ahead for Citi, even after two years of massive losses and controversial taxpayer assistance. Some are expecting the bank to build on Treasury's stock sale last month and finally trim its massive, bailout-bloated share base.

Doing so wouldn't change the company's market value, lately$150 billion or so. But it would make each share more valuable and could send Citi's stock price, which hasn't touched $10 since Nov. 14, 2008, out of penny stock territory and back to levels inhabited by hot stocks such as, of all things, AIG (AIG).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Sen. Brown: Forget ‘itty-bitty’ R at end of name (Hillary Chabot, January 17, 2011, Boston Herald)

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown said this morning he’ll take part in the bipartisan seating at President Obama’s State of the Union address, urging that people need to move past the “itty-bitty letter” signifying he’s a Republican at the end of his name.

“I’ll sit where ever they put me. I don’t care,” Brown said at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Boston. “That’s the type of attitude we need to have not only in Washington but here in our local political system where people need to forget about the little itty-bitty letter behind my name and other people’s names and just kind of get going and get our jobs going and do what’s best for this state and this country.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Palin Libels Rauf: If you actually listen to the Ground Zero Mosque imam, you might mistake him for a Tea Partier. (Henry Payne, 1/17/11, National Review)

When it comes to national controversies, Sarah Palin has been wronged — but she has also been wrong.

She was libeled last week as an instigator of the Tucson massacre, but she has spread libel herself about the Ground Zero Mosque imam, Feisal Rauf. “Rauf refuses to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of our ally, Israel,” she wrote on her Facebook page last year in protest against Rauf’s Park 51 Project.

But as Rauf repeated — again — on Frank Beckmann’s conservative radio show last Friday, he strongly opposes Hamas and terrorism.

If we start adding up all the Right's idiocies about Imam Rauf we'll be here awhile.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Are We Sure 'Civility' Will Help the Democrats? (Mickey Kaus, 1/17/11, Newsweek)

During the debate over welfare reform that consumed much of 1995 and 1996 in Congress, those who generally supported the Republican approach (ending the welfare "entitlement," imposing work requirements) had a very strong hand. Polls had consistently shown voters hated no-strings welfare. Even the Democratic president blamed welfare for sustaining a "culture of poverty." It would have been a minor feat of parliamentary skill for Republicans to somehow not reform welfare in this situation.

Yet they almost pulled it off. One reason was politicians like John Mica. During one of the early debates, Mica, a GOP representative from Florida, brandished a sign reading"Don't Feed the Alligators" to illustrate his argument that "unnatural feeding and artificial care creates dependency." A Wyoming congresswoman promptly compared welfare recipients to similarly dependent "wolves." You could debate the aptness of these attention-getting zoological metaphors, but they gave Democratic entitlement-defenders such as Barney Frank an opening to portray reformers as inhuman, disrespectful, possibly racist nutcases. Fortunately for Republicans, by the time the welfare debate resumed in 1996 they'd learned to leave the animals out of it. Reform passed convincingly.

Shorter version: Republicans toned it down, and that helped them win.

Which leads me to wonder: If the current frenzy for "civility" means Republicans have to take the sharp edges off their Tea Partyish rhetoric, will that really help Democrats?

It's the male party, so there's a certain disposition towards machismo even if it's counterproductive.

January 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Scenes From a Marriage (ROSS DOUTHAT, 1/17/11, NY Times)

The press and Palin have been at war with each other almost from the first, but their mutual antipathy looks increasingly like co-dependency: they can’t get along, but they can’t live without each other either.

For their part, the media manage to be consistently unfair to the former Alaska governor — gossipy and hostile in their reportage, hysterical and condescending in their commentary — even as they follow her every move with a fascination bordering on obsession. (MSNBC, in particular, should just change its name to “Palin 24/7” and get it over with.) When commentators aren’t denouncing her, they’re busy building up her legend — exaggerating her political acumen, overpraising her communications strategy, covering her every tweet as if she were the Viceroy of Red America, and spinning out outlandish scenarios in which she captures the White House in 2012.

Palin, meanwhile, officially despises the “lamestream” media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves. She supposedly hates having her privacy invaded, yet her family keeps showing up on reality TV. She thinks the political class is clueless and out-of-touch, but she can’t resist responding to its every provocation. Her public rhetoric, from “death panels” to “blood libel,” is obviously crafted to maximize coverage and controversy, and generate more heat than light. And her Twitter account reads like a constant plea for the most superficial sort of media attention.

It’s a grim spectacle on both sides, and last week’s pointless controversy was a particularly low point. So let me play the relationship counselor. To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.) And every time you’re tempted to parse her tweets for some secret code or crucial dog whistle, stop and think, this woman has fewer Twitter followers than Ben Stiller, and then go write about something else instead.

To Palin: You were an actual politician once (remember that?), but you’re becoming the kind of caricature that your enemies have always tried to make of you.

...once she announces she isn't running.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Knead to know: Madison, NJ, students learn how to make bread (MINHAJ HASSAN, January 17, 2011, Madison Daily Record)

This wasn't your average pen-and-paper assignment.

The 100 fourth-and fifth-grade students at Central Avenue School took a break from their morning classes to watch Paula Gray, a life skills instructor for the Vermont-based King Arthur Flour bread company, measure ingredients in spoons and cups tolearn how to make bread.

Gray said the program always gets students excited.

"It's overwhelming," said Gray, who is expected to visit 120 schools to present the Life Skills Bread Baking Program. "The kids are very attentive."

After the demonstration, students were asked, as a homework assignment, to make their own bread over the weekend. They were given boxes of white and whole wheat King Arthur Flour, yeast and cookbook to bake two loaves — one for themselves and the other to be donated to the Market Street Mission.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


United We Sit (Ross Kaminsky, 1.17.11, American Spactator)

Colorado Democrat Senator Mark Udall has put forward the oh-so-Boulder idea that politicians of both parties should intermingle for their State of the Union address seating on January 25th. Udall, and his letter's cosigners suggest that "partisan seating arrangements at State of the Union addresses serve to symbolize division instead of the common challenges we face in securing a strong future for the United States" and further that "the choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room -- while the other side sits -- is unbecoming of a serious institution."

Senate cosigners include touchy-feely and "red state" Democrats and the usual list of "bipartisan" RINOs (including notably John McCain): Mark Udall, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte, Mark Begich, Barbara Boxer, Ben Cardin, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Joseph Lieberman, Joe Manchin, John McCain, Claire McCaskill, Jeff Merkley, Ben Nelson, Jack Reed, Jeanne Shaheen, Olympia Snowe, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Ron Wyden. There is also a handful of House cosigners.

I have no doubt that Mark Udall is sincere. He is that sort of guy.

Indeed, there is something ridiculous (or at least unserious) about one side of the chamber cheering while the other side sits somberly, especially when the scene is repeated a dozen or more times, slowing down a speech that most of us watch only because we feel that we must. But we'd read the Cliff Notes if we could and certainly don't appreciate applauding senators keeping us from the latest episode of CSI: Des Moines, or whatever we'd prefer to numb our minds with that evening.

And a part of me likes the idea of less partisan-for-its-own-sake government. But only a part.

The whole spectacle is so asinine that, but for 9-11, Bush/Rove were going to resume the tradition of just submitting a written message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


One party, two tribes: The Tory party has always had left- and right-wing factions. But the nature of the divide has changed (The Economist, 1/13/11)

[W]ho are these squabbling tribes? Though they crave lower taxes, the modern Tory right—embodied by Liam Fox, the defence secretary, Tim Montgomerie, an influential blogger whose distinction between “mainstream” and “liberal” Conservatives is catching on, and backbenchers such as Mark Pritchard and Bernard Jenkin—are not as preoccupied with economics as the “dry” Thatcherites of yesteryear. If they were, the government’s ferocious spending cuts would keep them happy.

Culture and home affairs matter just as much. The government’s liberal noises on crime and counter-terrorism have aroused more anger on the right than its retention of the 50p top rate of income tax. The right resents austerity when it is applied to defence; it wants Mr Cameron to revive his former reverence for the family. Its adherents are at pains to describe themselves as conservatives rather than libertarians. Some old Thatcherites, having read their Hayek, would have drawn the distinction in just the opposite way. The strongest bond between the old right of the 1980s and 1990s and the new version is another non-economic cause: Euroscepticism. On January 11th 27 Tory MPs voted for an amendment to toughen up the government’s European Union bill.

The new Tory left is, if anything, even further removed from its antecedents in previous decades. The “wets” of the Thatcher era, such as Ian Gilmour and Douglas Hurd, were in a sense more conservative than their right-wing adversaries. They feared Thatcherism was too big a shock to the British system and trusted in the wisdom of Westminster and Whitehall. They tended to side with the established consensus: they shared the pragmatic pro-Europeanism of the diplomatic elite and the Home Office’s pessimism that little could be done about rising crime.

By contrast, the new left—including the Cabinet Office ministers Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude, and the backbencher Nick Boles—are iconoclasts who define themselves by their zeal for giving power away. They have diverse views on economics, crime and Europe, but share a commitment to stronger local government and more control for ordinary people over public services. They admire the Lib Dems for their centrifugal instincts.

There are still plenty of heirs to the old-left tradition in the party: ministers such as Damian Green and (at least on issues pertaining to his justice brief) Ken Clarke; august backbenchers such as Tim Yeo and Andrew Tyrie. But the new left is now more influential. Running parallel to the coalition’s austerity programme is a bold plan for decentralisation: more elected city mayors, more people power in areas such as education, the NHS and policing, and unprecedented transparency and openness in the state. Such irreverence towards the commanding heights of government would shock old wets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Libyan Leader Blames Tunisian Uprising on WikiLeaks (New York, 1/16/11)

Chaos in Tunisia has overthrown longtime authoritarian leader Ben Ali, and his replacement has already stepped down, too. Now Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, the de facto leader of the country since a coup in 1969, is blaming Julian Assange. Qaddafi claims cables leaked by WikiLeaks detailing the spending habits of Ben Ali and his family were planted by ambassadors to push along the Tunisian uprising. (Unlikely.) The cable he's referring to was sent by the U.S. embassy in Tunis, describing Ben Ali's family as corrupt and a "quasi-mafia."

As throughout the Cold War, secrecy only served dictators and Realists who support them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


On Gov. Jerry Brown's 'Realignment' Plan: A shift from the state to local control (San Francisco Chronicle January 16, 2011)

Gov. Jerry Brown has barely taken office, but he's already presented an audacious plan for the state budget. It's audacious to presume that the voters will agree to an extension of the state's current tax rates for another five years, for one thing, but the assumption is based on an even bolder idea.

Brown wants to transfer enormous responsibility for major services to local governments. His gamble - and it's a big one - is that the voters will agree to pay the taxes as long as they can connect them with the services in their own communities.

The state is too big, so just break it up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Tunisia revolt puts heat on north Sudan (AFP, 17 January 2011)

Widespread economic and political discontent has northern Sudanese wondering if Khartoum is heading towards a popular uprising like in Tunisia.

On Sunday, opposition parties congratulated Tunisians and called for an "end to the totalitarian regime" in Khartoum, demanding the resignation of Sudan's Finance Minister Ali Mahmud who they blame for rising prices.

"The current crisis can only end with the end of the totalitarian regime and the end of a single-party regime," Faruq Abu Eissa, spokesman for a coalition of opposition groups, told a press conference in Khartoum.

As good as W looks now, he'll look even better as History Ends in the Muslim World.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


States eye 'sin' taxation as salvation for budgets (David Eldridge, 1/16/11, The Washington Times)

It could cost a good deal more to be bad this year.

Cash-strapped state lawmakers across the country are looking at raising "sin" taxes on everything from traditional vices, like smoking cigarettes and imbibing alcohol, to more recently vilified habits like drinking sugary sodas and hitting the tanning salon.

It's a Puritan Nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Not that there will be a China or and India....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


The Devolution of Evolution: Why evolution and biosystematics courses must be included in all biomedical curricula. (Leonid Moroz, New Scientist)

Nearly 40 years ago Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” How is it, then, that so few newly minted PhDs in the biological sciences have taken any formal graduate school courses in evolution or biodiversity?

The sad truth for the true believers is thatafter 150 years the theory is still useless in biology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


President Honors Coretta Scott King at Homegoing Celebration (President George W. Bush, New Birth Missionary Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 2/07/06)

To the King Family, distinguished guests and fellow citizens. We gather in God's house, in God's presence, to honor God's servant, Coretta Scott King. Her journey was long, and only briefly with a hand to hold. But now she leans on everlasting arms. I've come today to offer the sympathy of our entire nation at the passing of a woman who worked to make our nation whole.

Americans knew her husband only as a young man. We knew Mrs. King in all the seasons of her life -- and there was grace and beauty in every season. As a great movement of history took shape, her dignity was a daily rebuke to the pettiness and cruelty of segregation. When she wore a veil at 40 years old, her dignity revealed the deepest trust in God and His purposes. In decades of prominence, her dignity drew others to the unfinished work of justice. In all her years, Coretta Scott King showed that a person of conviction and strength could also be a beautiful soul. This kind and gentle woman became one of the most admired Americans of our time. She is rightly mourned, and she is deeply missed.

Some here today knew her as a girl, and saw something very special long before a young preacher proposed. She once said, "Before I was a King, I was a Scott." And the Scotts were strong, and righteous, and brave in the face of wrong. Coretta eventually took on the duties of a pastor's wife, and a calling that reached far beyond the doors of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

In that calling, Dr. King's family was subjected to vicious words, threatening calls in the night, and a bombing at their house. Coretta had every right to count the cost, and step back from the struggle. But she decided that her children needed more than a safe home -- they needed an America that upheld their equality, and wrote their rights into law. (Applause.) And because this young mother and father were not intimidated, millions of children they would never meet are now living in a better, more welcoming country. (Applause.)

In the critical hours of the civil rights movement, there were always men and women of conscience at the heart of the drama. They knew that old hatreds ran deep. They knew that nonviolence might be answered with violence. They knew that much established authority was against them. Yet they also knew that sheriffs and mayors and governors were not ultimately in control of events; that a greater authority was interested, and very much in charge. (Applause.)

The God of Moses was not neutral about their captivity. The God of Isaiah and the prophets was still impatient with injustice. And they knew that the Son of God would never leave them or forsake them.

But some had to leave before their time -- and Dr. King left behind a grieving widow and little children. Rarely has so much been asked of a pastor's wife, and rarely has so much been taken away. Years later, Mrs. King recalled, "I would wake up in the morning, have my cry, then go in to them. The children saw me going forward." Martin Luther King, Jr. had preached that unmerited suffering could have redemptive power.

Little did he know that this great truth would be proven in the life of the person he loved the most. Others could cause her sorrow, but no one could make her bitter. By going forward with a strong and forgiving heart, Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband's legacy, she built her own. (Applause.) Having loved a leader, she became a leader. And when she spoke, America listened closely, because her voice carried the wisdom and goodness of a life well lived.

In that life, Coretta Scott King knew danger. She knew injustice. She knew sudden and terrible grief. She also knew that her Redeemer lives. She trusted in the name above every name. And today we trust that our sister Coretta is on the other shore -- at peace, at rest, at home. (Applause.) May God bless you, and may God bless our country.

A stray though from the Reagan funeral recurs--there's never been a better president on whose watch to pass if you're a national figure.

[originally posted: 2/07/06]

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January 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Symposium: What is Conservatism for?: An Interview with Harvey Mansfield (The Point)

TP: What is so appealing about Sarah Palin to conservatives?

HM: Well, she’s appealing to me, personally, and I like her. I like her for her enemies mostly. And when she came out on the stage at the Republican convention and referred to her husband as “my guy,” my heart went out to her. What a man always wants to hear … so the feminists hate her.

TP: Do you think that’s what’s responsible for her support among conservatives right now?

HM: And of course her good looks. That doesn’t hurt.

TP: What about her anti-intellectualism?

HM: And of course her anti-intellectualism has played in her favor with many people.

TP: Can one be an intellectual at the same time as a conservative?

HM: There are many intellectuals who are conservatives.

TP: But is there any tension between intellectual conservatives and the popular base of the party, which seems to be attracted to anti-intellectualism?

HM: An intellectual is a tinhorn philosopher who wants to spread philosophy rather than make claims with his own intellect, his working brain, as Marx said— which is a real perversion from the highest use of one’s intellect. But intellectuals are a feature of the modern world which isn’t going to go away, so I think conservatism might need to have intellectuals. Conservatives need alternative policies to the ones liberals propose and for that you need intellectuals, divided into big ideas people and wonks who are good at social science.

TP: Are you implying that the popular base of the conservative movement are anti-intellectual but would be pro-philosopher?

HM: Yeah, that’s right. If they knew a little more—if they were able to be more discriminating in their distrust of the intellectual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


The father of Boston noir (Boston Globe, January 16, 2011)

THE DEATH of British filmmaker Peter Yates last week passed largely unremarked in New England. Most papers, even in this region, identified him as the director of “Bullitt,’’ the Steve McQueen car-chase film, and “Breaking Away,’’ the coming-of-age movie about young bicyclists. But in his eclectic career — and it was nothing if not eclectic, from British costume dramas to Barbra Streisand comedies — he was also the inventor of what is now known as the Boston crime movie.

That distinction wasn’t enough to make his obituary, but it may be his legacy. As Yates grew older and faded from the movie scene, his 1973 classic “The Friends of Eddie Coyle’’ served as an inspiration for such recent films as “The Departed,’’ “Gone Baby Gone,’’ and the current Oscar contender “The Town.’’ The place that Yates captured was home to a bunch of scruffy low-lifes whose gang robberies reflected ethnic and class divisions. The vision was largely that of “Coyle’’ author George V. Higgins, the late novelist and Globe columnist whose pared-down dialogue made him the bard of Boston. But the poignancy, especially from Robert Mitchum in the title role, was largely rendered by Yates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay (William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger, 1/15/11, NY Times)

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms. [...]

President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Rethinking grief (Joshua Rothman, January 16, 2011, Boston Globe)

You may not have heard of the psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, but you’ve almost certainly heard of her five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They’re widely used by psychologists, psychiatrists, and grief counselors. Even Conan O’Brien has joked that getting replaced at “The Tonight Show” involved going through the stages of losing a talk show: “Everyone goes through it, I’ve talked to Arsenio, I’ve talked to everybody....It’s just science, man!”

Is it, though? That’s the question Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a journalist, asks in “The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss.” There is, she argues, very little empirical evidence that people actually grieve by going through five lengthy stages. Instead, she argues, most people grieve pretty quickly, and in their own way.

She cites studies which show, for example, that most people accept the loss of a loved one almost immediately — they are “more resilient” than the stages suggest, and more quickly ready to move on with life. Research suggests, she argues, that grief is “a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift.” What really determines how you grieve is simply how resilient your personality is in general.

The comedy of the Cross comes when even God grieves for Himself. But, given his personality, He gets over it pretty quickly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Democracy Imperiled? (Herbert I. London, January 13, 2011, Hudson Institute)

For a variety of reasons, Plato was suspicious of democracy. The idea of majority rule could lead to excesses that undermine the body politic, he noted. His alternative of rule by the intelligentsia is equally flawed in my judgment, but at the moment in which fractures in this democratic republic are increasingly apparent, it seems appropriate to assess the conditions that have given rise to our problems.

First, and perhaps most notably, a democratic republic depends on an educated populace and adherence to certain norms of behavior. It is evident, however, that Americans have a far greater interest in amusing themselves than in educating themselves. Even the extraordinary number of college graduates reveals little about educational attainment since so many are trained in incapacity. Many colleges in the United States are only faintly related to education at all, and many that purport to train simply instill an ideological canon on their students.

In a recent ISI survey on civil knowledge, a majority of college graduates could not name the three branches of government.

While democracies confer rights, these rights only have meaning when understood against concomitant duties. The duties of citizenship fall into the categories of understanding, work, loyalty, trust, and sacrifice. If individuals are so self-absorbed that they cannot assist others, democracy cannot succeed. The sinews of the state are dependent on civil understanding and cooperation.

...but to be a citizen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Rethinking Obama's political performance in Tucson (Byron York, 01/15/11, Washington Examiner)

The point Obama wanted to make was not that political rhetoric caused the violence but that such rhetoric -- like, for example, criticism directed at Barack Obama -- should be toned down. So even as he conceded that rhetoric did not cause the violence, Obama argued that it should be muted anyway. And he cloaked his appeal in so much emotionalism, in so many tear-jerking references to the recently departed, that some in his audience might not have noticed he was making the political point he wanted to make all along.

Imagine a calculating Democratic political strategist. What would he have wanted Obama to accomplish in the Tucson speech? He would have wanted the president to send the message that the political debate has gotten too rough and should be moderated.

Mr. York has wandered way off the talking point here. After all, the Right has spent the last week arguing that it only rarely engages in immoderate rhetoric but that the Left uses it constantly. So if violent rhetoric is a political winner how could it help Democrats to tone it down when they use it most?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


The Tories couldn’t deliver the goods without the Lib Dems: The Conservative Right is wilfully blind to the fact that it is getting most of what it wants from a Coalition that it hates (Matthew d'Ancona, 1/15/11, The Telegraph)

The Tory Right is still marooned on May 5, 2010, unwilling to confront the consequences of the general election result and wilfully blind to the fact that it is getting most of what it wants from a Coalition it hates. So here, to remind them, is what happened: the Tory party failed to win an outright majority, principally because its “detoxification” was incomplete (the consensus analysis of, for instance, Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley’s The British General Election of 2010, Michael Ashcroft’s Minority Verdict, and the work of Tim Bale of Sussex University).

Remarkably, Cameron and Clegg were able to forge a full-blown coalition deal. Even more remarkably, the government founded upon that agreement has already embarked upon a full-tilt programme of spending cuts, dramatic welfare reform, a transformative blueprint for schools, and radical change to the higher education system. Last week, the European Union Bill to impose a referendum lock on future EU treaty changes returned to the Commons. This week, the NHS Bill will launch perhaps the most sweeping changes to the health service since its foundation in 1948 (“I agree with it, but it’s incredibly risky,” frets one normally robust Tory Cabinet minister).

What the Right refuses to accept is that all of this would have been inconceivable without the formation of the Coalition. A minority Tory Government would have achieved next to nothing in its short lifespan. The great paradox of contemporary politics is that the Conservative Party is finally getting the chance to enact profoundly Conservative measures – but only in collaboration with the Lib Dems. To the voters, the spectacle of two parties co-operating is agreeable, although that sentiment is probably waning as the novelty wears off. What matters to the punters is that this extraordinary collaboration delivers the goods: that the country is saved from the economic mess in which Labour left it, and that the pain of the next few years delivers tangible gain before the next election.

For the Right, all this presents an existential crisis, a carnival of introspection. “What about us?” is their self-indulgent wail. To which Cameron’s answer is, as it should be: who cares? It was often said that Gordon Brown wanted to be Labour leader, whereas Tony Blair wanted to be Prime Minister. In his handling of this by-election, Cameron has shown where his own priorities lie.

The Right and Left have no interest in governing, only in ideology.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Q&A: Learning to love the bourgeois: Crass middle-class values are what made the modern world, and we ignore them at our peril (Joshua Rothman, January 16, 2011, Boston Globe)

We live in an age of abundance and plenty. Before around 1800, the average European ground out a basic existence on about $3 a day, while today the average American enjoys around $127 a day in food, shelter, energy, and other goods. Millenniums of bare subsistence have given way to two centuries of luxury. What happened?

That’s the question Deirdre McCloskey, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is asking in a sweeping multivolume account of the birth of the Industrial Revolution: the period, starting around 1800, when life improved, suddenly and chaotically, for millions of people across the Western world, as factories opened, cities exploded, and technologies began multiplying.

Economists and historians have varied explanations for what set off the industrial bomb. Most are quantitative in nature: They focus on the expansion of the labor market, on new inventions, or on new patterns of trade or investment. But McCloskey, who also teaches literature and philosophy, has a different theory. As she sees it, it was culture, not economics, that lit the fuse. In her new book, “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World,” she argues that changing attitudes toward innovation and money-making, rather than changing technologies or markets, unleashed industrialization. Essentially, people started seeing business as a dignified pursuit, and it boomed.

Everything after 1776 is just a coda.

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January 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Biden to Center? Moderate Democrat Bruce Reed is New Chief of Staff (Tom Diemer, 1/15/11, Politics Daily)

Reed, who most recently worked as executive director of President Obama's deficit commission, succeeds longtime Biden loyalist Ron Klain, now bound for a job with former AOL Chairman Steve Case.

Reed has a deep resume. As a leading light for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and then domestic policy adviser to President Clinton, he was widely respected as an intellectual force behind the "New Democrat" movement -- a bid to move the party toward stronger stands on national defense issues and also more business friendly policies. With Clinton, he worked on landmark welfare reform legislation that ended the much-maligned Aid to Families With Dependent Children program.

How long until Hillary leaves State for the East Wing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Why Thunderbirds is still FAB: Did any person in the 20th century make so many children so happy as Gerry Anderson (Simon Heffer, 1/15/11, The Telegraph)

Mr Anderson made several other series, but nothing has resonated quite like the goings-on at Tracy Island. Thunderbirds has thrilled generations of children. I was not the only father of a certain age who, in the 1990s, made the supreme sacrifice of sitting and minding the small ones in front of the television while they, too, marvelled at the adventures of International Rescue. I bet that if one were to watch most children’s programmes from the 1960s now, they would look impossibly dated and dull. Mr Anderson’s are as fresh as a daisy.

At the time, I was rebuked by my children for having lost along life’s journey so much of the stuff that came with being a Thunderbirds obsessive. None of my model vehicles had made it into my early middle age. Nor had my Thunderbirds books, or my Thunderbirds game, which I seem to recall was about getting The Hood before The Hood got International Rescue.

To make up for this deficiency, a large amount of folding money changed hands in order to bribe a boy slightly older than mine into selling me his model of Thunderbird Two, when one of my children decided that his life would end without it. It was worth every penny. Then there was the hot afternoon in New York when my wife and I chanced upon a shop in Tribeca selling vintage toys, where we bought various rare die-cast models that drove our boys wild with excitement.

Which brings me to ask the inevitable question about Mr Anderson: did any person in the 20th century, even Enid Blyton or Richmal Crompton, make so many children so happy?

For some demented reason the show was not on regularly in NYC except on one of the Latino stations--41 or 47--so we just watched it there (along with bullfighting and El Show del Iris Chacon).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM

Old 97's On World Cafe (WXPN: World Cafe, 1/12/11)

Old 97's is one of the premier alt-country acts operating these days. Led by vocalist Rhett Miller, the Dallas band was one of the most beloved indie bands of the 1990s. After six years of cult status among No Depression fans, the band scored a breakthrough hit in 1999, "Murder (Or A Heart Attack)," which was picked as one of the best songs of the past 25 years by the now-departed magazine Blender.

After 17 years, Old 97's is still making music. The group's latest release, The Grand Theater, Volume One, is full of raw grit and candid beauty.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Jeb to GOP: How to Appeal to Hispanics (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 1/14/11, WSJ)

As we sit down in his office, the tall Texas transplant raises the still-unratified Colombia free trade agreement, which has been in the news recently. Sitting on the FTA has created uncertainty that is emblematic of President Obama's broader economic policy, he says. Plus, Colombia is a U.S. ally. "We get all the benefits [that come] with a friend and this is how we treat them. It's just amazing," he says, shaking his head.

Mr. Bush's wife was born in Mexico, he is fluent in Spanish, and he lives in a heavily Hispanic state, so he has great interest in our hemisphere. He's also had unusual success earning the political support of Spanish-speaking Americans, so I ask him what tips he has for his immigrant-challenged party.

His answer comes effortlessly. Hispanics aren't monolithic, he says, but all immigrants—"the newly arrived and the second generation"—share one trait: "They're aspirational." Conservative candidates, therefore, should promote "policies that reward people who are aspirational." That's what he did, and 60% of Democratic Hispanic voters supported his re-election in 2002, he says. Hispanic voters are growing in number, Mr. Bush points out, and "they are increasingly the swing voters in the swing states."

One problem for Republicans, he says, is that "the tone of our message is one of 'them and us' sometimes." At least that's what gets "magnified in the press," with immigration policy being the flash point. It's "a shame," he says, because Republicans and immigrants have a lot in common. "But if you send a signal that we really don't want you as part of our team, they're not going to join."

The same things about a Bush that drive the Right crazy are why he's our most formidable potential nominee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Palestinian statehood: quality as well as quantity: More states recognise the state of Palestine than an independent Kosovo, but while the latter is unquestioned by the Western media, the former is deemed an aspiration (John Whitbeck, 1/14/11, Al-Ahram Weekly)

While still under foreign belligerent occupation, the state of Palestine possesses all the customary international law criteria for sovereign statehood. No portion of its territory is recognised by any other country (other than Israel) as any other country's sovereign territory and, indeed, Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a small portion of its territory, expanded East Jerusalem, leaving sovereignty over the rest both literally and legally uncontested.

In this context, it may be enlightening to consider the quality as well as the quantity of the states extending diplomatic recognition.

Of the world's nine most populous states, eight (all except the United States) recognise the state of Palestine. Of the world's 20 most populous states, 15 (all except the United States, Japan, Mexico, Germany and Thailand) recognise the state of Palestine.

By contrast, the 72 UN member states that currently recognise the Republic of Kosovo as an independent state include only one of the nine most populous states (the United States) and only four of the 20 most populous states (the United States, Japan, Germany and Turkey). When, in July, the International Court of Justice held that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law because international law is silent on the subject of the legality of declarations of independence (meaning that no declarations of independence violate international law and all are "legal", albeit subject to the political decisions of sovereign states to recognise or not the independence declared), the United States responded by calling on all countries that had not already recognised Kosovo to do so promptly. Five months later, only three more have seen fit to do so -- Honduras, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

If the Arab League were now to call on the minority of UN member states that have not already recognised Palestine to do so promptly it is certain that the response would be far superior (both in quantity and in quality) to the response to the recent American appeal on behalf of Kosovo. It should do so.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM

Joe Lovano Us Five: Live At The Village Vanguard (NPR, 1/12/11)

Now a few years old, Us Five has enjoyed a lot of time on the road to develop its sonic identity. Lovano, a monster player in all directions, is the central focus on tenor saxophone and other strange saxes. But he swims amid the interplay of drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela (replaced on this gig by Matt Wilson), plus the additional lean muscle of pianist James Weidman and bassist Esperanza Spalding. And their collective take on Charlie Parker is a sort of 21st-century expressionism. It's Bird re-painted with broad strokes — Bird as a point of departure for a personal vision — and it's got a churning engine behind it.

Lovano was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father was a tenor saxophonist. He eventually took the lessons of the Cleveland clubs to Berklee College of Music, and then New York City. Lovano quickly found his way into everything between organ trios with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff and big bands led by Woody Herman or Mel Lewis. He counts guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield as peers, collaborators and friends; he's one of the musicians of their generation to reach international stardom. Bird Songs is his 22nd record for Blue Note Records alone.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Kurt Gödel and the limits of mathematics (Philosophers' Zone, 20 February 2010, ABC)

Kurt Gödel was one of the foremost mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century, best known for his famous incompleteness theorem, which tells us that there are mathematical 'blind spots': parts of mathematics that traditional methods of proof cannot access. The theorem has far-reaching consequences for computing and even for our understanding of the nature of the human mind. This week, Mark Colyvan from the University of Sydney introduces us to this strange and paradoxical result.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Progress on Overhaul of Corporate-Tax Rules (JOHN D. MCKINNON, 1/15/11, WSJ)

The U.S. corporate tax code has a couple of features some big corporations have found increasingly troublesome. It has one of the highest rates in the industrialized world, at 35%, a result of widespread tax-rate reductions by other countries. And it is one of the few big economies that seeks to tax corporate income earned outside its borders when it is brought back home.

Those policies have disadvantaged many U.S. firms in the global marketplace, according to numerous critics. The high U.S. rate also has made the U.S. relatively unattractive to investment, both for U.S. firms and for foreign companies, these critics say.

Skeptics note that many U.S. companies pay effective tax rates that are well below the official rate, thanks to a variety of specific breaks, as well as sophisticated planning aimed at shifting income to low-tax countries.

Passing legislation on the tax code's rates and other issues is likely to prove difficult. President Barack Obama has said that changes to U.S. corporate-tax rules must not cut revenue significantly, and worsen the nation's already-grim budget outlook. Instead, he has said a corporate-tax overhaul must be basically revenue neutral.

Just lowering the corporate tax rate is expensive in budgetary terms—it costs the government about $120 billion over 10 years for each percentage point it is reduced, according to government estimates. Giving up world-wide taxation of corporate income and moving to a so-called territorial tax system, where only income generated in the U.S. would be taxed, likely would add significantly to the cost.

All the UR does is cut taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Banks Loosen Purse Strings (RUTH SIMON, 1/15/11, WSJ)

The New York bank's profit surge and optimism that more consumers and businesses are looking for loans triggered a rally Friday in financial stocks. That helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average to its highest level since June 2008. The Dow, which includes J.P. Morgan shares, rose 55.48 points, or 0.47%, to 11787.28, finishing the week up nearly 1%. It was the bellwether average's seventh weekly gain in a row, during which it has gained 6%.

Signs of a lending rebound in business loans already were evident at some big U.S. banks, and Mr. Dimon cited "fairly broad-based strength across corporate, middle market, even small business." But consumer lending has lagged behind because of unemployment, foreclosures and the reluctance of many Americans to go deeper into debt.

Now, the economy is gaining momentum, as shown by the Commerce Department's report Friday that consumers spent more for the sixth straight month. That means profit-hungry bankers are growing more eager to make new loans, especially to borrowers with strong credit histories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Events in Tunisia bear out Hillary Clinton's warning to Arab world: The president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, flees the country amid unrest one day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Arab states that refuse democratic reforms. (Howard LaFranchi, 1/14/11, CS Monitor)

Clinton’s words on Thursday echoed the often even-tougher views of US officials behind the scenes who say that, while some progress is being made in some Arab countries – for example in expanding civil society – democratic reforms and anticorruption steps are lagging and fomenting what could be a wave of instability.

“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever,” Clinton said. Those words turned out to be prophetic for Tunisia’s Ben Ali, but they were interpreted by a number of regional specialists as particularly applicable to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak – a staunch friend of the US but an octogenarian who has ruled for almost 30 years.

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January 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


The Vengeance of the Occupation: There's a limit to how long a fragile democracy like Israel can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. (Gershom Gorenberg | January 14, 2011, American Prospect)

[T]here's a limit to how long a fragile democracy can maintain an undemocratic regime next door, in occupied territory, before democracy at home is corrupted. A border, especially one not even shown on maps, cannot seal off the rot.

Take, for example, the Admission Committees of Community Settlements bill, presently before the Knesset. A "community settlement" is a kind of membership-only exurb invented by West Bank settlers. The community is managed by an association responsible for "preserving the character of the settlement," in the words of a late 1970s report from the Gush Emunim settler movement. New residents have to be approved by an admissions committee, to ensure a shared "ideological-social background," the report states. Residents enjoy "single-family homes, quiet streets, fresh air" in a community limited to a few hundred families -- an "island" of a "selected population."

The design made it possible to enforce ideological conformity and social snobbery at the same time. It was assiduously implemented in settlements across the West Bank, then imported to sovereign Israel. In particular, the government has used the community-settlement model in efforts to "Judaize the Galilee" -- to draw Jews to northern Israel, which has a large Arab population. The policy applies the concept of the West Bank settlement enterprise to part of Israel: The land is treated as an arena where two ethnic groups struggle for control, acre by acre; the Arabs are seen as a hostile population rather than as citizens.

The challenge to that approach came from Adel and Iman Kaden, a couple from the Israeli Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyah. In 1995, they tried to buy a lot in the community settlement of Katzir. As young professionals eager to live in a place with good schools so their daughters could get into the right universities, they fit the Katzir profile. As Arabs, they were rejected. As citizens of a democracy, they turned to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed suit before the Israeli Supreme Court. In its judgment five years later, citing sources ranging from Genesis to Brown v. Board of Education, the court ruled that "equality is one of the foundational principles of the State of Israel" and rejected housing discrimination. To evade that decision, Katzir's admissions committee claimed that the Ka'adans were "unsuited" to "fit in socially" and again denied their application. It took another round before the Supreme Court until the couple could start building their house in Katzir. More recently, a set of human-rights organizations has asked the Supreme Court to ban the entire admissions-committee procedure.

The Admission Committees bill is a bid to preempt the court. It will protect committees' authority to reject candidates who "do not match the social-cultural fabric" of the community. The lead sponsor is David Rotem, a West Bank settler and a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Israel Is Our Home Party. The bill is likely to pass.

"For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Revolt in Tunisia (WSJ, 1/14/11)

An oft-forgotten truth about dictatorships is how unassailable they appear—right up to the moment they fall. An example is unfolding in Tunisia, where strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali appeared to have fled the country late yesterday after a month of protests across the North African nation.

The unrest started in mid-December, when unemployed 26-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi tried to sell vegetables on the streets of his rural village without a license. After police confiscated his produce, Bouazizi immolated himself in protest. News of his suicide spread quickly, mostly via Facebook, a social-networking site that the government hadn't banned. [...]

But the demonstrations grew, and by yesterday the 74-year-old Mr. Ben Ali had shifted to appeasement by lifting restrictions on the media, calling for elections within six months and ordering troops not to use live ammunition. It was too late. By last night he had declared a state of emergency before fleeing to Malta under Libyan protection.

On to Egypt....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


After government collapse, Hezbollah works to get more power in Lebanon (Leila Fadel, 1/14/11, Washington Post)

A day after toppling the Lebanese government, the Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies were working to gain enough support in parliament to control the selection of Lebanon's next prime minister, Lebanese officials said.

The ability to play that role would make the militant group - already the strongest armed power in Lebanon - the nation's most important political player as well.

They are regardless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


After the shootings, Obama reminds the nation of the golden rule (John McCain, January 14, 2011, Washington Post)

I disagree with many of the president's policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them.

Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.

Public life has many more privileges than hardships. First among them is the satisfying purpose it gives our lives to make a contribution to the progress of a nation that was conceived to defend the rights and dignity of human beings. It can be a bruising business at times, but in the end its rewards are greater than the injuries sustained to earn them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Blood libel against Palin, Limbaugh (The Washington Times, 1/12/11)

This is simply the latest round of an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM

WHERE IS AMERICA? (via The Mother Judd):

Tunisia president appeals for peace, pledges reform: After weeks of escalating protests, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali promises to ease civil liberties and curb corruption, and he indicates he won't seek another term. (Borzou Daragahi and Sihem Hassaini, Los Angeles Times)

In the hours before Ben Ali's address, riots raged in the capital, Tunis, and other cities, as protesters angry about poor economic prospects and a lack of civil liberties looted government buildings and battled police.

Hospitals on Thursday were filled with victims of gunshot wounds, a Tunis resident said. Among those shot was an American man carrying a camera in the city center, another American living in Tunis said.

"It was absolute chaos," the American, who asked that his name not be used, said in an e-mail. "It looked like protesters had been burning banks or stores controlled by members of the first family."

Suddenly, police on motorbikes raced into the crowds. "They beat back protesters and used tear gas to try to dispel the crowd," he wrote.

In the melee, his friend was shot in the upper leg and remained overnight at a hospital.

Tunisian activists both in and outside the country have turned to social media for political organizing, calling for a huge rally Friday in the capital's November 7 square. And the nation's largest union, which has endorsed the general aims of the uprising, called for a two-hour general strike Friday but refrained from urging supporters into the streets.

Many on Facebook derided Ben Ali's address as a "farewell speech." And minutes after he finished speaking, Tunisians defied an 8 p.m. curfew in the capital to take to the streets, tooting their horns in celebration.

"We are no longer afraid," some chanted.

" People are tired of it," said Diogo Noivo, a North Africa specialist at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security, a think tank in Lisbon. "People started to understand that regardless of how much they work, how much they study, they will never be able to improve their life conditions, because the rules are not equal for everyone. This is an unequivocal challenge to the regime."

Now that the UR would seem to have found his tongue, perhaps he could speak up in favor of the self-determination movements that are succeeding in The Lebanon, Palestine and Tunisia and still struggling along in Iran?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Tapes n' Tapes performs in The Current studio (Mary Lucia, January 12, 2011 , Minnesota Public Radio)

Formed out of Carleton College, this local quartet quickly found success and critically positive reviews from Pitchfork and Gorillas vs. Bear as well as signing to a major label within a year of their debut record.

They are one of indie music's most notable examples of a blogworthy buzz band, and continue to be ingrained in the local music community, playing in various side projects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


People Neglect Who They Really Are When Predicting Their Own Future Happiness (Keri Chiodo, Association for Psychological Science)

Quoidbach and Dunn call this phenomenon “personality neglect,” which they tested in connection with the 2008 U.S. presidential election. In early October 2008, a large sample of Belgians predicted how they would feel the day after the U.S. presidential election if Barack Obama won and how they would feel if John McCain won. Then the day after the election, they reported how they actually felt, and completed personality tests. Nearly everyone in the study supported Obama, so most predicted they would be happy if he won.

Although participants’ personalities did not influence their predictions—with both neurotic and cheerful Obama fans saying a victory would bring them equal happiness—people’s actual feelings the day after the election closely lined up with their personalities. That is, the grumpy supporters remained relatively grumpy, despite the celebratory event. They “forgot” their own tendency for malaise and overestimated how happy they would be. The positive individuals were more accurate in their forecasting because their natural joie de vivre prevailed. So, ironically, positive people seem less likely than negative people to see the world in an overly rosy light.

You should have seen how his neurotic opponents reacted......

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Welcome to Danny Woodhead's world (Elizabeth Merrill, 1/13/11, ESPN.com)

"I got most of our furniture at garage sales," Annette said, "because we couldn't afford anything else."

Mark painted houses as a side job so Annette could stay home with the kids. She home-schooled them until they reached high school. "We were all close because we were always around each other," Joel says.

All of the Woodhead men are known as "Woody." Mark is "Big Woody." When the boys were old enough, they tagged along and helped their dad paint in the summer. And when work was done in the afternoon, they would all golf together. Danny is a scratch golfer, a fact he tries to keep quiet.

In North Platte, athletes rarely specialize. There aren't enough bodies. So Woodhead played football, basketball and soccer in high school. Before every game, Annette gave her kids Scriptures to read. Joel wrote his on his shoes; Danny kept his in a glove.

She texts Scriptures to Danny now. And before every Patriots game, the couple calls him and they all say a quick prayer together.

There's a 10-year-old story just about everybody in North Platte remembers: The Bulldogs were playing in the state semifinals, tied with a few minutes to go. It was Danny's sophomore season. Millard North lined up to attempt a game-winning field goal from 35 yards out. Woodhead, who had done just about everything to will his team to victory, walked over to the special-teams coach.

"I can block this kick," Woodhead told him.

"Well," the assistant said, "get in there, then."

Woodhead came off the edge and blocked the kick, and the Bulldogs won the game and made a rare trip to the state finals. North Platte is one of the smallest schools in Class A, the biggest class in Nebraska. The Bulldogs are pitted against teams from Omaha and Lincoln and are almost always the underdogs. But the players always liked going up against the bigger schools, proving they weren't a bunch of country bumpkins from the west, showing that they weren't too small.

"It definitely gave us a little extra motivation to be better and to succeed against those teams," Joel said. "We wanted to prove everybody wrong."

The Woodheads always had this saying: When one door closes, go to the open one. And Danny has seen his share of slammed doors. In high school, he was one of the most electrifying players in the state, yet he didn't get a scholarship offer to play for the Cornhuskers. In college, he won the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy -- twice -- but didn't get drafted.

The first snub was probably more painful to North Platte than it was to Woodhead.

"Nebraska had every game film of every football game he ever played in; we sent all that stuff every week," said former North Platte coach Bob Zohner. "So they knew very well what he could do.

"He went down and met with [former NU coach] Frank Solich. I talked to Danny that next Monday, and the first thing he said to me was, 'Coach, why would I want to go someplace where all they tell me is things I can't do?' They told him he was too small for a running back, which is kind of ironic. … He was talking to Frank and looking at him eye to eye."

Solich -- a 5-foot-7 former Cornhuskers fullback and current coach at Ohio University -- did not return a message ESPN placed with the Bobcats' media relations department. Bill Callahan, his successor at Nebraska, didn't see enough in Woodhead to offer a scholarship, either. Callahan ran into Woodhead a few years later, when both men were with the Jets.

From the beginning, Woodhead just wanted to play football. He didn't want to walk on and play special teams in Lincoln, which was the offer back then. So he went to Chadron State, a Division II school in the northern Nebraska panhandle. The town has one stoplight, and the school is so remote that deer will occasionally walk out onto the field during football practice. But Woodhead shook things up in the tiny town. He ran for 7,962 career yards, which was an NCAA all-division record at the time. He scored in 37 straight games.

"Have you ever looked at his legs?" Chadron State coach Bill O'Boyle said. "His calves belong on a guy about 6-foot-4. His lower body is unbelievable. He's just one of those guys who can go from 0 to 60 in about two steps.

"He's used to working for everything he gets. A lot of guys get handed stuff because of their talent. People are going to shrug him off because he's short and he played at a lower-level school, but his work ethic, I'm sure, is second to none on that team."

Woodhead got his work ethic from his dad. His humility is something that is just expected in North Platte. One day, Woodhead was playing Nintendo with his brother and needed a chair to sit on. He grabbed one of his Harlon Hill trophies, which are as big as a small child, screwed the football off of it and sat on the base of the trophy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Affirming Authority: a review of Victor Lee Austin's Up With Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings. (R.R. Reno, 1/13/11, First Things)

Submission to authority for the sake of freedom is not, as Simon recognized, a function of human sin but instead finitude. It’s not the case that an orchestra can just play if everybody is selfless and cooperative. Someone needs to guide the whole so that each player can concentrate on his or her part. Nobody can both play the violin and at the same time and conduct the orchestra.

Simon had a technical way of describing this function of authority, which has the effect of liberating those who submit to it. A concentration of responsibility into various offices or positions (such as conductors) allows us to formally intend the common good while we materially intend a more particular good. The authority of the conductor allows me to say, “I’m going to play as well as I can so that the Beethoven symphony is ravishingly beautiful,” while in point of fact I’m concentrating on my own part, not the symphony as a whole.

We often discount the way in which authority and hierarchy contribute to our freedom to pursue the particular goods that we care about (and that give society texture and interest). In a democracy I have a duty during election season to cast an informed vote. But if I accept the legitimate authority of Congress, then after I vote I can largely concentrate on raising my family or doing my job well. I need not pore over the details of the Federal budget.

In this way, Simon’s analysis helps us see that the important Catholic principle of subsidiarity depends upon authority. Local goods can properly occupy my attention, because the society-wide common good is being looked after by those who are in positions of authority. When that’s not the case, our basic duty to serve the common good becomes imperial, and we’re no longer free to follow our more personal and private projects.

That’s why nobody actually wants “participatory democracy,” a non-hierarchical fantasy that progressive political theorists often champion. It would be oppressive in the extreme if all of us were vested with exactly the same responsibility for the common good. As Herbert McCabe observed: “Society is not the product of individual people. On the contrary, individual people are the product of society.”

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January 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


Tunisia: trouble in paradise: The protests in Tunisia reflect an underlying dissatisfaction with the government that stretches years back. (Intissar Kherigi, 03 Jan 2011, Al Jazeera)

The plight of Tunisia demonstrates the fallacy of the US mantra of "stability over democracy". A guiding principle of US and European policies in the region, this equation has turned out to be a false choice and an extremely dangerous assumption.

US and European governments have consistently privileged one limb of the "stability-democracy" equation, on the grounds that the repression of entire populations in the Arab world is but a small price to pay for the stable conditions necessary for us to benefit from the vast economic opportunities in the region and the counter-terrorism assistance they can give us.

However, the frequent outbreaks of political turmoil across the region demonstrate that stability and democracy are not part of a zero-sum game but two sides of the same coin. The US government has itself come to this conclusion, noting on the White House website in 2007 that "on 9/11, we realised that years of pursuing stability to promote peace left us with neither… The pre-9/11 status quo was dangerous and unacceptable".

Yet, despite full knowledge of the extent of despotism in the country (as revealed in the US cables from the US ambassador to the country), the US continues to ply the regime with financial, political and military support.

In seeking to maintain the corrosive status quo, America and Europe have contributed to creating unstable societies on the brink of implosion, leading to the disintegration of the equation altogether, while destroying any moral claims to be the legitimate expounders of human rights values in the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


Obama Rises to the Challenge: He sounded like the president, not a denizen of the faculty lounge. (Peggy Noonan, 1/14/11, WSJ)

We have to be better, said the president. The way to honor the dead and those who tried to help them is to live up to their example, and make our country worthy of them. Of 9-year-old Christina Green, who was drawn to public service: "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it."

This was just what was needed. After a terrible tragedy, a political leader came forward with words that ennobled and consoled. Those rattled and damaged by the tragedy deserved it, and—sorry to be corny, but this is true—our children are watching and need to hear words that are a plus, not a minus.

Mr. Obama in some new way found the tone of the presidency in this speech, the sound of it. In a purely political sense he was talking to the center—to the great beating heart of the middle of the country—while going to the center himself. And so it may mark a turning point in his fortunes, because it prompts and allows people to see him in a new way, a fresher way.

Geez, he even won back Peggy's love. Can Christopher Buckley be far behind?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Obama's powerful Tucson omission (Jonathan Capehart, 1/14/11, Washington Post)

The prepared text read:

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

But when it came to deliver the lines, Obama -- in either a rhetorical slip or a deliberate omission -- dropped the "us" in that first line. "I want to live up to her expectations," the president said.

For the first time in an address that soared at 30,000 feet, Obama came down to earth. Through a simple line, Obama powerfully and personally embraced his own demand of Americans. "All of us," he went on to say, "we should do everything we can do to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations." It was as if he were implicitly taking responsibility for whatever role he played in the nation's toxic political discourse. After a tragedy such as Tucson, that's what leaders do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Clinton Bluntly Presses Arab Leaders on Reform (MARK LANDLER, 1/14/11, NY Times)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a scalding critique of Arab leaders here on Thursday, saying their countries risked “sinking into the sand” of unrest and extremism unless they liberalized their political systems and cleaned up their economies.

Speaking at a conference in this gleaming Persian Gulf emirate, Mrs. Clinton recited a familiar litany of ills: corruption, repression and a lack of rights for women and religious minorities. But her remarks were striking for their vehemence, and they suggested a frustration that the Obama administration’s message to the Arab world had not gotten through.

“In too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand,” she said to a stone-faced audience of foreign ministers, businesspeople and rights groups. “The new and dynamic Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere.” [...]

While Mrs. Clinton applauded signs of progress in Qatar and elsewhere, it was Yemen, with its crippled economy and creeping subculture of Islamic terrorism, that seemed to stick in her mind.

A day after her visit Tuesday, the Yemeni government announced that for security reasons citizens would need permits to visit foreign embassies, according to the official news agency, Saba. Mrs. Clinton had met opposition figures at the American Embassy in the capital, Sana.

“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever,” Mrs. Clinton said. “If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Palin’s ‘blood libel’ remark overwhelms message (Ron Kampeas, January 13, 2011, Jewish Telegraph)

[B]arely a breath later, Palin painted herself the victim of a “blood libel” -- a notorious term fraught with Jewish historical and emotional significance.

“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn,” Palin said. “That is reprehensible.”

Palin’s casual reference to the ancient fiction that Jews killed children to drink their blood as part of a ritual – one that has inspired pogroms, massacres and attacks on Jews throughout the centuries and even today is referenced as fact in parts of the Arab world and the former Soviet Union -- set off alarm bells.

Jewish reaction ranged from outraged to uncomfortable to defensive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM

Monte Cristo Sandwich (No Recipes)

makes 2 sandwiches
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
6 thin slices of challah bread or brioche
1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese, sliced thin
1/4 pound sliced honey roasted turkey
1/4 pound sliced black forrest ham
powdered sugar
strawberry or raspberry jam

Whisk the egg, milk, flour, cheese and nutmeg together until smooth. Heat a skillet or griddle large enough to accomodate all the slices of bread in a single layer over medium heat. Dip the slices of bread into the egg mixture, giving it a few seconds on each side to absorb the batter.

Add the butter to the pan once it is hot, then place as many slices of battered bread onto it as you can fit. Wait till it is golden brown and crisp on one side, then flip and top 4 pieces of bread with the cheese. Put the turkey on 2 of cheesed slices of bread and the ham on the other 2 cheesed slices of bread.

Fry until the bread is browned and crisp on the second side, then make the sandwich by stacking a ham slice with a turkey slice topped with a plain piece of French toast. Slice the sandwiches in half, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with a small bowl of jam.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Obama's Bullseye (Philip Klein, 1.13.11, American Spectator)

In what was billed as a defining moment in his presidency, Obama took the stage at the University of Arizona last night with a clear choice. Was he going to use this occasion to score political points, or was he going to finally live up to the promise of his candidacy and attempt to bring the country together?

Fortunately for the victims of this tragedy, and for America, he chose the latter route.

While the campaign rally feel of the event (complete with cheering and whistling from college students in the audience) seemed jarring at first for a memorial service, Obama struck just the right tone in his remarks. He paid moving tribute to the victims and emphatically stated several times that harsh political rhetoric was not the cause of this attack.

“(A)t a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds,” Obama said. “Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.” [...]

Obama went on to say that those who lost their lives should inspire Americans to be better. “And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse,” he said, “let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not --but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

The phrase “it did not” was not in Obama’s prepared remarks, and it’s to his credit that he felt the need to inject those words to make it abundantly clear that political rhetoric was not a factor in the shooting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Denis Dutton, Intellectual Entrepreneur (Robert Cottrell, 1/12/11, NY Review of Books)

As others have remarked before me, Dutton was, in effect, a master of the tweet long before Twitter was invented. He knew how to capture and project in just a few words, not so much the essence of a story, as the zest or the mystery of it. Really, it was the opposite of precis writing. Having read Dutton’s teaser, instead of thinking, “Well, now I know what that’s about,” your reaction would be, “What on earth is that about?” and you would click dutifully on the “more»” link to find out.

For a man of his age and background—a non-techy, 50-something, university professor—Dutton was a crucial few years ahead of his time in understanding the Internet. He saw its potential as a publishing platform. (He was also an early publisher of e-books.) He anticipated information overload. With ALD, he identified a market for what media people now call “curating,” which is to say, selecting and recommending content for a particular audience. All this was at a time when the Web was still, by and large, a morass of dial-up connections and bad typography in need of a decent search engine. (In 1998, Google was still in a garage.)

One of ALD’s many strengths was the old-fashioned restraint and elegance of its site design. It aspired, not to the kinetics of any other contemporary website, but to the untroubled air of an 18th-century broadsheet. (Dutton also cited the influence of a 19th-century New Zealand paper, the Lyttelton Times.) It posed as a website for grown-ups. It was as if Dutton operated a back-channel on the internet for older and grander people who otherwise considered reading on a computer to lie somewhere between a perversion and an impossibility.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


In Which I Dare The Corner To Publish Quotes From Popular Conservatives (Conor Friedersdorf, 1/13/11, American Scene)

[M]any of the people VDH name-checks have uttered indefensible remarks, and maybe the veneer of respectability has helped some of them to obscure how flawed their words were. But I wonder if he would wager with me in the interest of testing his larger claim about who is more prone to rhetorical excess, the mainstream right or the mainstream left.

Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting to a large national audience in the early 1990s. So let’s go back 20 years to 1991 for the sake of simplicity. In the bet, Victor Davis Hanson can draw on every word spoken or written by all the people above that he mentions unfavorably: Paul Krugman, Nicholas Baker, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore, Al Gore, John Glenn, Garrison Keeler, Robert Byrd, Jonathan Chait and George Soros. In return, I will draw only on the words of Rush Limbaugh, the most popular conservative entertainer in America for much of the last two decades, recent national phenom Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin, the bestselling author, popular radio host, and sometimes colleague of VDH at National Review. (Even I can’t bear listening to Sean Hannity. Sorry.)

That’s ten people for him and three people for me – and mine are all very popular among the rank-and-file of movement conservatism. We’ll try to match one another, example of rhetorical excess for example of rhetorical excess. And the loser – the one who runs out of examples first – can donate $500 to the charity of the winner’s choice.

(Does anyone think I would lose?)

I’ll explain to you why this bet appeals to me, and why VDH will never agree to it. In truth, I don’t care whether the right or the left is more culpable on this issue: the point is that the guilty parties on both sides of the ideological divide should stop it, unilaterally if need be, even if the other side is worse. And as I explained in my last post, I wish everyone would start focusing on substance more than tone. But I can’t possibly lose this bet, even if VDH improbably finds more examples, because I have no problem acknowledging indefensible rhetoric on the left when I see it, or asserting that Paul Krugman (or his wife?) is sometimes a blowhard who makes claims un-befitting a person of intelligence, or affirming that Michael Moore’s documentary work is riddled with mean-spirited errors, etc.

Whereas Victor Davis Hanson has never forthrightly acknowledged the rhetorical excesses and inaccuracies of Limbaugh, Beck, or Levin. And if by some miracle he fully confronted what they’ve said over the years –– or even affirmed the disgusting words they’ve uttered by publishing a blog post at The Corner filled with nothing but direct quotations of their words! –– it would be a powerful moment on the right, because no one of his stature has ever so much as acknowledged the full extent of what is said on the conservative movement’s most popular talk radio programs.

In fairness to the three on the Right, they do have daily radio shows so they just talk more and have more opportunity to embarrass themselves and our movement.

But it's the fact that both participants in such a but would have so much material to draw from that illustrates the problem.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Vintage Palin (Jennifer Rubin , 1/12/11, Washington Post)

One supposes she means that she is accused of having blood on her hands (or instigating one who has blood on his hands). Maybe she is just mindlessly parroting talk show and conservative lingo. The term has a specific historic context, as does the term "holocaust," and unless you are Glenn Beck (whom she increasingly resembles), you should steer clear of indiscriminate use of the term.

But once again, the left misses the boat. Many liberals are twittering that this was an intentionally inflammatory remark. For once, I'm with Rep. James Clyburn (D.-S.C.), who, albeit harshly, said this of the video: "She is an attractive person, she is articulate, but I think intellectually she seems not to understand what is going on here."

It is, after all, inconsistent for the left to simultaneously argue she's so devious as to intentionally conjure up images of pogroms and to say she's an intellectual dope, a know-nothing.

It has been reported that that she is exceedingly insulated from experienced voices by a mini-staff in Alaska and her husband. ("Among the D.C. consultants, however, only [Tim] Crawford interacts with Palin on a regular basis.") A case in point is:

Rebecca Mansour who especially personifies the amorphous yet fervid network of Palin World. Mansour said . . . "I majored in English and history and minored in philosophy, but I've never been a Beltway person, so that does confuse people."

And this person is "Palin's primary speechwriter, researcher, online communications coordinator and all-purpose adviser." The sort of person to Google through conservative commentary, flag a catchy phrase, and put out a video that has been widely panned. An experienced Republican operative, not aligned with any campaign says simply, "The video was awful."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Gabrielle Giffords' Arizona shooting prompts resignations (Edythe Jensen - Jan. 11, 2011, The Arizona Republic)

A nasty battle between factions of Legislative District 20 Republicans and fears that it could turn violent in the wake of what happened in Tucson on Saturday prompted District Chairman Anthony Miller and several others to resign.

Miller, a 43-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former campaign worker for U.S. Sen. John McCain, was re-elected to a second one-year term last month. He said constant verbal attacks after that election and Internet blog posts by some local members with Tea Party ties made him worry about his family's safety. [...]

The newly-elected Dist. 20 Republican secretary, Sophia Johnson of Ahwatukee, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson of Tempe and Jeff Kolb, the former district spokesman from Ahwatukee, also quit. "This singular focus on 'getting' Anthony (Miller) was one of the main reasons I chose to resign," Kolb said in an e-mail to another party activist. Kolb confirmed the contents of the e-mail to the Republic.

District 20 includes parts of Chandler, south Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills. Republican state Rep. Bob Robson of Chandler and Sen. John McComish of Ahwatukee said they had supported Miller as chairman and were sorry to see him go. "It's too bad," McComish said. "He didn't deserve to be hounded out of office."

A longtime Republican activist, McComish said contentious battles for local party leadership posts are nothing new, but this one appears to be more extreme, especially since there are no partisan elections in 2011 and by next year district boundaries will change.

January 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


AIG to fully repay U.S. government (Charles Riley, January 12, 2011, CNNMoney)

American International Group, which received a massive bailout in 2008, said Wednesday that it expects to complete a recapitalization by the end of the week that will allow it to fully pay back the government. [...]

In addition, AIG said it will repay the Federal Reserve Bank of New York $21 billion to cover the loans made by that branch of the central bank. That payment comes from applying proceeds from various asset sales, the latest of which came on Wednesday when AIG unloaded its Taiwan unit for $2.16 billion in cash.

Benmosche also thanked the American people for their support.

A pleasure doing business....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


First Comes Fear (ROBERT WRIGHT, 1/11/11, NY Times)

[T]he emphasis the left is placing on violent rhetoric and imagery is probably misplaced. Sure, calls to violence, explicit or implicit, can have effect. But the more incendiary theme in current discourse is the consignment of Americans to the category of alien, of insidious other. Once Glenn Beck had sufficiently demonized people at the Tides Foundation, actually advocating the violence wasn’t necessary.

By the same token, Palin’s much-discussed cross-hairs map probably isn’t as dangerous as her claim that “socialists” are trying to create “death panels.” If you convince enough people that an enemy of the American way is setting up a system that could kill them, the violent hatred will take care of itself.

Rush Limbaugh, of course, went further than "socialism" and compared the adoption of health care reform to Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Sharron Angle and other Tea Partiers were talking about armed insurrection being an appropriate response to the state of the country. And Ms Palin just finished the souffle by targeting the congressmen who'd voted for health care and encouraging supporters to "RELOAD." As Mr. Wright suggests, if the Right's rhetoric were correct then assassination would be justified.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


What's so bad about civility? (Clarence Page, 1/11/11, Chicago Tribune)

Civility came up constantly, partly because of Sarah Palin's Facebook page that famously featured a U.S. map with cross hairs superimposed on the districts of 20 House Democrats, including Giffords'. After the shooting, the graphic was removed and Palin offered condolences.

Some of her fellow conservatives, uncomfortably put on the defensive, lashed out at the new calls for civility in a rather uncivil fashion. "What this is all about is shutting down any and all political opposition and eventually criminalizing it," said an infuriated Rush Limbaugh. "Criminalizing policy differences at least when they differ from the Democrat Party agenda."

Now, now. No one of any note has called for the criminalizing of opinion and I seriously doubt that anyone will. Criminalizing opinions in our culture only makes heroic martyrs out of those who hold them. Free speech lives. So does free choice. Just as everyone has the right to voice his or her opinion, everyone also has the right to criticize the speaker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Tone Versus Substance (Conor Friedersdorf, 01/09/11, American Scene)

I don’t think the right’s rhetoric is responsible for the shooting in Arizona. Long before this incident, however, I was arguing that the right does have a rhetoric problem. I still think that is true, and the aggrieved attitude of conservative commentators the last couple days is too much for me. Yes, I agree with many of them that Palin and friends aren’t responsible for this assassination attempt. Sadly, that is the most you can say in their favor. But it isn’t an entirely partisan impulse that causes some people to think otherwise.

Since Barack Obama took office, prominent voices on the right have called him an ally of Islamist radicals in their Grand Jihad against America, a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist, a man who pals around with terrorists and used a financial crisis to deliberately weaken America, an usurper who was born abroad and isn’t even eligible to be president, a guy who has somehow made it so that it’s okay for black kids to beat up white kids on buses, etc. I haven’t even touched on the conspiracy theories of Glenn Beck. The birthers excepted, the people making these chargers are celebrated by movement conservatives – they’re given book deals, awards, and speaking engagements.

If all of these charges were true, a radicalized citizenry would be an appropriate response. But even the conservatives who defend Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, D’Souza, McCarthy, and so many others don’t behave as if they believe all the nonsense they assert. The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense. The problem isn’t their tone. It’s that the substance of what they’re saying is so blinkered that it isn’t even taken seriously by their ideological allies (even if they’re too cowardly, mercenary or team driven to admit as much).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Cognitive Dissonance (Jonah Lehrer, January 11, 2011, Wired)

That’s right: the demonstration of fraud has made [Jenny] McCarthy even more convinced that vaccines cause autism. (It’s hard to imagine, then, what kind of evidence might shake her conviction.) I bring this up not to pick on McCarthy, but because I think her paradoxical response reflects a deep seated facet of human nature, an irrational quirk that we are all vulnerable to. This is the theory of cognitive dissonance, first proposed by Leon Festinger, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota. (I’ve blogged about this before.) In the summer of 1954, Festinger was reading the morning newspaper when he encountered a short article about Marion Keech, a housewife in suburban Minneapolis who was convinced that the apocalypse was coming. (Keech was a pseudonym.) She had started getting messages from aliens a few years before, but now the messages were getting eerily specific. According to Sananda, an extra-terrestrial from the planet Clarion who was in regular contact with Keech, human civilization would be destroyed by a massive flood at midnight on December 20, 1954.

Keech’s sci-fi prophecy soon gained a small band of followers. They trusted her divinations, and marked the date of Armageddon on their calendars. Many of them quit their jobs and sold their homes. The cultists didn’t bother buying Christmas presents or making arrangements for New Years Eve, since nothing would exist by then.

Festinger immediately realized that Keech would make a great research subject. He decided to infiltrate the group by pretending to be a true believer. What Festinger wanted to study was the reaction of the cultists on the morning of December 21, when the world wasn’t destroyed and no spaceship appeared. Would Keech recant? What would happen when her prophesy failed?

On the night of December 20, Keech’s followers gathered in her home and waited for instructions from the aliens. Midnight approached. When the clock read 12:01 and there were still no aliens, the cultists began to worry. A few began to cry. The aliens had let them down. But then Keech received a new telegram from outer space, which she quickly transcribed on her notepad. “This little group sitting all night long had spread so much light,” the aliens told her, “that god saved the world from destruction. Not since the beginning of time upon this Earth has there been such a force of Good and light as now floods this room.” In other words, it was their stubborn faith that had prevented the apocalypse. Although Keech’s predictions had been falsified, the group was now more convinced than ever that the aliens were real. They began proselytizing to others, sending out press releases and recruiting new believers. This is how they reacted to the dissonance of being wrong: by becoming even more certain that they were right.

It’s easy to laugh at the alien cultists, or to criticize the empirical ignorance of those pushing the autism/vaccine link. But it’s also important to realize that everyone is vulnerable to cognitive dissonance, that we all recoil from information that contradicts a deeply held belief. We live in a world overflowing with information and yet we’re still saddled with a brain that knows exactly what kind of information it wants. When the information cuts against our desires, we can’t help but double-down. We will believe almost anything to keep our beliefs from being wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Palin Calls Criticism of Her Rhetoric 'Blood Libel' (David Freedlander, January 12, 2011, NY Observer)

"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

The "blood libel" was the false accusation spread in the Middle Ages that Jews used the blood of Christians for Passover rituals. Gabrielle Giffords, the congress woman injured, was Jewish.

But Ms Giffords isn't the real victim, the Right is, eh?

We see here the danger of living in the partisan echo chamber. The Right has adopted "blood libel" as a mantra during their self-pity party after being criticized for violent political rhetoric. Stuck there, it never occurred to Ms Palin that the trope would be offensive outside the bubble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


John Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps: John Buchan's hero, Richard Hannay, was a patriotic precursor of James Bond whose appeal is undiminished nearly a century after he was created. Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, celebrates this most gentlemanly of spies. (Stella Rimington, 11 Jan 2011, The Telegraph)

They have been compared to the James Bond books, and they certainly include plenty of expensive cars and other magnificent machines, which usually come spectacularly to grief. But Bond is a paid killer and a womaniser; patriotism does not obviously feature in his make-up. Richard Hannay is, above all, a patriotic, public-spirited gentleman, and that fact is key to Buchan’s purpose in writing the books and reflects his own social and political philosophy.

The rigmaroles he invents to kick-start his stories and provide the puzzle that drives them forward may at first seem simply ludicrous – vague maunderings about threats to the proper order of things from wicked people who scatter clues in such places as “a fur shop in the Galician quarter of Buda, in a Strangers’ club in Vienna and in a little bookshop off the Racknitzstrasse in Leipsig”.

These foot soldiers of villainy include people who can “put a spell on the whole Muslim world” or who possess “that gift of half-scientific, half-philosophic jargon which is dear at all times to the hearts of the half-baked”.

These tasters of sinister evils being practised in strange foreign places, which are found in all the Hannay books, are a reflection of Buchan’s own beliefs and state of mind. A moderate conservative in politics, a Presbyterian son of the manse and a good Scot, the fey side of him really did believe that civilisation’s wheels were coming off due to a clash of cultures, too many greedy men and large doses of human stupidity.

He was convinced that civilisation’s crust was thin; that hard and cynical men, operating on a global scale, were using liberal sentimentality as a stalking horse for activities which could eventually derail liberal institutions. He was not alone in thinking and warning about that, and there are many even today who would agree with him.

Against those nightmarish possibilities, Buchan champions the things he thinks best in British civilisation – education, gentlemanly and ladylike conduct, honesty, an adventurous questing, a self-sacrificing spirit and plenty of fresh air, long walks and cold baths. Could it be that these unfashionable virtues are what accounts for his enduring appeal?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Highlights from Daniels' State of the State speech (AP, 1/11/11)

Gov. Mitch Daniels gave his State of the State address Tuesday night. A look at some of the highlights of the governor's speech and agenda for 2011:

— BALANCED BUDGET: Daniels wants lawmakers to pass a balanced two-year state budget without any general tax increases. Daniels says the two-year budget must spend no more than it takes in no later than its second year. He wants a spending cap that would send taxpayers a refund if revenues improve and state reserves exceed 10 percent of annual needs. Republican leaders have estimated that lawmakers will need to cut $1 billion to close the gap between spending and income and leave a little in the bank.

— SCHOOL CHOICE: Daniels proposed a voucher program that would use taxpayer money to help low-income parents send their children to private schools. Daniels and other supporters say it's a matter of fairness that low-income families have the same education options as wealthier families. But opponents say vouchers take money away from cash-strapped public schools and blur the line between church and state. Daniels also proposed a $3,500 scholarship for high school students who graduate a year early that could be used to pay for postsecondary education in Indiana. Some education leaders have questioned how the program might affect high schools and whether high school seniors as young as 16 are mature enough to handle college life.

— CHANGES FOR TEACHERS: Daniels wants merit pay for teachers and wants to use student academic success — as measured by test scores — to help determine how a teacher is performing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


Cancer breakthrough -- or nightmare?: New cancer detection test may have downside (Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, 1/11/11, WPRI)

A simple blood test. It's able to detect minute quantities of cancer cells that might be circulating in your bloodstream.

It's reported to be able to detect a single cell. It's intended to allow cancer patients to start treatment much earlier.

It's supposed to save lives. It's a cancer breakthrough.

But it's not that simple. The test could just as easily start a cancer epidemic.

We've seen it before. Twenty years ago another simple blood test was introduced. Twenty years later over 1 million Americans had been treated for a cancer that was never going to bother them.

The test was the PSA. It is able to detect minute quantities of prostate specific antigen -- minute as in one-billionth of gram. Turned out a lot of men had "abnormal" PSAs. Many were found to have microscopic cancers, far more than would ever suffer from prostate cancer.

"[H]e was confident in his science, and felt that he could draw a magic circle round her within which no evil might intrude."

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January 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


...California budget balancer.

Once you tax sin the rest is easy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM

GOLDMINE! (via The Other Brother):

Library of Congress gets first big gift of major label music (Nate Anderson, January 10, 2011, Ars Technica)

The largest music company in the world has just given the largest audio-visual gift ever to one of the largest libraries in the world, the US Library of Congress. Universal will donate more than 200,000 master recordings from the 1920s-1940s to the Library, which will make this rare music available to the public over the Web.

The recordings come from Universal's in-house collection and feature the best existing master copies of Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" in 1947 and Les Paul doing the "Guitar Boogie." The master recordings currently reside on metal and lacquer discs, with some on mono tape, and they feature plenty of material that was never released from such artists as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. [...]

The master recordings continue to degrade, so the Library will embark on a large-scale digitization process at its Packard Campus in Virginia. This will result in very high-quality copies of works, some of which have never been digitized before, and the Library plans to put the archive online for free public streaming beginning this spring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


American Nihilism (Lee Siegel, January 11, 2011, NY Observer)

After a fleeting online eternity of each side giving gainful employment to the other, a sort of synthesis of opposites was reached by some liberal and some conservative pundits. It wasn't right-wing hatred, or left-wing hatred, or the general lack of civility in American politics that had caused Loughner to unleash his slaughter in Tucson.

No, it was the "shadowy" world of "crazy" inhabited by American's assassins, a hermetically sealed Da Vinci Code realm sealed against all outer influences and driven by an internal logic all its own. Strangely, this vision of a select group of assassins guided by esoteric notions of conspiracy and injustice was strikingly similar to American assassins' own self-image as special aristocratic persons. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman, Jared Lee Loughner-the three names reflect a fantasy of specialness that perhaps corresponds to the fantasy of absolute power these figures experience in murdering a special person.

The discourse following the Tucson shootings was all the more mind-numbing because no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. The uncomfortable fact is that we share the same culture as Loughner. We swim in it; we bask in it. Loughner's YouTube ravings are like a perverted reflection of ideas and sentiments that are our daily bread.

...is that the political climate is not their fault.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Linking Uncivil Rhetoric With Violent Acts: Political scientists have long wondered if violent political speech can be liked to political violence, a question given urgency in the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. (Emily Badger, 1/11/11, Miller McCune)

“This is not simply a concern of academics and certain pundits; many Americans are fretting about the way we do politics in America, and they’re anxious to move in a new direction,” said political scientist Daniel Shea. “So I think it’s incumbent upon political scientists in particular to better understand the issue and to begin to chart solutions.”

He reached that conclusion well before Saturday’s shooting. Shea is one of the researchers behind the Allegheny College Survey of Civility and Compromise in American Politics, a study released last spring that probed average American opinion about the tone of modern politics. Some 95 percent of people said they believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy — the good news, in Shea’s eyes. But nearly 50 percent said they believe civility has been on the decline since Barack Obama took office (and those paying close attention to politics were four times more likely to say this than those paying only moderate attention).

Most surprising are the responses when people were asked to define what should be out of bounds. “If you were able to create a rule book for civility in politics,” subjects were asked, “which of the following would not be OK — would be, that is, against the rules?” Overwhelming majorities opposed belittling or insulting someone (89 percent), questioning someone’s patriotism because they have a different opinion (73 percent), and personal attacks on someone they disagree with (87 percent).

Most Americans, in short, think entirely commonplace occurrences in politics today constitute political rhetoric that’s beyond the pale. We’re not even talking gun sights or “second-amendment remedies.”

“These things are common in politics for a particular group of citizens, they are not common in politics for a vast majority of Americans,” Shea said. “That’s the key part of this whole question: Who’s doing this, who’s involved in this dramatic transformation? I call it the ‘hot wings’” — the overcharged fringes of the political spectrum.

...and proclaim, "Ta da, we weren't the proximate cause of this shooting!," they're missing the point entirely. We are responsible for the political climate and it is their defense of it that is at issue.

Environmental Influence on Violent Psychotics, Part II (Massimo Calabresi, January 11, 2011, TIME: Swampland)

Now to the studies on environmental influence on people with violent psychosis:

The first study from the University Hospital of Vienna, Austria, compared delusions among schizophrenics in Austria and Pakistan. Its purpose was to try and identify core elements of schizophrenia by finding what elements of the disease seemed merely the result of cultural influences. For the purposes of our discussion, they discover that delusions of grandeur, guilt and religious delusions are apparently fueled by environment and they conclude, “cultural factors seem to have a decisive influence on shaping the contents of delusion.”

The second study by the Tokyo Metropolitan College of Allied Medical Sciences compares schizophrenic delusions among patients in Tokyo, Vienna and Tübingen and finds the European patients tended toward delusions of poisoning and religious themes of guilt and sin, while the Japanese had more amorphous delusions of “reference” such as being “slandered,” which the authors surmise “may derive from the group-oriented self in Japanese ‘shame culture.'”

The third study from the GKT School of Medicine and Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, UK, argues that “religious rituals and expectations of the family play a major role in the genesis and maintenance of delusions” and concludes that “The real clinical significance of religious delusions varies from violence to others to self-harm.” In other words, it concludes that religious rituals can contribute to violent delusions in schizophrenics.

The last study, in the American Journal of Public Health, by Swanson, Swartz et al. (the authors of yesterday's study) looks at the “socio-environmental context of violent behavior in persons treated for severe mental illness.” It finds that in schizophrenics “Variables found to be associated with violent behavior in the previous year included homelessness, experiencing or witnessing violence in the surrounding environment, substance abuse, mood disorder, PTSD,” and other factors.

If one supposes that political discourse can play as much of a role as religious rituals or other environmental factors in the content of delusions, then together these articles would suggest that the national political environment could have played a role in Loughner's violence. Greg Sargeant interviews one of the authors of the study I cited yesterday and he supports this idea. Swanson, the lead author on one of the studies discussed, says, “We're talking about people with disordered thoughts, so they could blow a distortion or caricature way out of proportion.”

However, I'm still very ambivalent about drawing any conclusions at this point. I think it is perfectly possible that Loughner could have been influenced by the political environment, but I don't know if he was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Huckabee strong in Iowa (PPP, 1/11/11)

If Mike Huckabee decides to run for President again in 2012 he'll start out the same place in Iowa where he finished in 2008- first place. Huckabee leads there with 30% to 18% for Mitt Romney, 15% for Sarah Palin, 13% for Newt Gingrich, 6% for Ron Paul, 4% for Tim Pawlenty, 3% for John Thune, and 1% for Mitch Daniels.

The key to Huckabee's success is the ability to unite the disparate ideological factions of the Republican Party. 31% of voters think the party's too liberal and with them Huckabee has a 26-21 lead over Gingrich, with Palin a little surprisingly coming in further back at 16%. 48% are comfortable with where the party is ideologically and they go for Huckabee too, by a 33-23 margin over Romney. Huckabee comes in a close second behind Romney with the small group of voters who think the party's too conservative, 27-23. [...]

Huckabee's the obvious winner in this poll. The two folks who probably have the most room for concern at this point are Romney and Palin. Romney's running seven points behind his level of support from 2008 and appears to have little room for growing his support. [...]

For Palin the big question- here and elsewhere- is who's going to decide to support you later who doesn't already support you now?

...but among the recognized they're telling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


The Challenge of President Obama’s Tucson Speech (Jake Tapper, January 11, 2011, ABC News)

“The President's still thinking about what he wants to say, and will mostly pay tribute to the victims and their lives,” a White House source tells ABC News about the president’s speech tomorrow night in Tucson.

Another White House source says the speech will focus on the victims, the heroes, and those in Tucson impacted by the tragedy. The president’s remarks in the Oval Office yesterday are a good reflection of how he’s thinking about the tragedy, the source said.

“As president of the United States -- but also as a father -- I’m spending a lot of time just thinking about the families and reaching out to them,” the president said. The president said it’s “important to also focus on the extraordinary courage shown” during the shooting. “A 20 year old college student who ran into line of fire to rescue his boss. A wounded woman that helped secure the ammunition that might have caused more damage. The citizens who wrestled down the gunman. Part of that, I think, speaks to the best of America even in the face of such mindless violence.”

....but a mea culpa would be an excellent place to start. Something along the lines of, "when I hear people cite my own asinine remark about 'bringing a gun to a knife fight' I cringe. Civility has to start somewhere, so let it begin with me and this White House."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Politics of a shooting prompts search for civility (ADAM GELLER, 1/11/10, The Associated Press)

The letter, to three members of Congress, reads like a eulogy to civility in U.S. politics, its message underscored by the nearly complete absence of mourners.

"You three were alone in pledging to be civil," writes the founder of a campaign that last year asked every senator, representative and all the nation's governors to sign a promise to treat their adversaries with simple respect. "I must admit to scratching my head as to why only three members of Congress, and no governors, would agree to what I believe is a rather low bar."

The Jan. 3 letter disbanding the Civility Project - led by a conservative Republican public relations executive and a liberal Democratic lobbyist - went out five days before the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others spurred soul-searching about a decline in the nation's political discourse and its potential dangers.

There is, as yet, no evidence that the gunman was motivated by a vicious turn in American politics.

Still, the storm of anti-rhetoric rhetoric unleashed by the rampage raises a troubling question: If Americans are so concerned that civility has been bled from politics, why has it taken this tragedy for a message some have long tried to deliver to arrive?

Maybe it's because, in one man's unhinged act, we fear the recognition of something larger - and decidedly darker - about ourselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Fed's Net Soars on Crisis-Era Holdings (MAYA JACKSON RANDALL, 1/11/10, WSJ)

The Federal Reserve's net income surged to $80.9 billion in 2010, largely due to a boost in earnings from securities it acquired during the financial crisis and its aftermath, according to preliminary unaudited results the central bank released Monday.

Most of that income will go back to the U.S. Treasury, as is the Fed's custom. The Fed will transfer a record $78.4 billion to the Treasury Department, including income earned from interest on bonds issued by the Treasury itself. It marks a 65% increase over the $47.4 billion the Fed paid the Treasury in 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Junk Science Isn't a Victimless Crime: Vaccines don't cause autism—and there was never any proof that they do. Too bad kids had to die while we figured that out. (PAUL A. OFFIT, 1/10/11, WSJ)

As several different investigations—summed up in a British Medical Journal (BMJ) editorial this month—have shown, not a single aspect of Dr. Wakefield's notion of how MMR causes autism has proven correct. He wasn't just wrong, he was spectacularly wrong. Moreover, some of the children in his report had developed symptoms of autism before they had received the vaccine—and others never actually had autism.

In addition, as journalist Brian Deer found, Dr. Wakefield received tens of thousands of pounds from a personal-injury lawyer in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies over MMR. (After Mr. Deer's discovery, Dr. Wakefield admitted to receiving the money.) Last year, when the Lancet found out about the money, it retracted his paper. But it was far too late.

Dr. Wakefield's paper created a firestorm. Thousands of parents in the United Kingdom and Ireland chose not to vaccinate their children. Hundreds of children were hospitalized and four killed by measles. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Obama's Drone Memo Dilemma: The Obama administration released Bush-era legal opinions authorizing torture. Will it make public its own rationale for targeting US citizens for death? (Nick Baumann, Jan. 11, 2011, Mother Jones)

Sometime during Barack Obama's term in office, there's a good chance an American citizen will be assassinated on the president's orders.

Perhaps it will be Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born Al Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen. Maybe it will be another of the "handful" of Americans reportedly on a list of citizens the government has determined are terrorists who can be legally killed by the CIA or the military's Joint Special Operations Command. But if and when it happens, death will probably come almost instantaneously. It will likely arrive in the form of a $68,000 AGM-114 Hellfire missile, fired from an unmanned drone hovering somewhere above the clouds. The target will never know what hit him. And when that person meets his fiery end, it's quite possible that the American people still won't have a good sense of exactly why the President believes he has the legal authority to authorize the killing of US citizens without charge or trial.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to change that. Last January, the group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking a slew of documents relating to the Obama administration's reported targeted killing program. Among the materials requested were any documents outlining the legal rationale for the program. That would presumably include memos produced by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the division of the Justice Department that provides legal advice to the executive branch. (The government has yet to acknowledge that such documents even exist, but it is highly likely that they do.)

The ACLU could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the Obama administration might be willing to release OLC memos—or at least parts of OLC memos—relating to the drone program. After all, the Obama team waited just three months after his inauguration before releasing extremely controversial Bush-era OLC memos authorizing interrogators to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation, "stress positions," extreme temperatures, ear-splitting music, and "walling" on terrorist suspects. But when it comes to releasing the legal justifications for other controversial anti-terror practices, including its own, the Obama administration has dragged its feet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Tim Pawlenty jabs Sarah Palin over 'crosshairs' (JENNIFER EPSTEIN | 1/11/11, Politico)

Possible Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty took a jab at Sarah Palin, saying he wouldn’t have used gun crosshairs to target Rep Gabrielle Giffords and others.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” the former Minnesota governor told The New York Times on Monday when asked if he would have created a map like the one posted last year on Sarah PAC’s website showing crosshairs on lawmakers who supported health care reform.

It just comes down to what sort of party we want to be, one that relies on extreme rhetoric or one that eschews it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Jared Loughner's goldbug delusion: Is it madness to call for a return to the gold standard? Or just an inability to accept the world as it is? (Andrew Leonard, 1/10/11, Salon)

In fact, in some corners of the Net, people are already running for cover, hoping to avoid collateral damage from Loughner's madness. Take, for instance, a comment that concluded one of his YouTube videos and immediately rocketed around the globe: "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!"

If you were one of the vocal proponents of a return to the gold standard as the solution to all that plagues the modern global economy, you likely winced at the sight of those words. As one gold fan lamented at the website Gold Information Center "unfortunately his babblings about gold, silver and currencies are already being associated by extension to political and economic issues of concern to our community."

But if you believed that "goldbugs" are already crazy as loons, then you merely saw confirmation of your prejudices. Jared Loughner believes in government mind control... shooting politicians, judges, and little girls in cold blood... and the gold standard. That's not the kind of public relations that opponents of fiat currency like to see.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Conservative movement must commit to a long-term outreach strategy (JEB BUSH, 1/10/11, Miami Herald)

Despite this success among candidates, conservatives continue to get unacceptably low support among Hispanic voters nationally. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 38 percent of Hispanics voted Republican in the 2010 congressional elections. In fact, center-right candidates have failed to win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally since 2004. While the reason for such low numbers is debatable, the way to turn them around is clear: a long-term commitment to outreach and better articulation of our values by conservative leaders. I don't think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades.

The good news is that in the Hispanic community, there is real opportunity. But conservatives have to commit to serious and sustained engagement. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country and will continue to play an important role in future elections and the future of our country. This past election was a sign that the Hispanic community is willing to listen to a center-right message. The question now is whether the center-right movement is willing to listen to and engage the Hispanic community.

Fortunately, the values that drive the center-right movement are shared by Americans of all backgrounds, including members of the Hispanic community. A center-right agenda means keeping taxes low and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and job growth. A center-right agenda means instituting real education reforms that reward outstanding teachers and empower parents with choices if their children are trapped in a failing school. In short, a center-right agenda provides opportunity for those willing to work hard.

It is our responsibility to spread this message. The level of investment in outreach today is inextricably linked to the continued success of the center-right movement. The Hispanic Leadership Network conference is a great start to our outreach efforts in 2011.blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


The $6.50 Trade War: What Apple's iPhone tells us about U.S. trade with China. (WSJ, 1/10/11)

In the case of the iPhone, Messrs. Xing and Detert note that the device was invented in America by an American company, Apple. The components are manufactured, either inside or out of China, by companies based in several other countries. The only part of the process that is unambiguously "Chinese" is the final assembly—a process that, in the estimation of Messrs. Xing and Detert, adds only $6.50 to the $178.96 wholesale value of an iPhone.

Yet that entire $178.96 value ends up attributed to China in official trade statistics. As a consequence, the iPhone contributed nearly $1 billion to China's bilateral trade surplus with America in 2008, and nearly $2 billion in 2009, the authors conclude. If the trade data had been based solely on the $6.50 cost of assembling each unit, the iPhone would have added only $34 million and $73 million in those years to China's surplus.

The ADBI study ought to be required reading on Capitol Hill. Most importantly, it raises the question of how much anyone really knows about what America's trade with China is. Critics of trade data, including us, have long argued that bilateral statistics are misleading. As the bilateral deficit with China grew, deficits with South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore declined, confirming that China's comparative advantage lies in the assembly into finished products of components manufactured around the region, due to its low-wage, low-skilled labor.

January 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Chevy Volt wins top prize at the Detroit Auto Show (JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press)

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt got another marketing jolt Monday, when it received the North American Car of the Year. [...]

Forty-nine auto journalists from the U.S. and Canada made the picks. The vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.

It's the latest in a string of accolades for the Volt, which went on sale in limited markets in December and costs $40,280. It was named the Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine named the Volt the 2011 car of the year the same month.

A rebirth for Detroit's Big Three automakers (Chris Isidore, January 10, 2011, CNNMoney)
General Motors (GM) and Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) have already reported their best net profits in more than a decade, while Chrysler Group is reporting operating profits. And all three gained U.S. market share in 2010, and are well positioned to keep making inroads in the years ahead.

More than half of the 200 senior auto industry executives surveyed by accounting firm KPMG expect GM and Ford to gain global market share in the next five years, and most believe Chrysler will at least hold onto its market share, if not make gains. That's a radical departure from a year ago, when the majority were forecasting continued declines for GM and Chrysler and expected Ford to hold pat.

"It is quite a remarkable change in opinion," said Gary Silberg, national auto industry leader for KPMG., who said he was particularly surprised by the change of opinion among overseas auto executives. "It's not easy to convince outsiders to take a positive view of the U.S. industry."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM

David Wax Museum: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 1/10/11, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

I first saw the fun and frenetic David Wax Museum at the Newport Folk Festival this past summer — the band had won a contest that got it to Newport. Its blend of American and Mexican folk music was infectious, and by the show's end I was already a fan. But when the festival was over, and the Newport crew and musicians had gathered on a nearby roof to share some smiles and beer, there they were again: David Wax with his pint-sized Mexican jarocha guitar and Suz Slezak with her percussive donkey jawbone, making pure, irresistible joy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Gold is a bubble - resist its charms (Janice Revell, January 10, 2011, CNN Money)

Gold has traditionally been considered a hedge against high inflation. And gold bulls argue that the money the Federal Reserve has been pumping into the economy will eventually create runaway consumer prices, as more dollars chase too few goods.

Gold, the thinking goes, will hold its purchasing power -- after all, it can't be manufactured at the whim of a central bank. Gold enthusiasts point to a strong precedent for its vigor: During the late 1970s and early '80s, when the inflation rate surged by double digits, gold prices also soared, rewarding investors handsomely.

Right now, though, there's no sign that inflation is about to rear up anytime soon. For all the Fed's efforts to inject money into the system, the folks who have it -- banks, mostly -- have been reluctant to do much besides sit on it, leaving too few dollars chasing too many goods.

As a result, the inflation rate stands at just 1.2%, down sharply from 2.7% in December 2009. In fact, the bond market has been signaling fears of low inflation or even deflation -- a sustained weakness in prices that could hold down the economy for years. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond is about 3%. Bond investors wouldn't accept such paltry yields if they saw high inflation.

Maybe bond investors are just wrong, and the gold traders are right. Or perhaps, says HSBC commodities analyst James Steel, investors are hedging their risks by buying bonds as a defense against the short-term threat of deflation, and gold as a store of value "in case inflation eventually takes off."

That's plausible. But the case for gold depends a lot on what you think "takes off" means. Many market observers do believe that inflation is going to rise eventually. The Fed seems to be trying to engineer at least a modest increase, and there's hardly anywhere to go but up from here.

However, a return to 3% inflation or even something a bit higher isn't what many gold investors are betting on. Many are concerned about low-probability catastrophes like the collapse of the global money system or a U.S. debt default. It's not that those things are impossible -- it's that gold owners have to worry about what happens to their investment if those things don't happen.

"Gold is already fully pricing in some very nasty scenarios, including high inflation," says Jason Hsu, chief investment officer at Research Affiliates. "The price is going to react in a very negative way to any reality that deviates from that expectation."

That reality would include a continuation of the sluggish, unemployment-ridden, but modestly growing economy we seem to be stuck in now.

And if the economy turns back to real health, watch out. From 1980 through 2005, gold earned zilch. In fact, if you had bought gold at its peak in 1980, you still wouldn't be back to even today on an inflation-adjusted basis.

"When the economy moves from recession to prosperity, there will be little reason to own gold," says Mark Williams, who teaches risk management at Boston University. "And speculators will learn the hard way that gold in times of financial stability is hazardous to investor health."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Tragedy marks turning point for Palin (JONATHAN MARTIN, 1/10/11, Politico)

Part of Palin’s quandary is rooted in the unique spot she occupies. Since her resignation from the governorship in the summer of 2009, Palin has played a role that is part talk-show personality and part political figure. It’s a positioning that has served her well, creating personal wealth and celebrity appeal while energizing her core supporters.

But now, for the first time, Palin is being forced to choose between the public and private spheres she operates in. If she has any intentions of running for the presidency, she must begin to appeal to the country’s broad political center. And that task just got harder in the wake of Tucson.

The other option is to simply remain in the private sector where she can continue to issue the envelope-pushing jeremiads and employ the overheated rhetoric that appeals to her loyal base, sells her books, draws TV viewers and makes her irresistible to a sound byte-hungry media.

Either way, she’ll have to show her hand, signaling whether she wants to be Ronald Reagan or Rush Limbaugh.

Demonstrating some personal insight and growth and maturing in public would be a political boon for her, if she's still interested in politics, rather than entertainment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Southern Sudan's Astonishing Independence Referendum (John Avlon, 1/10/11, Daily Beast)

After years of war and a genocide that left 2.5 million dead, the first day of a referendum on Southern Sudan's independence shocked the world by going off almost without a hitch. John Avlon talks to jubilant Sudanese voters on the ground at a moment of unaccustomed celebration.

After walking across Sudan during two decades of civil war, 17 “Lost Boys” took a final step toward liberty on Sunday morning, joining their fellow Southern Sudanese in a long-awaited vote for independence.

“After all of the struggle, loss of life, separation, and killing, we can see that we are now allowed to vote freely for our destiny,” Valentino Achak Deng told me in the southern capital city of Juba, along the banks of the Nile. Deng, the subject of a “fictionalized memoir” by Dave Eggers, What Is the What?, helped tell the story of the Lost Boys and the suffering of Southern Sudan. Now he is both witnessing and participating in a new chapter in the deeply troubled history of the region, this one framed by hope for peace and stability. “We’re going to vote in large numbers, together, and then just look at our faces and our eyes and be happy,” Deng said.

The Bush administration negotiated the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005 and set Jan. 9, 2011, as the date of a Southern Sudan referendum to decide the fate of the two-state solution.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Bullitt director Peter Yates dies aged 82 (Ben Child, 1/10/11, guardian.co.uk)

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art whose first film as a director was the lightweight Cliff Richard and the Shadows vehicle Summer Holiday, Yates made his name with the action-packed 1967 crime thriller Robbery, a dramatisation of the great train robbery. Hollywood beckoned, and Yates's first US effort, Bullitt, featured the first car chase in the modern style, with star Steve McQueen himself taking the wheel for a large part of a bravura extended sequence in which his Ford Mustang slaloms and chicanes through the streets of San Francisco.

Academy recognition came later in Yates's career with the 1979 coming-of-age tale Breaking Away. The comedy about four working-class teens who take on students from the local university in a cycle race was nominated for five Oscars, including best director and best film and won one for its screenplay. Four years later Yates's movie The Dresser, an adaptation of the Ronald Harwood play about an ageing actor's personal assistant, received five nominations – including, once again, best director and best film.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Armey: Answer on shooter's motive 'will come from psychology,' not politics (Bridget Johnson, 01/09/11, The Hill)

"The fact of the matter is, we still have extremely important critical issues of public policy that must be sorted out," Armey said on ABC's "This Week." "Now, hopefully this will be done in a more civil way. But this incident is no basis by which anybody who sees their duty to America to stand down from that duty, but to redouble it, perhaps with a greater degree of caution, and hopefully with a greater degree of civility.

...you know you're in a teachable moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Federal Judge: Liberal Sheriff, Media Exploiting Attack (Jeffrey Lord, 1.10.11, American Spectator)

"He should be strung up."

The speaker: one very angry federal judge furious at the cynicism displayed by both Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and the mainstream media in the shootings that took the life of one federal judge, wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killed or wounded 17 others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Shaking the mountains: India’s response to an uprising in Kashmir has been, by turns, repressive and complacent. It is storing up trouble for the future (The Economist, Dec 29th 2010)

Officials in Delhi bristle at any comparison between the year’s events and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland or the unrest in neighbouring Tibet. Kashmiris, they insist, have their own land and state, enjoy religious freedom, are by no means the poorest in India and take part in elections, most notably in 2008.

But there are severe limits to their democracy. Peaceful protests are prevented, jails are crammed with political detainees, detention without charge is common, phones are partially blocked, the press censored and reporters beaten, broadcasters muffled and curfews imposed. Those who complain too fiercely online are locked away. The authorities in Kashmir and Delhi say these measures are temporary. They say that to prevent abuses, the police are now being trained and re-equipped. (Soldiers, for the most part, have been kept away from street clashes.) Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Kashmir, says that police officers may even be prosecuted for misdeeds. But the repression persists, and risks causing ever greater resentment and instability.

Seen from Delhi the uprising appears manageable. Kashmiris have dropped their guns and shooed away Islamic insurgents who a decade or so ago skulked in the postcard-perfect mountains. The presence of a 350,000-strong Indian security force (some say the number is much higher), amid a population of just 11m, has also kept the armed militants at bay.

It helps India that Pakistan, the eternal trouble-stirrer in Kashmir, is in disarray. And India takes heart from the weakness and fractiousness of local leaders in Srinagar. Many have been bought off with well-paid posts, or jailed, or both. Moderates who attempt to reunite the parts have been locked up or worse (one was shot and paralysed by a mystery assailant). Some of the highest-profile ones, such as the stone-pelters’ elderly icon, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are kept under house-arrest.

...it's just the pace that varies.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Shaking the mountains: India’s response to an uprising in Kashmir has been, by turns, repressive and complacent. It is storing up trouble for the future (The Economist, Dec 29th 2010)

Officials in Delhi bristle at any comparison between the year’s events and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland or the unrest in neighbouring Tibet. Kashmiris, they insist, have their own land and state, enjoy religious freedom, are by no means the poorest in India and take part in elections, most notably in 2008.

But there are severe limits to their democracy. Peaceful protests are prevented, jails are crammed with political detainees, detention without charge is common, phones are partially blocked, the press censored and reporters beaten, broadcasters muffled and curfews imposed. Those who complain too fiercely online are locked away. The authorities in Kashmir and Delhi say these measures are temporary. They say that to prevent abuses, the police are now being trained and re-equipped. (Soldiers, for the most part, have been kept away from street clashes.) Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Kashmir, says that police officers may even be prosecuted for misdeeds. But the repression persists, and risks causing ever greater resentment and instability.

Seen from Delhi the uprising appears manageable. Kashmiris have dropped their guns and shooed away Islamic insurgents who a decade or so ago skulked in the postcard-perfect mountains. The presence of a 350,000-strong Indian security force (some say the number is much higher), amid a population of just 11m, has also kept the armed militants at bay.

It helps India that Pakistan, the eternal trouble-stirrer in Kashmir, is in disarray. And India takes heart from the weakness and fractiousness of local leaders in Srinagar. Many have been bought off with well-paid posts, or jailed, or both. Moderates who attempt to reunite the parts have been locked up or worse (one was shot and paralysed by a mystery assailant). Some of the highest-profile ones, such as the stone-pelters’ elderly icon, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are kept under house-arrest.

...it's just the pace that varies.

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January 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Profits are Booming. Why Aren’t Jobs? (MICHAEL POWELL, 1/09/11, NY Times)

To gaze upon the world of American corporations is to see a sunny place of terrific profits and princely bonuses. American businesses reported that third-quarter profits in 2010 rose at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion, the steepest annual surge since officials began tracking such matters 60 years ago. It was the seventh consecutive quarter in which corporate profits climbed.

Staring at such balance sheets, you might almost forget that much of the nation lives under slate-gray fiscal skies, a place of 9.4 percent unemployment and record levels of foreclosures and indebtedness.

And therein lies the enduring mystery of this Great Recession and Not So Great Recovery: Why have corporate profits (and that market thermometer, the Dow) spiked even as 15 million Americans remain mired in unemployment, a number without precedent since the Great Depression? Employment tends to lag a touch behind profit growth, but history offers few parallels to what is happening today.

Actually, the question should be: why will businesses waste these profits hiring do-nothing employees?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


The lion kings?: Africa is now one of the world’s fastest-growing regions (The Economist, Jan 6th 2011)

Over the past decade sub-Saharan Africa’s real GDP growth rate jumped to an annual average of 5.7%, up from only 2.4% over the previous two decades. That beat Latin America’s 3.3%, but not emerging Asia’s 7.9%. Asia’s stunning performance largely reflects the vast weight of China and India; most economies saw much slower growth, such as 4% in South Korea and Taiwan. The simple unweighted average of countries’ growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia.

Over the next five years Africa’s is likely to take the lead (see chart). In other words, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart. Looking even farther ahead, Standard Chartered forecasts that Africa’s economy will grow at an average annual rate of 7% over the next 20 years, slightly faster than China’s.

So it should, of course. Poorer economies have more potential for catch-up growth. The scandal was that Africa’s real GDP per head fell for so many years. In 1980 Africans had an average income per head almost four times bigger than the Chinese. Today the Chinese are more than three times richer. Africa’s rapidly rising population still dampens its growth in real income per head but that, too, has risen by an annual rate of 3% since 2000—almost twice as fast as the global average.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Hundreds of thousands wait to vote in Sudan independence referendum (Xan Rice, 1/09/11, guardian.co.uk)

Hundreds of thousands of people from across southern Sudan began queueing from before dawn today to cast their ballots at the start of the week-long independence referendum. The poll is certain to result in Africa's largest country splitting in two, with the non-Muslim south seceding from the Arab-led north.

In Aweil, the capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Augustine Ngor emerged slowly from the primary school classroom, a brown towel wrapped around his shoulders for warmth, a silver torch in his hand, his right thumb inked in purple and a smile brightening his weathered face. He had not slept the previous night; how could he before a day like this?

Before arriving at the polling station at 2am, he had prayed and read the Bible, especially Isaiah 18, which refers to the hardships of "a people tall and smooth-skinned" – taken by southern Sudanese to refer to themselves – and "a banner raised on the mountains", interpreted as the flag of their independent state.

"We have suffered for 55 years at the hands of our Arab brothers," said Ngor, 70. "And now at last we will have our freedom."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Calif funeral planned for Hmong leader Vang Pao (GARANCE BURKE, 1/08/11, Associated Press)

During World War II, while still a teenager, Vang Pao fought to prevent the Japanese from seizing control of Laos.

In the 1950s, he joined the French in the war against the North Vietnamese who were dominating Laos and later, as a general in the Royal Army of Laos, worked with the CIA to wage a covert war there.

Former CIA Chief William Colby once called Pao "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War," for the 15 years he spent heading a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army fighting against a communist takeover of the Southeast Asian peninsula.

After his guerrillas ultimately lost to communist forces, Vang Pao came to the U.S., where he was credited with brokering the difficult resettlement of tens of thousands of Hmong, an ethnic minority from the hillsides of Laos.

"He's the last of his kind, the last of the leadership that carries that reference that everyone holds dear," said Blong Xiong, a Fresno city councilman and the first Hmong-American in California to win a city council seat. "Whether they're young or old, they hear his name, there's the respect that goes with it."

Regarded by Hmong immigrants as an exiled head of state, Vang Pao made frequent appearances at Hmong festivals, advocated on behalf of Hmong veterans and often was asked to mediate disputes or solve problems.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


Michael Grimm Already in Democratic Cross-Hairs for Health Care Comments (David Freedlander, January 7, 2011, NY Observer)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Knowledge Is Power: Paul Ryan and Bob Corker are unusual members of Congress. They know a lot. (FRED BARNES, 1/17/11, Weekly Standard)

Paul Ryan was 28 when he arrived in the House of Representatives in 1999 as a Republican freshman from Wisconsin. Eager for advice, he sought the counsel of dozens of veteran House members on how to be an effective congressman. The most consequential advice came from an unexpected source, Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts. It was guidance for a committed conservative from one of Washington’s leading liberals.

And it was quite simple: Be a specialist, not a generalist. As they talked over breakfast in the members’ dining room, Frank went into considerable detail. “Pick two or three issues and really focus on them rather than being a yard wide and an inch deep,” Ryan says Frank told him. Do your homework. Concentrate on committee work. Study. If you do, you’ll be in the room when bills are written.

Ryan has followed that advice rigorously. His motto is, “Inquire, inquire, inquire, read, read, read.” He has made himself an expert on the budget, taxes, and health care. Ryan knows more about the federal budget than anyone else on Capitol Hill and talks about it more fluently. Because of this, he was a shoo-in for chairman of the House Budget Committee last week, elevated over colleagues with more seniority. He will draft the House version of the 2012 budget, a document the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House will have to take as seriously as the budget proposal of the executive branch, which the Obama administration is set to release early next month.

There’s an old Washington adage that Ryan personifies almost perfectly: Knowledge is power.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Goldman predicts 1,500 for S&P 500 (Sam Mamudi, 1/09/11, MarketWatch)

They noted that, while the economy was 16% larger at the end of 2010 than at the end of 2005, the S&P 500 was just 1% above the level of year-end 2005.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Address of President-Elect John F. Kennedy Delivered to a Joint Convention of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (The State House, Boston, January 9, 1961)

I have welcomed this opportunity to address this historic body, and, through you, the people of Massachusetts to whom I am so deeply indebted for a lifetime of friendship and trust.

For fourteen years I have placed my confidence in the citizens of Massachusetts--and they have generously responded by placing their confidence in me.

Now, on the Friday after next, I am to assume new and broader responsibilities. But I am not here to bid farewell to Massachusetts.

For forty-three years--whether I was in London, Washington, the South Pacific, or elsewhere--this has been my home; and, God willing, wherever I serve this shall remain my home.

It was here my grandparents were born--it is here I hope my grandchildren will be born.

I speak neither from false provincial pride nor artful political flattery. For no man about to enter high office in this country can ever be unmindful of the contribution this state has made to our national greatness.

Its leaders have shaped our destiny long before the great republic was born. Its principles have guided our footsteps in times of crisis as well as in times of calm. Its democratic institutions--including this historic body--have served as beacon lights for other nations as well as our sister states.

For what Pericles said to the Athenians has long been true of this commonwealth: "We do not imitate--for we are a model to others."

And so it is that I carry with me from this state to that high and lonely office to which I now succeed more than fond memories of firm friendships. The enduring qualities of Massachusetts--the common threads woven by the Pilgrim and the Puritan, the fisherman and the farmer, the Yankee and the immigrant--will not be and could not be forgotten in this nation's executive mansion.

They are an indelible part of my life, my convictions, my view of the past, and my hopes for the future.

Allow me to illustrate: During the last sixty days, I have been at the task of constructing an administration. It has been a long and deliberate process. Some have counseled greater speed. Others have counseled more expedient tests.

But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.

"We must always consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill--the eyes of all people are upon us."

Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us--and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill--constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities

For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arabella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.

History will not judge our endeavors--and a government cannot be selected--merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.

For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us--recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state--our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage--with the courage to stand up to one's enemies--and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one's associates--the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment--with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past--of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others--with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?

Third, were we truly men of integrity--men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them--men who believed in us--men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication--with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest.

Courage--judgment--integrity--dedication--these are the historic qualities of the Bay Colony and the Bay State--the qualities which this state has consistently sent to this chamber on Beacon Hill here in Boston and to Capitol Hill back in Washington.

And these are the qualities which, with God's help, this son of Massachusetts hopes will characterize our government's conduct in the four stormy years that lie ahead.

Humbly I ask His help in that undertaking--but aware that on earth His will is worked by men. I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on this new and solemn journey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Tracing the Japanese Tax Experiment (Brian Koenig, 1/08/11, RCM)

On December 16, 2010, Prime Minister Naoto Kan approved a five percent cut on Japan's corporate tax, lowering the rate to under 35 percent.

Iceland's corporate tax rate currently stands at 18 percent; Poland 19 percent; Sweden 25 percent; and Mexico 28 percent. Overall, the average corporate tax rate among OECD nations hovers around 27 percent, with the United States a whole 12 percentage points higher than the international average.

Japan's reformed tax policy will earn the United States the gold medal for the highest tax on business profits, giving American businesses the steepest tax burden in the industrialized world.

According to Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata, Prime Minister Kan's directive is to "lower corporate tax rates that are too high compared with international standards, and to create a world-class investment environment."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


From a Curriculum Standpoint, Is Science Religion? (Michael Ruse, December 22, 2010, The Chronicle Review)

So my question (and it is a genuine one, to which I don’t have an answer) to David Barash is this. Suppose we agree to the conflict thesis throughout, and that if you accept modern science then religion—pretty much all religion, certainly pretty much all religion that Americans want to accept—is false. Is it then constitutional to teach science?

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution separates science and religion. (Don’t get into arguments about wording. That is how it has been interpreted.) You cannot legally teach religion in state schools, at least not in biology and other science classes. That was the issue in Arkansas and Dover. (I am not talking about current affairs or like courses.) But now ask yourself. If “God exists” is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is “God does not exist” not a religious claim? And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught, why then should science which implies God does not exist be taught?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Scones make tea for two even more enjoyable (Colleen Lunn Scholer, 1/09/11, Sun Journal)

I had the opportunity to review the scone pan made by NordicWare that King Arthur Flour sells through its catalog and on its website. This neat, nonstick pan is circular with divisions in place for eight scones. The scones turned out great and had a wonderful appearance, too -- something that I can’t usually accomplish freehand when I bake.


1 3/4 cups King Arthur 100 percent white whole wheat flour (you can use white flour if you prefer)

3 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon allspice, optional

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into pieces

Dried cranberries

1/3 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 large egg

The grated peel of 1 medium-to-large orange OR 1/2 teaspoon orange oil


Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, then add the butter, rubbing it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the cranberries.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, orange juice, egg and orange peel or oil. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and stir until the dough just comes together.

Transfer the dough to a thoroughly floured work surface, knead it a couple of times and shape it into a 1/2"-thick round, about 8" across.

Transfer the round to the prepared baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with coarse white sugar, if desired.

Cut the round in 10 wedges. Separate the wedges slightly. Bake the scones for about 15 minutes, or until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


'Downton Abbey' Creator Julian Fellowes' On His British Hit Coming To PBS ( Linda Holmes, 1/09/11, NPR)

Everything you need to know about Downton Abbey, which aired in the UK last year and begins its run on PBS on Sunday night's Masterpiece Classics, can be found in the early reaction of a maid at the titular estate to news of a major tragedy: "It's worse than a shame," she says. "It's a complication." That's what the series is about: that feelings and humanity are important and real, but they tend to take a back seat to avoiding "complications" — things that upset the order with which both the Crawley family and their servants live their lives. Sadness is bad, but chaos is worse.

On Sunday's All Things Considered, Guy Raz talks to Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park, who created and wrote the series, which was a smash with audiences and critics both. It features, among others, Dame Maggie Smith, for whom Fellowes says he wrote the part of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. (After all, if you're going to write the part of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, you might as well write it for Maggie Smith and aim high.)

In addition to Smith, the cast includes Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, and Elizabeth McGovern as his American wife, Cora, from whom he got a lot of his money. Fellowes gives a wonderful and wry explanation of American heiresses and their significance at the time — just before World War I — when the story takes place. He points out that "in Europe, to get an heiress, you need everyone else in the family to die," which made European heiresses rare, whereas American heiresses could be created by any rich person dividing up wealth among children.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Panel sinks gun ban at State House (Shira Schoenberg, January 5, 2011, Concord Monitor)

A legislative committee voted yesterday to repeal the ban on carrying guns in the State House.

The 10 Republicans on the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee voted to repeal the ban in the State House complex; the only dissenter was Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat.

The repeal "will restore Second Amendment rights to the people of New Hampshire in what we've come to recognize as the people's house," said House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, a Salem Republican.

The House will vote today on whether to remove a separate ban on carrying guns into the House chamber.

The End of Palin's "Don't Retreat, Reload" (Dan Farber, 1/09/11, CBS News)
Perhaps this incident will bring about some "soul searching," as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested in his remarks before the press.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik pointed to "vitriolic rhetoric that we see and what we see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised" contributing to a United States of America that is no longer "nice."

"That may be free speech but it's not without consequences," he said.

Giffords' fellow Arizona Democrat, Rep. Raul Grijalva told MotherJones, "We're feeding anger, hatred, and division for quite a while. Maybe it is time for elected officials and leaders in this country that have been feeding that disease to realize that there are consequences to it."

During the midterm election campaign, Sarah Palin placed Giffords in the "crosshairs" of a "target list" of lawmakers she wanted to see beaten.

Giffords responded on MSNBC to Palin's "crosshairs" targeting, stating, "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district, when people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that," she added.

U.S. District Judge John Roll faced death threats in 2009 (The Arizona Republic, 1/08/11)

The killing of U.S. District Judge John M. Roll comes two years after he received death threats while he presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher.

When Roll ruled the case could go forward, U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said in 2009 that talk-radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats.

In one afternoon, Roll logged more than 200 phone calls. Callers threatened the judge and his family. They posted personal information about Roll online.

"They said, 'We should kill him. He should be dead,'" Gonzales said.

In an interview with The Arizona Republic in mid-2009, Roll, who was the chief federal judge in Arizona, said both he and his wife were given a protection detail for about a month.

DHS Memo Suggests Shooter May Be Linked To Racist Organization (Jennifer Griffin | January 09, 2011, Fox News)
According to a memo obtained by Fox News with information compiled by the Department of Homeland Security and released to state law enforcement officials, Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, may have been influenced by a pro-white racist organization that publishes an anti-immigration newsletter.

No direct connection, but strong suspicion is being direceted at American Renaissance, an organization that Loughner mentioned in some of his internet postings and federal law enforcement officials are investigating Loughner's possible links to the organization. The organization is a monthly publication that promotes a variety of white racial positions.

"The group's ideology is anti government, anti immigration, anti ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti Semitic," according to the memo which goes on to point out that Congressman Giffords is the first Jewish female elected to high office in Arizona. A recent posting on American Renaissance's website on January 7 begins with an article entitled: "Exit poll: Whites are Different." The site goes on to list anti-immigration articles. Investigators are also pursuing Loughner's alleged anti-Semitism

Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics (CARL HULSE and KATE ZERNIKE, 1/09/11, NY Times)
Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, seemed to capture the mood of the day at an evening news conference when he said it was time for the country to “do a little soul-searching.”

“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”

In the hours immediately after the shooting of Ms. Giffords, a Democrat, and others in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, members of both parties found rare unity in their sorrow. Top Republicans including Speaker John A. Boehner and Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona quickly condemned the violence.

“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”

President Obama made a brief appearance at the White House, calling the shooting an “unspeakable act” and promising to “get to the bottom of this.”

Not since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 has an event generated as much attention as to whether extremism, antigovernment sentiment and even simple political passion at both ends of the ideological spectrum have created a climate promoting violence.

We can’t say we weren’t warned about Arizona shooting tragedy (Chicago Sun-Times, Jan 9, 2011)
We cannot walk away from this one.

We cannot blame one nutjob for the shooting of 19 people Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., and wash our hands of it.

We cannot pretend that this is only about him and not about us.

Worst of all, we cannot say we were not warned.

For more than two years, sensible people have been pleading with their fellow Americans to tone down the rhetoric, to quit with the demonizing, to end the fear-mongering.

In what kind of country, the sensible people asked, do political leaders across the board not condemn a sign at a rally that reads: “We left our guns at home — this time”?

In what kind of country do people show up at presidential speeches with guns on their hips?

In what kind of a country do callers to radio shows routinely smear those with whom they disagree — beginning with our president — as “traitors” and “un-American,” while pandering hosts say only, “Thanks for the call.”

If we continue this way, the sensible people warned, something will happen.

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January 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Who Is Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords? (Z. BYRON WOLF, Jan. 8, 2011, ABC News)

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides motorcycles and married an astronaut at a wedding where everything had to be biodegradable. She is a Democrat who champions gun rights, lists fiscal discipline as one of her top issues and was re-elected in a conservative district when Republicans took control of the House.

News that she was shot in the head while meeting with constituents at a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store brought outpourings of support from both sides of the aisle.

"I am just heartbroken. Gabby is more than just a colleague -- she's also a friend," said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican.

Giffords, 40, is a political centrist who voted with her party less than half the time and opposed Nancy Pelosi as the party leader in the House after Democrats lost the majority in November.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was a target of Sarah Palin, but is a moderate, gun-owning Democrat (James Fanelli, 1/08/11, NY DAILY NEWS)
But her backing of President Obama's health care reform made her a popular target of conservative talking head Sarah Palin and Tea Party members during the 2010 election. On her Facebook page last spring, Palin posted a U.S. map with crosshairs of a rifle scope over the districts repped by Giffords and 19 other Democrats.

In March, after the Health Care reform bill passed, vandals broke the door of her district office - one of several attacks against Democrats following the vote.

Targeted (Michelle Goldberg, Jan 8, 2011, Tablet)
We don’t yet know what her would-be assassin was thinking. But we do know that Giffords, the first Jewish woman that Arizona sent to Congress, has been the target of a long campaign of right-wing incitement. And Loughner, while clearly in the grip of delusion rather than any coherent ideology, nonetheless shared many far-right obsessions.

Loughner had a YouTube channel and a MySpace page, and both suggest someone deeply unbalanced. His videos, which mostly feature white text on a black background accompanied by trippy electronic music, are full of unintelligible messages about conscious dreaming and English grammar. But they also make it clear that Loughner has internalized some of the conspiracy theories common in the Tea Party. He is obsessed with currency manipulation and out-of-control government power. Toward the end of a YouTube video titled “My Final Thoughts,” he writes, “The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America’s Constitution. You don’t have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws.” Among his MySpace photos is an American history book with a gun on top.

Perhaps equally significant, he lists Mein Kampf among his favorite books—although he cites The Communist Manifesto as well. Giffords was vocal about her Judaism, which she embraced as an adult. (Her father, who is a first cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow’s father, is Jewish, while her mother is a Christian Scientist.) Given Loughner’s fixation on currency and his nod to Hitler, it certainly seems possible that Jew-hatred played a role in his terrible mixed-up fantasy world.

Loughner was probably too insane to have really participated in anti-Semitic politics, or, for that matter, in the Tea Party. But it is important to note that Giffords has been relentlessly demonized by the right, the rhetoric around her charged with violence. And such rhetoric is dangerous precisely because of the effect it can have on the unhinged. Loughner was crazy, but he was also responsive to certain real-world political currents, particularly the right’s nightmare vision of federal power run amok. One can’t completely separate this mad act from earlier threats against Giffords.

In August 2009, during another meet-and-greet at a Safeway, a conservative activist who confronted Giffords dropped a gun, leading worried aides to call the police. As right-wing fury mounted, there were other intimations of violence. In March 2010, hours after Giffords’ vote in favor of health care reform, her Tucson office was vandalized, a door and window either kicked in or shot out. Sarah Palin published a map featuring gun sights on the Congressional districts of 20 Democrats then tweeted it to her followers, saying, “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD.”

Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition after Arizona shooting ( Ben Quinn, Paul Gallagher, Alexandra Topping and agencies, 1/09/11, guardian.co.uk)

At a press conference following the attack, the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, blamed political vitriol for fuelling the attack.

"People tend to pooh-pooh this business that we hear about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living doing that," he said. "That may be free speech – but there are consequences."

He said Arizona had become "a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry" and that "people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol".

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands after putting cross hair over district (Michael Daly, January 9th 2011, NY Daily News)
Palin would no doubt say that she was only speaking in metaphor, that she only meant her followers should work to unseat Giffords and 19 other Democrats who had roused her ire by voting for health care.

But anyone with any sense at all knows that violent language can incite actual violence, that metaphor can incite murder. At the very least, Palin added to a climate of violence.

Palin should have taken it as a warning of what might happen when a Tea Party hothead dropped a gun while heckling Giffords at an earlier Congress On Your Corner event, more than a year ago.

That did not stop Palin from declaring Giffords a "target." Giffords' district office was subsequently vandalized, and the congresswoman noted that Palin had put "the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district."

"When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


The Life and Legacy of Russell Kirk (George Nash, July 10, 2007, Heritage Foundation)

[I]n 1955, Kirk's Burkeanism was not the only school of right-wing thought vying for prom­inence. Another intellectual tendency, known in those days as "classical liberalism" or "individual­ism" but generally known to us today as libertari­anism, was also stirring in the United States. Among its adherents, broadly speaking, were such free-market economists as Friedrich Hayek, Lud­wig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, and the novelist Ayn Rand.

To Russell Kirk, "true conservatism"-Burke's conservatism-was utterly antithetical to unre­strained capitalism and the egoistic ideology of indi­vidualism. "Individualism is social atomism," he exclaimed; "conservatism is community of spirit." Spiritually, he said, individualism was a "hideous solitude." On one occasion Kirk even criticized "individualism" as anti-Christian. No one, he assert­ed, could logically be a Christian and an individual­ist at the same time.

Such sentiments, which Kirk expressed with gusto in The Conservative Mind and elsewhere, did not exactly endear him to libertarians. Nor did his frequent fulminations against classical liberalism and the gospel of Progress. In 1955, the editor of the libertarian Freeman magazine, a man named Frank Chodorov, commissioned a critical article on Kirk and his so-called new conservatism. The author of the article was an argumentative libertarian (and former Communist) named Frank Meyer. The trou­ble with Kirk and his allies, said Meyer, was a lack of grounding in "clear and distinct principle." For all the froth and evocative tone of their writings, they failed utterly to provide a crisp analytic framework for opposing the real enemy-collectivism-that was threatening to engulf us all. Kirk had no stan­dards, said Meyer, no principle for distinguishing between what was good and bad in the status quo. Meyer was additionally angered by Kirk's sweeping condemnation of "individualism." The fiery ex-rad­ical, who believed that "all value resides in the indi­vidual," felt that Kirk did not comprehend the principles and institutions of a free society. To underscore the point, Meyer's attack on Kirk was given the title "Collectivism Rebaptized."

For Kirk, such an assault was disagreeable, if not surprising, considering its source. Far more disturb­ing to him was what transpired next. As it hap­pened, Kirk in 1955 was in the process of founding his own magazine-Modern Age-when Meyer's blast appeared. Someone-Kirk believed it was either Meyer or Chodorov-sent a copy of Meyer's critical article to every member of Kirk's board of advisors. To Kirk this was a blatant attempt to undercut him with his sponsors and perhaps kill Modern Age in its womb. So when Kirk learned that Buckley intended to publish Meyer and Chodorov in National Review, the Bohemian Tory declined to be listed on the masthead as an editor. He was not about to accept any appearance of responsibility for publishing the likes of Chodorov and Meyer, whom he labeled "the Supreme Soviet of Libertarianism." And when Kirk discovered that Chodorov and Mey­er had been placed on the new magazine's mast­head, he ordered Buckley to remove his own name from that page, where he had been briefly listed as an associate and contributor. Kirk vowed that though he might write for the same magazine as Meyer and Chodorov, he would not be "cheek by jowl with them in the masthead."

Buckley, who was trying to forge conservatism's diverse elements into a coalition, was perturbed. He insisted that Meyer was not out to "get" Kirk and undermine his influence-although Kirk had what he considered evidence to the contrary. But Kirk did not relent. For the next 25 years, he wrote steadily for National Review-in fact, wrote more for it, I believe, than any other person except possibly Buckley himself. But he did not add his name to its masthead. He remained in National Review but not quite of it.

It is not possible to give you here a full account of the subsequent feud (as some have called it) between Kirk and Frank Meyer. So far as I know, they never met nor fully reconciled, though they did correspond and did, I think, develop a measure of respect for each other. Interestingly, each became a convert to Roman Catholicism-Kirk in 1964 and Meyer on his deathbed in 1972. Perhaps, in the end, they were not so far apart as it seemed.

Nevertheless, for a long time they personified the two polarities in postwar conservative thought: Meyer the arch-libertarian, for whom freedom to choose was the highest political good, and Kirk the arch-traditionalist, who sought to instruct his read­ers on the proper choices. The important point is that the difference between them was more than personal. Other conservative intellectuals in the 1950s and beyond were also disturbed by Kirk's seemingly nostalgic and indiscriminate yearning for a pre-modern world. Kirk's repeated invocation of "the wisdom of our ancestors" was no doubt useful, the conservative scholar Richard Weaver remarked on one occasion, but the question was: which ancestors? "After all," said Weaver, "Adam is our ancestor.... If we have an ancestral legacy of wis­dom, we have also an ancestral legacy of folly...."

Nor was Meyer the only rival with whom Kirk had to contend for intellectual leadership of the emerging conservative movement. Another was the political scientist Willmoore Kendall, who had been one of Buckley's mentors at Yale. Never a man to shy from a rough and tumble argument, Kendall openly repudiated what he called the "Burke 'cultists'"- above all, Russell Kirk. Privately, Kendall called his own book The Conservative Affirmation (1963) a "declaration of war" against Kirk.

To Kendall, Kirk's limitations as a conservative teacher were several. Kirk wrote (said Kendall) "with an eye too much to Burke and not enough to the Framers" of the American Constitution. He had insufficient grasp of American conservatism and the American tradition, particularly as explicated by The Federalist Papers. He was "too far above the fray" and too lacking in clarity about the actual issues in the ongoing liberal-conservative "war" to serve as a good guide to the conservative "resistance." Kendall also objected to what he called Kirk's "defeatism"- his sense that contemporary conservatism was fighting a noble but losing battle. In truth, Kendall countered, the conservative cause (properly under­stood) had not been routed at all-certainly not in the political arena, where, in his view, the real battles between Right and Left were being fought. Privately, Kendall contrasted Kirk's "literary" conser­vatism with his own "marketplace conservatism, not very elegant."

So much for Kirk's critics on the Right. Suffice it to say here that from the mid-1950s forward Kirk responded vigorously to the challenges hurled against his formulation of the conservative creed. Toward doctrinaire libertarianism (especially as expounded by someone like Ayn Rand), he remained utterly uncompromising. It was, he declared in the 1980s, "as alien to real American conservatism as is communism." It was "an ideology of universal selfishness," and he added: "We flawed human creatures are sufficiently selfish already, without being exhorted to pursue selfishness on principle." To those who asserted that his Burkean conservatism was insufficiently principled and mired in historical contingency, he reinterpreted Edmund Burke as a thinker in the "natural law" tra­dition-a tradition transcending national borders and changing social conditions. To those who thought that Kirk slighted the role of reason in his defense of what he called the Permanent Things, he increasingly grounded his insights on what he called the moral imagination. To those who dispar­aged his conservatism as an alien hothouse plant, he reaffirmed Burke's intellectual influence on Ameri­can statesmen and emphasized the pre-modern roots of American order. Repeatedly, for example, he highlighted the most conservative features of the American war for independence and its culminating achievement, the Constitution.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


David Bromberg And Jorma Kaukonen On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 1/06/11)

Two veterans of American folk music, David Bromberg and Jorma Kaukonen, join forces for this Mountain Stage appearance. The two men are joined here on mandolin by Barry Mitterhoff.

The set opens with Kaukonen singing Richard M. Jones' classic tune "Trouble in Mind," followed by Willie McTell's "Love Changing Blues," with vocal duties by Bromberg. Davis' "Bright Side" and a Bromberg original, "Helpless Blues," close out their segment.

...here's Jorma covering it with Phil Lesh and company:

and an old Jorma and Bromberg performance:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Tocqueville's "Letters from America": Shall I compare thee? (Daniel E. Ritchie, 1/06/2011, Books & Culture)

If these letters don't give a complete background to Tocqueville's research into America, however, they do provide significant insights—above all, into his mental habit of "making comparisons." Frequently named among the founders of modern sociology, Tocqueville is at his most insightful when he compares social phenomena: before marriage, American women are more independent than European women, while afterward they're more subservient; Americans solve communal problems by creating voluntary associations, where the English look to a nobleman and the French to the government; on the northern bank of the Ohio River the hum of industry is continuous, but work is typically viewed a curse on the opposite bank, where slavery exists.

Tocqueville and Beaumont, his good-humored fellow prosecutor, had managed to leave France after the Revolution of 1830 brought Louis-Philippe to power. Although the young men thought the July Monarchy was illegitimate, they took the oath of loyalty and began looking for a way of leaving France without endangering either their integrity or their loyalty. Since all of Europe was debating prison reform and everyone was interested in America, the two got a government commission to investigate the penal system of the United States. The trip was a pretext for their wider interest in studying American society, and Democracy in America abounds in reflections that bear on the possibility of a successful democracy in France. For example, "despotism can do without faith, but freedom cannot." Tocqueville doesn't long for the Sun King, but he warns his fellow intellectuals that skepticism cannot sustain modern democracy.

Although Tocqueville is continually worrying about his home country, this book shows that France provides him with the comparative vantage point he needs for understanding America. Just three weeks after his arrival, for instance, Tocqueville is astonished that, unlike himself and his countrymen, Americans think little about politics:

Here we are truly in another world. Political passions here are only superficial. The one passion that runs deep, the only one that stirs the human heart day in and day out, is the acquisition of wealth, and there are a thousand ways of acquiring it without importuning the state.

This letter demonstrates the habit of comparative analysis that he would later use to such brilliant effect. He's beginning to see that, unlike the French, Americans are developing a "social state" where material well-being is more important than politics, and where individuals seek distinction largely outside the political sphere. Only after years of reflection (and more conversations with American friends) would Tocqueville be able to explain how these characteristics grew out of Americans' dual commitments to equality and liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Obama in Political, Economic Quandary Weighing Tax Overhaul (Ryan J. Donmoyer and Rich Miller, 1/06/11, Bloomberg)

President Barack Obama and his economic team are torn over whether to make overhauling the tax system a priority or relegate it to a brief mention in his annual State of the Union address, a top administration official said. [...]

One immediate obstacle is whether rewrites of the corporate and individual tax codes can be accomplished in tandem. Camp said he wants to tackle both issues together, while the Obama administration is considering addressing corporate tax policy first. Corporations paid $225 billion in income taxes in fiscal 2009, compared with $1.2 trillion paid by individuals, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

...is to stop taxing corporations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Composer Arvo Pärt: Behind the beard: Meeting Pärt felt like a pilgrimage to a mythical musical hideaway, but he was funny and generous – the exact opposite of his reclusive image (Tom Service, 1/06/11, The Guardian)

In one of the rooms in the house, there was a row of plant pots. It turns out they were more than mere decoration: they were painted by Pärt in 1977, because working with riotously festive colours was one of the ways he got through the hard years of writer's block. "You have to do something to keep your creativity going," he told me. But the real epiphany that set Pärt on his course of what sounded like a radical simplicity in the mid-70s, producing works such as Tabula Rasa, Fratres, and Passio, which poured out of him later that decade, was an encounter with a street cleaner outside his house in Tallinn. Searching for a solution that would connect his emotional, musical and spiritual lives together, Pärt, at a loss for inspiration, went outside into the snow one morning and asked the cleaner: "What should a composer do?" "Well, he should love every note," was the reply. "No professor had ever told me something like that," Pärt said, and this single sentence crystallised his thinking. He realised that to really love every note, to really understand the connections between even a tiny handful of musical pitches, could be the source of lifetime of composition and contemplation.

Pärt's music is some of the most immediate and recognisable of any contemporary composer, and its familiarity has made some hear in it only a facile style of "holy minimalism," where for others, it has life-changing power. To meet him was to discover the deep philosophical, biographical, musicological and even biological roots of his music.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


The battle ahead: The struggle with public-sector unions should be about productivity and parity, not just spending cuts (The Economist, Jan 6th 2011)

Politicians have repeatedly given in, usually sneakily—by swelling pensions, adding yet more holidays or dropping reforms, rather than by increasing pay. This time they have to fight because they are so short of money. But it is crucial that the war with the public-sector unions is won in the right way. For amid all the pain ahead sits a huge opportunity—to redesign government. That means focusing on productivity and improving services, not just cutting costs. (Indeed, in some cases it may entail paying good people more; one reason why Singapore has arguably the best civil service in the world is that it pays some of them more than $2m a year.)

The immediate battle will be over benefits, not pay. Here the issue is parity. Holidays are often absurdly generous, but the real issue is pensions. Too many state workers can retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay. America’s states have as much as $5 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. Historic liabilities have to be honoured (and properly accounted for, rather than hidden off the government’s balance-sheet). But there is no excuse for continuing them. Sixty-five should be a minimum age for retirement for people who spend their lives in classrooms and offices; and new civil servants should be switched to defined-contribution pensions.

Another battleground will be the unions’ legal privileges. It is not that long since politicians of all persuasions were uncomfortable with the idea of government workers joining unions. (Franklin Roosevelt opposed this on the grounds that public servants had “special relations” and “special obligations” to the government and the rest of the public.) It would be perverse to ban public-sector unions outright at a time when governments are trying to make public services more like private ones. But their right to strike should be more tightly limited; and the rules governing political donations and even unionisation itself should be changed to “opt-in” ones, in which a member decides whether to give or join.

...improving productivity is just a matter of cutting the workforce.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Homeland Revisited: a review of INDIA CALLING: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking By Anand Giridharadas (GAIUTRA BAHADUR, 1/09/11, NY Times Book Review)

His main thrust will be familiar to readers of his “Letter From India” series in The International Herald Tribune (for which he now writes the Currents column): ­Western-style malls and skyscrapers have proliferated since his parents emigrated in the 1970s. But the landscape most transformed is the one within. The change, Giridharadas writes, is “in the mind, in how people conceived of their possibilities: Indians now seemed to know that they didn’t have to leave, as my father had, to have their personal ­revolutions.”

Consider electricity, he says. Yes, power cuts once leveled class differences, democratically dooming everyone to the same arbitrary darkness. And true, gated communities now have private power plants that provide a way “to depart India without leaving.” But to Giridharadas this does not prove the existence of an emerging “iCaste.” He cites the example of the village of Umred, whose residents rioted to protest blackouts once stoically endured. “It was a small town in the middle of nowhere, dusty and underwhelming and dead,” he writes. “But it had begun to dream.”

For centuries, he argues, Indians had been born understanding their precise place. They knew who was master and who was servant, fixedly. Giridharadas describes hierarchy’s hold on his homeland with eloquence: “It was the calculus that governed life: Am I his sahib, or is he mine? Who should shout at whom? Whose body must apologize for its presence, and whose must swagger?” In his view, society — and the state-regulated economy set up by the nation’s founders — prevented the emergence of self-made men and (even more so) self-made women.

But globalization has led towns like Umred to demand electricity — necessary for the Internet and satellite television, and “essential,” as one resident tells Giridharadas, “to ambition.” Capitalism allows Indians to imagine and even realize lives outside their fates (kismet) and prescribed roles (karma). Servants might become masters. In other words, it accomplishes what the Naxalites and Nehru failed to achieve.

That is Giridharadas’s seductive theory. And it inspires wariness, just as the Naxalites’ does — yet not because of any dishonesty. In fact, Giridharadas is disarmingly honest. Raised in the United States, he acknowledges upfront his quintessentially American lens: “I had begun to see self-invention as a theme of India’s unfolding drama. It was an idea that resonated with me, naturally, because of my own family’s story.”

-AUDIO: 'India Calling': The New 'Land Of Opportunity'? (NPR, January 4, 2011)
-AUDIO: Anand Giridharadas on India Calling (The Leonard Lopate Show, January 10, 2011)

Anand Giridharadas discusses what it was like to return to the land of his ancestors amid an unlikely economic boom. In India Calling: An intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking, Giridharadas profiles the entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and Indian families who are responding to this economic upheaval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Barack Obama touts tax cuts (ABBY PHILLIP, 1/8/11, Politico)

President Barack Obama, the political battle over tax cuts behind him, focused his weekly address on encouraging businesses to take advantage of provisions that he said will save them money and spur economic growth.

“Independent experts have concluded that, taken together, this package of tax cuts will significantly accelerate the pace of our economic recovery, spurring additional jobs and growth,” the president said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Moqtada Sadr Urges Iraqi Unity (SAM DAGHER, 1/08/11, WSJ)

In his first public speech to supporters following his return to Iraq this week after more than three years in Iran, firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr sounded a conciliatory note toward the new Iraqi government while insisting that U.S. troops should depart on schedule by year-end.

"Listen up, we're all with the government if it served the Iraqi people and if it did not serve the Iraqi people there are other means – strictly political – that must be pursued to reform the government," Mr. Sadr told a few thousand of his supporters who had gathered on Saturday outside his home here in this holy Shiite shrine city south of Baghdad. [...]

"Give the new government a chance to prove that it's in the service of the people," said Mr. Sadr. "Iraqi people have had enough of poverty."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


What does al Sadr's return mean for Iraq? (Mohamad Bazzi, Jan 7, 2011, The National)

Muqtada al Sadr, one of the most popular Shiite clerics and an unrelenting rival of the United States in Iraq, has returned to his home in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf after three years of self-imposed exile in Iran. The cleric's surprise homecoming is a victory lap after he played a role as kingmaker in ending months of political paralysis and securing a second term for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al al Maliki. [...]

Now, Mr al Sadr has returned home to play a central part in Iraqi politics and to oversee his movement's transition from a militia force to a powerful political group with 40 seats in Parliament. But his ascendance threatens to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq: his followers were responsible for some of the worst atrocities against Sunnis during the country's recent civil war. Mr al Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, unleashed death squads that assassinated Sunnis and drove them out of Shiite neighbourhoods.

That was the necessary pre-condition for a successful surge and the threat of renewed reprisals is what keeps the Sunni in line.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Liverpool's cut-price revolution to be ripped from pages of Moneyball: The influence of Michael Lewis' management guide on baseball looks set to inform the changes coming to Anfield (Kevin McCarra, 1/07/11, guardian.co.uk)

The fixation with baseball owes much to Moneyball, the renowned book by Michael Lewis that was published in 2003. Its subject was the Oakland Athletics and, specifically, the general manager Billy Beane. The movie is to be with us at last in the autumn, starring Brad Pitt as Beane. He had the outlook in baseball of a shrewd investor who can spot an undervalued share.

Others have tried hard to emulate that, with Moneyball both reporting on an emerging approach in the sport and popularising it. The knack lay in seeing a merit beyond the obvious limitations of a particular player – and the chubby Kevin Youkilis of Boston, for instance, has an unusual restraint that means he is less inclined to strike out for the Red Sox. As a single-minded man he quite often gets to first base on a walk after control deserts a frustrated pitcher.

In a sense clubs have always been eager to carry out this sort of recruitment. Every manager hopes to crow over an outstanding player he secured for next to nothing. Beane was different because he was not following a hunch so much as questioning traditional attitudes about what it was that truly made the difference in a game. He also has a passion for football and, specifically, an allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. Comolli, of course, worked at White Hart Lane as director of football for three years and during that period he came to know Beane. "We have been talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball," said Comolli. "Everything I've been doing has come from what the A's have been doing in terms of collecting and using data."

The difficulty now is that all those at the top level are out to refine their gathering of information and the analysis of it. Even so, Liverpool seem to be making a start in the refashioning of the squad. Sylvain Marveaux is expected to sign from Rennes and was in the directors' box at Anfield for the match with Wolves last month. Whatever his skills, he appeals, too, for the fact that his contract is coming to an end.

Those who are familiar with Marveaux describe him as more of a midfielder than a true winger and add that he is quick, passes the ball well and can finish accurately. This sounds rather attractive, even if he is injured at the moment, and he may be more alluring still for his cheapness. Liverpool supporters, of course, will wince at the notion of a cut-price plan to rebuild the squad.

...then you can easily apply it to soccer. Heck, Liverpool could just sign 10 American, Mexican, Australian, and Iraqi players and revitalize their squad.

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January 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


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The league's url is: http://challengegames.nfl.com/playoffchallenge/leagues/22688?icampaign=PC_LM_email_invite

The league password is: ericjulia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Atmosphere's self-cleaning capacity stable: study (AFP, 1/07/11)

An international team of researchers has found that the atmosphere's ability to cleanse itself of pollutants and other greenhouse gases, except carbon dioxide, is generally stable.

The study, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, comes amid a fierce debate over whether, as some experts believe, the atmosphere's self-cleaning ability was fragile and sensitive to environmental changes.

The research team, which was led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), measured levels in the atmosphere of hydroxyl radicals, which play a key role in atmospheric chemistry.

Levels of the agent only fluctuated a few percentage points from one year to the next, not 25 percent as some studies had estimated, the researchers found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


White Flight: President Obama’s path to a second term may rely on states shaped by the same social forces he embodies. (Ronald Brownstein, January 7, 2011, National Journal)

By any standard, white voters’ rejection of Democrats in November’s elections was daunting and even historic.

Fully 60 percent of whites nationwide backed Republican candidates for the House of Representatives; only 37 percent supported Democrats, according to the National Election Poll exit poll conducted by Edison Research. Not even in Republicans’ 1994 congressional landslide did they win that high a percentage of the white vote.

Moreover, those results may understate the extent of the white flight from the Democratic Party, according to a National Journal analysis of previously unpublished exit-poll data provided by Edison Research.

The new data show that white voters not only strongly preferred Republican House and Senate candidates but also registered deep disappointment with President Obama’s performance, hostility toward the cornerstones of the current Democratic agenda, and widespread skepticism about the expansive role for Washington embedded in the party’s priorities. [...]

That resistance could, in turn, increase the pressure on Obama to accelerate the generation-long transformation of the Democratic electoral coalition that he pushed forward in 2008.

Is dividing America along racial lines really all that's left of the Obama moment?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Bad Poll For Stabenow (Jeremy P. Jacobs, January 7, 2011, Hotline)

The Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll found that only 37 percent approve of Stabenow's job performance and less than a quarter -- 23 percent -- would vote to re-elect her. A generic opponent pulled 43 percent against her.

Numbers like that could make Michigan a top pick up opportunity for Republicans in 2012. Already, some Republicans are seeing opportunities in other blueish states -- such as former Rep. Heather Wilson, who is (R) considering a bid agaisnt Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) in New Mexico. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is also considered very vulnerable after Republicans made significant gains in Ohio in 2010.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Robbie Robertson recruits Tom Morello and Trent Reznor for new album (Sean Michaels, 1/05/11, guardian.co.uk)

The Band's Robbie Robertson is to release his first album in 13 years. Although the LP includes three songs co-written by Eric Clapton, Robertson has clearly moved on from the Big Pink – How to Become Clairvoyant features appearances by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. [...]

Clapton performs on six tracks, and there are cameos from Steve Winwood, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, and Morello. Reznor appears on just one song, providing "additional textures", Robertson explained, to an instrumental called Madame X. "It's a really cinematic piece of music. I wanted Trent to contribute something, and he understood exactly what I was talking about and did something completely beautiful and haunting."

One song, When the Night Was Young, is streaming now at 429 Records, with backing vocals from Angela McCluskey. It is mellow, soulful and name-drops Andy Warhol – Pretty Hate Machine, this is not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Poll: Christie Ahead Of Obama Among GOP Hopefuls (Steve Sandberg, 1/06/11, CBSNewYork)

In a hypothetical field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates, the only one who would beat President Barack Obama is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, according to a new Zogby International poll.

...the nominee will be a socially conservative governor with a good track record on fiscal matters and no accent. Assuming Jeb and Christie aren't running that means Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Chemical In Women's Tears Turns Men Off (LAURAN NEERGAARD, 1/06/11, AP)

If a crying woman's red nose isn't a big enough turnoff to a man, a surprising experiment found another reason: Tears of sadness may temporarily lower his testosterone level.

Those tears send a chemical signal as the man gets close enough to sniff them -- even though there's no discernible odor, say researchers from Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


You're either one of us, or you're not (Tony Vermeer, The Sunday Telegraph )

AUSTRALIA'S senior Catholic cleric George Pell denounced Catholic politicians who defy church teachings on controversial issues like same-sex adoption

With debate over euthanasia and gay marriage looming in 2011, Cardinal Pell used an interview with The Sunday Telegraph to rebuke MPs who "fly under the Christian or Captain Catholic flag" but "blithely disregard Christian perspectives" when they vote in parliament on moral issues.

"If a person says, 'look, I'm not a Christian, I've a different set of perspectives', I disagree but I understand," the Archbishop of Sydney said.

"If a person says to me, 'look I'm nominally a Christian but it sits lightly with me', I understand that.

"But it's incongruous for somebody to be a Captain Catholic one minute, saying they're as good a Catholic as the Pope, then regularly voting against the established Christian traditions."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


President Obama Picks Bill Daley as his New Chief of Staff (Jake Tapper, January 06, 2011, ABC News)

In a December 2009 op-ed for the Washington Post, Daley wrote that top Democrats need to “acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans -- and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan.”

“The leaders of the Democratic Party need to move back toward the center -- and in doing so, set the stage for the many years' worth of leadership necessary to produce the sort of pragmatic change the American people actually want,” Daley wrote.

This pick is not being met with applause from liberal groups.

"This was a real mistake by the White House. Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters,” said Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee at BoldProgressives.org, which has 675,000 members. “If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012."

...he thinks more corporatism is moving right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Bacteria devoured methane from gulf oil spill (Eryn Brown, 106/11, Los Angeles Times)

Scientists investigating the fate of the oil and natural gas that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during last year's Deepwater Horizon spill established quickly that bacteria had consumed much of the propane and ethane that leaked from the well.

Now they have found that bacteria also made short order of the most abundant hydrocarbon released during the spill — methane — likely consuming most of the 200,000 metric tons the well ejected within 120 days of the onset of the leak from the BP well, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science.

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January 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


House members read Constitution (UPI, 1/06/11)

House Speaker John Boehner intoned, "We the people," to begin the historic reading of the U.S. Constitution on the House floor Thursday.

The somber reading marked the first time the Constitution was read on a congressional floor, although it has been included in the congressional record.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who spearheaded the effort, managed the reading from the well, alternately recognizing members of both parties.

A peculiarly American exercise.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Winter Classic Revitalizing Hockey in U.S., But Moving Event to Creative New Sites Would Make It Even Better (Tom Caron, Jan 6, 2011, NESN)

Where does the Winter Classic go on New Year's Day 2012? Fenway Park was a terrific host, and Boston would undoubtedly welcome the event back with open arms. New York City hasn't had one yet, but the new Yankee Stadium is tied up with a bowl game for the next few years, and the old stadium is gone. Not sure Citi Field qualifies as an "iconic" stadium worthy of the event.

You could hold it in the Meadowlands, but hosting a classic across the parking lot from an arena that lost the sport after years of poor attendance seems wrong.

Perhaps the NHL could bring the game to neutral sites, bring the sport's most visually appealing event to a spot without a team. Lambeau Field could host a game -- it's certainly cold enough in Green Bay. Or build a temporary stadium at the speed-skating oval in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the shadows of the arena known for hockey miracles.

Pulling the Winter Classic out of NHL cities might be the perfect way to keep the event growing. Put it in a ski city -- Park City, Utah, or Jackson Hole, Wyo. For that matter, take it overseas. Last year, New England Sports Ventures showed everyone how to stage a two-week hockey party. I'm sure that group could make it work at Anfield if it can get Liverpool to hit the road for a couple of games. (The locals won't mind. The way the Reds have been playing, they'd probably be happy for a sporting distraction.)

...are The Mall in Washington, DC and Central Park in NYC.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


God was behind Big Bang, universe no accident: Pope (Reuters, 1/06/11)

God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday.

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.

"Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God," he said in a sermon to some 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the feast day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


10 Percent Unemployment Forever?: Why the good news about the economy doesn't necessarily mean that jobs are coming back anytime soon. (TYLER COWEN, JAYME LEMKE, JANUARY 5, 2011, Foreign Policy)

As time passes, it is harder to avoid the notion that a lot of those old jobs simply weren't adding much to the economy. Except for the height of the housing boom -- October 2007 through June 2008 -- real GDP is now higher than it has been in the entirety of U.S. history. The fact that the United States has pre-crisis levels of output with fewer workers raises doubts as to whether those additional workers were producing very much in the first place. If a business owner fires 10 people and a year later output is almost back to normal, it's pretty hard to make the argument that they were doing much in the first place.

The story runs as follows. Before the financial crash, there were lots of not-so-useful workers holding not-so-useful jobs. Employers didn't so much bother to figure out who they were. Demand was high and revenue was booming, so rooting out the less productive workers would have involved a lot of time and trouble -- plus it would have involved some morale costs with the more productive workers, who don't like being measured and spied on. So firms simply let the problem lie.

Then came the 2008 recession, and it was no longer possible to keep so many people on payroll. A lot of businesses were then forced to face the music: Bosses had to make tough calls about who could be let go and who was worth saving. (Note that unemployment is low for workers with a college degree, only 5 percent compared with 16 percent for less educated workers with no high school degree. This is consistent with the reality that less-productive individuals, who tend to have less education, have been laid off.)

In essence, we have seen the rise of a large class of "zero marginal product workers," to coin a term. Their productivity may not be literally zero, but it is lower than the cost of training, employing, and insuring them. That is why labor is hurting but capital is doing fine; dumping these employees is tough for the workers themselves -- and arguably bad for society at large -- but it simply doesn't damage profits much. It's a cold, hard reality, and one that we will have to deal with, one way or another.

...and "via private boondoggle jobs" just wasn't a very good answer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


How to cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon ( Lawrence Korb, 1/05/11, CNNMoney)

First, we need to analyze whether the current force we are funding actually supports the strategy. As Gates himself has noted, we will not again do regime change and nation building under fire, as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. In dealing with al Qaeda, the new strategy will most likely be the one currently being used in Yemen and Pakistan. In those countries, we employ comparatively small numbers of Special Forces supplemented by strikes by unmanned aircraft or drones.

Second, we need to ask why we still have 150,000 troops stationed in Europe and Asia, 65 years after the end of World War II, especially when our European allies are slashing their defense budgets to deal with their deficits.

Returning the sizes of the Army and Marine Corps to their pre-Iraq invasion levels will allow us to cut about 100,000 people at a savings of at least $15 billion a year. And reducing troops in Europe and Asia by 50,000 will yield another $10 billion a year.

Third, we can eliminate or scale back weapons that deal with threats that are from a bygone era, are way over budget or are just plain flawed.

Included on this list would be the 573 Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles the Marines want to build at a cost of $15 billion when they have not conducted an amphibious landing under fire in over 60 years. Another example: The $13 billion the Navy wants to build a new aircraft carrier, when as Gates has said, we should reduce the number of carriers from 11 to 10.
0:00 /10:43Brainstorming budget deficit

Also included would be the $238 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the Pentagon is rushing into production. Its cost has doubled and it is experiencing severe technological problems. What's more, our existing fighter planes are the best in the world and unmanned aircraft are taking over more and more missions.

There are other examples: We spend $50 billion a year maintaining 1,968 strategic nuclear weapons, when an analysis by the Air War College says that 311 are more than adequate for deterrence. And the Marines spent $110 million on each V-22 tilt rotor Osprey, when in Iraq the aircraft's full mission capability fell significantly below required levels.

Fourth, the Pentagon needs to reform health care and pay. Raising health care premiums, which have not increased since 1995, would save $6 billion a year. And another $5.5 billion a year could be saved by changing the benchmark used for giving annual raises to military personnel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Israel said would keep Gaza near collapse: WikiLeaks (Reuters, 1/04/11)

Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza's economy "on the brink of collapse" while avoiding a humanitarian crisis, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by a Norwegian daily on Wednesday. [...]

"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge," one of the cables read.

Israel wanted the coastal territory's economy "functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis," according to the November 3, 2008 cable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


As India rises, its rat catchers toil in darkness (ERIKA KINETZ, 11/20/10, Associated Press)

India seems to exist in multiple historical epochs simultaneously — nowhere more starkly than here, amid the crumbling stone walls and old goat bones of the Sathe Nagar housing colony in a northern suburb of India's financial capital, Mumbai, formerly called Bombay.

One side of the neighborhood is edged by a high shining fence beyond which lies 21st century India: the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, the country's premier nuclear research facility.

On this side of the fence, people live in a vaguely medieval place where need outweighs hope and there is still talk of the plague.

To the south is a 50-acre slaughterhouse, one of the largest in Asia. To the north is a city dump.

In other words, rat heaven.

The alleyways between buildings are frothy with trash.

Look closer.

In the faint light of the windows, the ground is alive with rats. A twitching nose peeks from a crevice in the wall. A rat tail vanishes down a hole.

Sabid Sheikh waits.

The trick is to catch the rat's eye and shine a flashlight in its face. The rodent freezes like a deer in headlights.


If perfectly aimed, a single blow can kill a rat. But most do not surrender meekly.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

And so it goes until the rat lies windmilling its legs and expires in a final, furious shudder.

If the rat catcher's aim or courage fails, the rat may scurry into a hole or drain pipe, forcing the man to reach in, barehanded, and extract it by the tail.

If the rodent ventures too far in, the catcher may daub the end of his killing stick with rat's blood to lure it out.

Sheikh's favorite technique is to grab the rat by the tail and twirl it above his head like a whirligig before bashing its head against a wall. If it still doesn't die, he will grind its head into the ground with his heel.

By 1:30 a.m., Sheikh and two other rat catchers have packed 94 dead and dying rats into two bloodied sacks to be carted away in a rickshaw, counted by the city, and samplings taken to be tested for bubonic plague.

They smell so bad that the rickshaw driver pulls over and vomits.


Sheikh's youngest brother, Wasim, tagged along and killed a few rats too. He is about 14, and some months back his father made a cell phone video of him in action. There is young Wasim, dragging a rat as big as his forearm from a trap and smacking it to death. His mom giggles as she watches the video.

Such is the parents' pride, they could be watching their son playing the heroic lead in a school play.

"Now he's putting his hand in the burrow," the father said, beaming. "I'm never worried about disease. I have faith in God."

He sees himself as a public servant, ridding the city of vermin for the greater good of its citizens.

Besides, he had no choice.

At age 8, he set forth on a 36-hour train ride, alone, from his village to meet his father in Mumbai. Before boarding he went to a mosque. "I prayed to God for a job in Bombay," he said. "I prayed for money. I prayed for a settled life."

For 10 years he hawked peanuts and puffed rice to crowds at a commuter train station while his father did odd jobs, baking the flat bread called roti or collecting scrap metal.

They slept on footpaths.

One day a woman came up to Jahed Sheikh and asked if he wanted to work for the city.

"She changed my life by giving me that job I desperately needed," he said. "Now it's my kids' turn."

...had a designated rat catcher too. Well, if you call snagging the biggest kid at the school and giving him a hammer "rat-catching".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


GOP Vows to Get the Economy Moving (Stephanie Condon, 1/05/11, CBS News)

"The reasons the Republicans were swept into office in the House is fairly simple. The economy was on the brink," [CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer] said. "Somewhere along the line here they're going to have to get serious and see what they can do about getting people back to work. If this economy continues on in the dump that it's in right now, you're going to see a lot of these people who just came to Washington getting a ticket to go home."

The economy will be robust by the next Election Day no matter what they do, but the Party needs to find a way to get credit for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


American cars are back at last (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 1/06/11, CNNMoney)

After decades of making disappointing cars, American carmakers earned higher scores in 2010 than imported cars in separate J.D. Power surveys of initial quality and owner satisfaction. [...]

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports magazine reports similar improvements in the dependability and desirability of American cars.

The improvements are finally beginning to sink in with car buyers, contributing to some respectable sales increases for Detroit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Did immigration law cost Arizona a seat in Congress?: Population growth in the state stalled in 2010 -- just as it enacted the toughest immigration law in America (Daniel Denvir, 1/05/11, Salon)

Many predicted that Arizona's crackdown on immigrants would cost the state in dollars and reputation. It may have also cost the state an extra seat in Congress.

When the final census numbers were released just before Christmas, Arizona was awarded a new seat in the House, thanks to its status as the country's second fastest growing state. As impressive as this seems, it was actually something of a letdown for the state, whose official census count for 2010 (6,392,017) was more than 200,000 people smaller than estimated just a year earlier. That disparity killed whatever hopes Arizona had of replicating the two-seat gain it posted after the last census, back in 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Beware those who sneer at 'human rights imperialism': If universal rights are dismissed as 'western', where does that leave Iranians, Tunisians and Sudanese battling for them? (Sohrab Ahmari, 1/06/11, guardian.co.uk)

At the height of the crackdown against the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Albert Camus warned French leftists not to allow political "expediency any precedence over regard for truth". The western left that ignored or, worse, justified the suffocation of Budapest, Camus thundered, "is in complete decadence, a prisoner of words, caught in its own vocabulary, capable of merely stereotyped replies, constantly at a loss when faced with the truth, from which it nevertheless claimed to derive its laws".

Today – with a century of catastrophic lapses in judgment in hindsight – too many western progressives are still trapped by the same "systematic relativism" that, in Camus's time as in ours, threatens no less than the "death of intelligence".

Take historian and journalist Stephen Kinzer's recent intervention against what he calls "human rights imperialism". Restaging one of the illiberal left's favourite shibboleths, he argues that the modern human rights movement has become "the vanguard of a new form of imperialism". Human rights groups, Kinzer sneers, are "spear-carrier[s] for the 'exceptionalist' belief that the west has a providential right to intervene wherever in the world it wishes".

Welcome to the End of History, Mr. Kinzer. But Evangelizing is hardly a new form of imperialism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


After Hockey Score, HBO Seeks New Game (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 1/06/11, NY Times)

“This might have been a game-changer and proven that we should pursue other leagues and other sports,” said Ross Greenburg, the president of HBO Sports. “We’ve talked to other leagues over the last couple of years. But now there’s much more awareness of this kind of programming.” [...]

It made a star of Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals’ coach and serial swearer. But more important, it has shown the players on the ice, in airplanes, in locker rooms and at home in ways that have rarely, if ever, been seen. It has been funny, foul, revealing, ribald, bloody and gritty.

The template would be the same if other sports followed the N.H.L.’s example: an all-access look at a short part of the season that leads to a climax. The Winter Classic — which is played outdoors — is a contrived but spectacular concluding point during the season, something that other leagues don’t quite have. Greenburg said he had been examining how to highlight rivalries in other sports that would give the series a beginning, middle and end.

...is that the only other sport where the players are so universally likable is golf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Defense Spending Is Much Greater than You Think (Robert Higgs, Saturday April 17, 2010, The Beacon)

To estimate the size of the entire de facto defense budget, I gathered data for fiscal 2009, the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available. In that year, the Department of Defense itself spent $636.5 billion. Defense-related parts of the Department of Energy budget added $16.7 billion. The Department of Homeland Security spent $51.7 billion. The Department of State and international assistance programs laid out $36.3 billion for activities arguably related to defense purposes either directly or indirectly. The Department of Veterans Affairs had outlays of $95.5 billion. The Department of the Treasury, which funds the lion’s share of military retirement costs through its support of the little-known Military Retirement Fund, added $54.9 billion. A large part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s outlays ought to be regarded as defense-related, if only indirectly so. When all of these other parts of the budget are added to the budget for the Pentagon itself, they increase the fiscal 2009 total by nearly half again, to $901.5 billion.

Finding out how much of the government’s net interest payments on the publicly held national debt ought to be attributed to past debt-funded defense spending requires a considerable amount of calculation. I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year’s ratio of narrowly defined national security spending—military, veterans, and international affairs—to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 67.6 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2009. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government’s net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending. The total amount so attributed comes to $126.3 billion.

Adding this interest component to the previous all-agency total, the grand total comes to $1,027.8 billion, which is 61.5 percent greater than the Pentagon’s outlays alone.

It's a target rich environment for the Right to show it's serious about the budget.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Budget Hawk Eyes Deficit (DAVID LEONHARDT, 1/04/11, NY Times)

In person, he lives up to his reputation of lacking a politician’s usual airs. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of our interview, he wandered out of his office, on the second floor of the grand State Capitol, and poured himself coffee into a paper cup. He was wearing a bright blue shirt with a logo reading “Indiana accelerates your business” that seemed like something from a company retreat.

Over the next 90 minutes, he laid out what amounted to a three-part vision of American government.

The first part revolves around simply making government work better. “Government is, essentially, the last monopoly,” he said. “Monopolies tend to abuse their position. They overcharge and underserve their customers.” No matter how bad the service at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, you can’t get your license anywhere else.

So Mr. Daniels has tried to “implant accountability,” as he puts it. The state measures workers’ performance and has given bigger raises to top performers. Mr. Daniels also holds an annual ceremony to celebrate workers who have saved Indiana money.

The focus on performance has allowed the state to reduce its work force, largely through attrition, and still function well. [...]

The second part of the Daniels agenda is more ideological. To deal with the huge projected deficits, he favors major changes to Medicare and Social Security, rather than any increase in taxes.

Benefits should be cut for high-income and healthy people. The gradual increase in Social Security benefits over time should be cut, so that tomorrow’s retirees get the same benefits (after adjusting for inflation) as today’s. And the eligibility age of both programs should increase.

Today’s children “will live to be more than 100,” he told me. “They’ll be replacing body parts like we do tires.”

He also thinks that people should save money when they choose less expensive Medicare treatments and lose money when they choose more expensive ones. Progressives, he said, believe in letting experts decide which treatments the government will cover. He wants individuals to decide what care they will get.

Today, people understandably push for the most expensive treatments because they don’t pay the bill. He would prefer that if you and your family choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on your final weeks of life, you understand that “the inheritance you will leave to your kids is going to be wiped out, cut in half or something.” Either way, he acknowledged, the choice is “impossibly difficult.”

Finally, Mr. Daniels likes to describe himself as a Whig, after the 19th-century political party whose modernizing agenda attracted Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay.

Mr. Daniels says the government must be aggressive at doing things the private sector cannot, like improving schools and building roads. “The nation really needs to rebuild,” he said. As a good Whig would, he has pushed all of Indiana onto daylight saving time — so that the time no longer maddeningly changes as you drive around the state — and he’s consolidated some unwieldy local governments.

January 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


Autism-vaccine study deemed 'fraudulent' (Agence France-Presse, 1/06/11)

Blamed for a disastrous boycott of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in Britain, the study was retracted by The Lancet last year and its senior author disgraced, after the country's longest-running hearing, for conflict of interest and unethical treatment of patients.

But the BMJ, taking the affair further, branded the paper a crafted attempt to deceive, among the gravest of charges in medical research.

"The paper was in fact an elaborate fraud," the BMJ said in an editorial, adding: "There are hard lessons for many in this highly damaging saga."

...science is ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Thank you, Hurley! 'Lost' numbers pay off as winning Mega Millions numbers (Melissa Maerz, January 5, 2011, LA Times)

Maybe Hurley's not so unlucky after all. During Tuesday night's lotto drawing, more than 26,000 people won $150 each simply by playing the lucky Mega Millions numbers that Hugo "Hurley" Reyes used to win the $114-million jackpot on "Lost." Interestingly, winning the lottery brought Hugo bad luck on the show.

Four of the six numbers selected in the real-life $355-million lottery matched Hurley's picks. The winning Mega Millions numbers were 4, 8, 15, 25, 47 and 42. Hurley's winning numbers were 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


The 2010 Congressional Reapportionment and Latinos (Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, and Paul Taylor, Director, 1/05/11, Pew Hispanic Center)

Hispanic voters are nearly three times more prevalent in states that gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes in the 2010 reapportionment than they are in states that lost seats, according to an analysis of Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Based on averages reflecting congressional gains and losses, 15.2% of the eligible voter[1] population in states that gained seats is Hispanic, compared with just 5.4% of eligible voters in those states that lost seats.

With these reapportionment changes, Latinos likely will play a larger role in national politics in the coming decade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Gibbs stepping down as White House press secretary (Anne E. Kornblut, 1/05/11, Washington Post )

The decision to leave the White House for the private sector came as something of a surprise: Gibbs, 39, has worked by Obama's side for nearly seven years, and other advisers had expected him to move into a senior advisory role. One of his colleagues said just a few months ago that Gibbs could be counted on to last all eight years if Obama were reelected - and would be the one to "turn out the lights."

While ditching his inept staff would seem like a good sign, he's already considering the wrong Daley for Chief of Staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Get the Energy Sector off the Dole: Why ending all government subsidies for
fuel production will lead to a cleaner energy future—and why Obama has a rare chance
to make it happen. (Jeffrey Leonard, January/February 2011, Washington Monthly)

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. It will be better for national security, the balance of payments, the budget deficit, and even, believe it or not, the environment. Indeed, because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated. And with anti-pork Tea Partiers loose in Washington and deficit cutting in the air, it’s not as politically inconceivable as you might think.

nergy subsidies are the sordid legacy of more than sixty years of politics as usual in Washington, and they cost us somewhere around $20 billion a year. To put that sum in perspective, that’s more than the State Department’s entire budget. It’s also enough to send half a million Americans to college each year with all expenses paid. Energy subsidies undermine the working of the free market, and they make rational approaches to long-term energy challenges and climate change impossible. They are not an aid to energy independence or environmental stewardship. They are an impediment.

Energy subsidies take many forms. Some of them are direct outlays of taxpayer dollars, like payments to corn producers for ethanol. Most are in the form of tax benefits, such as the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” (labor, repairs, hauling, you name it) in oil exploration—a notoriously abused provision of the tax code. The sheer number of subsidies is part of what makes them so hard to track.

But one thing about them is easy to summarize: they are heavily tilted toward fossil fuels. Government statistics show that about 70 percent of all federal energy subsidies goes toward oil, natural gas, and coal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Alomar and Blyleven Elected to Hall of Fame (TYLER KEPNER, 1/05/11, NY Times)

By the time Roberto Alomar started his major league career, in 1988, Bert Blyleven had nearly completed his. Blyleven pitched three more seasons, quietly compiling some of the more impressive statistics in major league history, as Alomar embarked on a career as one of the most dynamic second basemen the game has seen. [...]

Barry Larkin was third in the voting, at 62.1 percent, followed by Jack Morris (53.5 percent), Lee Smith (45.3 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (41.7 percent). In his first election after admitting to steroid use, the former slugger Mark McGwire dropped to 19.7 percent, his lowest share in five appearances on the ballot. Rafael Palmeiro, who hit 569 homers but failed a drug test in 2005, received only 11 percent.

(1) Tim Raines
(2) Barry Larkin
(3) Alan Trammell
(4) Jeff Bagwell
(5) Jack Morris

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


The Climate Crisis Hoax: On this subject, there's very little to debate. (Larry Bell, 01.05.11, Forbes)

I've encountered some folks who appear offended by the title of my new book Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax. Why do you call it a "hoax"? they ask. Why not refer to the matter as a debate? The reason is quite simple: A debate describes a discussion in which participants competitively argue opposing points of view that are assumed to be based upon honest positions.

A hoax is a deceptive act intended to hoodwink people through deliberate misinformation, including factual omissions. My book is about the latter. [...]

The central lie is that we are experiencing a known human-caused climate crisis, a claim based on speculative theories, contrived data and totally unproven modeling predictions.

...the Warmers insistence that, but for human action, the climate would be in perfect stasis is no more than lunacy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Moqtada al-Sadr returns to Iraq after exile: Cleric who has spent three years in Iran goes back less than fortnight after helping usher in new government (Martin Chulov, 1/05/11, guardian.co.uk)

[W]ord of the cleric's arrival was beginning to filter around Iraq's Shia strongholds, which remained fiercely loyal to Sadr during his time in exile.

"I can confirm that Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr is in Najaf," Sheikh Hazem al-Areji, from the cleric's Najaf office, said.

The streets of Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad neighbourhoods have so far remained calm, although some waved banners and played anthems of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which was a dominant player in the brutal sectarian war in 2006-2007.

Sadr had vowed not to return to Iraq until all US forces had left the country. Around 45,000 troops remain, but only a small number are combat troops and all are now under the ultimate direction of the Iraqi government.

The wane in US power over the country it invaded eight years ago, coupled with a return to political prominence for Sadrists, seems to have been enough to lure Sadr back to Najaf, which he fled in 2004 after it was surrounded by US troops.

The Sadrist bloc won 39 seats in Iraq's new parliament and was given eight ministries by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose return as leader was made possible by Sadr's backing, in turn brokered by his hosts in Iran.

Because the co-operation involved in the Surge was implicit, he returns untainted.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


The Freedom to Move: Can we hope to explain the blessings of freedom to foreign people while we deny them the freedom to cross our boundaries? (Oscar W. Cooley and Paul L. Poirot, January 1986, FEE)

Freedom of movement underlies the concept of private property rights. A person has the right to exclusive possession and use of that which he has assembled and improved without trespass against others—the right to the product of his own labor. Any move of a man might be deemed proper and beneficial when he acts to assemble, transport, or otherwise convert the free gifts of Nature so that they may satisfy human needs more readily. This involves no infringement on the equal right of others. It would seem to be the kind of movement that should not be discouraged by man or by government.

On the other hand, freedom of movement may lead to trespass. A person may move or act in such a way as to threaten the life, or to seize or damage the property, of someone else. His apparent personal gain would be at the direct expense of another person. Surely, government should lend no encouragement to such harmful actions or threats of harm by individuals.

The problem of society, then, is to permit and encourage individuals to move and act in a productive and beneficial manner, and to avoid harmful intervention or trespass. The founding fathers wisely depended upon voluntary exchange—freedom of trade in the competitive market place—as the automatic, non-governmental guide to productivity and progress among men. They delegated to government the power to restrict only those actions of individuals designed to circumvent the free market through fraud, deceit, or coercion. The penalty for violation was restitution for damages, or imprisonment, or some other restraint upon that person’s freedom to act or move.

The freedom of the individual to move toward greener pastures, wherever they may seem to be, has been a vital part of the freedom of commerce—the freedom of choice that has constituted the truly distinctive characteristic of “the American way.”

In view of our long experience of near-perfect freedom to move about as each might choose, some of us may not realize the limitations that confront people in many other parts of the world who might like to move toward something better. Many who might choose to enter the United States, peacefully observing our laws and paying their own way, are denied entry. Our community slogans now seem to read: “Welcome to all peaceful and productive newcomers—except foreigners.” And a foreigner here is an individual who has crossed a special political line, supposedly which bounds “the land of the free”!

If it is sound to erect a barrier along our national boundary lines, against those who see greater opportunities here than in their native lands, why should we not erect similar barriers between states and localities within our nation? Why should a low-paid worker—“obviously ignorant, and probably a Socialist”—be allowed to migrate from a failing buggy shop in Massachusetts to the expanding automobile shops of Detroit? According to the common attitude toward immigrants, he would compete with native Detroiters for food and clothing and housing. He might be willing to work for less than the prevailing wage rate in Detroit, “upsetting the labor market” there. His wife and children might “contaminate” the local sewing circles and playgrounds with foreign ways and ideas. Anyhow, he was a native of Massachusetts, and therefore that state should bear the full “responsibility for his welfare.”

Those are matters we might ponder, but our honest answer to all of them is reflected in our actions—we’d rather ride in automobiles than in buggies. It would be foolish to try to buy an automobile or anything else in the free market, and at the same time deny any individual an opportunity to help produce those things we want.

Our domestic relationships would be harmed seriously by restraints upon man’s freedom to migrate. But why shouldn’t the same reasoning hold for our foreign relationships?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Consumption tax increases discourage consumerism; work tax increases discourage work. Shouldn't we welcome the shift to VAT? (Tony Curzon Price, 4 January 2011, OpenDemocracy)

Fine. VAT is almost certainly regressive, and certainly less progressive than income tax. So naturally, perhaps, Alan Johnson (also interviewed – much more fumblingly than Osborne – this morning by Evan Davis), argued for a work tax (National Insurance Contributions) rise rather than a consumption tax rise (and asked for it to be phased in more slowly). NICs are paid as a percentage of earnings up to a maximum, and so more or less share the classic progressivity of income tax.

But there is something odd in Labour's attitude. Tax systems should do two things: they should encourage activities we want to promote and they should provide revenue for activities we want to commonly engage in, including redistribution. So VAT looks like a tax on consumerism, while NICs looks like a tax on work. So why shouldn't we want to use the tax system to discourage consumption (especially of goods that are not considered necessities, which in the UK are zero rated) and encourage work?

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Canadian Study Reports New Threats to Global Security but Reveals Encouraging Long-Term Trends (HSRP, 02 Dec 2010)

[P]roject Director, Professor Andrew Mack, a former advisor to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, argues that a closer analysis of the data leads to a much less pessimistic conclusion. He notes that:

* The recent increase in the number and deadliness of conflicts associated with radical Islamist movements and the US-led “war on terror” is perhaps the single most worrying trend today. But the level of armed conflict in Muslim countries is far lower today than it was two decades ago, and support for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups has declined substantially throughout the Muslim world.
* The 25 percent increase in conflict numbers is largely due to an increase in minor conflicts that kill very few people.
* There has been a modest increase in battle death numbers in recent years, but this needs to be seen in context. The average annual battle-death toll per conflict in the 1950s killed almost 10,000 people; in the new millennium the figure is less than 1,000.
* The doubling of intercommunal and other conflicts that do not involve government forces between 2007 and 2008 is a real concern, but these conflicts rarely last longer than a year and their death tolls are only a small fraction of those of wars that involve a government as a warring party.
* A major study by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in 2005 stressed that many of the remaining armed conflicts were intractable––i.e., very difficult to resolve. But a new measure of intractability created by the Vancouver research team shows that conflicts have actually become steadily less intractable since 1970––and that 40 percent of the conflicts that USIP had identified as intractable in 2005 had ended by 2008.
* A greater number of countries have indeed become involved in armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War than at any time since 1946. But this is not because there have been more conflicts––there have been fewer. The increase arises entirely as a consequence of large numbers of countries sending token forces that have no combat role to three US-led coalition wars––the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan.
* The economic crisis that started in 2008 had a strong negative impact on parts of the developing world, but did not lead to the expected increase in political violence. There was, in fact, one fewer conflict in 2009 than 2008. In 2010, all regions of the developing world were experiencing remarkably robust rates of economic growth.
* Perhaps the most reassuring finding is that high-intensity wars, those that kill at least 1,000 people a year, have declined by 78% since 1988.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Denis Dutton, Universal Connoisseur (Joseph Carroll, 12/31/10, The Chronicle Review)

With the publication of The Art Instinct, Denis achieved the kind of breakthrough into the audience of generally educated readers that most of his colleagues in the humanities have only dreamed about. By speaking simultaneously to scholarly specialists and to the general public, Denis joined the glittering array of "third culture" writers such as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Frans de Waal, Daniel Goleman, Matt Ridley, Nicholas Wade, and Edward O. Wilson. The term "third culture" refers to writers who bridge the divide between "the two cultures," the sciences and the humanities. Other humanists with an evolutionary orientation, myself included, have written books designed to break down the barrier between the sciences and the humanities, but we have not yet reached that broad general audience. Among humanists, Denis was the first.

Even without The Art Instinct, Denis would have had a full and interesting career. Along with founding and editing ALD, he founded and edited the journal Philosophy and Literature. For 33 years, that journal has stood as a beacon of clarity and educated good sense. ALD was designed to resemble an 18th-century broadsheet, and it thus offered a design metaphor for the ethos of the Enlightenment that also informed Philosophy and Literature. Denis believed in reason and evidence; he wanted to get at the truth of things. He believed in science, and he believed that science could illuminate every aspect of the human imagination. He looked back to the 18th century, and in the spirit of that century, he worked constantly to assimilate new knowledge in the spirit of empirical inquiry. It is for that reason that for the past 14 years or so, Philosophy and Literature has provided the highest-quality venue for humanists who, like Denis, are oriented to evolutionary biology.

Had he never written The Art Instinct, Denis would still have had a beneficent impact on the intellectual world, but his book was a triumphant culmination of his work over many decades. From the perspective provided by The Art Instinct, one can see that all his previous work—the dozens of articles and reviews, and the two major editorial efforts—was not episodic and fragmentary; it was part of a continuous creative development. The Art Instinct really could not have been written, by Denis or anybody else, before it was. Writing it depended on dramatic developments in the intellectual world that have taken place over the past 30 or 40 years—a Darwinian revolution first in the social sciences, and then in the humanities. Denis had to be in on that, absorbing it, helping it along, before he could write the book.

Though he recounts few incidents from his personal life, Denis's book has an indirectly autobiographical aspect. Through his multifarious references to particular works of music, painting, sculpture, and literature, he gives a strong, vivid impression of what it was like to have lived his life in absorbed, delighted responsiveness to the arts. He once mentioned to me that one of his earliest memories was of sitting on the floor of his parents' living room, at the age of 3 or 4, rapturously listening to LPs of Beethoven. What an immense blessing that power of appreciation must have been.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Ask Aunt Judith: Belgian waffles depend on yeast (Aunt Judith: Wichita Falls Crave, 1/05/11, Times Record News)

The batter for authentic Belgian waffles is leavened with yeast rather than baking powder or soda. This helps create their characteristic crisp outside and moist, fluffy inside despite their thickness.

Although Belgian waffle recipes can be adapted to use baking powder or soda, the result is never quite the same.

This first recipe is from the King Arthur Flour test kitchens, made a little easier for modern cooks with instant yeast.


Makes 5 7-inch waffles


1½ cups milk

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter

2-3 tablespoons (1 3/8 to 2 ounces) maple syrup

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups (8½ ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1½ teaspoons instant yeast


1. Heat the milk until it’s very hot. Place it in a large mixing bowl, big enough for the batter to double in size. Add butter, maple syrup, salt and vanilla. Stir until the butter melts and the mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

2. Add the eggs, flour and yeast, stirring to combine; it’s OK if the mixture isn’t perfectly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour; the mixture will begin to bubble.

3. You can cook the waffles at this point, or refrigerate the batter overnight to makes waffles the next day.

4. Preheat the waffle iron. Spray with nonstick vegetable oil spray, and pour 2/3 to ¾ cup batter (or the amount recommended by the manufacturer) onto the center of the iron. Close the lid and bake for the recommended amount of time, until the waffle is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200F oven. Serve with berries and whipped cream, if desired.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Tea Party Patriots to Convene in Arizona (Ben Adler, 1/04/11, Newsweek)

The Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella organization for local Tea Party groups, announced on Tuesday morning that they will be celebrating the second anniversary of the Tea Party movement in late February with a "policy summit." The focus will be promoting the "the three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets," through politics, education, law, and culture.

It was there or Idaho.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Crew uses safe room to foil Somali pirate attack (AP, 1/04/11)

Suspected Somali pirates boarded a British-flagged tanker, but abandoned the siege after the crew locked themselves in a safe room and retained control of the vessel, a naval task force said Tuesday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


...when you rub his head.

January 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


The Dubai Job: One year ago, an elite Mossad hit squad traveled to Dubai to kill a high-ranking member of Hamas. They completed the mission, but their covers were blown, and Israel was humiliated by the twenty-seven-minute video of their movements that was posted online for all the world to see. Ronen Bergman reveals the intricate, chilling details of the mission and investigates how Israel's vaunted spy agency did things so spectacularly wrong (Ronen Bergman, January 2011, GQ)

In 1997 the Mossad tried to assassinate Khaled Mashal, the political leader of Hamas, by spraying a chemical agent on his ear as he walked down a street in Amman, Jordan. The mission failed—and the two Mossad members were captured—when Mashal turned in the street to greet his daughter at the moment the assassins sprayed the poison. In order to win the release of their operatives, Israel handed over the antidote to the poison and also freed from prison the spiritual leader and founder of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. In a humiliating blow to the agency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to admit that the Mossad plot had been a terrible failure. For the next several years, morale within the agency plummeted, and its reputation for daring and success was tarnished.

Then, in 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tapped Dagan, a former military commander with a reputation for ruthless, brutal efficiency, to restore the spy agency to its former glory and preside over, as he put it, "a Mossad with a knife between its teeth." "Dagan's unique expertise," Sharon said in closed meetings, "is the separation of an Arab from his head." Dagan immediately announced that the Mossad would devote most of its resources to what he considered the two key threats to Israel's survival: the Iranian nuclear program and terrorism from the Iranian-supported groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The number and frequency of covert operations increased dramatically. There were several acts of sabotage of the Iranian nuclear program: two mysterious crashes of Iranian aircraft associated with the program, fires breaking out at two important laboratories, damage inflicted upon Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and the disappearance of two Iranian scientists and the killing of a third. There was also a mysterious explosion at a Syrian plant where Scud missiles were being fitted with chemical warheads, and the Mossad is credited with the discovery of a nuclear reactor in Syria, built with North Korean assistance, whose existence the Syrian authorities had managed to conceal for over five years. (The Syrian nuclear facility was subsequently destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in September 2007 after the United States proved reluctant to do so.)

The number of complex targeted assassinations carried out by the Mossad also increased under Dagan. The most high-profile of these was the elimination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's military chief. Among other terrorist acts, Mughniyeh was responsible for the bombing of the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and the bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli embassy in 1992 and a Jewish cultural center in 1994. In February 2008 his head was blown off by an explosive device that had been planted in the driver's-side headrest of his rental car. Dagan's Mossad is also believed to be responsible for the death of General Mohammed Suleiman, a close aide of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, who headed that country's nuclear program and handled military cooperation with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Suleiman was killed in the Syrian city of Tartus in August 2008 by a sniper's bullet that hit him as he stood on his balcony after his daily swim. (According to other reports, he was shot by the sniper as he swam in the sea with his bodyguards.)

Because of these successes, Dagan's tenure as director of the Mossad was repeatedly extended, most recently by Benjamin Netanyahu in October 2009, and today he is one of the longest-serving directors in Israel's history. Notorious for his aggressive, verbally abusive style of leadership, he is an ideologically rigid man who, according to several people inside the organization, shows the door to anyone who dares to voice an opinion different from his. As one Mossad veteran told me, "It is extremely difficult to get your opinion heard in his presence, unless it supports his. He is unable to accept criticism or even another opinion. It's almost as if he treats his opposition like an enemy." Dagan is also reported to have stated on several occasions that he does not believe there is anyone within the Mossad today who is worthy to replace him.

Several Mossad operatives who have attended meetings in Dagan's office describe a ritual that he goes through when preparing a team for a dangerous mission. During the meeting, Dagan points to a large photograph hanging on his office wall of a bearded Jew wrapped in a prayer shawl, kneeling on the ground with his arms in the air. The man's fists are clenched, and his piercing eyes look straight ahead. Next to him stand two German SS officers, one holding a club and the other a pistol. "This man," Dagan says, "was my grandfather, Dov Ehrlich." He then explains that shortly after the photo was taken, on October 5, 1942, his grandfather was murdered by the Nazis along with his family and thousands of other Jews in the small Polish town of Lukow.

"Look at this photograph," Dagan tells the Caesarea fighters. "This is what must guide us and lead us to act on behalf of the State of Israel. I look at the picture and vow that I will do everything I can to ensure that something like this will never happen again." [...]

Why did the Mossad permit things to go so wrong in Dubai? In a word, the answer is leadership. Because Dagan refashioned the Mossad in his own image, and because he drove out anyone who was willing to question his decisions, there was no one in the agency to tell him that the Dubai operation was badly conceived and badly planned. They simply did not believe that a minnow in the world of intelligence services such as Dubai would be any match for Israel's Caesarea fighters. As one very senior German intelligence expert told me: "The Israelis' problem has always been that they underestimate everyone—the Arabs, the Iranians, Hamas. They are always the smartest and think they can hoodwink everyone all the time. A little more respect for the other side—even if you think he is a dumb Arab or a German without imagination—and a little more modesty would have saved us all from this embarrassing entanglement."

The Dubai fiasco caused a great deal of damage to Israel, to the Mossad, and to its relations with other Western intelligence organizations. It led to unprecedented revelations of Mossad personnel and methods, far more than any previous bungled operation. A number of states who believe that their passports were forged or otherwise misused by the agency have expelled Mossad representatives. The British response in particular was furious. And Israel's long-standing security-and-intelligence cooperation with Germany has also been dealt a hugely damaging blow. In early June, the head of the Caesarea unit in the Mossad—who had been considered the leading contender to eventually replace Dagan—offered his resignation. As for Dagan's future, before Dubai he had hoped that the liquidation of Al-Mabhouh would ensure yet another extension of his tenure as director of the agency. But that has not come to pass. At the time of this writing, it is assumed that he will not continue. And so the Mossad "with a knife between its teeth" likely is entering another period of confusion and self-doubt.

"There is no doubt Dagan received an organization on the verge of coma and brought it back to its feet," one Mossad veteran of many years told me. "He increased its budget, won great successes, and most important, he rebuilt its pride. The problem is that multiplying its volume of activity many times over came with the price of compromising on security protocols. And along with success came hubris. Together, they brought the Dubai debacle. And now, in some areas, his successor will find a Mossad even worse off than Dagan found in 2002."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


December Sales Rise for GM, Ford, Chrysler (SHARON TERLEP And JOHN KELL, 1/04/11, WSJ)

U.S. auto sales rose in December for the 11th straight month, and likely hit their strongest pace for the year, auto makers said Tuesday.

GM said its U.S. light-vehicle sales climbed 8% in December thanks to continued strong demand for crossovers and pickups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Gerry Rafferty obituary (Michael Gray, 1/04/11, guardian.co.uk)

The Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, who has died aged 63 after a long illness, wrote the multimillion-selling hit Baker Street, which more than 30 years after its 1978 release still netted him an annual £80,000. At the end of the 1970s he did his best work, a series of richly resonant albums that gave no hint of their creator's inner troubles.

Rafferty was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, an unwanted third son. His father, Joseph, was an Irish-born miner. His mother, Mary Skeffington, whose name would provide a Rafferty song title, dragged young Gerry round the streets on Saturday nights so that they would not be at home when his father came back drunk. They would wait outside, in all weathers, until he had fallen asleep, to avoid a beating. "If it wasn't for you, I'd leave," Mary told Gerry. Joseph died in 1963, when Gerry was 16.

That year, Gerry left St Mirin's academy and worked in a butcher's shop and at the tax office. At weekends, he and a schoolfriend, Joe Egan, played in a local group, the Mavericks. At a dancehall in 1965, Gerry met his future wife, apprentice hairdresser Carla Ventilla. She was 15, from an Italian Clydebank family. They married in 1970, after courting at the bohemian bungalow of the artist and future playwright John "Patrick" Byrne and his wife, Alice. Byrne, also educated at St Mirin's, had long been Gerry's mentor, and had first interested Gerry in playing the guitar. Billy Connolly was also in Clydebank, and after Gerry's song Benjamin Day failed as a Mavericks single, Gerry and Egan quit the group and Gerry joined Connolly's outfit, the Humblebums, a Clydeside folk act.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


In Japan, Pfizer Is Short of Drug to Help Smokers (HIROKO TABUCHI, 1/04/11, NY Times)

When the Japanese government raised the tax on cigarettes on Oct. 1, it could have started a public health revolution in this land of heavy smokers.

The tax increase should also have been a bonanza for Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, which makes the leading drug to help smokers break the habit.

Instead, it became a missed opportunity.

Despite ample notice of the change, Pfizer failed to produce enough of the drug, Chantix, which is sold as Champix in Japan. When tens of thousands of would-be quitters rushed to their doctors for prescriptions, Pfizer was overwhelmed. [...]

“After all that advertising, it turns out they don’t have enough,” said Hiroya Kumamaru, director of the KI Akihabara Clinic in Tokyo, who is turning away patients. His clinic has enough of the drug for only the 80 patients who began their treatment before the supply squeeze. “They should have predicted something like this,” he said.

A Pfizer spokesman in Tokyo, Kinji Iwase, said the company misjudged interest in the drug among Japanese smokers. “An extraordinary number of people decided to quit, and our reading of the situation was off,” Mr. Iwase said. “We expected more demand, but not to this extent.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


King Arthur Flour's Secrets for Great Baking (Rita, 1/03/11, Truly Obscure)

It’s no secret that we’ve long been fans of King Arthur Flours, from single ingredients to convenient mixes, we’ve yet to be steered wrong. When we got the opportunity to try out the goodies in the Secret Ingredient Collection we finally started to understand why some foods simply taste better than others. For instance, the Fiori di Sicilia flavoring, which is like a citrusy-vanilla, made ordinary waffles a special treat, with no extra effort. Included in the collection are Double-Dutch Cocoa Powder (16 oz.); espresso powder (2 oz.); Fiori di Sicilia flavor (1 oz.); Vietnamese cinnamon (2 oz.); and Nielsen-Massey gourmet Madagascar vanilla (4 oz.). All of this comes neatly packaged in an 8-inch square brownie pan, with a corrugated bottom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Downton Abbey Comes to Masterpiece: In the U.K.'s smash hit Downton Abbey, coming to PBS Sunday, the period drama is reinvented for a new generation. Jace Lacob talks to creator Julian Fellowes and the cast. (Jace Lacob, 1/04/11, Daily Beast)

Like classic 1970’s mainstay Upstairs, Downstairs—which ran from 1971-1975, and returns to American television in April, also on Masterpiece—Downton Abbey offers a lavish take on the period drama, depicting the lives of the wealthy Crawley family and their servants at an English stately home just prior to World War I. When the sinking of the Titanic takes the lives of the next two heirs to a vast estate, the Crawley family is left with a dilemma as the next in line to inherit is a distant cousin, a middle-class solicitor whom none of them know.

The result is akin to porn for costume drama fans, intoxicating and alluring as it shines a light on the final days of the rigid British class structure of the early 20th century.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Dangerously silent on human rights (Jackson Diehl, January 3, 2011, Washington Post)

Clinton's Bahrain visit reflected what seems to be an intractable piece of the Obama administration's character: a deeply ingrained resistance to the notion that the United States should publicly shame authoritarian regimes or stand up for the dissidents they persecute.

Yes, Obama made a public statement the day an empty chair represented Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel peace prize ceremony, and both he and Clinton issued statements last week when Russia's best-known political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was convicted on blatantly trumped-up charges. But in all sorts of less prominent places and cases, the U.S. voice remains positively timid - or not heard at all.

After Egypt's terrible elections in November, in which ballot boxes were blatantly stuffed and the opposition brutally suppressed, the administration's commentary was limited to bland statements issued by "the office of the press secretary" at State and the spokesman of the National Security Council. Three weeks earlier, at a widely watched joint press conference in Washington with Egypt's foreign minister, Clinton made no mention of the elections, the crackdown or anything else related to human rights.

In Latin America, friends of the United States marvel at its passivity as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega systematically crush civil society organizations and independent media. "I don't see a clear policy," Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez - a good example of the sort of dissident Obama promised to defend - told me.

The Beltway wanted a Realist and got one. No fair whining that Realism is repulsive in practice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM

Abigail Washburn: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 1/02/11, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

Abigail Washburn's music career, now 10 years old, had an unlikely start. Washburn had plans to study law at Beijing University in China. She'd also recently bought a banjo — she wanted to take something to China that was American — and she'd fallen in love with the music of the legendary Doc Watson, in particular his banjo playing in the classic folk tune "Shady Grove."

So Washburn decided to embark on a road trip to study the banjo, and to learn tunes. [...]

Here, Washburn is accompanied by bandmates Rob Hecht on fiddle, Jared Engel on bass, Jamie Dick on drums and Kai Welch on keyboards and trumpet. The short, lovely set includes songs from Washburn's new record, City of Refuge.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Leading conservatives openly support a Terrorist group (Glenn Greenwald, 1/03/10, Salon)

The reason there isn't more uproar over these Bush officials' overt foreign-soil advocacy on behalf of a Terrorist group is because they want to use that group's Terrorism to advance U.S. aims.

Duh? That's the point at which you just stop typing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM

Mark O'Connor On Mountain Stage (NPR, 1/03/11)

Once a student of hot-jazz progenitor Stephane Grappelli, O'Connor has always preserved and innovated within the jazz manouche traditions set by Grappelli and Django Reinhardt.

Returning to Mountain Stage to perform some uptempo swing music, O'Connor brings the latest incarnation of his Hot Swing band to Mountain Stage. Joined by vocalist Heather Masse, bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and the dual guitar attack of Frank Vignola and Julian Lage, O'Connor touches on some standards, showcases his guitarists and vocalist, and puts three of his own compositions on display in this performance recorded in January 2010.

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January 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Pete Postlethwaite obituary: Oscar-nominated British actor with a vast range who could move between comedy and tragedy with ease (Ronald Bergan, 1/03/11, guardian.co.uk)

The actor Pete Postlethwaite had a face that elicited many similes, among them "a stone archway" and "a bag of spanners". These unflattering descriptions, plus his tongue-twisting surname, would suggest an actor with a career limited to minor supporting roles. But Postlethwaite, who has died of cancer aged 64, played a vast range of characters, often leading roles, on stage, television and film.

...Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


To help the poor, get rid of their cash: More than 2.5 billion people around the world today lack access to formal financial services – a major obstacle to building vital savings. But new mobile banking services are spreading in Africa, helping millions of people pull themselves out of poverty. (Jamie Zimmerman and Ignacio Mas, December 31, 2010, CS Monitor)

In the fight against poverty, achieving global access to financial services holds enormous potential. Even the poorest need tools to help maintain their daily needs, prepare for sudden adverse events like illness, and build assets to pull themselves out of poverty. Saving is the best tool both to reduce the risk of destitution and to increase wealth. Yet more than 2.5 billion people today lack access to formal financial services, which could help them achieve these feats. [...]

Imagine if every person had access to a transactional account via an electronic network that was convenient, affordable, and trusted. Beyond access to a savings account, clients could also use such networks for remittances and other person-to-person transfers and payments. Vitally, the record of these payments could provide the basis of a financial history, in turn providing customers with access to credit products, and bolstering entrepreneurship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


She was the single mother who claimed her town was poisoned by its water supply... but was Erin Brockovich wrong? (Paul Bracchi and Barbara Mcmahon, 3rd January 2011, Daily Mail)

Today, however, more than a ­decade on from one of the most ­celebrated ‘David and Goliath’ legal battles of recent times, a less flattering assessment is emerging.

Fresh scientific evidence has come to light that casts doubt on Brockovich’s claims that PG&E was ­responsible for the continuing ­legacy of ill-health in Hinkley.

That evidence is contained in a new survey by the California Cancer ­Registry and its key, controversial finding that the number of people diagnosed with cancer in the ­Hinkley area between 1996 and 2008 was not only not excessive, but was lower than would normally be expected for a town of its size — 196 cancer cases over the 12-year period of the study, when the statistical expectation for the region was 224.

This raises a haunting question: Could Erin Brockovich have been wrong all along?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Rufus Sewell interview: The rakish Rufus Sewell, stalking Rome’s mean streets in 'Zen', the detective drama of the year, talks fame and family, and explains why an empty diary isn't necessarily a bad thing (Craig McLean, 03 Jan 2011, The Telegraph))

Sewell didn’t want Zen to be just another television cop. 'He should be kind of different. Not cheesy. From the first moment the producer mentioned the role to me, I just said: “as long as it’s funny. And as long as he’s not one of those corridor-striding w---ers”.’

What the actor means is he didn’t want to play a forceful, argy-bargy copper with a brusque manner and stains on his suit lapels. 'There are certain kinds of patterns that writers slip into and television producers slip into. The assumptions that are made unnecessarily just because people are used to it. Troubled past, blah blah blah, unconventional methods, blah blah blah.

'For me, I just wanted him to be completely believable as a bloke. You know? Not a man. A bloke,’ he says, sitting on a wall outside a villa on the outskirts of Rome, squinting into his lunchtime pasta in the August sunshine. 'And what I like about him in the books – not that I’ve read all of them – but also in the scripts, is that he gets it wrong a lot… His relationships are off and on and often in the sh--. And I think he’s more fun when he’s slightly behind the game, as opposed to ahead of it.’

The detective is a Venetian based in Rome. This makes him a perennial outsider, as does his scrupulous honesty. Dibdin, a long-time resident of Italy, wrote with scholarly knowledge of, and love for, the country. But his Italy is riddled with corruption; there are always shadows in the sunshine. Zen is forever weaving his way through political intrigue, police sleaze and general societal murk.

...an actor use facial expressions so adeptly. It's posted at The Box already.

[Also, a new season of the outstanding Great British Railway Journeys has started.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Anne Francis, 'Forbidden Planet' and 'Honey West' star, dies at age 80 in Santa Barbara (Soraya Roberts, 1/03/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

The former child star had roles in more than 30 movies -- including "Bad Day at Black Rock" and "Funny Girl"-- but she became a cult figure in the 1956 MGM movie "Forbidden Planet" co-starring Leslie Nielsen.

"I got that part because I was under contract to MGM and I had good legs," Francis told Starlog magazine in a 1992 interview, according to the Times.

But Francis is best known in the mainstream as the star of "Honey West" in which she played a seductive private eye with a pet ocelot.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


First Listen: The Decemberists, 'The King Is Dead' (Sarah Wardrop, 1/02/11, NPR)

On The King Is Dead, Meloy prepares listeners for change in his opening line: "Here we come to a turning of the season." It not only signals different lyrical themes, but also provides an introduction to a new musical lightness for The Decemberists. The new record opts to tame the band's indulgences, and also reroutes its musical focus: Instead of pointing solely to the British folk that has long inspired him, Meloy digs deep into the American roots-music lexicon, even merging the two in the sea shanty/mining tune "Rox in the Box."

From the R.E.M. nod in "Calamity Song" (which features Peter Buck) to the mountainized "Honky-Tonk Woman" intro of "All Arise!," this is a sort of tribute album with no cover songs, as well as a rock record with roots. And who better to serve as co-pilot on that journey than Gillian Welch, who appears on a majority of The King Is Dead's 10 tracks?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools: In 1998, nearly half of its fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read. (Jeb Bush, 1/03/11, WSJ)

Florida schools that earn an A or improve by a letter grade are rewarded with cash—up to $100 per pupil annually. If a public school doesn't measure up, families have an unprecedented array of other options: public school choice, charter schools, vouchers for pre-K students, virtual schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers for students with disabilities.

Choice is the catalytic converter here, accelerating the benefits of other education reforms. Almost 300,000 students opt for one of these alternatives, and research from the Manhattan Institute, Cornell and Harvard shows that Florida's public schools have improved in the face of competition provided by the many school-choice programs.

Florida's experience busts the myth that poverty, language barriers, absent parents and broken homes explain failure in school. It is simply not true. Our experience also proves that leadership, courage and an unwavering commitment to reform—not demographics or demagoguery—will determine our destiny as a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Toward A New Economic Consensus: Low tax rates and reduced spending are increasingly accepted economic wisdom. (Charles W. Kadlec, 01.03.11, Forbes)

Studies by professors from Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, University of Maryland, Stanford, University of California, UC Berkeley, the University of London and the London School of Economics now provide a growing body of empirical evidence in favor of the primacy of reducing tax rates combined with spending constraint to stimulate economic activity and increase employment.

If this consensus holds, it will mark a turning point in economic history every bit as important as what occurred in the 1930s. At that time, the classical economic consensus was that free markets are self-correcting and could be relied upon to restore employment and economic growth. As a consequence, the classical economists had no policy response to sustained high unemployment and idle factories of the Depression.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Immigrants worry as Japan discourages foreign workers (Hiroko Tabuchi, 1/02/11, livemint.com)

Despite facing an imminent labour shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups—in the case of Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries.

In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4% from a year earlier to 2.19 million people—or just 1.71% of Japan's overall population of 127.5 million.

Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. Instead of accepting young workers, however—and along with them, fresh ideas—Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.

Japan is losing skilled talent across industries, experts say. Investment banks, for example, are moving more staff to hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have more foreigner-friendly immigration and taxation regimes, lower costs of living and a local population that speaks better English.

Foreigners who submitted new applications for residential status—an important indicator of highly skilled labour because the status requires a specialized profession—slumped 49% in 2009 from a year earlier to just 8,905 people.

The barriers to more immigration to Japan are many. Restrictive immigration laws bar the country’s struggling farms or workshops from access to foreign labour, driving some to abuse trainee programmes for workers from developing countries, or hire illegal immigrants. Stringent qualification requirements shut out skilled foreign professionals, while a web of complex rules and procedures discourages entrepreneurs from setting up in Japan.

“The shrinking population is the biggest problem. The country is fighting for its survival,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent research organization. “Despite everything, America manages to stay vibrant because it attracts people from all over the world,” he said. “On the other hand, Japan is content to all but shut out people from overseas.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM

The Secret Sisters On World Cafe (World Cafe, January 3, 2011, NPR)

The Secret Sisters are off to a good start in the music world. Backed by the legendary Jack White, their debut album (produced by White) was just released via Third Man Records. It's full of old-time country and folk, complete with a Johnny Cash cover and the two sisters' take on "Wabash Cannonball."

Members Laura and Lydia Rogers grew up surrounded by music, with a family history full of musicians. According to the two astounding harmonizers, their love of song came from all sides — church, cousins, mother, father. Honing their skills at family picnics and church functions, the two were no doubt musically influenced by their environment. Hailing from Muscle Shoals, Ala., their close connections to each other and their surroundings shows in their music.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Black Like Me: A review of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, by David Remnick. (Christopher Caldwell, December 8, 2010, Claremont Review of Books)

The Bridge, by New Yorker editor David Remnick, is not so much about how a black became president as about how a president became black. It opens at a 2007 commemoration in Selma, Alabama—the site of a clash between police and civil rights marchers 42 years earlier—where Barack Obama was able to present himself as a worthier inheritor than Hillary Clinton of the struggles for which the old men and women in the audience had risked so much. "Don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama," he said. "Don't tell me I'm not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama."

That the segregation-era Deep South, or even the memory thereof, might be in any way "home" to Obama did not go without saying. Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, was an impressionable, idealistic white woman raised in Kansas and then Hawaii, a sort of wind-chime socialist who believed she had "Cherokee blood" (the wish possibly being father to the thought), and who wound up in Indonesia, studying village blacksmithing and writing reports for the Ford Foundation. Obama would later describe her, with a mixture of love and condescension, as "that girl with the movie of beautiful black people in her head." Obama's father was a brainy, ambitious Kenyan Muslim who arrived in Hawaii as part of a foundation-funded program for training a post-imperial African ruling class. "Ann's parents found Obama smooth, smart, even charming," Remnick writes, "but not entirely familiar or trustworthy." He was a drunk, the more so as the years passed, and, not to put too fine a point on it, a polygamist, who already had a wife at the time he married Ann, and would acquire another after he abandoned the Dunham family to attend graduate school. He subsequently returned to Africa, and the future president met him only once.

The story of Barack Obama's rise is familiar enough not to warrant repeating. What is unusual about Remnick's version is that he tells it through the lens of race. As an American boy growing up in Indonesia and Hawaii in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, Obama was in a confusing position. He looked black, but he didn't know any blacks. He was descended from slave owners but not from slaves. Most disorientingly, Hawaii—where he was brought up by his white grandparents—lacked even those lingering remnants of racism, the exposure and expunging of which was, by the 1970s, the main preoccupation of the burgeoning establishment that had grown out of the civil rights movement.

In a way that strikes Remnick as both "touching" and "awkward," Obama began "giving himself instruction on how to be black." He wrote letters to his father that went unanswered. He sought out military servicemen to play basketball with, in hopes of learning their slang. In college, Obama read deeply in black literature and history. He gravitated towards community organizing in poor black neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. At law school he took a lot of classes in civil rights law, and then spurned a lucrative career track to take up civil rights work at Davis, Miner, which Remnick calls "a classic liberal ‘good-guy' firm." As a lecturer at the University of Chicago, he taught a course (by all accounts superb) called Current Issues in Racism and the Law. He sought out as a mentor the fiery advocate of "black-liberation theology," Jeremiah Wright.

One of the book's highlights is Remnick's interview with the former Black Panther leader (now Congressman) Bobby Rush, who demolished Obama in his first race for Congress in 2000, largely by raising doubts among inner-city voters about Obama's "authenticity." Rush, who still seems to carry considerable resentment from the campaign, alleges that Obama even taught himself to walk like a black person, with a kind of "sashay," as Remnick calls it, that Rush gleefully imitates for him.

There's a certain break at the knees as you walk and you get a certain roll going. Watch. You see? And he's the first President of the United States to walk like that, I can guarantee you that! But, lemme tell you, I never noticed that he walked like that back then!

Obama is, racially speaking, a self-made man. If there were a citizenship examination for blackness, he'd have passed it. Remnick hints that Ann Dunham's idealization of black people may have rubbed off on Obama, and that it may be responsible for the immodesty that is his besetting flaw. Remnick sees that blackness can, in some circumstances, be deployed to great effect on the political stage—and that the 2008 presidential election was one of those circumstances. A Chicago Tribune journalist describes Obama to Remnick as "radiating the sense that ‘You're the kind of guy who can accept a black guy as a senator.'"

More than anything else, Mr. Obama radiates a sense that there is nothing behind the facade he's adopted. Given this self-conscious adoption of a fake persona, maybe there isn't.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Americans understand The Wire. So why simplify Downton Abbey for them? (Sarah Crompton, 1/02/11, The Telegraph)

My New Year has been much cheered by the news that Downton Abbey has had to be simplified for American audiences on the grounds that they will not understand the bit about inheritance. Anyone who has read any of the novels of Edith Wharton will know that the statement from PBS executive producer Rebecca Eaton that "we thought there might be too many references to the entail… It is not a concept people in the US are very familiar with" is simply untrue. The difficulties of fortune and inheritance power whole tracts of American 19th-century fiction. So educated audiences (that is, the ones who are likely to watch Downton Abbey in the first place) will probably understand the plot considerably better than I did, since I missed the first episode entirely and never grasped what was going on.

It's also an extraordinary statement for an American TV executive to make. This is, after all, the country that gave us The Wire, possibly the most complex series of plotlines ever devised. Are we really to think that US audiences understand drug-dealing in Baltimore any better than they grasp 19th-century legal shenanigans? Of course not. PBS is just being silly.

It is, ironically, the sophistication of the best of American television that I most admire. At Christmas I watched episodes of The Larry Sanders Show and was amazed once again at the sheer audacity of a concept that creates a fake chat show, peoples it with real guests, and then uses the whole thing for satirical ends.

...I thought it was "Downtown" and about an inner-city church...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


‘The Left Has Nowhere to Go’ (Chris Hedges, 1/03/11, TruthDig)

“The more outrageous the Republicans become, the weaker the left becomes,” Nader said when I reached him at his home in Connecticut on Sunday. “The more outrageous they become, the more the left has to accept the slightly less outrageous corporate Democrats.”

Nader fears a repeat of the left’s cowardice in the next election, a cowardice that has further empowered the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, maintained the role of the Democratic Party as a lackey for corporations, and accelerated the reconfiguration of the country into a neo-feudalist state. Either we begin to practice a fierce moral autonomy and rise up in multiple acts of physical defiance that have no discernable short-term benefit, or we accept the inevitability of corporate slavery. The choice is that grim. The age of the practical is over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Look for economy to gain traction in new year (Mark Zandi, 1/02/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Fueling this optimism is the financial health of U.S. businesses. Profits have fully recovered from the Great Recession after firms dramatically lowered costs and widened their margins. Despite only modest sales gains and weak pricing, earnings growth has rarely been stronger.

Business balance sheets are also about as strong as they can be. Corporations have slashed debt amid low borrowing costs; the proportion of cash flow going to debt payments has fallen significantly. Cash holdings have also surged to near-record levels as a proportion of short-term corporate debt.

There is no longer any doubt about businesses' ability to expand; the only question is when they will be willing to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


A Road Less Traveled: Passenger travel in the industrialized world has been stagnant for nearly a decade, researchers say. (Melinda Burns, 1/02/11, Miller-McCune)

Amid the planes, trains and automobiles of the holiday season comes a surprising finding from transportation scientists: Passenger travel, which grew rapidly in the 20th century, appears to have peaked in much of the developed world.

A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.

“With talk of ‘peak oil,’ why not the possibility of ‘peak travel’ when a clear plateau has been reached?” asked co-author Lee Schipper, who shares his time between Global Metro Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.

January 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 PM


Anger at God Common During Times of Crisis, Study Finds (Serena Gordon, 1/02/11, HealthDay News)

Although people rarely talk about it, almost everyone experiences anger toward God at some point in their lives, commonly after the diagnosis of a serious illness, the death of a loved one or a trauma.

In fact, nearly two out of three people report that they've felt angry at God, according to a study in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And many get angry because they believe that God is responsible for the negative events in their lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


How to Break Bread With the Republicans (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 1/02/11, NY Times)

FOCUS ON THE LONG RUN Charles L. Schultze, chief economist for former President Jimmy Carter, once proposed a simple test for telling a conservative economist from a liberal one. Ask each to fill in the blanks in this sentence with the words “long” and “short”: “Take care of the ____ run and the ____ run will take care of itself.”

Liberals, Mr. Schultze suggested, tend to worry most about short-run policy. And, indeed, starting with the stimulus package in early 2009, your economic policy has focused on the short-run problem of promoting recovery from the financial crisis and economic downturn.

But now it is time to pivot and address the long-term fiscal problem. In last year’s proposed budget, you projected a rising debt-to-G.D.P. ratio for as far as the eye can see. That is not sustainable. Conservatives believe that if the nation credibly addresses this long-term problem, such a change will bolster confidence and have positive short-run effects as well.

Fortunately, the fiscal commission you appointed assembled a good set of spending and tax reforms. The question you now face is whether to embrace their sensible but politically difficult proposals in your own budget.

THINK AT THE MARGIN Republicans worry about the adverse incentive effects of high marginal tax rates. A marginal tax rate is the additional tax that a person pays on an extra dollar of income.

From this perspective, many of the tax cuts you have championed look more like tax increases. For example, the so-called Making Work Pay Tax Credit is phased out for individuals making more than $75,000 a year. That is, because many Americans lose some of the credit as they earn more, the credit reduces their incentive to work. In effect, it is an increase in their marginal tax rate.

From the standpoint of incentives, a tax cut is worthy of its name only if it increases the reward for earning additional income.

...the long is the culture.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage (TARA PARKER-POPE, 1/02/11, NY Times)

Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, have studied how individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experiences, a process called “self-expansion.” Research shows that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.

To measure this, Dr. Lewandowski developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person? (Take the full quiz measuring self-expansion.)

While the notion of self-expansion may sound inherently self-serving, it can lead to stronger, more sustainable relationships, Dr. Lewandowski says.

“If you’re seeking self-growth and obtain it from your partner, then that puts your partner in a pretty important position,” he explains. “And being able to help your partner’s self-expansion would be pretty pleasing to yourself.”

The concept explains why people are delighted when dates treat them to new experiences, like a weekend away. But self-expansion isn’t just about exotic experiences. Individuals experience personal growth through their partners in big and small ways. It happens when they introduce new friends, or casually talk about a new restaurant or a fascinating story in the news.

The effect of self-expansion is particularly pronounced when people first fall in love. In research at the University of California at Santa Cruz, 325 undergraduate students were given questionnaires five times over 10 weeks. They were asked, “Who are you today?” and given three minutes to describe themselves. They were also asked about recent experiences, including whether they had fallen in love.

After students reported falling in love, they used more varied words in their self-descriptions. The new relationships had literally broadened the way they looked at themselves.

“You go from being a stranger to including this person in the self, so you suddenly have all of these social roles and identities you didn’t have before,” explains Dr. Aron, who co-authored the research. “When people fall in love that happens rapidly, and it’s very exhilarating.”

Over time, the personal gains from lasting relationships are often subtle. Having a partner who is funny or creative adds something new to someone who isn’t. A partner who is an active community volunteer creates new social opportunities for a spouse who spends long hours at work.

Additional research suggests that spouses eventually adopt the traits of the other — and become slower to distinguish differences between them, or slower to remember which skills belong to which spouse.

The alternative to marriage being the unexpanded self.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM

Winter pot pie (Leah Eskin, 1/01/11, Chicago Tribune)

4 strips bacon, sliced thinly crosswise

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, quartered, sliced

3 carrots, sliced into coins

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons port

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

3 ounces sugar snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons flour

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper

1 pinch nutmeg

All-butter puff pastry, thawed, or prepared pie crust

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, optional

1. Sizzle: Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet until crisp, 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

2. Brown: Add mushrooms, onions and carrots to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are beautifully browned, 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, cook 1 minute. Deglaze with port. Scrape into a large bowl. Mix in chicken and snap peas.

3. Thicken: Melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour, cook 3 minutes. Slowly add broth, whisking thick, 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour sauce over chicken and mix.

4. Fill: Scrape chicken mixture into a deep 9-inch pie plate. Cast on bacon. Cover with pastry or pie crust; snip in a vent. Brush with beaten egg (or don't, for a more rustic look). Bake at 400 degrees until top is crisp and middle bubbles, 25 minutes. Enjoy warm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Base bails on Democrats in droves (Chris Joyner, 1/01/11, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Since the November election when the party lost control of all statewide offices, nine Democratic legislators have become Republicans, including Athens Rep. Doug McKillip, who switched less than a month after his colleagues elected him chairman of the House Democrats.

Now party leaders are scrambling to find new growth strategies while attempting to be more than a speed bump for the Republican majority. [...]

In a Mason-Dixon poll taken for the AJC in the fall, only a third of Georgia voters identified themselves as Democrats — a number that had declined from previous polls. Republicans say the party is simply out of step with state voters.

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz said conservative, largely white voters are unimpressed with the party. “The electoral base, over time, for the Democratic Party in Georgia is pretty similar to the base of the national party,” he said.

The defections by rural, white Democrats continue a trend that’s made the Georgia Democrats a more urban and African-American party. As a result, the power of its African-American Democratic leaders has grown while the party’s statewide influence has dwindled.

Sen. Emanuel Jones is chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, which bills itself as the largest such state caucus in the nation. “We increased our membership in November,” said Jones, D-Decatur.

Fifteen years ago, African-Americans made up a third of Democrats in the House. Now they are a two-thirds majority in the House Democratic Caucus and hold most of the leadership positions. In the Senate, African-Americans make up more than half of Democrats compared to one in four in 1996.

At the same time, Jones said the party needs to figure out how to attract more white voters. “We have to make sure that the message we are communicating is one of inclusion,” he said. “The white Democrats did that many, many years ago when they gained the support of African-Americans to hold on to power.”

Jones said the party needs to do a better job of reaching its base. But what is the Democratic base in Georgia?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “There is no one, good description of the base of the Democratic Party.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


‘The first thing I do each day is pray’: Gabrielle Donnelly speaks to Hollywood superstar Mark Wahlberg about his family, his faith, and being sent to jail as a teenager (Gabrielle Donnelly, 24 December 2010, Catholic Herald)

And then there is Mark Wahlberg.

“Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life,” the A-list actor tells me firmly when we meet for tea in a posh hotel near his home in Beverly Hills. “The first thing I do when I start my day is, I get down on my hands and knees and give thanks to God. Whenever I go outside of my house, the first thing I do is stop at the church. The kids will be mad with me. ‘Daddy! It takes too long!’ I’m saying: ‘It’s only 10 minutes and this is something I really need to do.’ Because I do. If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.”

If anyone has learned the benefit of a spiritual life, it is Mark. A troubled young man from a rough area of Boston, the youngest of nine children of a delivery driver father and a bank clerk mother, he grew up delinquent and drug-addicted, a high school drop-out and gang member, always in trouble with the police, living constantly under the threat of jail. When he was only 16, that threat became a reality. High on the drug PCP, he robbed a pharmacy, knocked one man unconscious, left another blind in one eye, and attacked a security guard. He was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to jail at Boston’s Deer Island House of Correction.

It was, he says now, gratefully, the beginning of the rest of his life.
“There’s nothing scarier than being 16 years old, hearing the jail house door close behind you, and knowing that you’re not going to leave. I’d brought it on myself. A lot of bad things happened to me when I was young, and I did a lot of bad things too. I was too cool for school, I’d made my mistakes and I was paying for them. I’d lost sight of my religion. My parents were Catholic but not devoutly so, and once I’d started venturing out on to the street that wasn’t important to me at all. But, of course, once you get into trouble, you start praying! ‘Oh, my God, just get me out of here, and I swear I’ll never do it again!’ Well, I did get out of jail, and I did make sure I never went back there. The recidivism rate for people going back for jail sentences is through the roof, but not me. I did not want to be another statistic. I wanted to live my life instead.” His first port of call when he left the House of Correction was to visit his parish priest, Fr Flavin of Boston, who is still a good friend. With Fr Flavin’s help he left his street gang, cleaned up his act and devoted his attention to putting his spiritual house in order. And for the first time, he says, his life started to make sense.

“Once I focused on my faith wonderful things started happening for me,” he says now. “And I don’t mean professionally – that’s not what it’s about. These days, I’ll be in church and people will come up to me and say: ‘Do you mind if I sit and pray with you?’ And they’ll start praying and it’ll turn out they’re praying for their new movie to be a success or whatever, and I’m like, this is not what I come here for. For me to sit down and ask for material things is ridiculous. It’s a much bigger picture than that. I want to serve God and to be a good human being and to make up for the mistakes I made and the pain I put people through. That’s what I’m praying for, and I recommend it to anybody.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 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.

...it was God who despaired of Himself.

January 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


India & the Anglosphere: On the role the world largest democracy can play in the Anglosphere. (Madhav Das Nalapat, January 2011, New Criterion)

If we define the Anglosphere as not simply a geographic or even a linguistic entity, but as an entity that encapsulates the type of thought and behavior that led to Magna Carta, to the movement for the abolition of slavery, to the Industrial Revolution, and to the war against the Nazis’ attempt to conquer continental Europe, then it is a fact that such minds exist not only within the geographical spaces visualized in a Churchillian Anglosphere, but also much farther afield. India, for instance—together with the United States and the United Kingdom—forms the core of a twenty-first-century Anglosphere.

A look at English-language titles in bookstores reveals the increasing participation of Indian writers, while a similar situation can be found in cinema and in the arts more generally. In the academic life of the United States—as indeed in the corporate boardroom—the proportion of those with an ethnic background that is rooted within the Indian subcontinent is no longer derisory. Pepsi’s Indira Nooyi and Citi’s Vikram Pandit exemplify this, as do the thousands of Indian academics in the United States (and, to a lesser degree, the United Kingdom). This is in contrast to the situation in the European Continent, where those of a different ethnicity are seldom given an opportunity to compete—on equal terms—with natives, as the frosty reception given to the possibility of an Indian taking over as the chief of Deutsche Bank indicates. Anshu Jain’s department has regularly delivered more than three-fourths of the profit of the bank, yet his ethnicity has been a barrier to heading a “pure German” institution.

Such exclusivity is in contrast to the United States, which, when looked at from the perspective of the twenty-first century, is a quadri-continental country, infused with the cultural strains of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and, of course, Europe. Far from demanding that those from outside adopt the diction of a British native to be accepted, the population of the United Kingdom has accepted several words that come from afar into their own everyday speech. In their adaptability and openness, in the adoption of trends from different shores, and in their incorporation of these differing strands within their own “mainstream” culture, the people of Great Britain resemble most closely the populations of the United States and India. Such felicity is the consequence of an inner faith in foundational values and identity, what we may define as “core” values.

Those who have joined Angela Merkel—or in the past, Enoch Powell—in inveighing against “multikult” confuse the periphery for the core. The heart of the system of values that binds together the Anglosphere is a shared belief in the primacy of the individual over the state and in the constellation of rights that flow from such a worldview; it is a respect for a code of behavior that recognizes as impermissible the denial to the individual’s right to create a future and a lifestyle of his choice, provided that such a freedom does not place others in harm’s way; it is a recognition of the desirability for each individual to exert himself in the fulfillment of dharma (duty), rather than simply to succumb to an enervating belief in the dominance of fate (karma). If the people of the United Kingdom were fatalistic, they would not have won themselves an empire. If the population of the United States were indifferent to the need to achieve individual excellence through exertion and if they regarded the acquisition of a comfortable lifestyle as a right rather than as a reward for effort, the United States would not have become the world’s biggest economy.

[T]he entry of India into the Anglosphere would be to the benefit of not merely the countries which comprise this union—a list that currently includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Singapore—but others as well. Over the five millennia of its existence, India has been less a country than a culture. The entry of the British into the subcontinent and the expansion of English-language education, however, have led to the creation of a small but significant class that straddled the country’s divisions and began to adopt the concept of a common nationhood. The close contact with Europeans in the field of battle during the First World War resulted in millions realizing that they too had the right—as human beings—to the same freedoms that were being enjoyed by the citizens of the country that were sending them into battle. The return of more than two million Indian soldiers to their homes in villages and towns across India helped to generate an awareness of human rights that had been absent from the country for much of its existence. Ironically, Anglospheric values created the conditions necessary for tens of millions of inhabitants of the subcontinent to join the struggle against the colonial power, one that sent into the realm of fantasy the claim that a “handful of people controlled the vast empire” of India.

...which is why it's democratic, protestant, and increasingly capitalist.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


One step forward … (Chicago Tribune, 12/30/10)

We're heartened by the news that President Barack Obama has cut a deal with South Korea on a long-stalled free trade pact.

The pact with Korea was signed in 2007 by President George W. Bush, but never ratified by Congress because of persistent opposition from organized labor. Obama will send to Congress a revised agreement, though the guts of the original deal remain in place. The pact will still pry open South Korea's market for U.S. exports: cars, trucks, agricultural goods, and services.

When he campaigned in 2008, Obama talked like a free-marketer. But free trade has not been a high priority for the administration. We hope the president's action on the Korea pact signals a welcome, if belated, acknowledgement that opening other countries' markets to U.S. manufactured exports is a solid way to create jobs here. It's key to achieving the president's goal, stated a year ago, of doubling U.S. exports over five years.

So what about pending U.S. agreements with Colombia and Panama?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Making Muslim Democracies (Jan-Werner Müller, November/December 2010, Boston Review)

If the Vatican did not move Christian Democrats significantly, what did? Was it only the mechanisms of electoral competition, or did developments in Christian doctrine play a role? The influence of ideas in party politics is notoriously hard to demonstrate, but a strong case can be made that the Christian Democratic parties’ turn toward moderation and their eventual embrace of modern party politics is related to theological and philosophical notions about the compatibility of Catholicism and Democracy. While there was no single cause of accommodation, ideas were indispensable to the process.

Arguably the most influential figure in generating the intellectual grounds for Christian Democracy’s emergence in party politics was the French philosopher Jacques Maritain. Beginning in the 1930s, Maritain developed a range of arguments on behalf of a Christian embrace of democracy and human rights. He was not the only Catholic thinker to do so, but tracing his thought and influence suggests how important new ideas were in the liberalization of Christian Democracy.

Maritain, born into a prominent republican family, started his intellectual life as a philosophy student at the Sorbonne. As a young man, he flirted with socialism and supported Colonel Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, against an unjust accusation of treason and the forces of reaction. In 1901 he met fellow student Raïssa Oumansoff, daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and the two began a lifelong romantic, intellectual, and spiritual collaboration with few parallels in the twentieth century. On a sunny summer day in 1903, in the Jardin des Plantes, the lovers vowed to commit suicide together within a year if they could not find answers to life’s apparent meaninglessness. Just in time, they found some: first the philosophy of Henri Bergson, then Catholicism, and finally the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, to which Maritain was introduced by Raïssa. Within an astonishingly short period, Maritain became one of the leading neo-Thomist philosophers in all of Europe.

From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the Vatican had promoted Thomism as the main alternative to modern, supposedly secular, philosophy. Thomism combined the ideas of Aristotle (whom St. Thomas had rediscovered in the thirteenth century) with Catholicism and a strong notion of natural law, which is derived from divine law, but is knowable by reason and allows humanity to attain its proper end: moral and spiritual perfection. Thomism denied that reason and faith had to be in conflict.

Neo-Thomism played a role in the Church’s attempt to offer a distinctly Catholic solution to the social question—the emergence and immiseration of the industrial working class. In the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII condemned socialism for its materialism and called for an end to class struggle. Instead, he suggested via Thomist reasoning that employers and workers should cooperate, with the employers clearly acknowledging the legitimate interests of the workers. Families and associations in civil society—not the state—should alleviate social problems so that all members of society could attain their proper ends.

But the social doctrines and the Thomism of Leo XIII did not encourage Catholics to become democrats. And, at least at first, neither did Maritain’s. In the 1920s Maritain, under the influence of his priest, became close to the proto-fascist Action Française (AF), an association of ultra-nationalist, pro-Catholic monarchists. In 1926 the movement was condemned by the Vatican, which accused it of using Catholicism as a smokescreen for what was in fact atheistic nationalism. Maritain tried to mediate between the Vatican and the movement’s leader; then he abandoned the AF for good. But even so, he remained, like the members of the AF, highly critical of political aspects of the modern world—Protestantism and liberalism in particular. The latter, for Maritain, implied secularism and the atomization of society.

Maritain came to believe that the person flourished only within community and when open to god. These beliefs, derived from Thomist natural law, crucially shaped the emerging philosophy of personalism, which sought to chart a path between communism and liberalism and, much later, deeply influenced Pope John Paul II’s outlook. Personalism, its advocates insisted, was not the same as individualism, which allegedly treated human beings as isolated, self-interested agents, instead of understanding their embeddedness in groups. Communism, on the other hand, entirely absorbed people into the state.

Personalism was thus simultaneously anti-liberal and anticommunist; its proponents held that liberalism and communism, for all their apparent differences, were forms of materialism, whereas personalism did justice to the spiritual dimension of human life. Human beings were simultaneously related to a social order and possessed of individual dignity and capacity for transcendence. They should contribute to the common good, but the spirituality of persons was above and untouchable by any earthly community, in particular a potentially totalitarian communist one.

In the 1930s personalism began to take off. For a time Maritain was a mentor to Emmanuel Mounier, editor of the premier personalist magazine, Esprit, which sought a communitarian alternative to liberal parliamentarianism. But Maritain worried that his disciple’s search for alternatives to liberal democracy would end in a form of authoritarianism, and, indeed, Mounier flirted with both the Vichy regime, and, after the war, Soviet Communism. Unlike many European Catholics, Maritain refused to endorse Franco or to portray the Spanish Civil War as a kind of modern crusade. He began to work out a philosophical rapprochement between Catholicism and modern conceptions of human rights and democracy, and in 1938 he published Integral Humanism, which advocated the place of Christianity in an increasingly ideologically diverse world. The book, with its clear endorsement of pluralism in the temporal sphere, became an early touchstone in Christian Democratic political theory.

When the war broke out, Maritain was traveling in the United States and Canada for a lecture series. He decided to stay; the Gestapo searched his house outside Paris in vain. He taught at Princeton and Columbia and contributed to Voice of America. Partly inspired by the example of the United States—a democratic system that, unlike France, not only tolerated religion, but seemed to flourish on the basis of values that he associated with Christianity, such as equality—Maritain began to propagate more openly what he saw as the inner connections between democracy and Christianity. In 1942 he authored Christianity and Democracy, a pamphlet dropped by Allied planes over France. In it he affirms that “democracy is linked to Christianity and that the democratic impulse has arisen in human history as a temporal manifestation of the inspiration of the Gospel.”  In 1951’s Man and the State, Maritain declares boldly, “democracy is the only way of bringing about a moral rationalization of politics. Because democracy is a rational organization of freedoms founded upon law ”(emphasis original). On an even more emphatic note, he announced, “democracy carries in a fragile vessel the terrestrial hope, I would say the biological hope, of humanity.”

To be sure, Maritain’s intellectual-political aggiornamento was selective and based on a particular interpretation of modernity: it retained core elements of late nineteenth-century Catholic political thought. Thus Maritain remained skeptical of the notion of sovereignty, which he viewed as threatening to voluntary collaborations in civil society. He also was no anything-goes liberal. For Maritain, freedom meant not license, but the full realization of one’s ends. Against this teleological background, Maritain insisted on the importance not just of electoral democracy, but also of workers’ rights and general rights of subsistence. His ideas, therefore, could provide the foundations of a conservative, family- and community-oriented welfare state, such as were eventually constructed in many European countries outside Britain and Scandinavia.

While Maritain’s views could reasonably be put to a variety of ends (he was a close friend of Saul Alinsky’s, for instance), there is no question that his project was a liberalizing one that sought a role for Christianity in democratic politics, including the politics of those who believed differently. Maritain was involved in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and even the Holy See itself would eventually ratify many of his ideas. At the closing of the Second Vatican Council—the major 1960s gathering of the Catholic hierarchy, during which the Church officially affirmed human rights and religious tolerance—Pope Paul VI presented to Maritain the “Message to Men of Thought and Science,” leaving no uncertainty about whose thinking steered whom when it came to the modernization and moderation of Catholic political convictions.

The election of a Tocquevillian Pope represented a a fulfillment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Illegal immigrants pay taxes, but do they receive more than they give? (Steven Oberbeck, 12/31/10, The Salt Lake Tribune)

For the most part, undocumented workers pay the same state and federal taxes as all wage earners, he said. “They pay sales taxes like everyone else. They pay property taxes either implicitly or through their monthly rent.”

Even if they work under some sort of false identification, undocumented immigrants still contribute to Social Security and Medicare despite being ineligible to collect any benefits from those programs.

In 2007, the chief actuary for the Social Security Administration estimated undocumented immigrants contributed about $12 billion to the trust fund that year — money they will be unable to collect unless they become legal residents.

“Our projections suggest that the presence of unauthorized immigrant workers in the United States has, on the average, a positive effect on the financial status of the Social Security program,” Stephen C. Goss, the SSA’s chief actuary wrote.

Economist Ray Perryman of the Perryman Group in Waco, Texas, has studied the impact of undocumented workers on Utah and other state economies. He concluded that undocumented workers pay far more in overall taxes than they receive in benefits.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Japan population shrinks by record in 2010 (AP, 10/01/11)

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry's annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


WikiLeaks Shows Flaws of Diplomatic Database (Joby Warrick, 12/31/10, Washington Post)

Before the infamous leak, the 250,000 State Department cables acquired by anti-secrecy activists resided in a database so obscure that few diplomats had heard of it.

It had a bureaucratic name, Net-Centric Diplomacy, and served an important mission: the rapid sharing of information that could help uncover threats against the United States. But like many bureaucratic inventions, it expanded beyond what its creators had imagined. It also contained risks that no one foresaw.

Of course, the greatest risk inherent in such a database is that rather than being used to share information widely it seeks to share it only narrowly. Wikileaks fixed the flaw.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The truth about tolerance: Frank Furedi, author of the forthcoming On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence, takes to task Tariq Ramadan, who wants to bury the Enlightenment virtue of toleration and replace it with recognition. (Frank Furedi, spiked review of books)

Ramadan’s claim that people do not want to be tolerated is another way of saying that they don’t want to be judged – but they do want to be affirmed. In his own way, Ramadan gives voice to the Western therapeutic imagination’s estrangement from making value judgments. Contemporary Western culture’s refusal to judge goes hand-in-hand with its celebration of the therapeutic value of affirmation and boosting self-esteem. This sensibility inexorably leads to the affirmation of individual and group identities, an act which has become something of a sacred duty in recent years. It is this gesture of granting respect-on-demand which constitutes the real insult these days, since it does not actually take people seriously. It is about making people feel good about themselves rather than seriously engaging with them – and that is the real form that patronising ‘intellectual charity’ takes today.

The obvious contradiction between toleration and affirmation means that contemporary culture and society are increasingly wary of the virtue of tolerance. Within multiculturalist doctrine, the principal strategy for overcoming this contradiction is to expand the meaning of tolerance so that it ends up encompassing the idea of acceptance and respect. And this semantic extension of tolerance, so that it takes on board the idea of uncritical recognition, transforms its very meaning; it turns a key Enlightenment virtue into an act of unconditional acceptance.

Ramadan is at least consistent. In his desire to uphold the values of recognition and respect, he rejects the virtue of tolerance altogether rather than seeking to give it a new meaning. He consigns it to the dustbin of ‘cultural domination’, insisting that ‘when it comes to relations between free and equal human beings, autonomous and independent nations, or civilisations, religions and cultures, appeals for the tolerance of others are no longer relevant’. Why? Because ‘when we are on equal terms, it is no longer a matter of conceding tolerance, but of rising above that and educating ourselves to respect others’ (p48). It is worth noting that the traditional liberal idea of tolerance also upholds the notion of respect – not, however, the idea of unconditional affirmation, as respect is understood today, but the liberal notion of respecting people’s potential for exercising moral autonomy.

It is precisely because Ramadan is unsympathetic to the idea of individual autonomy and moral independence that he can casually dismiss tolerance as the intellectual charity of the powerful. Tolerance is anything but charity. It refuses to suppress beliefs and views that are judged to be erroneous because it recognises that it is through the exercise of individual autonomy that greater clarity about the truth can be gained. In the end, everyone gains from toleration, since it is through exposure to conflicting views that society acquires certain insights and experiences an intellectual and moral flourishing.

Ramadan’s rejection of tolerance is driven by hostility towards the idea of critical judgment. But how can a ‘Quest for Meaning’ proceed without a capacity to judge? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ramadan’s exhortation to ‘Judge Not’ is about evading making serious choices between different ways of life. ‘Avoiding Meaning’ would perhaps have been a better title for this book.

Of course, the notion that tolerance ought to be a central value of society is itself judgmental.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Patriots, Belichick find 'The Way' to success (Howard Ulman, December 31, 2010, AP)

In many ways, the players resemble their coach.

They spend extra time studying film, focus on their next task and speak cautiously with reporters, careful not to reveal information on injuries or game plans.

That's critical to the Patriots Way -- platitudes avoid problems.

Asked if the team has taken on Belichick's personality, running back Danny Woodhead said Friday, "We trust our coach and we're just taking it one day at a time and that's what we've got to do. That's what we've tried to do the whole season and that's what we're going to continue to do."

No bulletin-board material there. Another reason for Belichick to like the 5-foot-8 running back, besides his 528 yards rushing and 34 receptions.

But Woodhead and his teammates can still improve and one bad practice can set them back.

"We got better yesterday. We got better on Wednesday. We're going to have a better team this Sunday," quarterback Tom Brady said Friday. That "really has been a trademark of this team ... to always make improvements over the course of the season. So I don't think we take weeks off. I don't think we take days off. We're always trying to get better."

The Patriots have three Super Bowl titles in the last nine seasons. Harrison believes many people don't like dynasties and want them to fail.

"There are so many people out there that are against you and so many things that can bring distractions to your team," he said, "and (Belichick) just does a wonderful job of saying, 'Fellas, it's us in this locker room against everyone else. Don't worry about it.' "

Using real or imagined enemies for motivation is another part of the Patriots Way.

"Bill invented the Way," said Heath Evans, who spent 3 1/2 seasons as a New England running back before joining New Orleans for the 2009 season. "Whatever the best thing is for the team, that's the Belichick Way and the Patriot Way."

That Way, of course, may not lead to another championship this season. But as long as the players don't stray from it, chances are the Patriots will be contending for many years.

"The beautiful part about this is they're young and they're buying into the system," Harrison said. "So that means they're going to be good for a very long time."

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